After gaining widespread recognition from cover songs posted on YouTube, to becoming a semi-finalist on the 9th season of American Idol, to Grammy winner; the evolution of Tori Kelly is a feat to be admired.
Throughout the soulful artist’s musical journey, Kelly has remained true to her warm presence and relatable, heartfelt lyrics. Each of Kelly’s albums pulls directly from what she is experiencing in her personal life which she then translates into beautiful, melodic songs that have touched her fans and have been recognized from the beginning. In 2015 her debut album, Unbreakable Smile entered the Billboard 200 chart at number two and the accolades came pouring in from there.
Kelly followed her debut album with her passion project, Hiding Place in which she brought home two Grammys for Best Gospel Album and Best Gospel Performance/Song. In 2019, the brave singer dug deep as she opened up about personal loss in her third album, Inspired by True Events. Now with the release of her EP Solitude, Kelly is celebrating a new, happier chapter in life despite the non-ideal circumstances she worked in to create it. After having to cancel her 2020 tour due to COVID, Kelly saw it as a blessing in disguise and a chance to get back in the studio, her home studio that is.
“It felt like I was going back to my roots even with the Drake cover, that was kind of a nod to the YouTube days when I would do covers, so I think it was just so meant to be.”
Though circumstances of creating music during a pandemic and quarantining weren’t ideal, Kelly took the opportunity to get back into songwriting and producing which she hadn’t done since her first EP. Solitude is comprised of five songs inspired by the 90’s R&B era combined with reflection of her current state of mind.
“One of my faves is for sure ‘Don’t Take Me Home’…it just feels like me, everything from the chords to the background. I had a lot of fun making that one.”
While quarantine didn’t hold Kelly back, it did present challenges when it came to building the concept for the video of her last song added to the EP, ‘Unbothered’ – produced remotely by Jorgen Odegard, P!nk and Yungblud). After pouring pain and hardships into her last album, the unbothered singer went the complete opposite route with uplifting melodies and lighthearted lyrics displaying her newfound liberation. “With COVID, we had to get really creative as well, it’s like, what kind of video are we going to do,” Kelly shares. The artist can be seen frolicking through a field with stunning visuals and a purposeful DIY look, creating the perfect summer anthem and classic celebration song for getting over an ex. And of course, the best way to get over an ex is to…fall in love with an amazing new partner of course, which Kelly celebrates in the gentle ballad, ‘Glad’. Kelly has been happily married for two years and wrote, produced, and recorded this song completely by herself in her home studio to show gratitude to her husband’s unwavering dedication to their relationship and unconditional love and patience given while she was going through hard times.
Aside from writing, producing, and creating inspiring music during the pandemic, the pop star has been filling her time with perfecting other skills that you and I might be able to relate to a bit more. Kelly describes how she used this newfound solitude as a chance to organize her house and get better at cooking. “I just like trying to make healthy food taste bomb, I think it’s fun,” Kelly shares. In her words, she has also become a “solidified dog mom” having added a new puppy to the family. And just like everyone else with a significant other, Kelly spent her time quarantining with her husband which could’ve been a recipe for disaster or a blessing in disguise, luckily it was the latter.
“If you listen to ‘Glad’ there’s a line that says, ‘you still be getting on my nerves’ but it’s like, I still love you and wouldn’t have it any other way.”
A couple that makes it through a pandemic together, stays together, isn’t that how it goes? It’s also no secret that this pandemic brought bored in the house to a whole other level with the Tik Tok craze reaching new levels, yet Kelly wasn’t as eager to jump on the bandwagon. However, we still have hope as the artist says, “I think it’s so fun. I’ll probably start posting more too because I think it’s a cool, different corner of the internet.” More and more hopeful musicians are turning to social media, especially Tik Tok to display their talents and wait to be recognized. Now as a vet in the social media game, it’s only right that we picked Kelly’s brain for advice.
“As someone who has struggled with comparison, I think that’s always my main advice is to try not to compare yourself to other people and really hone into whatever it is that makes you, you.”
The key is remembering that our favorite celebrities are also fans of musicians and sometimes who they’re jamming out to, is not who you would think. Currently, Kelly has been listening to Anderson .Paak as well as classical and instrumental music. The artist sees it as a “palette cleanser” considering she is around music constantly. She also shouts out piano player, Alexis Ffrench after discovering his music on a flight. Even without words, his music brought her to tears and from then on, he has been her go-to to clear her head. On the other spectrum, one genre of music that is sure to brighten Kelly’s mood are Christmas carols.
In the midst of a pandemic and heatwave in Los Angeles, Kelly was sweating in her studio as she put together her first-holiday album A Tori Kelly Christmas.
“I’m so happy with it. I love Christmas, so it feels so good to finally have a body of work that’s like, Christmas music.”
The singer got the ultimate dream after teaming up with R&B legend, Babyface who executive produced the album. After surfing Spotify for Christmas album inspiration, Kelly stumbled upon one of Babyface’s holiday albums and thinking it was a long shot, asked her team to reach out. The singer was pleasantly surprised to hear that Babyface was interested as well and from there they exchanged ideas via email and text to ultimately create the holiday album she had so eagerly desired to make.
The evolution of Tori Kelly has been a journey of highs, lows, loss, love, success, and everything in between. The ever-evolving artist has hit the ground running with a continuously growing fanbase. With success comes fame and fame will forever remain a mystery to those on the outside, however, Kelly has found her own ways to handle the pressures and nuances of living life in the public eye.
“I don’t know if we’re meant to have the attention of that many people and have people look at your every move and pick things apart.”
However, Kelly remains grateful and excited to live out her dream and connect with those that appreciate the music she puts out.