Aria Ohlsson's star is swiftly rising. Her secret? Loving herself first
As the 23-year-old Toronto-born pop singer says in her new hit, ‘I’m not trying to love you over me’
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While YouTube covers are how Aria Ohlsson got her start — amassing more than 44,000 views on her biggest hit, the ballad "Say Something," by A Great Big World and Christina Aguilera — the song that truly introduced her to the world was a tribute to Angelica, her late mother.
"Heaven" dropped in April 2019, and was a therapy session of sorts for the Toronto-born, often Vancouver-based pop singer. Her mother died when Ohlsson was only 12 years old, and while Ohlsson had been singing in choirs since Grade 4 and asked her parents for a guitar at age nine ("I was a fan of John Mayer, [and] Taylor Swift. Everybody had a guitar at the time so I was like OK, maybe I should get one," she explained, laughing), she didn't start writing her own material until her mother's death. Even then, though, her public output continued to be based on YouTube covers and singing contests.
"I was going through a really stressful time in my life," Ohlsson explained, describing a time a few years later that would lead to her first single. "I don't have dreams of my mom — my sisters have dreams of her and everything. And I just felt like it was very hard for me to write a song about her, and it took me a very long time to do that. And when I moved back to Vancouver, it was like 3 in the morning. I was so tired and I ended up writing 'Heaven' in like 30 minutes. And that was such a healing process for me."
"And a lot of people kind of ask, 'Are you OK? Is everything good?'" she added, laughing. "But it was a song written for my mom basically explaining, you know, I wonder what it's like to be on the other side, to be with my mom. But I'm reminding myself every day that even though she's not physically here, I know that she's still with me and, you know, that I'm grateful for the moments in my life now. And she's going to be here with me every step of the way."
"Heaven" was followed by a handful of other tracks that same year, including "Drive," a meditative pop song built on percussion and a sparse guitar riff, with Ohlsson's voice sitting front and centre. Released eight months before the pandemic, the song is currently her biggest hit with more than half-a-million streams on Spotify, proving to be cathartic during its time post-release, with a video of Ohlsson driving and "big city dreamin.'"
Even though Ohlsson has only released five singles so far — with an EP on its way — it's already clear that songwriting is integral to her personal process. "Love on the Weekend," her most recent release that's currently vying for top spot in numbers against "Drive," is a song Ohlsson wrote about agency, and learning to claim it.
"I got inspired at a time in my life when I was just getting out of a relationship," she explained. "And a few of the relationships I've gotten into have broken me in ways that I've lost who I was. And at the time I was a type of person, I always felt like I needed someone. If I didn't have someone, that I wouldn't be whole. But after this relationship, I started to look at dating differently. I told myself I could have fun, and I don't need to be in a relationship. It was just this mind-blowing moment where I was like, I don't need anyone to make me happy. I can have that for myself."
The line "I'm not trying to love you over me" is telling. As Ohlsson clarifies: "It's me saying I'll enjoy the time that we have, but I can't give you the love that you need — because I'm saving that for myself first."
Ohlsson assures that her debut EP has been a "very long time coming," based on years of her songwriting as well as pieces she's still writing.
"It's just something that I hope that other people can relate to, especially finding that love whether it's within other people or within yourself specifically, that's something that I've struggled with for a very long time."