“I first picked up a guitar when I was 10. I don’t know how to shred yet, but I’d like to eventually,” grins the most in-demand new pop star on the planet, 19-year-old Alessia Caracciolo. That impudent smile is one of her trademarks, and utterly at odds with the introverted loner she portrays on her deliciously creeping, party-loathing viral hit, ‘Here’.
Surfing between Drake’s contemplative R&B and Lorde’s razor-sharp observational pop, Alessia’s beginnings were humble. Initially, she says she couldn’t even face the idea of playing music outside her Ontario bedroom. “I was so, so, so shy. I’d done theatre my whole life but when it came to singing I was nervous,” she remembers. The natural solution, she figured, was to get a YouTube account, keeping the audience at arms length while offering a window into her world, where Frank Ocean is king and Amy Winehouse queen. Her eclectic covers, which ranged from Beyonce to Gnarls Barkley, soon grabbed the attention of Def Jam, where she’s now a priority act going into 2016. It didn’t take the general public long to catch on either, with ‘Here’ conquering the internet almost immediately after going online in April. A few months on, and it still seems like the most brazenly exciting pop song to emerge this year.
“I don’t dance, don’t ask, I don’t need a boyfriend” half-raps Alessia over the iconically trippy sample from Isaac Hayes’ ‘Ike’s Rap II’ – also utilised by Portishead and Tricky in the ’90s. “’It was a packed party in a basement,” she explains of the true story behind the song’s lyrics. “Everyone seemed to know each other, but not me. It was sweaty, there was a guy and girl passed out with vomit all over her, people were just stepping over them. I called my mom and got her to pick me up.”
Alessia’s debut EP, ‘Four Pink Walls’ is due for a US-only release on August 28, with ’Seventeen’ the pick of an eclectic crop of new tracks. A super-polished, poppier cut formed around a heavyweight hook of “I wish I could freeze time at 17,” (“That didn’t work, clearly,” she laughs), might it leave people who’ve fallen for ‘Here’’s understated charms a little startled? “I think they definitely will be a little bit surprised,” Alessia admits. “‘Here’ is so R&B and so chill, but I want to show that I’m a multi-format artist. You don’t have to be a [one genre] kind of artist. Once you start making these songs, your genre becomes your own.”
Debut album ‘Know-It-All’, which is set for autumn, will apparently push genre boundaries even further. Produced by ‘Four Pink Walls’ collaborators Pop & Oak (Nicki Minaj) and Malay (Frank Ocean), it arrives on the back of shoutouts from Drake, Taylor Swift and Lorde – all three artists Alessia was covering as a complete unknown on YouTube just a year ago. She’s also already stormed late-night US TV, by putting in one of 2015’s best performances on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon (backed by The Roots), as well as selling out her debut London gig at Camden’s Barfly in under a day. But amid all the celebrity cosigns, bundles of ticket sales and jet-setting lifestyle, is Alessia still the anti-party girl at heart? She almost frowns at that question, before squealing, “I wouldn’t know, everybody has stopped inviting me to them!” You can’t imagine things will stay that way for her.
ALESSIA CARA: THE DETAILS
BASED Brampton, Ontario
FOR FANS OF Drake, Lauryn Hill, Lorde
BUY IT With the EP a US-only release at present, UK fans will have to make do with ‘Here’ for now, which is on iTunes
SEE HER LIVE London Camden Barfly (September 8)
BELIEVE IT OR NOT Alessia was attacked by a stray cat as a child: “I got an infection and had surgery on my saliva glands. Apparently, I taste food 5 per cent less than other people!”