Photo: Sue Kwon
Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: H.E.R. On Being Born Into Music & Why R&B Is "At The Core Of Everything"
California native singer/songwriter H.E.R. may just be 21, but her honest and thoughtful approach to R&B, with personal lyrics and '90s throwback slow-jam beats, reveal an old soul. Her smooth yet powerful voice offers insights on love and identity with vulnerability and plenty of straight-up feelings.
While her music is communicative, and even her moniker is an acronym for "Having Everything Revealed," the rising star still operates with an air of mystery. She has chosen to reveal minimal details about herself and, always pictured behind large sunglasses, seems to ask us to focus on her music first.
We recently caught up with the talented multi-instrumentalist, who, as a first-time nominee, is up for five awards at the 61st GRAMMY Awards. (In addition to being nominated for the all-genre Best New Artist and Album Of The Year categories, she is also up for Best R&B Song, Best R&B Performance and Best R&B Album. H.E.R., the album in consideration, is a release combining her two EPs plus B-sides—she has yet to release a debut LP.)
During our conversation, H.E.R. told us how grateful she is for all she's achieved thus far, growing up in a musical household, the importance of keeping "real people" around you and what we can expect to hear on her forthcoming debut album.
"I didn't think I would get this far so soon, so I'm focusing on elevation and really dreaming bigger."
How did you first learn about your first GRAMMY nomination? When you found out you were up for five awards, what was your initial reaction?
Oh my god! There were a lot of tears. I was with my tour squad; we had all just woken up early after a show. I was actually really sick, and kind of sad and down the day before. My manager gave us the news and it changed my entire mood and attitude. It made my day. I immediately called my mom, dad and sister. I was on cloud nine.
Your five nominations include Best New Artist, along with Album of the Year and Best R&B Album. What does that recognition mean to you?
It feels like I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be. It's so easy to question your art, even to question what you're doing, to question the path that you're on. But this is such confirmation for me; "you're exactly where you need to be, you're doing all the right things." It just feels amazing, it feels like I found my objective and I'm fulfilling it. I'm so blessed.
Was there a moment when you were younger that made you want to make music? Were there other artists you admired that made you want to make R&B?
Music was something that was a given for me, like out of the womb. At parties I was always the center of attention, singing and dancing and playing instruments. I never made that decision of "I'm going to do music." My dad had a band that would rehearse in our living room, so all the instruments were in there and I gravitated towards them at a super-young age.
My mom would try to find talent shows and festivals for me to be in around the Bay Area, even when I was only seven or eight years old, because she knew I loved to do it. It was never a career goal or what I was planning on doing as soon as I graduated high school. I just did it. It came super naturally to me.
One artist I really respect is Alicia Keys. Because she plays piano and sings, and because I love instruments so much, she definitely paved the way for a young black musician and young black woman like me who wants to play instruments and find my voice in the industry. She played a big role.
I never really thought about the idea of being an R&B artist. R&B is kind of the core of everything, rhythm and blues. I grew up listening to a lot of soul and blues, so those influences shine through me. When I started making my first project, H.E.R. Vol. 1, it was so honest. It has a '90s R&B influence, but you could feel the soul reflecting my background and where I came from.
"Focus" is one of your songs up for a GRAMMY; the lyrics feel very personal and are really relatable. Can you talk about what that song means to you and how you think the honesty in your music helps you connect with fans?
My music is my diary. When I'm writing a song it's what I feel in that moment. With "Focus," I was afraid to leave it on my first project because it was so personal for me, it's so vulnerable. I was really young when I wrote it and was just feeling like, "put your phone down, pay attention to me." It's crazy how it's gone deeper and resonated with so many women; women who are even five and ten years into marriage, and able to relate that small feeling I felt then.
What's your favorite part of being an artist?
I don't know if I have a favorite part of being an artist. I do love being onstage and performing with my band. I also love rehearsing with them and creating the show, that's always a fun part. But there's also nothing like being in the studio and being able to get back to myself and get back to my feelings. The studio is the place for me to really confront my feelings and get it all out. I love being in that space and creating, doing what I love, making art.
Outside of music, how do you feel the success you've experienced in this past year has influenced or changed who you are?
I've learned a lot about myself through my music and the way people perceive it, and the goal is for the success not to change me. I feel like the same person I was when I released it, I've just grown. The success has definitely taught me a lot about keeping real people around you, and about purpose. It's taught me about the people and the things that you really need you to ensure success, and how important it is to keep those things around you and block out anything else, and about being positive.
Also, seeing the world has given me a better perspective on life. The fact that I can travel around the world doing what I love is such a blessing. I've learned that traveling is such an important thing; there's so many beautiful things out there and we get worried about such little things.
What are you most looking forward to about the GRAMMYs? How will you celebrate if you win?
It's going to be like a movie. The fact that I'm nominated for five [awards] is just, wow. And the fact that people are going to really see me, because as you know I haven't revealed too much of myself. It's going to be my first red carpet!
After the GRAMMYs, I just want be with the ones I love and to reminisce. I love to think about memories and all the things that got me up to this point, so that would be celebratory, looking at old videos and old pictures of where I came from.
Read More: Something About Her: The Mystery Of H.E.R.
What's on the horizon for H.E.R.—can we expect new music this year?
Absolutely. I'm going to release a debut album, which I'm excited about. It's crazy because my project that's nominated for Album Of The Year is the combination of my two EPs. So there will be the new album and I'll be touring more. Also, I'm starting a foundation called Bringing The Noise to help bring music back into schools that have lost their music programs. I'm really excited that I'm now in a position to be able to help people.
There's so much happening this year, I couldn't even tell you. Like performing at Coachella! I didn't think I would get this far so soon, so I'm focusing on elevation and really dreaming bigger.