H.E.R. Talks 5 Grammy Nominations & Staying True to Herself: 'People Just Love the Music for What It Is'

Sue Kwon
H.E.R.

"It's not about looks, followers, clout or anything. It's just about pure music."

When H.E.R. woke up early Friday morning (Dec. 7), she thought her I Used to Know HER Tour was coming to an abrupt end. Shaken by the possibility, H.E.R.'s manager said they needed to have an emergency meeting in order to save the tour. Already feeling sick, the singer couldn't bear more bad news. When she walked into the meeting, she realized that she had been duped and that her team was actually there to celebrate her five Grammy nominations.

"It took me a second to register," H.E.R. tells Billboard. "And I started crying and everybody was going crazy. We were all screaming and crying. It was a moment to be surrounded by my band and the people I love. To get that news, it was so much at one time."

This year has been a complete blur for the precocious singer/songwriter. Not only has she earned two No. 1 songs on Billboard's Adult R&B Songs chart with "Focus" and "Best Part," featuring Daniel Caesar, but she also received seven nominations last month at the Soul Train Music Awards. After nabbing two awards there, H.E.R. is looking to take home more hardware at next year's Grammy Awards, as she's been nominated for album of the year, best new artist, best R&B performance, best R&B song and best R&B album. 

What's even more mind-boggling for the young songstress is that she has yet to dole out her major-label debut with MBK/RCA. After the success of her debut EPs -- H.E.R. Vol. 1 and H.E.R. Vol. 2 -- in 2017, she combined both efforts into a singular project, aptly titled H.E.R. The end result? Effusive praise by media publications, not to mention her fistful of accolades. In the case of H.E.R., it's truly only the beginning. 

Billboard spoke to H.E.R. about her five Grammy nominations, breaking through into the mainstream as a black female artist, and if she'll consider revealing her identity at the 2019 Grammys. 

I saw on Twitter that you said that you had no words to say in regards to your five Grammy nominations. Are you still speechless at the moment? 

I'm just overjoyed. This is crazy. [Laughs]

Where were you when you first got the news? 

So what happened was ... I was asleep and I get a call from my tour manager that said my manager wanted to have a meeting. He said that the tour might need to be canceled and that it was an emergency and that everybody needed to come to my room. So I'm thinking, "Oh wait. Hold up. Something might really be going on." You know, it sounded serious. They played it very well. Everybody came to the room and we're all tired at 7 a.m. or whatever time it was, and he was just like, "The tour needs to be canceled... because you're nominated for five Grammys!" I'm like, "What?" It took me a second to register. And I started crying and everybody was going crazy. We were all screaming and crying. It was a moment to be surrounded by my band and the people I love. To get that news, it was so much at one time. 

Let me list your nominations in case you forgot, but album of the year, best new artist, best R&B performance, best R&B song and best R&B album. 

Crazy! Album of the year, crazy! Like, I didn't even think about it today. Everybody was anticipating it, but I've been super sick for the last few days and I've kind of been down and trying to kill these shows and just be well. It took me by surprise. Like I was not prepared for that information. 

Which nomination shocks you the most? 

Album of the year because I didn't even drop an album. It's my project, it's my two EPs together and it's not even an album. It was literally a "It's time for me to drop music. I finally realized who I was. Let me just see what happens" [kind of thing]. Then, two years later, a sold-out tour and five Grammy nominations. 

Which surprises you the most: that you've been able to get these validations without having to show your identity, or getting these looks without dropping your major-label debut?

It's both. It's both, because it's just a beautiful thing that my identity isn't attached to my music and it's proof that people just genuinely love the music. That's what I really wanted to happen. It's so beautiful that it's happening that way. Like people just love the music for what it is. It's not about looks, followers, clout or anything. It's just about pure music. That's such a blessing. But I don't know, and just the fact that I didn't even drop an album, I'm just so grateful. I don't know which is more surprising to me. 

You know what's crazy? For some years now, a lot of young African-American women have been trying to break through the doors of the mainstream but weren't fortunate enough to find success. With you having five nominations on the biggest platform, what does this mean for up-and-coming black female artists looking to crack through those same walls that you were able to?

I think it's really don't try to conform. Like, be yourself in the world of what's happening, you know what I mean? People want something that they can identify with and connect with or can feel, but at the same time, what makes you stand out or what makes you different from everybody else that's coming out with music, you know? I really just try to stay true to myself and my story and speak my truth in my heart. That's something that I live by. You can't try to be something else and expect to get recognized for trying to be something else; you should always be you. Do what you want to do and make music that's honest to you, whatever your truth may be. 

What is it, like 12 nominations in two months? Because you got seven at Soul Train. Has the number of nominations in 2018 hit you yet?

Crazy. Wait, no! Not even 12, because at the BET Awards I was nominated for one. So it's 13! That's crazy. [Laughs] Man, I don't even know what's happening. It's crazy.

Does this give you any kind of pressure in terms of creating your major-label debut album since you're still working on that?

Man, not so much pressure from the outside, but pressure from me. I'm always giving myself more pressure. But yeah, if I try to overthink it, that's when things will go downhill, but I just gotta remember why I even got this far or why I'm even nominated, because I wasn't thinking about accolades. I was thinking about, "What are people going to hold onto? What's going to make me an artist that stays for a long time? How can I make classic music? How can I make music that everybody can enjoy and can relate to?" Yeah, I don't know. I'm trying not to put that pressure on myself, I'm trying to continue to make whatever I feel, but elevate, you know? 

Pressure aside, how do you plan on celebrating?  

I don't even know! I gotta see this doctor and make sure I'm OK, then, we'll figure it out. [Laughs] But I don't really drink or anything. So I'm probably going to have dinner with the people I love and, you know, just live in the moment. 

If you win album of the year, will you consider taking your glasses off and revealing your identity? 

Oh my God! [Laughs] But at that point, it wouldn't really matter if I did or not. It wouldn't matter because people already love the music and I did exactly what I needed to do. So it wouldn't really matter. I don't know. We'll see.

2019 Grammy Awards

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