Alessia Cara Has Something To Say, And We Should Listen

Alessia CaraEXPAND
Alessia Cara
Meredith Truax/Def Jam Recordings

Alessia Cara wants you to get to know her.

The voters of the JUNO Awards sure did last year; the 20-year-old Canadian pop artist took home the Best New Artist accolade in 2015, a true source of pride for Cara.

“There’s something so great about being recognized for the artist you are, the person you are, instead of just the songs you make,” she says.

She’s in San Francisco tonight, set to perform at the 3,300-capacity SF Masonic. Whether Cara likes it or not, she’s running with big dogs now in terms of numbers, but her approach and ethos are indicative of a concern with much more than just spins and reblogs. She has something to say, and it’s high time we hear it.

It’s been a whirlwind for Cara over the past year. You likely know, have heard, or are currently singing “Here,” Cara’s introvert anthem that ended up at the top of the charts, on year-end lists, and summer players the Northern Hemisphere over. Or maybe you’re into “Wild Things” or “Scars To Your Beautiful.” Whatever single of hers you’re currently about, know that those songs were just blossoming at this time about 18 months ago, beginning to pick up traction and speed. Now, Cara’s got millions of listens and listeners on Spotify, a number-one Billboard airplay song, and two releases under Def Jam to her name. Success at this rate could almost be called a trial by fire, but that would undermine the fact that she’s only been on a skyward trajectory since “Here” went viral.

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“It’s been almost two years that I’ve been doing this and traveling everywhere, and you definitely learn a lot,” she says. “I think I’ve learned how to work hard. I never really even had a job before this, I was in school and working at that, so I think I really learned what it means to work hard and to put all of your time into something and be passionate 100 percent.”

That passion is arguably what’s led to her exponential rise, all clichés aside. It’s more than just wanting to hone her talent into a glossy, radio-ready razor’s edge – Cara’s debut, Know-It-All, is rife with themes and tomes that speak to the outsider, giving them a soundtrack that’s made to bolster. For instance, “Here” is for the antisocial socialite in all of us, some more than others, while “Scars To Your Beautiful” is female empowerment distilled into a track that can live beside Beyoncé comfortably. Having the platform that she does now, Cara realized early on in the process of writing her records that a message that spoke to others could also speak to herself. 

“It’s helped a lot with my confidence, to be honest, just who I am as a person,” she explains. “People have been so accepting of who I am as an artist that I feel like it’s okay to accept myself as a person too. Those are very much the same thing. It’s allowed me to be more confident with myself, within myself, allowing me to accomplish things I never thought I could do before.”

While Know-It-All was built to speak to an audience, her follow-up might be more of the result of that self-realization. If the average fan has learned anything about Cara, it’s that she isn’t afraid to speak her mind, the result of “parents [who] are really strong-minded people; they’ve always talked about what they feel and what they think all the time,” she says. Now, the mirror she’s held out to her audience may turn inward a bit as she’s hoping to draw from her own experiences and growth for her sophomore full-length release.

“I think I want to get specific into my life and talk about me a bit more,” Cara says. “This album, it was about sending messages to people and very direct messages to the audience, but I think it would be cool to get a bit more vulnerable and talk about my own life and my own things.”

There’s still wonder to her voice when we talk about things like bringing her best friends to meet Taylor Swift (when Cara performed “Here” with the megastar last October), and a ripple of laughter as we each recount our stories about Swift. To the untrained eye, it’s almost as if the gravitas of Cara’s celebrity hasn’t caught up with her, like the fans who waited in the cold in Minneapolis or the late-night talk show appearances or the aforementioned performance in front of 55,000 screaming fans in Tampa is still cellophane-wrapper new. It would seem that her celebrity, thus far, is best used to serve others. For that alone, the trained eye could say that Cara is way ahead of her contemporaries – doing a beautiful thing often yields even more beautiful results.

“I think now I do have way more responsibility than I did before, because I think that people are looking at me, and looking up to me even though I’m still growing up and learning,” she says. “I do have some responsibility to speak up for people who don’t necessarily belong anywhere or who are dealing with something, because I dealt with that growing up. I try to talk about that so people don’t feel like they’re alone.”

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