In this exclusive interview with EBONY, R&B singer H.E.R. gets personal and reflects on the impact her music has had on fans and the music industry. She also talks representing for brown women in an already marginalized group, her biracial heritage and the global success of her career that led to five GRAMMY nominations, including Album of the Year.
EBONY: So let’s get into it. Five GRAMMY nominations, right? No big deal. I mean, this such is a huge achievement, right? This is how you’re bringing in 2019. So just to start off the conversation, what does it feel like to have secured such recognition in such a short amount time in your career?
H.E.R: So many feelings at once! Honestly, you know, all my hard work has paid off for the past 10 years of my life. My whole life I’ve been embraced by all these people around me as far as my challenge. Everybody has seen this light in me. Music is just in me and I didn’t even realize it early on that I was going to do music. So this is just like poof that I’m fulfilling my purpose.
I feel like, it’s not an easy thing for people to find their purpose at such a young age, or feel like they’re doing the right thing every step of the way. It’s really easy to question yourself and second guess your art, especially since I’m very sensitive about my art. That alone is just so special. It’s so, so, so special and to be named, you know, with big artists, it’s like, wow, I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.
EBONY: H.E.R, you’re only 21! The last three years, I want to say it’s probably been a rollercoaster. I remember watching an interview you had with Ebro Darden in New York City; you discussed being disregarded as a “nobody,” even though you yourself knew your purpose, right? Like, even if you didn’t believe in your destiny at that time. How did you keep yourself above the negativity and opinions?
H.E.R: It was really patience because I had been anticipating releasing a project. Now, obviously no one knew who I was as an artist, they knew me as a musician, actor, singer somebody with talent and a gift. However, as an artist, that’s a whole different thing. Who am I going to represent? Who am I going to speak for? The frustration was there. Obviously, when you’re young, even just the past three years, I’ve been figuring out who I am, becoming an adult, becoming a young woman. I had to be patient and not be frustrated in the growth while experiencing growing pains.
It’s all about timing. I knew I had to stay the path and everything happens for a reason. A lot of the people who weren’t with me in the beginning, who didn’t believe me, are looking at me now like, man, I wish I was part of that. I wish I believe in that. Or they’re looking at it like, Oh yeah, I knew all along, but really they didn’t. I look back at it now, like, wow, everything happens for a reason.
EBONY: H.E.R means Having Everything Revealed.
H.E.R: When I found, who I was and what I wanted to represent. I feel like now H.E.R is everyone. Because in the beginning I always tell people that I was making this music that was so honest to me. It was my diary. Everything is so sensitive. I feel everything to the tenth power. I’m so emotional when it comes to even the smallest thing. So it comes out that way in my music, you know, so people may feel certain things a little heavier than my situation. They resonate with the music because it’s just that deep for me all the time. As a woman you go through so many things, our first heartbreak, it makes us jaded, you feel like it’s the end of the world, and that what H.E.R Volume 1 represented, and H.E.R Volume 2 is
Having Everything Revealed is like having my diary out there, it’s so honest. So it’s very hard for me to release this music, and being anonymous made it a little easier, and the anticipation of people listening to music and accepting the music, that was already going to be a challenge for me. So the fact that it was so honest, made it even harder. And now, looking back like, wow, my diary is somebody else’s diary.
So me Having Everything Revealed was helping somebody else discover their truth. That’s what it’s turned into, even though it was very consulting, it was very personal for me. Now it’s become something bigger every day, like my purpose is becoming greater and I’m impacting more people because of my name, H.E.R, because of the fact that not being a face, not having to compare yourself to anyone’s physical features or even for my name or ethnicity or any of those things. Being able to just listen to the music and the words that I’m saying. Just listening to that purely and putting yourself in those shoes, like hearing the music and saying “I feel like this is me, this is my life, this is my diary.” I didn’t expect that to happen. That wasn’t the goal, it was for me to release this good music that was true to me. Now I have meet and greets, and these girls come to my shows and they’re you’re speaking my life, you’ve changed my life so much, and these regular girls who I’ve been able to make feel more comfortable with themselves and that’s such a blessing in itself. And that’s what I think the name really means, is living your truth and being comfortable with yourself.
EBONY: What’s so beautiful about what you’ve done thus far in your career is that you’ve kept your voice, the music at the forefront, in a system where our women have to be hypersexualized in order to sell records. In her feature with Billboard Magazine,
H.E.R: The impact that I’m making alone just makes me want to be even more proud and more empowering for women and be that representative. There’s not enough of us, I think being a Black woman at a young age, we don’t associate certain things with being a Black woman. We don’t associate like real guitar playing, producing or certain things where not that they feel like they can’t, but they’re not encouraged. They’re not counted in. I used to walk in right when I was like 12 years old with a guitar in my hand into a session and they would look at me like who’s
EBONY: I know you come from a family background of music. How’s the family been adjusting to just the success that is H.E.R?
H.E.R: We did music for fun growing up, like my mom who’s Filipino, loves karaoke, we sing a lot of karaoke. My dad had a cover band just for fun, but had a regular job, you know, he did music on the weekends and the instruments were in our living room. I mean going from it being like a family thing and a community thing, to then being worldwide and on the GRAMMY stage is a big wow! That’s all I can say about it. Looking at the journey, the frustrations, struggles even within my family and getting to this point. The hard work, the right or wrong decisions that had to be made. Learning from different things and growing as people and as a family. Like it was not easy at all. It just feels like we got to the top of the mountain, and are still climbing every single day, but it just feels like the view is amazing.
EBONY: I love that you brought up your mom, many people don’t know about your Pan Asian Pacific roots. I saw you shared that little known fact on Late Night with James Corden. Do you want to talk a little bit more about that Filipino influence and what it’s contributed to your music and just your life overall?
H.E.R: I mean, it’s funny. Filipino’s love ballads, they love, love songs. I’ve been singing love songs since I was a toddler, I was singing Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and even Alicia Keys song, that helped my writing so much. That influence alone of the songs that my mom used to play around the house, I mean both of my parents have influenced my musical taste. They’ve shown me music and I really just took it in like a sponge and have used it in my music to this today.
EBONY: Talk to me about the upcoming performance, what are we going to see H.E.R do at the
H.E.R: I mean, it’s going to be a somewhat of a surprise, but you’ll definitely see instruments, you’ll see my live band and I just having a good time. We’re going to jam out.
EBONY: So tell me, you’re going to be telling me you do what you always do. You’re going to perform with several different instruments then. Yes? Is that what you’re telling me?
H.E.R: We’ll see! We’ll see!
EBONY: You’re coming from the age of Soundcloud, right? You’ve nurtured this huge fan base. What has it solidified for you in your mind about your catalog of music? Being able to make the successful shift from Soundcloud to now being one of the most talked about talents in the industry, with multiple records on the radio waves.
H.E.R: I mean, it’s really dope. I will say about my fans, from day one they’ve been listening and are still listening to my projects on repeat. My fans building it on streaming platforms and then coming to my shows and then realizing it’s different when you see it live. I really took the time to grind it out and go on tour. I’ve been on tour for like three years straight, you know, grinding, making new fans. I was on tour with Bryson Tiller who also reposted my song on Soundcloud, and I was on tour with Chris Brown and all these people who go to my show and realize that this is a different way of hearing the music, because they love the music, and it’s on repeat. Then they want to come to my shows and keep coming back and that’s what is really dope. When I do the meet and greets, fans will say that they’ve come to my show three or four times, like they’ve been to every single tour so I think that’s what’s really dope about my fan base.
EBONY: What did getting the Grammy nomination for album of the year, from your EP no less, feel like? What kind of self-affirmation did you get from that? Because that is huge!
H.E.R: I’ve never, I didn’t think that alone was the nomination that I was going to receive Album of The Year. That’s like huge. Like that’s, that’s major. They’re just EPs, not even an album
EBONY: The love that you have for Lauryn Hill is so real obviously playing a huge influence in your life. Who are some of your other biggest inspirations and how do you want to leave your legacy in music?
H.E.R: Prince is like one of my biggest inspirations, definitely, and Alicia Keys. Even like Stevie wonder, as far as his writing and his musicianship those are my biggest. But with music, I don’t know. I think every day I’m still, like I said, my purpose has changed, every single day. The first place EP has led me to believe like, oh my gifts are meant for something greater, and they just keep getting greater. I’ve been telling people I made a vision board in like 2016 of all these accomplishments, personal, career and I’ve accomplished majority of the things on that vision board. That vision board is what I thought success was, and I’ve gotten some success, but I’m not done yet. I’m not like, OK, I made it. I have to make another vision board and I haven’t even discovered all the things that should be on there. I think that’s key for me, is like finding my ultimate purpose because like you said, what do I want to leave with music? It could be something right now, but when I’m 50 years old and I’m still touring because I want to tour until the day that I die like, music is something that I have to do whether I make money or not. It’s something that I have to do, it’s my outlet. It’s my way of expression. I’m still finding that thing that’s going to make me feel like I fulfilled my purpose, ultimately. Like the ultimate goal, like, this is what God has set me. I hadn’t found that yet. I’m still looking. Now, five nominations, is me getting that, that purpose, that fulfilled feeling, but it’s not there, this is just the beginning, it’s about elevation. I can’t even tell you what that view is like at the top of the mountain. I can’t even tell you.
EBONY: You still got time, so we are all excited to continue watching! Let’s discuss when the self-titled H.E.R, I Used to Know Her: The Prelude & I Used to Know Her—Part 2 were all charting at the same time. Your entire discography was trending, what was that accomplishment like?
H.E.R: That was crazy. Now that is proof that people really loved the music. Like some things are hot for a moment, some things are
EBONY: So you managed to get a whole 13 nominations worth of awards in 2018! Do you feel the pressure for the next project or do you feel even more inspired?
H.E.R: I have to block out the pressure because that’s when you start to overthink. If anything I shouldn’t give into any pressure, it should feel like I’m doing something right. I just got to keep doing me. I have to keep doing what I’m doing, elevate and grow, but that’s going to happen. That’s, that’s what I’m doing regardless of any accolade, compliment or audience member, it doesn’t matter. Elevation should happen regardless. It’s just about staying focused because easy to get lost in the sauce. I’m just not letting the pressure affect my creative process. I’m just going with it. I’m just letting it be.
EBONY: Television, movies, acting. Are we going to see H.E.R make a debut on those mediums?
H.E.R: Oh, yeah, absolutely! People keep asking me, and those conversations are happening because acting is definitely one of my passions and I’m getting into it even more. But, absolutely!
EBONY: Jamie Foxx was brought to tears during your practice at the 2018 BET
H.E.R: I mean, I don’t know, like Janet Jackson coming to my show was insane. Like, it’s Janet. She came to my show in London, that was probably one of the biggest, craziest moments but there have been so many where I’m just like wow, like I couldn’t even tell you. It’s just so many, but at the end of the day, like I realize a lot of these artists from previous generations, they’re trying to see what’s hot now. Like they’re looking to artists like me and certain people out that are hot right now. They’re, they’re looking to me for what’s going on in music right now. So it’s like, wow, what do they say, your idols become your peers. Like, I’m being nominated for Grammy’s. I look at them, but they’re looking to me as inspiration, and that’s a blessing. Even Janet Jackson, she told me I had got her through her pregnancy, it was crazy! She would play my music, that right there is like, wow. The fact that we have our favorite artists and listen to certain song because it’s our favorite or because it’s my mood. To be that for another artist that I’ve looked up to is really cool.
EBONY: So I heard you’re going to be working with Rodney Jerkins aka Dark Child on future projects. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
H.E.R: I love Rodney, I’ve known Rodney for a really long time and never worked with him but we finally got to work on ‘I Used to Know Her,’ he was part of the production on ‘Hard Place.’ We’re going to work some more, it’s going to be amazing, he’s a legend.
EBONY: Let’s talk relationships! You’re successful, beautiful, talented. How are you balancing this crazy thing called love while chasing your destiny? What’s the biggest advice you can give to our readers about that?
H.E.R: The only thing I’m balancing right now is sleep and being great! Love can wait, that’s what I will say. Love can always wait because the right person will come. You can’t force it, you can’t be looking for something, you know, because you’ll never find it. Somebody will find, you know, that’s what it’s about.
H.E.R currently has three projects streaming on all music platforms, H.E.R, I Used to Know Her: The Prelude & I Used to Know Her – Part 2. See H.E.R perform at The 61st Annual Grammy Awards, music’s biggest night. The show will kick off live from the Staples Center in Los Angeles at 8 p.m Feb. 10 on CBS.