Blog

12 things you need to know about Alessia Cara, Canada's first-ever best new artist Grammy winner

Fascinating facts about the young Brampton, Ont. native who just landed one of music's biggest honours.

Fascinating facts about the young Brampton, Ont. native who just landed one of music's biggest honours.

It's one of the toughest categories because you can only be nominated once, and the competition is fierce. Still, last night young Brampton, Ont. singer/songwriter Alessia Cara landed a coveted best new artist award at the Grammys. She was the first Canadian ever to win the honour.

Cara has been winning accolades for several years, but the Grammy win marks a massive leap for her career. So how much do you know about Canada's latest superstar? Here are 11 fascinating facts.

Her real name is Alessia Caracciolo

She's best known as Alessia Cara, but her real name is Alessia Caracciolo. She was born July 11, 1996 and grew up in Brampton, Ontario. Her father is a Canadian whose parents were Italian, and her mother is an Italian immigrant.

Her passion for music began with a birthday gift

Cara's parents gave her a guitar for her 10th birthday, and she could barely put it down — but she mostly kept her music to herself. Instead, she studied drama and theatre in school and only then began performing in talent shows.

"That helped me get more comfortable singing in front of people," she told Teen Vogue. "And the reaction I got — that they liked my music and what I was doing — that made me more comfortable, too."

She was discovered on YouTube

At 13, Cara began posting cover songs to her own YouTube channel. One of them, a cover of The Neighbourhood's "Sweater Weather," got noticed by the daughter of a record executive who showed it to her father, EP Entertainment founder Tony Perez. Soon after, he offered her studio time to write and record.

Her debut single was a massive hit

Cara's debut single "Here" — a track about having a terrible time at a party — was met with a wave of acclaim and was named a "can't-miss" track by Spin, as well as a "must-hear song" by Cosmopolitan. Rolling Stone later ranked it number 21 on its year-end list of the 50 best songs of 2015. "It wasn't even supposed to be a single really. We just put it out to introduce me as an artist, thinking it might get picked up by a few blogs, and it just blew up," she said in a 2015 interview. "I don't think anyone was expecting it — it's been awesome."

But it almost didn't get released as a single

Before she released "Here," Cara's label pushed for a less confrontational song, something that would fit into the pop landscape and not stand out as much. Still, Cara insisted on releasing "Here."

"The other song that we had, I feel like it wouldn't separate me from the crowd as much," she told the New York Times. "As a new artist and as a teen girl, I didn't want to be compared. I wanted people to be, like, 'who is this girl?' They might have said, 'beautiful song,' but not, 'who is the girl?'"

Cara fought extreme self-doubt

Cara's song "Scars to Your Beautiful" is about loving yourself, but it turns out that was something Cara herself had to learn to do. "Growing up, especially, I just always doubted myself in every aspect. I wasn't really that confident and I think over time, I just started to really push myself to not pay attention to what other people think. That was something that I had to teach myself over time, that other peoples' opinions don't matter and to appreciate what you have," she said in an interview. "I'm at a place now, finally, where I can say that I'm confident in myself and I really don't worry about outside opinions of people, especially those that I don't know."

She was opening for Coldplay at just 19 years old       

In April 2016, Coldplay announced that Alessia Cara would be one of their opening acts on the European and North American legs of their Head Full of Dreams Tour — an experience she says that taught her how to be more of a performer and entertainer. "When you're doing giant stadiums like that, you kind of have to keep thousands of people entertained so I think I've definitely learned a couple of things about just performing, but then also just watching the band and seeing how they not only perform, but how they treat people offstage," she said. "It reminds me that no matter how successful you are, you can still be a good person. They're the nicest people ever."

She has never craved the spotlight

Cara performed alongside Taylor Swift on her 1989 tour, and soon found herself being cheered by over 50,000 Swifties. When asked whether the experience inspired her to daydream about headlining stadiums herself, she said yes — but not because she craves the spotlight.

"Half of it is daydreaming and the other half is just complete terror. I've never been one to crave attention, which I know means that this is probably the worst career to pick. I get anxious even when people come up to me for pictures, sometimes," she said. "That's the one thing that makes me hesitant about my future. But I love music too much to not do it."

Lauryn Hill, Amy Winehouse, Pink and Fergie are among her biggest influences

When it comes to musical influences, Cara names some of the biggest women in pop, among them Lauryn Hill, Amy Winehouse, Pink and former Black Eyed Peas frontwoman Fergie. "When I listen to their music, I get inspired with how honest they are, how real and raw they are. You could tell that none of it is contrived and they're really just being themselves," she said.

"That's something I've always wanted to be, so when you have artists like that, and you listen to artists like that, it just makes you feel more empowered. It makes you feel like it's okay to do that," she explained. "I just think it's really important to be yourself and unapologetic with what you say. All those people were always that way."

She does some mean impressions

Cara is known for her spot-on impressions, including her take on New Zealand singer Lorde, pop star Ariana Grande and fellow Canadian Alanis Morissette. "I've been a Lorde fan since forever, and after I listen to someone's music a million times, I just start to sing it like them," she said. "She has such a distinct way of pronouncing words. Lorde said it sounded like her, which was a good stamp of approval."

She wants to create music with a message

Cara is the first Canadian to win a best new artist Grammy

There are plenty of Canadian Grammy winners — Alanis Morissette, Shania Twain, Michael Bublé, Drake, Arcade Fire, Joni Mitchell, Sarah McLachlan and Céline Dion to name a few — but Cara is the first ever to win best new artist. "Holy cow. Wow. I've been pretend winning Grammys since I was a kid in my shower. You think I'd have the speech thing down, but I absolutely don't," said Cara on Grammy night, clearly overwhelmed by the win. "I just want to encourage everyone to support real music and real artists. Everyone deserves the same shot."

After her big win, online critics complained that Cara shouldn't have received the award because the 21-year-old wasn't "new" enough. Soon after, Cara addressed the controversy with her trademark honesty and genuineness. 

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.