How Zoe Wees Turned Her Musical 'Hobby Into a Full-Time Job'

Zoe Wees
Jeff Hahn

Zoe Wees

Zoe Wees admits she never excelled in school, but says her mom always had her back. "She was always like, ‘Zoe, you’re going to find your way, just do whatever you feel like.' It’s not usual for a mom [to say that]." Enabling Wees to follow her passions paid off, though, as the rising singer-songwriter with a larger-than-life voice is now enjoying global success.

Wees -- who recently celebrated her 19th birthday -- started 2021 by making her U.S. television debut on The Late Late Show with James Corden performing her breakout hit "Control." She's since released two massive follow-ups, "Girls Like Us" and "Ghost," and is now gearing up for the release of her debut EP out next week. Already, Wees is eager to finish and release her debut full-length -- hinting at her full-speed-ahead mentality. "We’re already writing tracks and tracks and tracks," she says. "We got some really good ones; and then releasing it, that’s the best part." 

Zoe Wees grew up in Hamburg, Germany without any local idols: “People always think you won’t get out of Germany; they don’t believe in you at all,” she says. But at age 12, when her aunt introduced her to the music of Jessie J, particularly the song “Who You Are,” Wees says, “I directly fell in love. The song changed the whole way I think when I look at myself in the mirror. It gave me confidence and strength.” With the encouragement of her mother and music teacher at the time, Nils Bodenstedt, she decided to double down on pursuing music as a career. “[Bodenstedt] showed me that it’s possible to turn this hobby into a full-time job, and that’s always what I wanted.”

In 2017, Wees competed on the fifth season of Germany’s The Voice Kids but was eliminated. Two years later, she had her first songwriting session with a pair of co-writer/producers she now sees as older brothers. That session resulted in “Control,” the artist’s breakout hit that has earned 75.1 million U.S. streams, according to MRC Data. She wrote two more songs that same week, including her latest single, “Ghost.” By the fall of 2020, her music teacher quit his job to join the rising singer’s management team at Valeria Music, and soon after, Wees had her first major-label meeting with Capitol Records UK. By the start of 2021, the label announced it had signed her to a worldwide recording contract with a license from Valeria.

Wees will release her debut EP, Golden Wings, which includes hits “Control” and “Girls Like Us,” on May 21. “I was on ‘Control’ for like eight months [where I didn’t] release any songs after, and was just so annoyed,” she recalls. “I actually wanted to stop because I was so depressed. I write songs because it’s my therapy, and when I can’t release the stuff I’m writing about, I can’t let it go.” She says she has written prolifically through the pandemic (“You’re more creative when you’re sad”), and is looking forward to her first album, for which she and her collaborators have already written a few tracks. “If the album is finished,” she says, “I’m unstoppable.”

This story originally appeared in the May 15, 2021, issue of Billboard.