Alessia Cara on her new album, why it's a risk and what's 'terrifying' her
She's performed alongside Taylor Swift, toured with Coldplay and became a Grammy Award winner at age 21. Now Alessia Cara is taking her skyrocketing music career to a new level by achieving a goal the Canadian singer-songwriter says she set for herself years ago.
Cara is the principal writer for every song on her upcoming second album, The Pains of Growing — a rarity among young pop stars often looking to stay on top of the charts with guaranteed hits.
"It is kind of a risk, because there's a whole stigma around the second album," she told CBC's Ian Hanomansing during a sit-down interview for The National. "'Can they do it again?' 'Will this work?' So it was kind of a risk, but I really wanted to do it anyway.
"It just feels really nice to know that the fans can listen to every single song, and know that every single word and melody is from me."
Cara's songs often talk about respect and self-esteem, particularly for young girls. Among them is her 2015 hit Scars To Your Beautiful, which she says was written at age 17 after binge-watching episodes of the plastic surgery reality show Botched.
"I just was looking at it and thinking of how strange it is that we feel so inclined as people to not only hate everything about ourselves, but then to go to all these extreme measures to change ourselves."
That awareness of societal expectations and how to battle them taught Cara a valuable lesson first-hand earlier this year.
After winning a 2018 Grammy for Best New Artist — the first Canadian ever to do so — she was criticized for scoring the trophy against other hopefuls like Khalid and SZA.
She took to social media to defend herself, but says the experience tainted what was supposed to be a well-earned reward for years of hard work.
"A lot of people just try to tell you as a young woman that you don't deserve your success, or to try to make you feel guilty for your success," she says. "And I was being made to feel like I took something from somebody. That's never the case with other artists, especially established male artists. You don't ever really see that."
Cara, 22, was raised in Brampton, Ont., and got her start doing covers on YouTube as a teenager. She was discovered by the daughter of a record executive tasked with seeking out raw talent online.
Cara says the connection to the maple leaf and its host of homegrown talent-turned-superstars, such as Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes, Drake and The Weeknd, has created a support system.
"There's like a sense of unity between all of us," she says. "I feel like they're my friends. And I think that's because we're all from the same place doing the same thing around the same age."
Cara's commitment to her home country will be clear on a freezing-cold stage in late November, when she will headline the 2018 Grey Cup half-time show in Edmonton.
But for a singer used to big stages and crowds, it might be surprising to hear that the idea of the televised performance is "terrifying" her.
"It's only 15 minutes, which seems short, but 15 minutes on live TV is dragged out to make it feel like three hours. So that's very scary," she says.
"A lot of people — especially football fans — probably don't know who I am, so they're going to be like, 'who's this little girl in her beanie and parka?'"
Even if that happens, it won't be long before they figure it out.
- With files from CBC's Ian Hanomansing