For most musicians, opening for jazz legend B.B. King would be the peak of their career. For singer-songwriter Caroline Smith, however, that was just the beginning.
The 28-year-old began as a folk singer, but changed course to neo-soul R&B with 2013’s Half About Being A Woman. This year, the Minnesota native released a pop-infused single “Trying Not To Love You” and just last week premiered the accompanying music video on TIDAL. The video, choreographed by Crazy Ex Girlfriend’s Kathryn Burns, features Smith tap dancing while the shadow of a man watches stoically. The video speaks to the content of the song—struggling to move on from someone who doesn’t seem to know you’re there—and also to Smith’s distinct musical influences, drawing from ‘80s costuming and eclectic lighting reminiscent of the “Hotline Bling” video. We spoke to the TIDAL rising star to discuss the video:
Tell us a little bit about how you got started.
Caroline Smith: I’ve been doing music for a while, but I got into it because I’ve always had an affinity for writing music and performing. When I was younger I didn’t really have a journal, I’d just write songs about the things that were bothering me. I never really thought about it too much, it was just something that I naturally did. It kind of blossomed into this. When I was sixteen I started playing songs at my mom’s coffee shop, and from that, somehow I ended up opening for B.B. King, and from that it kind of all snowballed to where I’m at now.
Who are some of your influences?
Smith: I like a lot of stuff, but I’m really influenced by women that don’t really fit into one kind of mold; they’re just not scared to say what they’re thinking. People like Erykah Badu—I’m massively obsessed with Erykah Badu. I really liked Anderson Paak’s last record because it just felt really free, like he was just kind of singing and writing straight from his soul, which is really cool. I get super inspired by people who just say it the way that it is.
Your social media presence seems a lot more authentic than a lot of today’s artists. What does social media mean to you as a musician?
Smith: I try to be pretty honest in my songs, and I’m always trying to send some kind of message, whether it’s being confident with who you are as a woman—I think it’s pretty hard to be a woman in today’s climate. I think that if I didn’t have a social media presence that didn’t corroborate what I’m writing about in my songs, it would feel very lopsided. I don’t take myself too seriously; I never really have, so I think that I try to maintain who I am on my social media to drive everything home.
How has becoming TIDAL rising artist changed your thinking about the direction of your career?
Smith: It’s really validating. Sometimes it’s hard not to ask yourself, “should I be doing what they’re doing?” But I feel like it’s best to be really stubborn and say, “No, this is who I am. This is the art I make and the message that I want to send.” Having a company that you really respect, that’s run by people you really respect, say “yeah, we support what you’re doing; we support your message.” That feels really good.
You’ve got a great new video out through TIDAL that features some pretty impressive tap dancing. How was it working with Kathryn Burns on that choreography, and how involved were you in that process?
Smith: Working with Kathryn Burns was so amazing. When she said she would do it, I freaked out. I was on tour in Philadelphia, about to play a show, and I had a phone call with her. She was still deciding, and we had a talk and all of our references matched up perfectly. She said, “oh my god, let’s do this.” I freaked out; I was so excited that she wanted to work with me. She really mixes choreography with comedy. I love her approach to body movement. My favorite show is Key and Peele, and she does all of the choreography for them. I kind of imagined her creating the dance for me, and then me learning it all in the studio. But when I went in for my first session with her, she didn’t have it because she said, “no, we’re gonna write this together.” I was like, “oh my god, okay.” It was really fun because she’d say, “where do you want to go with this?” And I’d say “oh, I kind of feel like doing this move” and she’d be like, “oh that’s great” and she’d take that move and elaborate on it. Or, sometimes, she’d say, “I can’t do what your body naturally does, so let’s just keep what you do naturally.” So it felt really good. She really didn’t want me to fit into the “typical” form of dance. She wanted it to be me and my untrained, weird dance moves. It really helped me maintain this special style for the music video.
Did you have any specific listener in mind when you wrote the song?
Smith: You know, there’s been a lot of spotlight on feminism. And there’s been a lot of spotlight on female artists that are really strong, that have it all. Like, Beyoncé’s a mom, and makes amazing art, and works 90 hours a week. Or you’re like Rihanna, just the most confident, “I don’t give a fuck, my sexuality is my own.” And I think there’s a voice that’s missing for women that maybe aren’t completely there, or are like, “what, so I’m not amazing if I don’t work 90 hours a week, or I’m not amazing if I can’t stop calling my ex boyfriend?” And I really wanted to be a voice for girls to say, “No, you’re still amazing.” Just because you call your ex boyfriend doesn’t make you any less of an empowered woman. We all have moments of weakness, and I think it’s interesting to play in that area. Being imperfect and still working on who you want to be and where you want to go, it doesn’t make you any less of a woman or any less of a feminist.
Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to share with our readers?
Smith: I am gonna be probably releasing another single here soon, and then I’m going into the studio to finish up the album at the beginning of January, which I’m really excited about. I’m just going to hunker down and finish it, and then get back out on the road, which I’m really excited about.
Is there anything we haven’t talked about today that you’d want to discuss?
Smith: Oh, the outfit that I wore in the music video. I was super duper excited that the designer made that for me, he’s a designer by the name of Phlemuns. I wanted to give him a big shoutout because he made that custom for me. I didn’t have much of a budget, so it was really, really awesome working with him. He’s worked with a lot of my favorite people, too, so I was freaking out.