Olivia Holt on Her 'Next' Musical Era and 'Cruel Summer' Season 2 (Exclusive)

The 'Cruel Summer' actress opens up to ET about her new summer single, covering iconic Radiohead and Smashing Pumpkins songs and more.

Olivia Holt is about to embark on her new musical era with "Next," a confident summer bop co-written by Meghan Trainor that marks the beginning of the Cruel Summer star's latest creative endeavor. Out Friday (with a music video, of course!), the catchy single holds significant meaning for Holt as she embraces and evolves her artistry.

"I feel like this song in particular really is the start of a new era for music for me," Holt exclusively told ET. "I have spent the last couple of years exploring, finding new sounds, what I want to do sonically, lyrically. This song is the beginning of all of that. The whole journey has been so epic and it's helped me solidify my artistry a lot."

For the 23-year-old actress and singer, "Next" came along at the exact right time in her life after growing up a little and figuring out who she truly is.

"I had spent the last couple of years doing some soul-searching and just living life. I know that that sounds so cheesy, but I really was. I was trying to confirm and clarify who I was as an individual. I felt like I struggled making my own decisions and forming my own opinions," she explained. "I finally had reached a point where I was able to feel confident about my opinions, to be vocal about how I feel about any subject matter. I was in such a special place in my life where I felt like I was the best version of myself, the most confident I had ever been in every category of my life. This song, I felt like, screamed that to the fullest extent -- from the romantic aspect, from the confidence aspect, to the liberating, fun sound it has. It struck the right chord in me and I knew that it was the next song that I wanted to put out."

"I was 16, 15 [years old] when I started making music and I needed to live a little bit of life. I needed to grow up a little bit. I needed that growth in order to have something to say," Holt added later. "Yeah, my music is completely different from when I was that age because I'm a completely different person now than I was then. I've just experienced so much more life that way, and love, and heartbreak, and hardships, and challenges. These are all themes of the music that I'm putting out."

Working with Trainor on "Next" was a particular treat for Holt, who praised the "All About That Bass" singer's talents.

"She's obviously such a brilliant creative in pop music and also such a down-to-earth human. To collaborate with somebody like that just makes the experience so much better and so much more memorable," Holt said. "I think that's what was probably lacking in the past. I've just been on this really epic journey. I've had this incredible evolution. I've made songs that I am proud of, but this next era of music I feel like solidifies so much more of a bigger picture of music for me."

Holt describes this next musical chapter as "liberating." "Music that feels timeless," she elaborated. "I grew up listening to Whitney Houston. She's obviously the icon that she is. Her music will forever last because it's timeless and it's liberating. She was so transparent and honest. I think that is so pure. You hear it in her vocals, you hear it in the performance. All of those layers I've been inspired by and also want to incorporate in my music."

Holt has also begun exploring her songwriting abilities, releasing her first co-written song in April titled "Love on You" with the hopes of releasing more. "It's like therapy. It's vulnerable. It's a lot of honesty and transparency. Not just with the people in the room, but with yourself," she said of putting her personal experiences into her songs. "I thought all of my ideas were weak and they weren't strong enough. You just have to go in and let go of that fear. You have to break down all of the preconceived barriers that you've put on yourself or that other people have put on you, and just have fun with it."

On Cruel Summer, which Holt stars in as Kate Wallis, she was offered the opportunity to cover three iconic '90s songs by the Smashing Pumpkins ("Today" and "Disarm") and Radiohead ("Creep"). Producers on the Freeform mystery drama reached out to Holt with the knowledge that she made music asking if she'd be interested in contributing to the show's soundtrack. Holt's haunting "Creep" cover in the freshman finale remains a highlight of the episode.

"I grew up listening to that music," Holt shared. "My dad is the ultimate '90s music fanatic. Hearing that music growing up and now being in my early 20s, entering my mid-20s, it's sort of full circle. I wish I lived through the '90s, so this is me living vicariously through that era."

The first season of Cruel Summer ended last week on a shocking note, with Kate learning that it wasn't Jeanette whom she thought had seen her at Martin's home but Mallory. And when she learned the truth about Kate and Martin's situation, she chose to protect Kate -- keeping it secret from her friend -- and the two later shared a kiss while joyfully dancing in the street. It was also revealed that Annabelle was Martin's gun and that Kate was the one who shot and killed him, not that he had died in a police shootout as previously thought. And in a surprising turn of events, Jeanette did hear Kate's cries for help from the basement and chose not to do anything about it.

"I had no idea what the ending was going to be throughout shooting the entire season. As I was shooting episode 9, our producers told me the ending. It was a total shock to me. It actually took me a whole night and day to process it because when you're living in that for 'x' amount of months and you have no idea what the ending of this journey that you're going on is going to be, you need to process it," she said. "Then getting the script and seeing it written, and then watching the first cut and seeing it executed onscreen... it was powerful. I'm very proud of this show and the messages behind it and the thrilling, twisted story that we got to tell."

Holt said she's "extremely content" with how Kate's story ended -- for now. "I was incredibly satisfied with how every story ended. I don't think that there is necessarily an end to any of the stories, just what we have seen visually the end. But, [I'm] incredibly satisfied," she expressed. "I feel like Kate is... She's free. She is free of doubt, of other people, of herself. She is with somebody that she trusts and there's loyalty there. I think she deserves that. She deserved to win and we got to see that win with her."

While Cruel Summer was picked up for a second season, showrunner Tia Napolitano admitted she hasn't locked in on a game plan for it just yet, which includes questions regarding Holt and co-star Chiara Aurelia's involvement. Asked whether she has any idea if Kate will return, Holt left the door open.

"I feel like it could go in so many different directions and I'm excited to see what the creatives come up with. I feel like they have so many incredible and brilliant ideas, and I'm excited to see what they're going to bring to the surface," she said, adding she has no idea if season 2 will include Kate. "If I'm being totally transparent, I don't know where it goes."

"I think there's more story for everybody. I think it could really go anywhere," Holt noted. "With Kate, I think it could be really interesting to go down the route that the season left off on, with Kate thinking that Jeanette is totally innocent even though she's not. I think that that route could be really interesting, but I don't know. I've thought about it a hundred times and I am super open. I feel like Tia will crush whatever the creative is."

Circling back to her music career, Holt hopes "Next" is just the start of a blossoming era for her creativity. She revealed desires to collaborate with country star Maren Morris, The Weeknd and Anderson .Paak in the future. "That real soulful vibe, I'm so into it. I dig it so much," she said.

As for what's next, Holt hints the release of her new single is just the beginning of "a bigger project." She remained coy when asked if it meant a full-length album was coming. "A bundle of music will be coming out as soon as that song is released," she'd only say. "I'm so proud of all of the music that's coming out. It is part of a bigger vision that I have for my artistry and I'm very, very proud of it and excited for everybody to hear and see everything that I've been doing."

With just days to go before "Next" is officially out in the world, Holt hopes people listen to it and feel like "they can dance again."

"After the last year, I feel like we need to feel uplifted and we need to learn how to fall in love. Not necessarily with somebody else, but with ourselves, with life again," she said. "I hope that this song gives them all of that."

Holt's new single and music video, "Next," is out Friday. For more on Cruel Summer, watch below.

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