Alessia Cara is one of our favourite new artists. She's talented, she's funny (for proof, just watch her impressions of Drake and Celine Dion below) and her hit single, the Curtis Mayfield-sampling "Here," has become an anthem for outcasts and anyone who's ever felt out of place at party. On top of all that, she's Canadian, hailing from Brampton, Ont., and ready to take on the world.
At only 19, the R&B singer-songwriter has already reached so many milestones most pop stars in the making could only dream of — she performed "Here" on both the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and on Ellen, and Taylor Swift invited her onstage to perform at her show in Florida earlier this month. Update: On top of all that, "Here" just cracked the Top 10 of Billboard's Hot 100 chart.
We caught up with Cara to talk about her debut album, Know-It-All, why the message is as important as the music and what it means to be a Canadian musician right now.
You’ve experienced so many big moments in such a short time, so what’s the coolest thing that's happened to you so far?
Coolest thing that’s happened to me so far is probably going onstage with Taylor Swift. That was a big big deal for me, ya.
That’s like a rite of passage for artists, it seems.
Ya, for new artists especially, I think Taylor is so responsible for, or for helping break new artists. I don’t think she’s responsible for their careers, but I definitely think she’s responsible for bringing new artists to a new audience. She’s done it for Ed Sheeran and even Nicki Minaj, bringing them to the mainstream world, and she’s helping me out with that and it’s amazing. It’s so cool that I got to share the stage with her and perform for her fans.
You make pop music, but it’s also very much message music, especially when it comes to just being positive and loving yourself. Why is that important?
It’s important to me because I think, as a music listener, these are messages that I would love to hear, or that I would’ve loved to hear when I was younger and would still love to hear. As much as there is not a lot of that going on, I think, again, that there is this new wave of young people saying what they feel and I’m so glad I get to be a part of that. It’s important for me to say something worth saying that’s going to get to someone, make them feel something. I think that’s what music is for and that’s the music that lasts.
What’s been the most touching fan feedback you’ve received?
There was this fan, I think it might have been in Philly, but she came up to me and she was crying, and I’ve never had that. First of all. And she was saying that she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder recently and that my music helped her not feel like an outcast or not feel abnormal, and that was something that I’d never even considered. It was so amazing to hear that, you can’t ever prepare yourself for someone saying that to you. It’s the greatest feeling ever.
Toronto is very much having a moment, but so is the area outside the city, the 905, where you were raised. Does it feel like you’re a part of something?
I definitely feel like I’m part of this new wave that’s coming out of this whole Greater Toronto Area scene that’s happening. I don’t even know what to call it, but the underdogs, people from Toronto, Brampton, all these cities in Ontario, are just really coming out and dominating, and I love it. I love that I get to be one of those people, or aspiring to be at least, to be in that group. As far as Brampton’s music scene, there’s such a multicultural vibe going on there, and I think the music reflects that in a way. Different influences, different cultures, and I guess a mixture of that, a melting pot of that, would create really great, cool music.
Canadians are having so much success internationally right now, and I wonder if that has made it easier for more Canadians to break through? There was a time when artists didn't advertise the fact that they were from here in order to make it in the States.
I’ve never experienced that, I’ve never been ashamed to say I’m from Canada. If anything, I’m proud to say I’m from Canada. ... I like that when I go to America they think it’s just such a foreign place, they ask questions and I just love that.
So you think it's probably easier for a young Canadian to break through now?
With the help of these huge Canadian artists who have opened so many doors, like Drake or Justin Bieber, these huge artists that are Canadian. Seeing that, when Americans see that they are coming from Ontario, from Canada, they are probably ... more open to artists from here because of these artists that have opened doors. I think as a Canadian artist, we might feel more confident to break into America, or try to break into America, because there’s other Canadians that have done it. It’s important to see this new wave of people that have done it. It’s inspiring.
Alessia Cara's Know-It-All is out now. She plays Montreal Jan. 15 and Toronto Jan. 16 and 17. Click here for tickets and info.
Follow Jesse Kinos-Goodin on Twitter: @JesseKG