Alessia Cara talks about singing with Taylor Swift in Tampa, the huge success of 'Here' and more
Six weeks after joining Taylor Swift onstage in front of the biggest crowd she’s ever seen, Alessia Cara still sounds dazed by the experience.
“That was a crazy, crazy experience,” said the 19-year-old Canadian singer, who joined Swift’s squad on Halloween night in Tampa, performing her hit single Here. “She was the nicest girl in the whole world, as you can imagine — she was so sweet, and made my whole family feel comfortable, and made me feel comfortable, and it was the best experience you could ever think of.”
That performance helped nudge Cara into a whole new stratosphere of stardom — her debut album Know-It-All, released two weeks later, debuted in Billboard’s Top 10, and Here — a jazzy, trip-hoppy, introvert’s lament about wanting to ditch a lame party — has been soaring up the charts ever since. And on Saturday, Cara will return to Tampa to perform at the 93.3-FLZ Jingle Ball, alongside 5 Seconds of Summer, Demi Lovato, Nick Jonas and others.
But there’s a reason Swift made space for Cara on the final U.S. date of her star-studded 1989 World Tour. From the stage that night, she called Cara “not only one of my favorite new artists,” but “one of the most unique, one of the most talented artists out there, period.” After the show, Swift even sat down to interview Cara about Know-It-All for Yahoo.
It’s all a long way from Brampton, Ontario, where Cara found fame singing YouTube covers in her bedroom. Before Cara plays Tampa’s Jingle Ball, she called to reminisce on her magical Halloween night in Tampa.
How did you end up on that stage with Taylor on that night in our city?
I was trying to find a cool person to interview me for my album. And since Taylor Swift has been such amazing supporter — she was tweeting my song, and she was so supportive of it — I thought, Maybe I should ask her. I knew that was a longshot, but I asked her anyway on Twitter, and she said yes — which was already surprising enough for me, and I was freaking out because she said yes. But then she said: “We could do the interview in Tampa Bay, since I’m going to be doing a show there in a few days. Would you like to come on stage to sing with me, too?” I was in the middle of a restaurant, and I called my dad and my manager over and started silently screaming.
Had you performed for a crowd that size at that point in your life?
No, never! Of course not. I’d never been in a stadium. I’d never done anything like that.
She praised your ability to keep it together. What was going through your mind?
I just tried to really, really focus, and tried to blank out and just sing the song. But it was obviously so hard, because in the back of my mind, it’s like, Oh my god, I’m here with Taylor Swift and there’s 55,000 people... So it was really hard to keep my cool. But I think I managed to do it without messing up the words.
And then after you leave the stage, what happens?
After I leave the stage, I run to the front and I get to watch the rest of the show, which is awesome. And the whole time, my adrenaline was still running, because I was fine, and excited and happy. And then the second the concert ended and I went backstage, I started crying. I think everything for the past eight months that had happened just hit me in that one second, and it was a little overwhelming. But it was awesome.
The irony, I’m sure, has been presented to you many times, given the nature of what Here is about. Taylor’s tour was the biggest pop party of the year all across North America. Does it feel strange hearing and singing that song when the parties and the stages keep getting bigger?
Yeah, it is a little weird, especially when you sing it in a stadium, and it’s the biggest party in the world. It’s funny that a song about being uncomfortable in certain social situations has led me to the biggest social situations in the world. But I’m glad I’m still able to sing it. And you know what, sometimes I still get uncomfortable. No matter how big the stages are, I still get scared, and I still get shy sometimes.
I think the authenticity of the message of Here is what’s resonated with a lot of people. And you have to have a certain level of authenticity and believability to be able to connect on YouTube. Do you feel that’s a big part of who you are, and what you’ve been able to accomplish?
Yeah, I think so. Obviously, YouTube is what got me discovered by my production company, and it helped me build this little following that I had. People really believed in me early on, when I just had nothing but my guitar and a little iPhone camera. I guess the people who have followed me really feel like they were able to grow with me and follow my career. Social media in general can just be a way for people to feel close to you, so I’m glad it worked out the way it did.
Out of all the YouTube cover artists out there, why do you think yours resonated and went viral?
I’m not really sure. I guess you’d have to ask the people. But maybe it’s because it was just me being me, and I wasn’t pulling off any gimmicks or anything like that. It was just me singing. I didn’t really think much of it, and maybe that’s why people can relate to it, because they realized that I was just a person.
Now that you have a great album and a hit single to your name, how does that change how you’ll approach doing YouTube covers going forward?
I never want to stop doing it. Of course, it’s difficult now, because I’m so busy and I have thousands of things to do. But I really try to keep in contact (with fans), whether I do a cover on YouTube, or I’m just responding to people on Twitter. I don’t really want to abandon that side of things. Just because I have a song that exploded doesn’t mean I have to abandon everything. I still want to maintain that relationship and continue to show people that it’s not going to change me.
Have you covered Adele?
I’ve covered one Adele song, it was one of my first covers. It was One and Only off of 21. Now that her new album is out, I definitely want to try something else.
What goes through your mind when you see Adele’s insane sales figures with both Hello and 25? Does that even register with you as a performer on any level?
It’s so difficult to even understand. It’s crazy to me. When I look at my numbers, it’s not even close to where she’s at. But I think as a performer, it doesn’t change the shock factor of, Oh my gosh, there’s millions and billions of people listening to me, and that many people know my music. It’s crazy, so I can imagine what it’s like for her. I understand why, because 21 was such a moment, and it was such a thing, that people were just waiting for her to come back. She came back beautifully. People just attach themselves to what’s real and what’s honest, and she’s always done that. So I understand why people would buy that many copies.
So to come back around to Taylor: What have you taken from that night that’s stuck with you since then?
Honestly, I think about that all the time. I brought my three best friends with me, and my dad, and I remember them being so excited. My three best friends are obsessed with Taylor, and they got to meet her because I was on stage with her. The fact that I was able to do that with them was amazing. And just seeing Taylor and how nice she is to every single person in her crew. How she treats people is so, so nice, and I think so rare. You don’t have to be arrogant or close yourself off when you become huge. You can still be a normal human being.
-- Jay Cridlin