Shanae Unveils 'reset': An Odyssey of R&B, Authenticity, and Artistic Evolution

It's a new era for Western Sydney's Shanae, and she's ushering it in with her debut EP, 'reset.'

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The R&B up-and-comer Shanae stars with JessB in a JD Sports campaign for Adidas Terrace, her slinky single "outside" the theme. In fact, "outside" is from the singer's debut EP, reset—the latest phase of a serpentine career.

Born in Sydney to migrant South African parents, Shanae grew up in the Western suburbs, eventually moving to the Central Coast. She was exposed to Capetonian jazz, gospel and classic R&B and soul. Shanae demonstrated music chops early—playing instruments in school before a teacher persuaded her to sing. She was even cutting songs as a teen. Idolising neo-soul trailblazers like Sade, Erykah Badu and Jill Scott, Shanae found her own confessional style. 

In 2020 Shanae generated buzz under the handle MADAM3EMPRESS with her track "Come On Over," later gracing a remix of Rico Nasty's "Magic" alongside BARKAA. 

A self-described "deep thinker," Shanae soon questioned her direction. In 2022 she experienced an artistic rebirth, seeking authenticity and the space to express her sonic range and to surprise herself. She reclaimed her name—relaunching her career with a team. Last December Shanae aired the dual single "am i dumb?/am i done?," switching between jersey club and contemporary R&B.

Along the way, Shanae has won over industry and audiences alike. She is a graduate of Acclaim's 2022 All-Stars Class, has showcased at Live Nation's Ones To Watch and BIGSOUND, and opened for the Grammy-winning gospel-soulster (and now friend) PJ Morton on a sell-out tour.

After collaborating with credible studio-types in Los Angeles, New York and London, Shanae is rolling out reset. The lyrics explore the emotional tumult of relationships and her quest for personal freedom. 

But Shanae's greatest coup may be clearing a Big Freedia sample for cloud 9—the Queen of Bounce chanting "Shake, shake, shake" on a track co-produced by NY's Aire Atlantica (famously credited for SZA's hit "Low") and 18YOMAN.

Shanae has been busy promoting reset—hosting a listening party as well as performing a live acoustic pop-up show at Salon de African Pride. She's also premiered a video for the sublime amapiano "favourite song." However, Shanae isn't sitting back. She'll head overseas shortly to complete her next two projects.

We chat to Shanae about her new music, creative transformation, and the inspo behind that JD Sports Adidas Terrace takeover. "The biggest thing that I just want people to know is you can always, always reset, no matter how far you are into something," she says. "I genuinely believe running and working really hard is only effective if it's in the right direction. So make sure that you just take time to reset—double-check as you're moving."

You're ushering in a new era as Shanae. What can you tell us about that?

I'm definitely really happy with all the things that I had achieved prior [as MADAM3EMPRESS]. But, when you are young—and I was 21, 22—you're still finding your identity and I just really speak to that all the time as a person. I think, when you're a young artist and you just wanna be successful, sometimes you can be quite influenced. 

I was really happy with everything that I achieved, but I felt like it wasn't really me. So I decided to take some time away and just kinda figure out what I wanted and what I wanted my art to be about and sound like. That's essentially the whole project—and it's called reset. That's what it's all about; it's about going back to who I am and what I want. 

The music on the project sonically represents me. I'm an Australian-born South African. So you've got Afro tracks, you've got R&B tracks, you've got dance tracks … It's really just sonically me. Everything about the project feels like me in seven songs. 

I really want to be a global artist, not just an Australian artist—and that takes a lot of strategic thinking on my end, and a lot of travelling as well, because you have to connect with people for that to happen, which I did. But it's hard 'cause the blueprint isn't really there. I think that Iggy Azalea and The Kid LAROI left, but they didn't really bring Australia along with them, whereas I'm trying to do something a little bit different.

When did you realise that music was what you wanted to do as a career?

I have always wanted to do music, ever since I was a kid. I grew up singing and playing instruments, so music was always in my realm. 

But there's a difference between being a musician and being an artist—because there are two types of artists. You either create a character and you live into that, which is a part of yourself—so I guess your ego. Or you're yourself—and you're so vulnerable in that space. And I think that's the artist that I decided to be. 

You have South African heritage—how has that influenced your artistry?

It's really interesting, right, because now amapiano and this new wave of Afro has really come out of South Africa—which is incredible. But, growing up, it was a lot of jazz. I guess that that's kind of the foundation of these new sounds, anyway. So I grew up listening to a lot of Capetonian jazz in my household. 

Whenever I'm feeling a bit stuck melodically, I actually always go back and listen to old jazz and lots of instrumental [music] just to kind of get that foundation in—'cause there's obviously so much music coming out at the moment. Sometimes you don't know if you're on the mic singing a melody you just heard or if it's yours! So it's really good to go back to your roots for a palate cleanse, for sure.

How are you developing your own sound?

I think for ages I was like, "Oh my goodness, production-wise, my sound is so different." I used to get so overwhelmed with that.

For example, if you listen to Brent Faiyaz or Bryson Tiller or Summer Walker, you kinda know that they're gonna be on trap beats and you kinda know what the flow's gonna be … I have never been that artist. 

But my sound is definitely found in my melodies, my vocals ... So that's something that's consistent. It's really interesting now because artists are trying to do what I've always done. For example, you've got SZA's project—she's got a variety of genres on there. Bryson just dropped [an album] and he's got a variety of genres … So now I'm like, "Maybe it's actually not a bad thing that I've always just kind of sat on multiple things." So my sound is something that I'm still developing.

Development is so fun—because it's just like finding out what's inside of you. I'm really enjoying that process. I don't think it will ever stop for me.

What can you say about the reset EP?

The music to expect on it is super fun—like just music that you wanna play when you're outside on a sunny day. You can also play it in the car. It's got a nostalgic feeling to it, but very modern. I think that there'll be a song that everyone will gravitate towards.

The type of project that it is, every song could have been a single. So there's no sleepers—and I really mean that. Even this one song ["cloud 9"] that I was kinda [originally unsure of], it's actually got Big Freedia on it—which is iconic ... 
When I was in NY, this guy was like, "Hey, I've got this Freedia sample—do you wanna sing on it?" I was like, "Yes!" But then we made the song and I was like, "Okay, cool, so I'm still independent, how are we gonna ever get this sample? I don't have money to pay for it." [But] they just really loved the song and they ended up wanting to work with me. That was huge

So that song—I always kinda sleep on it, 'cause it's more of a chill one. But every time I listen to that, I'm like, "Nah, this is amazing—this is the one." Then I listen to [another song] and I'm like, "No, this is the one!" I hope that everyone enjoys them all and finds one that resonates with them.

You've done a campaign with JD Sports, Adidas Terrace, using "outside"and JessB is involved. It's actually your second with JD Sports as you did one for The North Face last year. But what was it like shooting it? 

The North Face was super fun—'cause I love what JD has done globally. Obviously, they use a lot of artists. But also locally. I mean, Australia's small so every artist knows each other. The first campaign, with North Face, I did with my friend Gold Fang and that was just so fun. I loved that. That was a three day shoot overnight. I remember I was so tired 'cause I was flying to LA the next day. So it was really cool.
But this one was really fun 'cause they used my song "outside" as the preface for it. It's in a couple of campaign reels that you'll see on Instagram that are going around. 
But it was so lovely. They pitched me this idea. They were like, "Yo, we wanna do this about you. We've been seeing your journey over the last year." And the campaign—really everything that was in there was exactly what had happened. 
Jess is a co-writer on "outside"—we travelled and everything that I said was real. I've been wearing Adidas since I was a kid. So everything was just like, "Oh, this really aligned." I think that [JD Sports] really liked that as well. 

It was so fun to shoot. I work with the creative director on my personal team; he was also on that shoot. All of the extras in the back, in the car scene, were all of my friends. The girls in the running scene, they were all my friends. If [JD's crew] were like, "We need extras," I'm like, "Let's pull my friends in." I used my hairstylist … 
So it was really fun—'cause I was like, "These are all my people. These are all people that are my friends. But I also respect them professionally." And that's what it's about; working together and breaking bread together.

What are your ambitions?

I wanna go very, very, very far. I just always want to follow what's meant for me. I definitely have goals along the way. I'm like, "Oh my goodness, this would be cool; this would be cool." 

But my ambition is to do something that has never been done before for Australia—and my ambition is to break and be a global artist and make great music and put the art first... 

That's really the goal, to be honest. I've never been like, "I wanna win a Grammy." That would be amazing. But I think, for me, I actually wanna make great art and have great memories and see more opportunities come up. Music, definitely, I am very much focussed on it now, but I want it to get to a point where it's big enough that it can be a gateway for me to do other things as well.

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