NME Radar: Breakout

Kamal: the lockdown hit maker with approval from Billie Eilish and Dave 

His breakout song 'homebody' was written pre-pandemic, but its introverted nature resonated with locked-down listeners worldwide

Each week in Breakout, we talk to the emerging stars blowing up right now – whether it be a huge viral moment, killer new track or an eye-popping video – these are the rising artists certain to dominate the near future

Kamal.’s 2020 single ‘homebody’ turned out to be an accidental lockdown anthem. Blending bedroom pop instrumentals with emotional lines (“Please don’t ask me how my mind is / ‘Cause you don’t care)” the song seemed all too fitting at a time where people couldn’t escape being alone with their thoughts when it was release in March 2020. The fact that it was written pre-pandemic shows the songwriting talent Kamal. has to share; ‘homebody’ brought beauty to the mundanity of ‘the new normal’ and mirrored a collective internal struggle.

Soon after the 18-year-old earned a writing credit on Dave’s track ‘Mercury’, a combination of delicate crooning and introspective rap bars. This was met with another big win when Billie Eilish picked the R&B-tinged ‘blue’ for the number one spot of her Spotify Lorem playlist takeover, on which the singer vividly depicts his growing pains: “Nikes on my feet, but you don’t check up on me / Bite my bottom lip until it’s blue / Steadily unloadin’ all your stress upon me”.

Kamal.’s debut EP ‘war outside’ (June 11) pieced together and through voice notes, laptop demos and late-night sessions on his piano at home, as the collection taps into anxiety, alienation and the deterioration of young love. For the first time, his range of influences come on full display: from the mellow indie verses of ‘lose’ to the hushed ‘duvet interlude’ and pop ballad ‘angel!’.

From his family home in north west London, Kamal. speaks to NME about finding fame during a pandemic, writing about mental health and what inspired the new release.

How has the past year been for you?

“It’s been an adjustment period, but in terms of the music, it’s kind of been a positive thing. I’ve been allowed to just focus on recording and writing, which is what I love the most. There’s a whole live aspect I haven’t been able to do yet though, I haven’t seen the people who support my music in the flesh, but I’m being patient and I’m alright to take that when it comes.”

A lot of your work touches on social anxiety, is this something you experience yourself?

“Anxiety in general is something that I have my own experiences with. I feel like it’s important to talk about it because it can be really therapeutic, but I also like that my music is a comfortable space for me to let those emotions spill out.”

How does it feel to reach a whopping 50 million streams?

“When you write personal songs like ‘homebody’, you don’t really expect people to respond to it like that. It was such a specific emotion that I had at the time, so it’s crazy to know that everyone else can access it and feel it too.”

What’s interesting about that track is I wrote it in like half an hour. I don’t try to write songs quickly, but I feel like that might be part of the reason it was so successful. It’s the rawest, most stripped-back thing that I’ve put out, and it was a result of me not really thinking. I was just tired that day in the studio and was humming it under my breath. I feel like the stuff you come up with when you’re not overthinking can be what people relate to the most.”

How does it feel knowing that Billie Eilish is a fan?

“I wouldn’t call her a fan, but just the concept that she could ever listen to my music is mad. I definitely rate what she’s doing, especially at such a young age.”

Kamal.
Credit: Press

“The songs you come up with when you’re not overthinking can be what people relate to the most”

Tell us about the new EP…

“It’s quite mellow for the most part and is split in the middle with an interlude, along with ‘homebody’ which I also put in it. The first few songs are quite mellow, then the second half picks up a little bit in its own subdued way.

As far as how the project is experienced, I want people to listen to it start to finish for the first time. Then they can take it in as a whole body of work, like a cohesive thing that comes as a package. After that, I’m happy for people to just pick their favourites and slap them in a playlist.

How has lockdown influenced the title track ‘war outside’ and the EP as a whole?

“Not at all actually, and the same goes for ‘homebody’. Because of the time it was released it was taken as a lockdown song, but it was not about that whatsoever. The idea of home was a metaphor for being in my mind, living within myself and finding comfort by surrounding myself with my own thoughts, rather than staying inside.

‘war outside’ is a similar thing, it’s not about there being a literal war or storm. It’s about overwhelming emotions and the sort of anxieties you can experience when you leave your house.”

Kamal.
Credit: Press

How did the collaboration with Dave happen?

“We had been back and forth on text and met up a couple times before that came to fruition, so I knew that he messed with my sound and collaborating was on the table. When he hit me up for the song, immediately I was like ‘I need to do the vocals straightaway’, so I started drafting and writing stuff. It happened quickly, as soon as he sent me what he wanted me to work on, I got back to him within two hours with the hook I had written, and it all went from there.”

Who influences your sound?

“Keaton Henson is really sick lyrically. For the interlude, I was quite heavily influenced by Jeshi and that laid-back speaking style of delivery. I’ve also been listening to Bruno Major recently, that’s not really reflected in the EP, but his style is something I’d want to experiment with.”

Any other sounds would you want to try out?

“I’ve written songs like ‘about the party’, which is sort of jumpy in comparison to what I’ve been doing recently and what’s on the EP. Then ‘blue’ is more of the R&B side of things, so I feel like I’m still finding my feet and what suits me best. I think the main reason I drifted into the indie pop style is because of lockdown and how it made me feel, but I’m still exploring.”

Kamal.’s debut EP ‘war outside’ is released June 11