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Something About Her: The Mystery Of H.E.R.
We all fall in love differently. But most of us rely on a combination of stimuli from the eyes, ears, smell and touch. H.E.R., has forced us to fall in love with her music using just one thing: our ears.
Two years ago, the California native made a splash with H.E.R. Vol. 1, a powerful seven-track EP with cover art that only displayed a silhouette of curves and curls. Even today, she remains a beautiful enigma, hiding behind sultry lyrics, powerful intentions, harmonies, sweet melody and a never ending supply of sunglasses.
So what do we know about this mysterious artist? We know that her name is Gabi Wilson, though she hasn't confirmed this. We also know that she was a young talent who had a record deal with RCA Records when she was only 14 years old. But most importantly, we know Wilson isn’t interested in any of that anymore. She wants us to concentrate on her music, sans the woman behind it.
Nowadays the typical formula for success includes information overload, but H.E.R. has actually managed to win with her mystique. Her silence is loud. Her shadow is light. That's the thing about going left when everyone else goes right, it grabs people's attention. The move was certainly deliberate with a touch of irony - the acronym for H.E.R. is Having Everything Revealed. But why reveal so little about yourself when you have such an enormous talent?
"Concealing my identity really came from me trying to find ways to be super honest in my music," H.E.R. tells us. "I want the people to hear the music for what it is, and not have any judgments or make any assumptions."
Recently, The Weeknd also made fans fall in love with his music first. And can we blame him? Anonymity allows for a certain transparency in the creation process. There's a liberty in creating – not as someone or something – but just for the sake of art, passion and love. It's often hard for fans to separate the art from the artist.
H.E.R. grants herself freedom to explore, to be curious and to create from her highest and truest self. Without judgment, ego is silenced and magic occurs. And much of H.E.R.’s work has been created at this level. On last year’s release, H.E.R. Vol. 2, she values musicianship and cultivates sonic experiences while questioning love, lovers and even herself. Co-signed by Keys, Bryson Tiller and Rihanna, H.E.R. is a true multi-instrumentalist who plays at least five instruments including the piano, bass and guitar.
"Instruments are my roots. I grew up in a house with instruments," she tells us. "I woke up to B.B. King with my dad cooking breakfast."
Vulnerability is at the heart of soul music, a trait H.E.R. has mastered. Her powerful ballad "Focus on Me," the stand out track where vulnerability meets vocal expression on H.E.R. Vol. 1, made its way onto the Billboard Hot 100. It’s a desperate but sensual song that begs her lover to notice her, to see her, to focus on her in a way that feels like love. At age 20, her music is mature but still young. Just young, not immature.
"…Vol. 1 was a collection of songs that represented the time I was transitioning from a young girl to a young woman," she recalls. "It turned into a very selfless thing because many women can now relate to it."
We sure can. In fact, many people can relate. H.E.R. has released three EPs so far, the latest being I Used To Know Her: The Prelude, which dropped earlier this month (a full-length project is expected this fall), and she has already racked up millions of streams on YouTube and Soundcloud and over 5.7 million monthly listeners on Spotify.
"Her fans have connected with her artistry in an amazingly genuine way, which also enables her to create freely," says Mjeema Pickett, Head of R&B/Soul at Spotify. "Her authenticity and musicianship draw people in."
BET took notice early on. Back in 2014 she performed as a Music Matters Artist, and just this summer she hit the main stage at the 2018 BET Awards with a breakout performance of "Focus" and "Best Part," which included an electric guitar solo and a special duet with young talent, Daniel Caesar. But even then, on one of the biggest platforms on television, under the brightest of lights, she tried to hide. On a stage blanketed in smoke, dressed in oversized shades that covered most of her face an electric blue loose-fitting full-length dress with leggings, she belted out incredibly powerful melodies in a riveting performance. An obvious crowd favorite, social media was buzzing for days about her outstanding performance.
"With the overwhelming fan support for H.E.R…. we knew without a doubt her performance at this year’s BET Awards would create a memorable moment," said Connie Orlando, Head of Programming at BET. "What separates H.E.R. from other artists is not only her amazing talent but also her dedication to telling beautiful and inspiring stories through music."
Storytelling is the cornerstone of great music. A story isn’t just found in a song's the lyrics; it’s in the chords, riffs, and of course, the voice. Pain, love, confusion and passion escape through the voice. It’s where stories run wild and transform into something more beautiful. A powerful voice does not need a name, or a bio, or a look because it has its own story. It’s the beautiful – and sometimes tragic – story weaved into the fabric of humanity.
That story is what H.E.R. has allowed her music to become. Fans have given her permission to show up whenever and however she prefers in exchange for powerful music. And while the experiences, heartbreaks and life lessons come from Gabi Wilson, H.E.R. is the conduit for sharing with the world. But make no mistake, the two aren’t separate. Nothing really is. She is H.E.R., just like we are.
H.E.R. is a member of the Recording Academy and can be seen in the Academy's We Are Music campaign.
Lakeia Brown is a freelance writer and host of the podcast, Decoded with Elle Bee. She has been published in publications like O, The Oprah Magazine, Essence and Complex. You can follow her on IG @decodedwithellebee