Alessia Cara performed an intimate acoustic set to a sold-out audience at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles on Thursday, but before her performance, Cara sat down with moderator Scott Goldman, vice president of the Grammy Foundation, to discuss touring with Coldplay, how she got her start in the business and how she feels about being considered a role model by her fans.
The singer has had an impressive year, following the release of her debut single “Here” and her 2015 album Know-It-All. She’s had three singles chart on the Billboard Hot 100, had a spot on the Glastonbury festival lineup and just wrapped up her own headlining tour.
Not too shabby for a 20-year-old who has barely scratched the surface of her career. Cara spoke about the challenge of holding the attention of such a large crowd on a regular basis while opening for Coldplay. “When you have an opening slot, that’s a lot harder because oftentimes you just think, “All right, let’s get to the real stuff.” … Everyone was actually very receptive in a great way. The whole audience like, every place we went to, from Europe to the U.S. … they really embraced us and the music and it was really nice to see that. It was a mature audience.”
She also said she received advice from the band’s frontman about how to please a crowd. “Chris Martin basically said, ‘The crowd always gives you what you give them, so if you give them all your energy and all your love and you connect with them as much as possible easily they’ll give that back to you. It’s like a conversation.'”
Joining Coldplay in arenas as big as the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California — which holds over 92,000 people — was something Cara could have never imagined years ago because of her shyness. To overcome that shyness, she uploaded covers that she recorded in her closet to YouTube.
“I could not sing in front of a group of people in real life so I thought, you know, if this is a dream of mine, how am I going to overcome this fear of singing for an audience? So I thought the closest thing to singing in front of an audience was doing it in a way that I didn’t have to actually be in front of them.”
Ultimately, a record company executive found her cover of “Sweater Weather” by The Neighbourhood and was interested in working with her. She was only 16 at the time.
“At this point I wasn’t really getting very many views on my videos so I definitely didn’t expect to make it out of the pool of millions of kids posting covers online.”
Fast-forward to the process of recording her album and sneaking off from school to finish it while working with producer and singer/songwriter Sebastian Kole, who ultimately produced her breakthrough single “Here.”
“I think all of us were kind of feeling the same thing but none of us wanted to be the one to say, ‘We have the song,’” said Cara. “It was always like an unspoken thing, but we all I think had that mutual feeling: We have something here. This is the one. Well, at least I had that feeling.”
That gut instinct was right: The single peaked at No. 1 on Billboard’s Mainstream Top 40 chart and No. 5 on the Hot 100 chart.
After all of this initial success, Cara hopes to continue staying true to herself for album two, despite the differences that fame has brought. “This industry kind of forces you to grow up very quickly. … It’s kind of an interesting sort of thing creatively to figure out how to not only keep it relatable because not everyone gets to experience [fame] … I still feel like I’m very much like the same person that was just placed in a different situation.”
The fact that she has stayed true to herself has seemed to be the redeeming factor in many fans’ minds. Her signature curly hair and choice to dress more on the casual side doesn’t distract from the music or her voice. She chooses to stay unapologetically herself, like some of her biggest inspirations, Amy Winehouse and Rihanna.
This naturalness seems to resonate best with her fans, many of whom look up to her as a role model, a label she finds odd considering most of her fans are around her age or older themselves. “If anything, they can probably teach me about life, but at the same time if people see me as a role model and people see me as someone they connect to and that’s someone who can help give them advice in my music through my music, I mean it’s on you if you want to take it or not. I’m not saying I’m bright. I’m just saying this is what i think I’ve learned in these 20 years of living and if you think that it’s right and if you think that it’s helped you, then I’m happy to be a role model.”
Cara looks up to friend Taylor Swift and the fanbase that she has built because she is someone else who is true to herself. “She’s one of those people who just put out honest music and people don’t ever forget that, people don’t ever lose that connection once you make it with them, and she’s always been so, so great at just being honest and real with her fans and with her music. And if that’s something I can do, that’d be awesome, ’cause I’d rather have fans for that reason, for the right reason.”
After the Q&A, Cara launched into her five-song acoustic set starting with Know-It-All deep cut “I’m Yours.” She then went into “Wild Things,” which she spoke about earlier in the evening and cited it as the opposite of “Here.”
“’Wild Things’ is saying, ‘I don’t have to belong anywhere, this is where I belong,’” said Cara. “It’s a place in the back of my mind that I created and it’s cool and I love it here. … We should just know that we can all create this special, safe place within ourselves that we can feel comfortable in and that doesn’t necessarily have to be with other people. It doesn’t have to be a real place that actually exists, ‘cause it exists as long as we believe it does.”
She then transitioned into a more somber song from “Know-It-All” called “River of Tears” before singing her current single, “Scars to Your Beautiful.”
“I know personally for me and I know a lot of us, no matter how confident we all are, we can’t even, like, look at pictures of ourselves or go outside without just being so conscious of how you look all the time,” said Cara. “I think we all have the right to feel 100 percent beautiful and 100 percent confident without pleasing anybody ’cause we’re not here for anybody else. We’re here for ourselves and I think so many women, all women are way greater than how we look and we’re capable of so much more than that and that’s what this song is about.”
She closed the show with the single that projected her into superstardom: “Here.”
Before the final chorus, she paused and added a new verse that she had just written about her time in the industry.