When singer-songwriter Alessia Cara began posting videos on YouTube a few years ago, she had no idea they’d lead to near-instant success and fame.
“My intention was never to get discovered off YouTube,” says Cara, 19, via phone as she drives to a tour stop. She plays a sold out show at the Rock Hall on Jan. 28. “I didn’t think it would happen. I was only 13. You don’t think it will happen to you. There’s a huge pool of artists doing the same thing. I wanted to use it as practice and get used to singing and it was a way of doing it for me. I didn’t ever expect to be discovered from it.”
Last year, she issued her debut single, “Here,” and it became a massive hit, propelling her full-length debut, Know-It-All
, to the top of the charts. Artists such as Lorde, Drake, Alicia Keys, and Taylor Swift have praised Cara’s talent, and her soulful vocals have drawn comparisons to Norah Jones. Swift even added Alessia’s “I’m Yours” to her playlist of New Songs That Will Make Your Life More Awesome
. She wrote “Here” after feeling like a social outcast at a party.
“I just went to this get-together,” she says. “One of my friends had a house party and I realized it wasn’t fun. I tried to make it fun and that I was having a good time. I realized you don’t have to pretend. If I wasn’t comfortable, then why was a I there? I went to the studio and talked about it with Sebastian Kole, my co-writer, and we came up with a song that talked about that. When you’re in that situation, you think you’re the only one going through it. You don’t understand that a huge number of people were experiencing the same thing. It wasn’t until people started telling me that that I realized there were more people experiencing the same thing I was.”
This past July, Cara made her small screen debut performing “Here” with the Roots on NBC’s The Tonight Show
with Jimmy Fallon. At the performance’s end, Fallon told her, “You belong here. This girl’s gonna be huge.”
“That was amazing,” she says when asked about the performance. “We didn’t have a lot of time to rehearse. I was worried. I didn’t know they would get it but because they’re the Roots, so they got it. Jimmy Fallon is so nice, so it was a good experience.”
A successful debut doesn’t always lead to a successful career. But Cara, who comes off as someone who’s far more mature than her age would suggest, says she thinks her honest approach to making music will enable her to capitalize on the promising start to her career.
“I do have a lot of opinions and I’m really observant," she says. "I think a lot of people are whether they know how to express that or not. Teens feel the same but don’t know how to say it or don’t want to say it. I just want to keep doing what I’m doing. I would never want to change myself because of success or do anything different. I just want to continue to do the same thing and make songs about experiences and true things. I think that will always win. I think being yourself will always win at the end of the day.”