Rare is the first single that seems to tell you everything about a pop star. It happened with “Royals,” Lorde’s anti-bling anthem that revealed a thoughtful irony. And it may have also happened earlier this year with “Here,” Alessia Cara’s ode to the teens who feel more comfortable in the margins. In the smooth, soulful song, which is the hit single on Know-It-All, her debut LP out November 13, Cara is at a house party, and she hates it: “I’m sorry if I seem uninterested/Or I’m not listenin’/Or I’m indifferent,” she tells us, adding, “Yo, I’ll be over here.”
Of course, a disinterest in fitting in is practically the definition of cool, but the 18-year-old Canadian singer’s shyness is not just marketing. Growing up in a suburb of Toronto, Cara, née Alessia Caracciolo, got noticed at 13 after she started posting YouTube clips of herself covering the likes of Amy Winehouse and Frank Ocean with a guitar. “It was a way for me to get used to singing in front of people without actually singing in front of them,” Cara says. “I never thought I’d have a career because of YouTube.”
Even after she signed to Def Jam at 16, Cara was slow to come out of her shell. “I was just really shy,” she recalls. “I wasn’t giving my opinion enough. I wasn’t sharing my ideas or saying what I felt. Even singing in front of people was terrifying.” But she grew into herself as an artist, and when her label suggested she make her debut with a breezier, less opinionated pop song, she demurred. “It took me saying that I had a vision,” she says. “So we took a chance on ‘Here,’ and it went crazy online.”
On Know-It-All, there are ballads, anthems, and soulful paeans. The album is romantic, earnest, angry, and can sound a little hurt, too. In short, it’s moody—not unlike Cara herself. “Whether it’s vulnerability or rebelliousness,” she says. “I wanted to show all the sides of a teenager.”
Hair by Andrea Wilson for Oribe Crème for Style and Oribe Soft Lacquer Heat Styling Spray at Next Artists, makeup by Kim Weber for Surratt Beauty. Photography assistant: Tess Ayano.