You probably haven’t heard of H.E.R. and that’s just how she likes it. The US star may be a favourite of Rihanna and be preparing for a sold-out UK run – but her identity has been kept deliberately under wraps. Her real name – Gabi Wilson – was reluctantly revealed in an interview last year, over a year since her debut EP ‘H.E.R. Volume 1’ came out. Every picture of her on Instagram is paired with dark sunglasses and a hand over her face. The music, quite literally, is doing the talking.
But with the success she’s starting to have – like the millions of streams on recent single ‘My Song’ – she’s starting to open up. “Eventually it had to start happening. Everything is impossible to avoid as far as privacy and information being out there, but I live a very private life,” the 20-year-old says over the phone from her Brooklyn pad. Privacy may be the primary reason for this withdrawal, but the name and idea behind it point to something far bigger than her. “I feel empowered in a way. I can be a voice and a message as opposed to poster child or a face,” she says.
H.E.R. isn’t just interested in empowering herself though. “It made sense to me to name my project H.E.R. and be a voice for women, but learn to be honest with myself and be comfortable with my vulnerability.” It’s not just the vulnerability her music tackles, but also understanding and being proud of self-worth, as demonstrated on twinkling ballad ‘Losing’, on which she sings: “my ambition is attractive/my aggression isn’t passive”.
Keeping things on the downlow is nothing new for H.E.R. Growing up in Vallejo, California she says that this private “loner” mentality has been with her all her life. “I would play outside and everyone would go out but I would rather be inside watching the Prince concert DVD and learning how to play guitar.”
Her homework proved worthwhile. A record deal with RCA came aged 14, but H.E.R. has deliberately been taking things at her own pace. “I needed the freedom to find myself and figure out who I was and grow up” she says. “I’m 20 now and I’ve grown so much even in the past five years but from the beginning it was always about figuring out exactly who it is I wanted to be, how I was going to tell my story, but I had to live life first. I like to tell my story, be really honest and not be a character or anything.”
And told it well she has. Her two EPs ‘H.E.R. Volumes 1 & 2’ make for a heartbreaking listen – one on which H.E.R. pours every emotion into powerful ballads and slinking R&B numbers. As a result she’s picked up fans in Bryson Tiller, Pusha T and the mighty Rihanna – who posted a clip to Instagram of her listening to H.E.R.’s song ‘Focus’ last year. “Honestly I was blown away because it was more than just a simple ‘I like this song post’ – it was the ultimate video for ‘Focus’,” she explains. “Her hair was blowing in the wind, it was just this really majestic video. It’s crazy that this huge, iconic female artist is giving me props and showing love in that way. “I just felt like ‘wow, I’ve done something special’.”
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Now, she’s dreaming of collaborations with Miguel, Stevie Wonder and even Coldplay’s Chris Martin, and an album is in the works. But for now, H.E.R. is just happy to help articulate some of the emotions and experiences women her age have. “I felt like I was the only person that was going through these things and that felt this way and it was almost comforting for me to know that people could identify with the words I was saying, especially woman of all ages and all people.”
H.E.R. will play:
Manchester, o2 Ritz (March 8)
London, Koko (March 9 & 20)
Birmingham, O2 Academy (March 10)
London, Shepherds Bush (March 21)