Photo: Philip Harris
Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Jessie Reyez's Best Urban Contemporary Album Nomination Is For Her Parents
Being Human In Public, Jessie Reyez says, is about "being untouchable from other people's opinions."
The seven-track EP released in 2018 is a continuation of what she began on 2017's Kiddo: tough, yet vulnerable songwriting featuring strong vocals over R&B beats.
"You ain't scared to f**k, but you scared of being lovers/ Why is that, huh?" she calls out in "F**k Being Friends." But the tough-talking Reyez isn't afraid to let her guard down either. We see a softer side to her on "Apple Juice."
"You should know that I'm at your mercy/ I've spent my life searching for you," she sings, demonstrating how even the most walled-off hearts are susceptible to love's power. Reyez's way of navigating matters of the heart as a 20-something has earned her more than 13 million streams a month on Spotify. Her talent has led her to become the "voice to watch out for," and her second EP, Being Human In Public, has nabbed her a 2020 GRAMMY nomination for Best Urban Contemporary Album.
Chatting with the Recording Academy ahead of the 62nd GRAMMY Awards, Reyez said that being nominated for an EP feels "unreal." (She joins the likes of H.E.R. in being nominated without having released an official full-length album yet.)
Since gaining traction online in the mid-2010s, Reyez has collaborated with the likes of Calvin Harris, Tory Lanez, Eminem, Normani, 6lack and Sam Smith on the singing and songwriting front (she co-wrote Harris' pop hit "One Kiss" featuring Dua Lipa). But as much as she enjoys writing for others, her focus is on her own artistry, and that includes nurturing her Latina roots.
Born to Colombian parents in Toronto, Canada, Reyez became interested in music thanks to her family. She would sing with her dad in church, her brother played the clarinet and a lot of records were heard around her house. Her father would play cumbia records all the time when she was growing up. In other interviews, she's mentioned the impact Colombian artists like Carlos Vives (who brought Vallenato, a kind of folk music in Colombia to other parts of Latin Americain and beyond) have had on her.
She features her first song in Spanish on her GRAMMY-nominated album. Co-written with GRAMMY-winning Argentine singer/songwriter Claudia Brant, "Sola" touches on the expectations placed on women in relationships.
When asked about what featuring a Spanish-language song on her album means to her, Reyez has a simple answer: "It means I'm being myself. Being me is being Canadian, being Colombian."
Before releasing a Spanish-language song, Reyez incorporated Spanglish in her music effortlessly: "F**k it, remember back when I told ya/ That I'm a loca Colombiana (Yo te lo dije)," she sings on "F**k it."
Outside her album, Reyez has teamed up with big names in Latin music too. Among them are Latin GRAMMY winner Karol G, GRAMMY-nominated heavy-hitter urbano producer Tainy and GRAMMY-nominated bachata/pop singer Romeo Santos.
Amidst the success Latin urban is seeing, Reyez isn't jumping on a trend; she is simply being herself: a leading young Latinx artist showing the mainstream that you can't make an artist choose between one of their identities. She's also an artist who understands that there's power in a platform.
In her song about long-distance love, Reyez touches on the undocumented immigrant experience. "You're still a world away/ And you're still waitin' for your papers/ Been feelin' like the government wants us to break up," she croons. "I feel what you feel when you're far away/ It's been a hundred days/ Since I kissed your face."
The song's video features images of President Trump along with scenes of ICE separating family members. Reyez is proud to come from immigrant parents and always felt welcome growing up in Canada. "Canada has this really cool way — specifically Toronto — of encouraging you to wave both flags, if you've been born there, like wave your flag and then wave your parent's flag too and be proud of it," she told the Recording Academy in 2018.
Today, Reyez says her nomination is as much for her as it is for her parents. "They have so much to do with who I am. They're responsible for how I was raised," she says. "It's because of them that I am who I am, so of course this is for them."
And that's exactly who was there when she found out she was nominated for a GRAMMY. In a video posted to Instagram, Reyez opens the door seemingly just haven woken up and gets greeted by her parents with a huge hug and the news of her nomination. "They're my best friend. They're the people who look out for me the most," she says.
Her nephews also act as a stabilizing force, never letting her head get too big. "Oh Tia, are you saying that you can sing now?" one of them joked after she explained how they could pursue a career in graphic design if they wished (after all, she's making a living from her dreams).
"That's how they keep me grounded," she said laughing about the moment. Although a light-hearted exchange, Reyez takes it as a reminder that she is always working on becoming better. In her words, she's "hella meticulous" about her craft.
Being Human In Public is one manifestation of her drive. But one thing's clear, she wants to reach the top by being herself. That's a major theme behind her album and the reason behind her album title. Being real is something that can be hard to achieve in the age of Instagram when everything and everyone seems so polished. "I don't want to dress up. I don't want to put on makeup. I don't want to be fake nice to anybody, I just want to be myself," she says.
At the moment, she feels in control of her narrative on social media but says that that could change as her career grows. Whatever happens, "Nobody's gonna say [she] didn't give it all," as she declares in "Saint Nobody."