Kayden Muller-Janssen might just be your new favorite Disney Channel star. We caught up with the 20-year-old singer and actress to talk about her beginnings as an artist in an animal-loving family and what it was like playing Hartley on Disney Channel’s supervillain sitcom The Villains of Valley View, discovering “new nostalgia” in shows like The Villains of Valley View and surprise on-set Easter eggs along the way.
“Growing up, I was kind of the artistic odd-ball of the family.” Kayden grew up in a family of equestrians (Her parents are Dutch Olympian Sjef Janssen and internationally renowned dressage trainer Kerensa Muller.), so horses and other animals were part of her day-to-day. Kayden told us that, even with her love of horses, when she found music and acting, she knew that was what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
“I always liked listening to music and stuff when I was younger,” Kayden reflected on finding her passion for music. “My mom would always have CDs in her Navigator—this is what I remember from a young age—and I would always have her playing CDs in the car. I remember one day, ‘Reflection’ from Mulan was playing. It was like an instrumental track and I was singing to it, and that was the moment that we realized ‘OK! Maybe I could be a singer.'” From there, Kayden would sing and perform for her family and eventually find her way into theater as well. There was no going back from there. “I didn’t stop.” Kayden told us.
As a singer and an artist, Kayden claims pop, R&B, and soul as her main wheelhouses, but she shared that she’s still evolving and experimenting. “I’m very spontaneous. I’m still very young. I’m still figuring out exactly what I like as a person.” Looking up to artists like Amy Winehouse and Jesse Reyez, Kayden mostly cites her life experiences—”I turn those emotions into a song.”—for creating her music.
Since those CD singalongs and family performances, Kayden has spent a lot of time working on and releasing her music, and she sees her sound evolving as she continues to grow. That doesn’t mean Kayden is leaving behind her “old” sound, though. In fact, her most recent single “No Maybe” is one of the first songs she brought to life.
“‘No Maybe’ is actually one of the first songs I ever recorded in the studio,” Kayden told us. “I was really, really excited for everybody to hear this one.” The inspiration for this song? A short-lived relationship Kayden had when she first came to Los Angeles. “It’s really just about me being frustrated about the fact of this boy never giving me straight answers. I just wanted a ‘yes’ or a ‘no.’ No maybes!”
Along with being one of Kayden’s first studio songs, “No Maybe” also has some of her original vocals. The chorus uses 13-year-old Kayden’s vocals because she feels they best capture the raw emotions that led to the song’s creation. If you love “No Maybe” as much as we do, Kayden teased that it is one of the songs that will be appearing on her forthcoming EP set to release in October. She shared that we can also expect some as-yet unheard tracks and maybe a cover song. “I am so so excited for everyone to hear what’s coming.”
An actress as well as a singer, Kayden credits her middle school and an acting camp for bridging the gap between the stage and the screen. “I love people. I love studying people. I was that person in my school, especially in public school, that would kind of like sit in the corner and study how people would move or talk and how everybody’s personality was different. When I found out that you could play different characters but still the same person, I was like ‘Oh yeah, this is definitely the thing for me.'”
Kayden’s latest role is Hartley—”giant ball of sunshine” and neighbor to the Maddens, villains trying to be a normal family—in Disney Channel’s The Villains of Valley View. “Playing Hartley has been a ball,” Kayden told us. Being the neighbor to supervillains is what Kayden calls “a handful.” “She spends a lot of her time having to run after the family and be like maybe let’s not do these crazy things or put somebody in a locker or do stuff like that.” It isn’t all hijinks, though. Kayden says that she doesn’t think the Maddens are the only ones learning. Hartley is also learning to not let people take advantage of her kindness and not necessarily trust everyone she meets (you never know when you might meet a supervillain!).
We spoke to Kayden not long after The Villains of Valley View wrapped filming for Season 1, and we had to ask her about her favorite moments from set. No spoilers, but Kayden shared that one of her favorite things to do was actually a stunt! In one episode, she and some other cast members get kicked by a giant shoe. “We actually are getting kicked in real life by this giant foam shoe!” Kayden also shared that any moment with the family is memorable because “those scenes end up being the craziest or the most fun.”
Something you might not know about The Villains of Valley View is that there is a particularly strange Easter egg hidden in every episode. Kayden told us that there is a banana hidden in every episode. She didn’t know this when filming started, so Kayden is hunting for the bananas as each episode airs. Keep your eyes peeled!
If you haven’t seen The Villains of Valley View yet (what are you waiting for?), then you might not know that the show has a familiar tone. Kayden shared that watching the show reminds her and her friends of Disney classics like Wizards of Waverly Place, and she’s been excited to see comments from fans along the lines of “this gives me old Disney vibes.” Along with being super excited to receive compliments like this, Kayden told us that she hopes to see Disney fans in their 20s and older getting to watch shows that remind them of their childhoods.
Kayden’s Disney Channel star experience wouldn’t be complete without the classic “…and you’re watching Disney Channel” clip. We asked Kayden what it was like to film that scene, and she shared that “It’s still even so weird to think about. Growing up, you see them doing that on screen, and you’re like ‘I want to do that so bad.’ Being able to have the opportunity where we got to do that ourselves after seeing Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, some of the biggest stars alive do the same thing as us is insane!” She also told us that the magic wand that you see on-screen has been created with the same prop stick for around two decades. (The choreography for drawing the Mickey Mouse ears has changed over the years to make animating easier, though.)
New episodes of The Villains of Valley View air on Disney Channel Fridays at 8 pm ET with episodes also streaming on Disney+.