Billboard Women In Music 'Rule Breaker' Alessia Cara: 'Having to Work Harder Makes Me Feel Like Girls Are Stronger'

Austin Hargrave
“You can embrace any sort of weird quality about yourself and use that to empower you, rather than make you feel alienated,” says Cara, photographed on Sept. 22, 2016 at Essanay Studios in Chicago.

"When you listen to [pop] music, it’s either really happy or really sad,” says Alessia Cara. “No one ever touches on the feeling of ‘Eh, I kind of don’t want to be here.’ ” No one, that is, until Cara herself. The 20-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter’s breakthrough, “Here,” an alt-R&B soliloquy about hating a house party, peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in February. Since then, she has opened for Coldplay’s world tour and landed the lead single from Disney’s Moana soundtrack, “How Far I’ll Go,” all while remaining fiercely herself. At the MTV Video Music Awards preshow in August, she duetted with Troye Sivan on their synth-pop collaboration “Wild” and performed her own “Scars to Your Beautiful” wearing no makeup. “I’m not doing it just to be a rebel,” says Cara. “I want to show people alternatives to [conventional] standards of beauty. I always find power in struggles. You end up a lot happier that way.”

Girl Power:
“As a young girl, I’m always going to have to work a bit harder to prove myself; that’s just reality. But having to work harder makes me feel like girls are stronger, too.”

Dream Collab:
Frank Ocean would be incredible; I’d love to be a sponge and absorb everything he says. Every song he puts out, I’m like, ‘Why didn’t I think of this?’ ”

Advice To a Younger Alessia:
“Shake the idea you are not capable: You don’t have to be born with this magical creativity, you can develop it. And don’t let anybody tell you what you are and what you’re not: The only person who knows that is you.” 

Alessia Cara talks about speaking for "introverts and people who feel different" with "Here" and why -- despite what some claim -- she's hardly a rebel without a cause. 

​This article originally appeared in the Dec. 10 issue of Billboard. Billboard's Women In Music event takes place on Dec. 9 in New York City and airs on Lifetime Dec. 12.

2016 Billboard Women in Music