Fearless and unfiltered, Kelly Kiara speaks on her creative processes, the inspiration behind her upcoming mixtape, and exciting plans for the future.
Kelly Kiara almost walked away from music completely. Feeling defeated by the industry, the songwriter-artist was ready to move on, until a self-penned, original verse that showed off her struggle in heartbreak centered on Yo Preston’s cover of Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself” shocked the internet.
The song went viral online, and fans quickly began to see and admire Kiara’s aptitude for expression without censorship and the authentic creativity she had in her lyrics and sound. After years of writing songs for chart-topping artists like Mabel and Gorgon City, a newfound confidence and readiness for bringing honesty, fearlessness, and feminine power to the scene pushed the artist to begin writing songs for herself.
In 2019, Kiara released her debut single, “Tornado,” which was, as she described, “100% me.” In the time since, the artist’s talent for storytelling and musical flair has caught the attention of audiences worldwide. Following the whirlwind of her debut, the uncertainty of 2020 presented Kiara with two options.
“With the lockdown, I decided either I could chill-out for a year, or I can just use every single second to work”. Kiara chose the latter and is now wrapping up a year full following the release of highly-acclaimed singles like “Sex Faces” and “Pretty Girl Style,” the soundtrack behind Pretty Little Thing’s latest fashion line. Her brand new single, “Down 4 U”, a bitter yet empowering track, comes just ahead of her upcoming debut mixtape, ‘Hopeless Romantic’.
Kelly Kiara spoke with Notion about the hard conversations she’s ready to talk about in the music industry, the R&B influences on ‘Hopeless Romantic,’ and how she stays forever creative.
Before debuting as an artist, you were actually working as a recruiter in the health sector. You were ready to move away from music completely. There are so many people out there who have given up on music because they’re not getting back what they’re putting out. What made you want to stay and go back to pursuing the dream you were ready to walk away from?
I think I got to a place in my life where I felt really defeated. I felt like I didn’t know what the answer was. I didn’t know how to get into the industry, like so many people. It’s really difficult to just get one little foot in the door, so for me, I feel like what kept me going was that I was a risk-taker.
When I did the cover online that went viral, and as soon as I saw that people were supporting me and liked my voice and what I was doing and the direction of my sound, I was like, “Okay, I think this is a sign. .I just decided to take a risk, and I think that’s the only reason why I’m in the place where I am now.
Your latest single, “Down 4 U” isn’t about the breakup part of a relationship, but about you coming out of it, and being confident enough to say, “You’ll never find someone like me, ever again”. Why was it important for you to push past the sadness of a breakup and address it from a perspective of self-confidence?
The reason why I wanted it to come from that standpoint was that I find it really difficult to be vulnerable. “Down 4 U” is the most vulnerable song that I’ve done so far, and it’s probably nowhere near as vulnerable as the music that I’ll probably put out later, but I do find it difficult to be vulnerable. If I feel sad or down about something, my go-to reaction is to be like, “Oh well, never needed it anyway!” That’s what makes me feel strong. Whether or not that’s correct, that’s what makes me feel strong in that moment and it made me realize that if you don’t respect the 100% that I’ve given you or have to offer, then it’s no problem. I’m not gonna miss something that wouldn’t miss me, and I think I have to stay in that frame of mind because that’s what pushes me forward and keeps me motivated.
The music video radiates the same strong, confidence that comes from the song. You look vengeful but ready to move on in the visual. What gave you the idea for the video?
In the song, I’m talking about unrequited love from somebody who has lost interest, been with another girl, or hasn’t really respected me or given me the attention and love that I feel like I deserve. The video really reflected that because it was like a big, “F U, I want you to know you’re not gonna make me feel lost or vulnerable”, and it was basically just turning against the man, really, and showing him that I’m not scared of you and I want you to know the truth about me and I want the girl to know the truth so that she can take matters into her own hands. It’s also about just empowering women to not be scared of being a “psycho” or being too much or being too loud or crazy like I don’t care about any of that. It’s just a big fingers-up moment.
Especially at the end of the video when you’re seen walking away like you’re done, that empowerment is really there.
Yes, and there was a lot of inspiration from 90’s music videos. The main majority of my inspiration comes from 90’s videos so I wanted to incorporate that glamorous house, the sexy underwear, the old VCR, and all those little touches that were a reflection of how I’m influenced by those kinds of visuals.
You’ve been writing music for a few years now. How do you tell the difference between giving your song to someone else to sing and knowing that a song you wrote should be sung by yourself?
For a while, I didn’t know how to distinguish between the two, but usually, when you’re a writer, sometimes you’ll be asked specifically for a type of song. So sometimes you’ll be focused on writing for somebody else from the beginning, and then other times if you are starting to make music and you feel like it’s something really personal to you and the sound matches the sound of your last single or your next single, then it feels like it’s more of a fit for me.
It depends on how personal it is. I think the more personal it is to me and my story, the more inclined I am to keep it for myself just because I have an attachment to those types of songs whereas if I make something that I don’t feel is really my message or wouldn’t be best delivered by me, then I’d rather it go to somebody else. I am more interested in how far I can make the song go, rather than what the song can do for somebody else. I like to treat the song as the priority and if I think the song is like, a big pop hit that I wouldn’t take on right now, then I would give it to somebody else.
What do you do when you have writer’s block? Where do you go to find inspiration when you don’t have it?
Luckily, I have never experienced writer’s block so far, to the extent of not being able to think of anything. I’ve never had that, but I have had times where I’ve been in the studio, and nothing’s really coming to me or what is coming to me is something I’ve heard before or that I’ve done before and that does happen to me.
So I treat my writing like a cup, and what’s in it is my creative pool. If I’m writing all the time, it’s going to go down, and I’m releasing what’s coming in to go out, so I treat my cup as the most important thing in my career because I have to constantly be filling it up, and what I choose to fill it up with will then come out.
I’ll do things like going on walks, which I really enjoy. It’s not anything exciting, but I really just love walking and being outside. That makes me think, and it puts me in touch with nature which is a big part of being human. Also, things like talking to friends and getting their opinions on things will help because sometimes I will write a song and it won’t be from my experience. It’ll just be from experiences I’ve heard from other people, and I always fill my cup with doing things that make me happy. Whether that’s eating that chocolate bar that I shouldn’t be eating, but I know it will make me happy, I will do it. It’s just constant self-care. If I feel like painting one day, or one day, I just don’t feel like doing anything, another day, I’ll do something that’s different than what I usually do… I’m constantly treating my brain as a cup that I have to fill with excitement or happiness because I have to be in a place where I’m okay to release my emotions in order to write successfully. I just let myself feel absolutely everything whether that’s good or bad.
It’s been about a year since “Tornado” first came out and you debuted on the music scene as Kelly Kiara, the artist. Do you feel like any parts of your sound, your artistry, or creative process has changed between then and now?
Yes, definitely my sound. The sound has definitely changed into more of a classic R&B sound. I feel like when I first came out, the most important thing to me wasn’t even really the sound. It was more of what I was saying. The content of what I was actually speaking about was the most important thing to me and I wanted to put my first foot forward with super feminist, super-aggressive, super forward, super confident – those were all the traits of my personality that I wanted to put forward first because I don’t see that many people, especially in the UK, doing that or talking about the kind of things that I wanted to talk about so I thought that if that was going to make me unique, that’s what I’d have to do first so that people understand, from the very first thing they see from me, they can get a clear picture of who I am.
As my career has evolved over the past year and I released more music, I wanted to show people a different side of me that they hadn’t seen before, something more vulnerable. So I’ve just gravitated towards the songs that people seemed to like the most which was “Set Me Up.” That was really classic R&B and that’s the kind of thing I’m going to be releasing moving forward. There’s still going to be that crazy side of me in there, but it’s going to be more of a journey. You’re going to see me grow continuously because I’ve got music that is not like the music I’m doing now that you will hear in the future.
This whole year, I’ve been creating my sound now, creating the sound for the future, and creating a new sound for the future, future, and it’s weird! It’s like I’m evolving faster than I can show people, but I really enjoy it. Changing things is a prerogative of being a woman. We get to change our hair, our makeup. Some days we want to be a tomboy, some days we want to be a girly-girl, and I used to think that I had to be one, otherwise people wouldn’t get it. People wouldn’t understand that I’m multi-faceted, but as I’ve actually grown into myself a little bit more, I’ve kind of let that notion go in my brand. I thought, this is who I am as a woman.
In honour of “Pretty Girl Style”, you’re working on an all-inclusive clothing line for people with physical disabilities and for those who have difficulty dressing. What inspired you to use your platform and artistry to create that?
Yes! We are in the super early stages, but the idea of the line is that we’re making it inclusive for people with physical disabilities and looking at what kind of fashion they miss out on with their physical disabilities and are the clothes they avoid buying because it’s too difficult for them to get dressed or does it not suit their body shape? This isn’t just for those who are physically disabled. This is for people who have body shapes that are not the typical shape and size. I know that I don’t shop at certain places simply because I know it will not fit me at all, and that’s coming from someone who is able-bodied and also a size 10 to 12. I should fit right in the pocket of normal branding, and if I don’t, then nobody must. There must be so many other people out there, and it’s not fair for them to miss out on their favourite fashion or what they want to wear just because of a body type or a gender, so I wanted to have something that’s a unisex, all-inclusive brand that helps people to feel confident about themselves and not just following fast-fashion or giving them products that everyone else would wear. It’s going to be something that’s more catered to people all over the world.
Who are some artists you draw musical influences from that we might hear on your upcoming debut mixtape, ‘Hopeless Romantic’?
Summer Walker, Jhené Aiko, and I have always been a fan of Jojo. She was the first musician that I was obsessed with, and a lot of the inspiration is drawn from her as well. They’re really just classic R&B females with a strong message. Especially with Jhené Aiko. She’s always got kind of this cute-girl energy, but then she’s saying really gritty words and messages so that’s where I take a lot of my inspiration from.
What do you hope people take away from your debut mixtape?
I hope people take away the courage to express themselves emotionally because I find it quite difficult. Even though I’m a writer, I still find it difficult to be vulnerable about my own story and I think that listening to other girls talk about how they feel and having no censor or no filter makes other women feel like it’s okay for them to also do that. So, I want people to take away the movement of being an unapologetic woman. Whether that’s the crazy woman, whether that’s the loving woman, whether that’s the “psycho” woman – whatever part on the spectrum of that feminine kind of energy that you want to take on, do it and don’t hold back, especially not for a man. Do it unapologetically.