What empowers Alessia Cara?


By Su Fen Tan

What empowers Alessia Cara?

From anthemic songs that stem from feelings of being an outsider (‘Here’, ‘Wild Things’) and the importance of embracing oneself (‘Scars to Your Beautiful’), to the struggles of growing up (‘Growing Pains’), it is evident that Alessia Cara is poised to be the voice of a generation, with music that speaks to and for listeners near and far.

Cara may be young—she just turned 22 this year—but her heart is already set steadfastly on the kind of artist she wants to be. “I want my music to really last, and I want people to remember it for what I was saying”, the petite powerhouse told us when we met her in Singapore recently, and it looks like she’s on the right track. In just three whirlwind years, she has already garnered multiple chart-topping hits and a Best New Artist Grammy under her belt. Later in the year, she’ll be unveiling an even more personal side to the world with an upcoming second studio album wholly written by herself, titled The Pains of Growing.

Take us through your songwriting process.

“It’s slightly different every time, depending on where I am and what I’m feeling. Most of the time it starts with the guitar. I’ll write on the guitar, and then think of a melody—it’s either a melody first, or a concept, whichever pops into my head first—it all just kind of flows after that. That’s usually the core process.”

What prompted you to write ‘Growing Pains’?

“I wrote ‘Growing Pains’ while I was on tour. I was feeling really sad at that period of time, and I just didn’t have an answer as to why I was feeling as such, and how to stop feeling that way. So I just chalked it up to growing pains, because I think everybody grows. We’re always growing and I think it was a way to give pain a silver lining, to know that you’ll get out of it one day, and that just kind of gives you hope to move forward, so that’s why I wrote it.”

How are you learning to deal with the pains of growing?

“It’s difficult because I think all we can do is cope until they’re no longer there anymore. But just remember that everything is temporary. Of course that makes the good temporary, but the bad is temporary too, which is a really good thing, and as long as you try to take care of yourself and allow yourself to feel the bad—it’s so important to because that’s the only way you learn from things sometimes, from truly feeling them and going through that process and shedding all that negativity to get to the positivity.”

Does it make you nervous, writing about very personal things for the world to listen to?

“Sometimes it does. I think as things go on, and more eyes are on me, it always gets a little bit scarier, because thoughts like “are they gonna dig too deep on what this is about?” will come around. I’m a very private person too, so that can get a little bit strange. But I think as long as my music is beneficial to me and the listener, then it doesn’t matter.”

What new grounds can we expect in the upcoming album?

“You can expect me speaking a lot more personally, and a little bit more specifically to my life in a way that I haven’t really done much of before.”

Now that you’re two albums in, how do you think you have grown the most in?

“I feel like I’m a lot less afraid to do things. I used to be very shy and scared, and I thought I wasn’t really capable of much—now I realise that I am, and I’m less afraid to just try things and push my limits to see what I’m capable of.”

You mentioned in an interview that you aspire to be an artist as opposed to a singer/entertainer. What do you think makes a true artist?

“I think an artist is somebody who not only embodies the things that they sing about, but is also able to make some sort of a difference or impact—not only in the industry but in the world. I don’t want to be someone who sings songs that people would bop their heads to and then forget about—as much as that is cool too—I want my music to really last, and I want people to remember it for what I was saying, rather than how catchy the hook was or what I’m wearing.”

Is there a difference between Alessia the artist and Alessia the person then?

“I think Alessia the artist is more positive and a little bit more confident than Alessia the person, and I use my songwriting as a way to empower myself too, because Alessia the person needs it, as much as probably a lot of my listeners need it. So, yeah, in that sense I think it’s a little different, but I’m essentially still the same person.”

…that’s the only way you learn from things sometimes, from truly feeling them and going through that process and shedding all that negativity to get to the positivity.

Obviously music is a great part of your life. Who did you listen to growing up?

“I loved Amy Winehouse—I still do. Pink is great. Lauryn Hill, Alanis Morissette, Nelly Furtado, Black Eyed Pea. I’ve always been into really cool, perhaps not so conventional people.”

All of them are great performers as well.

“Yeah. I love people who push boundaries, and people who are just different and hold kind of have similar values that I did, especially growing up.”

And finally, what empowers you?

“I think being able to overcome things empowers me, because then you’re able to go like “wow, I made it through that”, and it shows us how strong we are. My fans and people who listen to me empower me as well, because they remind me of how powerful what I do is, how powerful it can be to be an artist and make music for the world. It’s a very powerful thing to have that platform, and to be able to influence other people.”

Stream Alessia Cara’s ‘Growing Pains’ here.

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