It’s no small feat that Alessia has been donned with the Herculean crown of the ‘Most Streamed New Female Artist of 2017’. She isn’t counting, and when we crunch the numbers, she finds the gravitas baffling, nigh on embarrassing:
“It’s unbelievable! It’s such a weird thing, I can’t comprehend it. It’s not until you’re playing in front of a room of, say, 1000 people, that you realise ‘okay, billions of people?’ I don’t know… I can’t wrap my head around it.”
Even with the word “billions”, the unassuming Alessia is actually being modest. Far from the standard rhetoric when people cite such numbers, the young Canadian has amassed a dizzying total of 7 billion streams across all platforms. That’s pretty much one for every human on Earth.
Such abundant popularity over the last few years is attributable not only to her prodigious vocal faculties, but also to her head-on tackling of troublesome issues. Such topics, though inconvenient to address, are meticulously and openly channelled through her music. At times when listening to her work, you’d be forgiven for feeling like you were talking to a friend, classmate or colleague who was propping you up through problematic times. She listens to your woes and she airs her own. This “personal connection” with fans isn’t just confined to her music, it’s reaffirmed at every opportunity.
“It’s the best because I feel like they know me so well and I feel like I know them so well. It doesn’t feel like it’s intangible; they don’t see me as this intangible being who doesn’t have feelings or who is above them. I’m here for them and they’re here for me. I love it.”
Far from slipping away with intangible fame and five-star fairies, Cara chats with her fans on the daily. One need only go to her Twitter to see the organic dynamic, the simple messages akin to texts sent between close friends. Reflecting on Alessia’s abundant genuineness, a title like ‘The Pains of Growing’ strikes true. She’s 22 years old, just 1 year into her period of adulthood as outlined across the Atlantic. It’s a confusing age of intersections, with an existential pressure to find one’s purpose in the world. Add to the mix such a vertiginous rise to fame and acclaim, and of course there are bound to be ‘Growing Pains’.
“Well I think that having this kind of job and living this sort of lifestyle definitely does force you to grow up more quickly than you would have to in a different job. Because there’s a massive responsibility with what I do. There’s so many people listening to me and looking to my music for comfort and, you know, escapism. It’s scary, but I’m grateful. And it’s a purpose to have.”
Her friendly openness encourages me to go a tad off-piste. I ask her about the oversized suit that she’s wearing in the album artwork. There’s clearly an extended metaphor in there. “So, you’ve got the oversized suit on. Are you saying you mean business?”
…The phone line crackles with tumbleweed static and she doesn’t hear me. I go a little red, repeating my beige remark. She kindly offers up a pity laugh, likely wondering why she’s being interviewed by such a lummox…
“I guess you could interpret it that way. I was trying to develop a character for this album which is basically a more hyperbolized version of myself, but I wanted to visualize what growing up sometimes can feel like when you grow up very quickly. I didn’t feel like I was ready, I still don’t.”
Again, her vocabulary anchors her innately expressive disposition. This quality of hers is equally interesting in the sphere of Twitter, where she’s limited to just a couple of hundred characters. Recently a fan asked her how the process for writing ‘The Pains of Growing’ was different to 2016’s ‘Know-It-All’, to which she said: “I wrote this one cause I felt like I had to as opposed to just wanting to.”
An enigmatic snippet, this Tweet had a portion of her fan base concerned about the motives for this latest body of work. En route to laying these concerns to rest with me, she embarks on a reminiscent journey:
“A lot of people took that the wrong way. I wasn’t forced to make an album, I felt like I had to for myself. For my first album I was in high school, I didn’t even know who I was as a person yet. I was just making music back then because it felt good… On this album, I felt like I needed to say these things for myself, to open up about things I hadn’t said before. I was going through a lot in my personal life that I couldn’t talk about because I was doing interviews and stuff all the time, or doing shows and having to be happy all the time. It’s been a big release for the real me.”
And just like that the image of the oversized suit becomes a paradox, because it seems like a perfect fit. Turning to ‘Trust My Lonely’, the first single to be released from the album, I ask her about the song’s greater meaning. Is it about the fear of leaving a romantic relationship and being alone? Is it a note to self? Is that a complete misreading?
“I don’t think there’s a ‘wrong’ answer. For me, it’s definitely a note to self. It’s actually about my insecurities and personifying them. I process my anxieties by pretending that I’m looking them straight in the eyes. So, for ‘Trust My Lonely’ I took all of the unhelpful voices in my head and shaped them into a relationship that I needed to get out of.”
As always, there’s also a consideration for the feelings of her listeners:
“I also wrote it like that, as a relationship, because I think lots of people are afraid of letting people go because they’re scared of being alone. We need to remember that being alone isn’t always a bad thing. I think that’s a route to being happier in itself.”
This selfless addressal of the strains of others naturally propels the conversation towards ‘Scars To Your Beautiful’. With half a billion streams on Spotify to date, the 2015 single needs no introduction. It stands as testament to the fact that conscious, engaged music tackling important issues can still whip up a storm today. Using her platform to vent about self-esteem and body image, it’s unclear whether or not the song addresses some of her own insecurities. So, is personal experience essential to her songwriting?
“Definitely, 1000%. There’s only one song on this album that I wrote from someone else’s perspective. It’s called ‘Out Of Love’. It was written for a friend of mine who was going through a breakup. He asked me to write it in order to help him understand his heartbreak. I really enjoyed it.”
It’s a relief to know that artists addressing very real issues can also have this kind of a footprint today. It’s not all Gucci Gang. It’s tangible, while she never fails to be personable and self-deprecating. On her Instagram – the lovely logo for which she drew herself – there are many amusing photos to be found. Of the collection, there’s one of a stuffed toy leaning over a silver toilet cubicle which steals the show. She giggles, recounting her encounter with the puppet at a radio station whose staff were desperate to get rid of him. Too large and cumbersome for her suitcase, she carried him around the airport before going to the toilet, where she draped him proudly over the door. (https://www.instagram.com/p/BofXJjKHroa/ )
“I think we’re all everything at the same time. I’m a very multifaceted person, as is everybody. I don’t think anyone is just serious all the time, or just funny all the time. It’s important to be fun and not always take yourself too seriously. But there’s also a time to be serious and to not brush by topics that need to be talked about. It would be a disservice to my fans and to myself.”
Though the stats and figures of her success are, Alessia is far from imperceptible. She even embarked on a series of college talks in the lead up to the album drop, offering up any of her experiences in the industry for budding musicians craving a big break in the music world. She’s not someone who sits at home watching the numbers roll on as her success becomes ever more quantified. For someone so young who is already at this point, what constitutes success?
“Ooohhh… It can come in different forms. I always feel success when people receive my music how I intended it to be received. If my work resonates with people at all, then I consider that to be a success. Also, if people remember my music years from now, that will mean that I have been successful in what I’ve done. It’s never been about numbers for me.”
With such an accessible human behind the dizzying success, ‘The Pains of Growing’ promises to delve into the complexities of navigating real crossroads that young adults experience. As she grows, this album is her way of sharing her growing pains with the world. It’s going to be “like a diary, except everyone’s listening to it”. And it’s sure to be just as multifaceted as Alessia herself.
Alessia Cara album ‘The Pains Of Growing’ is out now – get your copy HERE
Photographer: Niklas Haze