Artists are always hyped by the label they call home, but it’s rare for a new talent to be lauded by both critics and tastemakers alike from the jump. It’s even more rare for the buzzed about artist to be an 18-year-old girl hailing from Toronto (and who is unaffiliated with Drake). Alessia Cara was just another YouTube star covering popular songs on her acoustic guitar. But her pure voice and authentic demeanor caught the eye of Def Jam Records, who promptly scooped her up and began to cultivate her personal brand of God-given talent. With a voice somewhere between Lorde and Amy Winehouse, she is a refreshingly authentic addition to the historic Def Jam roster.
Now, with her self-written debut hit “Here”, Alessia is just beginning her path to success. The song already made waves everywhere from Pitchfork to Hot 97. Her recent showcase at the Knitting Factory was a litmus test of both her live skills and her fans’ enthusiasm. Would she sound as good live? Could she own a stage? And how would the bright venue lights play off of a girl more used to the lighting of her laptop screen? I was determined to find out.
Alessia Cara was the only name on the bill that night for the early show – and it was sold out. It was still light out, but the Knitting Factory was crowded with people. In attendance was Def Jam president Steve Bartels, as well as other Def Jam representatives. It was touching to see the bigwigs turn out for this young, newly signed girl. Even better – there were also plenty of fans packed in, ready to see their YouTube goddess in real life.
When Alessia took the stage, she was dressed in a simple baggy striped T and nondescript jeans. No styling here – just simple teenage garb. She looked more like a mallrat than a rockstar, but all that changed when she took the mic. After a quick and friendly intro (no teen angst here) she launched into her set. She started with an original song that sounded so pop –ready it could have been a Sam Smith cover. The song “Overdose” resonated with the crowd, even if no one knew the words (yet).
Since she doesn’t have much original material at this point, Alessia turned to the crowd for suggestions. Fans shouted out many of her top covers, but one by that rose above the others was a track by Hiatus Kaiyote. Many of the fans, young and old alike, sang along to Alessia’s unique interpretation.
Alessia saved her other original song until nearly the end of her short set. “Just the Way You Are” is a track with a message. She introduced it saying that she wrote it for young girls struggling with self-esteem. The words were poignant, especially coming from a young woman just beginning to step into the spotlight.
Alessia ended as expected, with a rousing and energetic version of her radio single “Here.” Everyone knew the words, and the smile of Alessia’s face was one of a songwriter seeing her work reflected back with appreciation.
By the end of the set, it was clear Alessia was talented. Everyone in the room for the short set, including Def Jam president Steve Bartles, walked away glowing with the positive and uplifting vibe of her music. Even if Alessia doesn’t achieve widespread success, her vocal and songwriting skills make her a force to contend with. And at just 18, her future is a bright and compelling canvas on which she can make her mark.