Devon Cole is making earworm pop with a feminist edge
The Calgary-born artist has blown up on TikTok, and she has her eye on the long game
Devon Cole wasn't planning on being a singer.
Born and raised in Calgary, she sang in choirs and has written songs since her pre-teens, but Cole headed off to Kingston for a psychology degree, performing at open mics and gigs in her free time for fun. After graduating in 2020, she was getting ready to study advertising in the fall when all the pandemic-related downtime pushed her to realize that she didn't want to commit to a non-music career without ever releasing a song.
"All I've really ever wanted to do, if I'm being honest with myself — you know, outside of the romanticized linear progression of school to university to a job — is to write songs and to release music and to perform for people," she says.
So before committing to that aforementioned linear progression, she released "July for the Whole Year" in summer 2020. Now, nearly two years later, Cole's living full-time in Toronto as a musician, with half-a-million followers on TikTok and more than a million streams on that first single alone. She now has a few more singles, some of which you can find on her seven-song EP. The thoughts of copywriting for an ad agency are long gone, with dreams of headlining festivals taking their place.
"If I'm able to do this for the rest of my life and be like a Shania Twain, who just took the stage at Coachella — yes, that's the goal," she says. "I want to be on the Coachella stage when — I don't even know how old she is. Like 50-something. Iconic! I want to do that."
Cole's early influences range from Twain to the Chicks to Avril Lavigne — "I would say Avril Lavigne was my lord and saviour growing up" — but today the singer leans more toward indie-pop artists Maude Latour and Spencer Sutherland, as well as Maggie Rogers. Her own music follows suit, and "July for the Whole Year" is a sing-along-ready pop confection that really lets Cole's powerful voice hold the spotlight. That her first single was received so well was a clear sign to Cole: music is her future.
If you look closely, though, it seems almost obvious that Cole was meant to do this. The choirs, the songwriting, plus the years auditioning for the Calgary Stampede's Young Canadians (three years of auditions, one year on the team); music and performing have been part of her DNA for a long time.
She's also coming up when platforms like TikTok are giving artists the chance to have their voices heard by millions of people — and Cole is very good at TikTok. The songwriter is skilled at the open verse challenge, where artists take an existing song and write their own verse to it. (It's likely what would've made her a great copywriter.)
"It definitely helps with songwriting when I'm having a bit of a writer's block moment for myself," she explains. "It's also a great way to engage with people on TikTok, and I always choose songs that I love already or that I have something to say about. But it is more like a fun activity for me. I'm an assignment girl…. So when there's an open verse or something, I love knowing what the theme is about already. It just takes all the pressure of songwriting off the plate [laughs]…. And it's a great way to get those people's fans to hopefully see your video."
And Cole just had her first original song go viral on the platform: a demo of her yet-to-be-released single "W.I.T.C.H." (She's working on recording it now, to be officially released in July.)
While that original song getting picked up is a new dream come true for Cole, she's no stranger to the viral video: her rewrite of Robin Thicke's now condemned "Blurred Lines" also went viral on the platform. She replaced the original predatory verses to be about consent, singing, "Just 'cause you paid for dinner/ don't mean I owe you a favour," with a slight eye-roll to the camera.
It's a refreshing spin from an artist who has already embedded feminism into her work. Cole's 2021 EP, Party for One, is all about self-love and finding happiness solo — something that Cole has been working on herself.
"2020 was very much a big girl moment," she says. "I just graduated, I was moving away from home by myself. I just got out of a serious relationship and I was just kind of paving my way […] it felt like I was journeying out into this new world basically on my own and proving to myself that I could do it on my own, and also taking the time to not pursue any romantic relationships while I'm figuring out this new career. And so I think that definitely informed the themes of the songs like 'Nobody's Baby,' [which] is about embracing sologamy, which is monogamy but for a single person."
In the "Nobody's Baby" video, she sings into a vibrator instead of a microphone — a move that Cole swears is not an ode to Carly Rae Jepsen's video for "Party for One," as she had never seen it, but she is a big fan of the B.C. pop singer. While promoting sex positivity visually, Cole sings:
Blue skies above my head
I left all those simps for dead
I really do prefer my own company
And I ain't tryna be no wife
I am the love of my life
And f–k I wanna spend some time with me
And soon, Cole is taking her feminist earworms back to her hometown: the singer performs at the Calgary Stampede on July 9, with pop idol Jepsen playing the same festival just five days later.
"It's kind of a pat on the back, you know, that I get to come home. And as this completely new person, as this emerging artist basically, and show people the songs that I've been working on — and the outfits that I'm going to have," she adds, laughing.