Meet The Sound Of 2016: Alessia Cara

In the midst of Taylor Swift bringing out icons and supermodels on her 1989 tour, there was one night when she introduced a shy 19-year-old Canadian who no one knew to the stage. It was Alessia Cara, who had scored a top ten hit in the US with her song “Here”, a great track that tapped into a generation of people who didn’t care for parties. Now she has been voted second in the BBC Sound of 2016 poll, just after Jack Garratt. We caught up on the phone with her to ask about what it’s like to be the “Next Big Thing”. Hi Alessia! So how does it feel to come in second on the BBC Sound Of 2016 poll?

It was awesome, it’s so cool that my music has reached over here let alone be acknowledged in a way that puts me on this list. It’s such a cool feeling to know that people believe in me enough in another part of the world. After having a big hit with “Here”, do you find there’s pressure to deliver?

I’m pretty chill with pressure. I didn’t really know what to expect when we released the song or the album, I didn’t expect to even get here, I didn’t even expect anyone here to hear it let alone embrace it the way they have so I don’t really expect much. I just do it and make music and hope people will like it, that’s all. You uploaded songs to YouTube, got signed, and had a hit within a very short space of time – how did you deal with such immediate success?

It definitely took me by surprise. I always knew that I was going to do music at some point, and I was meant to do this, but I didn’t know how quickly things would take off. Especially being a completely regular person from a normal place to travelling the world so it’s definitely been an adjustment I’ve had to deal with. Who were your musical heroes growing up?

I really loved and still love Amy Winehouse. She was a huge influence on me musically because she was so honest and unapologetic and all her music was about what she was going through. That’s something I’ve always wanted to accomplish with mine so… Growing up I listened to a lot of Black Eyed Peas as well. They were really versatile with what they did, and eccentric and cool. They were all about preaching to be yourself and be different and that was something I really related to as well. Which contemporary artists do you like?

I love Ed Sheeran, Drake, Frank Ocean. A bunch of singer-songwriters that are really honest and able to make me feel things in music. I feel like a lot of music these days I can see through, it’s very bland. It’s hard for music to really resonate with me these. How do you make your music connect with audiences?

The key is to say what you’re actually feeling and saying things that people mostly go through. People can sense when it’s fake. I would always want to sing something I actually believe in and am actually going through. It doesn’t make sense otherwise. Why do you think “Here” was such a big hit? Were you surprise that other people disliked parties as much as you did?

I didn’t really realise they would until they did and that’s why it kind of validated my perspective on music being real because I made a song about something I went through and it was really simple and I wasn’t saying anything crazy but people related to it.
So if you dislike parties, what’s your dream Friday night?

Because I do so much in the day, it would probably just be relaxing. I would just sleep or lie in my bed and watch movies or be with friends and family. I just watched Orange is the New Black and I like How to Get Away With Murder. I do like to go out once in a while though! Was it intimidating to join Taylor Swift on stage?

Yes it was terrifying. But Taylor really helped me with that. She reminded me that there was no need to be nervous and the crowd was there to have fun and watch the show, they weren’t there to criticise me. Did she give you any other advice?

She told me that music really gets to people, especially young people, and they’re influenced by what’s out there so it’s important to influence them in a positive way. And she thinks my music is doing that already which is such a huge compliment, especially coming from her, because I feel like she’s done that for so many years. So for her to say that to me - a new artist - is really, really cool. And how was it hanging out with fellow Canadian Drake?

He’s amazing. I didn’t really get any advice but he did say that he loves what I’m doing and that he’s proud to have another Canadian, which is nice. You recently posted something on social media about people attacking how you look, how have you dealt with criticism?

Going into the industry as a young female, I knew I was going to get criticised. I guess I dress really simply for someone in the industry. Whether I wore a gown on stage or kept it simple, I was going to get criticised. It’s the way the world works unfortunately. And I’d been getting criticism since I came out. That day I was getting an excessive amount of comments about the same thing – about how I dressed. I did this performance for New Year's Eve in LA and I was wearing a grey top and jeans, very simple, like I usually dress, and people were really attacking me and saying it was New Years and I should have been in a gown. A lot of the comments were sadly from other women and that really bothered me and really frustrated me and I felt like that it was time to finally say something about it. There’s so much importance placed on the wrong things for young women in the industry and it’s frustrating to me because I work so hard to give a good performance and everything and then all people can talk about is what kind of pants I was wearing. The priorities are wrong. Are you excited to play Coachella, your first major festival?

Yes! I’ve done smaller ones but I’ve wanted to do Coachella forever. I found an old tweet of mine saying I wanted to play Coachella one day and now I’m doing it so that’s pretty cool. Hopefully I’ll be doing some UK ones too. I’m so excited.
"Here" is released on 5th February followed by the album Know It All on 11th March

More from Music

R29 Original Series