By Dan Hyman Chicago Tribune
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Thanks to major headlining tours, a supporting gig for Childish Gambino and performing at this year's Grammys, H.E.R. (born Gabi Wilson) is leaning in to her growing fame.
When she first emerged on the national scene, in 2016, H.E.R. received outsize attention not simply because of her stunning voice, a feathery and lithe instrument that landed her a major-label recording contact at age 14, and was the result of years spent closely studying her musical idols including Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Alicia Keys, but more notably because she almost entirely concealed her identity.
At the time "H.E.R., Volume 1," her debut EP, was released that year, the enigmatic singer did virtually zero press and did not release official press photos. It was her hope, she's since said, that in taking this mysterious route her music could do the talking.
These days, the 22 year-old singer, born Gabi Wilson and whose stage name ironically stands for "Having Everything Revealed," still typically wears sunglasses at all time, and didn't even have her legal name listed in the credits for her five Grammy nominations, including Best New Artist and Album of the Year.
But thanks to major headlining tours, a supporting gig for Childish Gambino, critically-acclaimed releases, and performing at this year's Grammys, not to mention taking home a pair of awards, including Best R&B Album for her eponymous 2017 compilation LP, she's had no choice but to lean in to her growing fame.
"I've been feeling it more and more lately," the singer, whose equal-parts swaggering and seductive music balances vulnerability with assertiveness, said when calling one recent afternoon. "At first everything was surreal and kind of like a dream," she added of the early days of her career. " But after the Grammys I get recognized more, even without my glasses on. And people are constantly DM'ing me on social media, hearing my songs on the radio. I mean, even flight attendants are recognizing me!"
It's all in due time for H.E.R. The slow and steady career growth over the past three years, Wilson said, has been not only been a purposeful but cherished pace. "Good things take time," said one of the most promising young talents in R&B.
Despite acknowledging that contemporary listeners have short attention spans, "I don't like to rush things," she added of her slow-drip release model. "I'd rather have quality over quantity. It's about perfecting each song and making sure it's what you want to do. And then even with what I share it's all very strategic."
That is also true of her evolution as an artist. The daughter of a Filipino mother who turned her on to karaoke at a young age, and who learned to play the drums, guitar, keys and bass thanks to her father's cover band rehearsing in the family's Vallejo, Calif., home, H.E.R. signed a record deal with RCA at age 14.
Soon after, she released an under-the-radar EP under her birth name. Looking back, she said even as she navigated the challenges of the music industry she kept her head down knowing her making music was not about achieving some sort of instant recognition but rather pursuing a lifelong passion.
"It was always passion over everything," the singer explained.
Even after she changed her stage name to H.E.R., in 2016, and subsequently released a pair of lauded EP's in successive years, the singer said she was still biding her time until her true artistic identity revealed itself. "It was never a reset or a re-brand," she said of the name change. "It was a slow build. Everything was a transition.
"It was all part of the process," she added. "It was all supposed to happen this way. I was just going through those changes as a young woman. The people who don't know me or my journey say 'This all happened so fast!' Not really. The years that were put in are the reason everything seems to be happening quickly now."
That includes a major fashion partnership with Uggs, and H.E.R. curating and performing at her own Lights On Festival this September in Concord, Calif., where she'll be joined by fellow contemporary R&B standouts including Jhene Aiko, Daniel Caesar and Ari Lennox. H.E.R. admits the recent success has her looking back at some of her earliest live performances and marveling at how far she's come.
"I look back at videos and am like, 'Wow, we've come such a long way!'" she admitted with a laugh. "Me and my band especially. Just our chemistry onstage and how comfortable I am now. Even my ability to just speak to the audience. But I'm still so hard on myself as far as my live show. I'm a perfectionist and I want everything to be amazing every single show."
Though having taken her time and gotten to this point by charting her own course, H.E.R. said she's doing her best to enjoy the current moment. "At this point I have no doubts about the future because everything has worked out so perfectly until now," she said confidently. "And even when it didn't seem like it was working out it was always going to work out in the end." She paused and added with a laugh, "I'm one of the highly favored, I guess you could say." ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.