Alessia Cara On 10 Years Since Getting Discovered On YouTube: 'I Can't Believe I'm Looking At The Same Person'

Complex Canada caught up with the Brampton native to talk about those early years, which cover she wishes she could have a do-over on, and the untold perks of joining Disney canon.

Alessia Cara performing live
Via Google/Uptown Media
Alessia Cara performing live

Today, everyone’s on TikTok baring their musical souls for the world to see. But 10 years ago when a young Canadian artist named Alessia Cara was posting homemade acoustic covers of “Love Yourself” and more on YouTube, it was still a fairly new concept.

Cara managed to make a successful career of it, and she has new music on the way, but with the 10th anniversary of her YouTube discovery—it was a cover of The Neighborhood’s “Sweater Weather”—here, the Grammy nominee and Juno winner is taking time to reflect on where she’s come from while she plots her next moves.

Complex Canada caught up with the Brampton native to talk about those early years, which cover she wishes she could have a do-over on, and the untold perks of joining Disney canon.

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How has this trip down memory lane been for you?
It's been really interesting, honestly. Even today they played this video montage during rehearsal of the beginning of my YouTube days when I was 14-15 years old, and all these little montage clips. I was listening to my voice and was thinking about just how much has changed. I just can't believe that I'm looking at the same person, it does not feel like that's me. It's like a whole other lifetime, a whole other human being, but also the same person at the same time. It was just such a trip to see yourself. It's like your diary when you're a kid being documented forever to the public. It’s strange to think I was in that place at one point in my life, but it's really cool. It feels really nostalgic. I love nostalgia. I love going into the past and thinking about the journey.

How do you feel today about some of the songs you covered from those early days?
I still love the songs. Asking if I love my covers is a completely different answer. I do not. But everybody has a video of them singing or dancing secretly, you know? But the difference is mine is public. There's a lot that I would probably do differently now that I am a way better singer. But I think that's maybe the charm of it, that's the fun of it. I've grown, and it’s cool to see the growth in a way, but it's equally as embarrassing as it is cool to see, right?

Is there one in particular that you wish you could have a second chance on?
Oh my god, probably all of them. But my “Price Tag” cover, which is, I think, my first cover that I ever posted. I'm playing on the cheapest guitar I could find because I couldn't afford one. It would keep de-tuning, so it's completely out of tune and I'm playing on the neck for some reason because I didn't really know how to play guitar. So I'm just playing it terribly and it's way louder than my voice and it's just a disaster. And my mom is shakily filming me. It's a mess. But again, there's a charm in that.

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When did people in Brampton start noticing you for your videos?
It didn't start happening, honestly, until my first official song came out. When I was doing YouTube, the only people that discovered it were my friends and family, and people that I went to school with. So there were a couple of kids stopping me in the halls, word caught on because it was a small school.

What was the transition like, going from performing in your room to going up on stage professionally?
It was very strange, a very quick process to say the least, just because things just kind of happened. I don't know, it all just snowballed a bit. I went from being a kid who was too shy to sing in front of my own parents, to then being signed and having to sing for this production company in their office, to randomly getting gigs booked and performing live at open mics at bars in Harlem that I probably was way too young to be allowed in. It was crazy. Then from that I got signed to Def Jam, and then my song was out and then suddenly I was performing on Fallon. It was like such a crazy transition. I had to learn as I went. I threw myself to the wolves. It was a night and day thing.

Did you play anywhere in Toronto early on?
I went to a guitar school for a little bit where they held little open mic. Random places like Dave & Buster’s, where people probably did not care to hear me sing, but I did a few showcases.

Seeing as you started by posting homemade videos, has the visual side continued to be important in your career?
I've been really, really hands-on. I think growing up and dreaming about doing this, I always just assumed that every artist wrote their own songs and came up with ideas for videos. So when I was dreaming up ideas as a kid, I dreamed about writing my own songs and doing my own videos. I didn't realize that it wasn't like that for everyone. I just love the visual accompaniment to a song, and I really am hands-on about that because as soon as I write a song, I picture the video already. I can picture colors and feel like songs are coming from their own universe. And i think there's something so fun about bringing it to fruition.

Is there a video you’re most proud of?
Two songs on my last album In the Meantime, “Sweet Dream” and “Shapeshifter” are kinda like sister videos. They tie in together, so you need to watch both to get the whole experience. “You Let Me Down” is also special because my brother directed it, and we edited it together. He's amazing and it was so fun to work together.

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I wanted to know about “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana. What’s it like having a song that’s part of the massive Disney canon?
Disney is its own world. Its own planet. I had no idea going into Moana that it was going to be as big as it was, which is a stupid thing to say, because it's Disney. But in my mind, I didn't think anything of it. I just thought it was really cool and I loved Disney, but I feel like the perks are just you have all these kids loving you, and then you get to annoy parents for the rest of eternity. You get to be in the living rooms all over the world, which is so cool.

Do you have new music coming? 
I don't know when it'll be out. I'm working on it. I've been working on it for the last year and a half or so. So that's been my main focus over the last little while, so hopefully soon. 

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Does this trip down memory lane inspire the current work?
It definitely inspires the current work. It's cool to look at everything from an outsider's perspective now, because it helps me figure out where to go next. You can't really figure out where to go next until you refresh your mind on where you've been, and where you are right now. I think the new music feels like a smooth transition into a more sophisticated, more happy, more solid version of myself.

Do you have any advice for the current generation of young people posting homemade videos of themselves performing online?
It's hard because I feel like even though they’re doing what I did growing up, the scope of the internet has changed so much. If I were starting out today, I don't know if I would have known what to do. I think at the same time it can be more challenging because everybody's doing it, but I think it's really special to be able to have that unfiltered connection with people.

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