Billboard Women in Music 'Rising Star' Grace VanderWaal on Learning to Boss Up at Age 13

Grace VanderWaal
Justin Bettman 

Grace VanderWaal photographed on Sept. 11, 2017 at Miss Lily’s 7A in New York. 

In the fall of 2016, Grace VanderWaal was crowned the winner of America’s Got Talent -- and “the next Taylor Swift” by judge Simon Cowell -- thanks to her original folk-pop tunes and uncanny poise. But as VanderWaal has proved, she’s much more than a ukulele-strumming singer-songwriter. In a landscape of ultra-polished female pop stars (like Swift herself), VanderWaal’s unvarnished authenticity -- from her husky vocals to her emotionally raw writing -- is refreshing.

“The artist I would love to be is inspiring and strong,” says VanderWaal. “Show that I can be vulnerable, but still independent.” Her Perfectly Imperfect EP shot to the top 10 of the Billboard 200, and she recently released her debut full-length album, Just the Beginning. “I just feel like a break in the clouds and sun shining through,” says VanderWaal, who had a hand in writing every song. “I finished the really hard part.”


“When Ariana Grande was starting out, everyone was like, ‘You’re just like Mariah Carey!’ She inspires me so much because she just kept going and made her own name, and no one even says that anymore.”


“Austin City Limits [Music Festival] was the most people I’ve ever seen in a crowd who came just for me, and it was overwhelming. I feel like my fans and I are all friends. We’re all just chilling together.”


“I have learned to handle myself and this new world so much better, but I always get nervous about the business-y side of [the industry]. I’m just bad at it, honestly. So I hope to improve on my businesswoman side in a year -- being more involved, and maybe being heard better, and more.”

2017 Billboard Women in Music

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 9 issue of Billboard.


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