Alessia Cara Turns Her “Growing Pains” Into Pop Perfection

For Alessia Cara, releasing music is “kind of like riding a bike,” she tells “You just have to learn how to do it all over again.” She’s still figuring out how to talk about her new single, because ultimately, it’s not just about explaining the track. “It’s trying to figure out how to explain what’s been going on with me for the past three years,” the singer-songwriter says.

Photo: Brick Howze

Cara, who turns 22 next month, could easily start with the fact that she rose from YouTube fame to pop stardom in 2015. Or that her debut album, Know It All, went platinum that same year. She could also mention that she recorded an Oscar-nominated Disney song in 2016 and very casually won the Best New Artist Grammy earlier this year. But instead, she tackles the inevitable struggle of growing up with her new single, “Growing Pains.”

She penned the track, which carries her signature anthemic pop sound, about a year and a half ago, in the midst of falling in and out of a relationship, being unsure of her own feelings, and adjusting to her new level of fame. “As I take on the stress of the mess that I’ve made / Don’t know if I even care for ‘grown’ if it’s just alone,” she sings in the second verse.

This was the first song Cara wrote for her upcoming sophomore album, The Pains of Growing (“September-ish,” she says of its release), which only means she’s got more for us in the works. Below, Cara opens up about becoming an adult, dealing with loneliness, and what to expect from her new era of music.

Harper’s BAZAAR: Where did the inspiration for “Growing Pains” come from?
Alessia Cara: I wrote it during a time where I felt sort of lost in everything I was doing, lost in my job and in my responsibility. It was really confusing. Not only am I a 21-year-old woman, which is hard enough, but I’m also part of a circumstance and a lifestyle that is very unusual and very different, and that can be kind of scary. I think those two things put together created this emotional distance in my head where I knew I was supposed to be happy because I was fulfilling my dreams, but I just wasn’t quite happy with myself. I wanted to write a song about it, but give it some slight silver lining by calling it “Growing Pains,” because I think all pain is something we can grow out of, or grow through, at some point. That was my way of saying this isn’t forever.

Photo: Brick Howze

HB: Your music really celebrates youth. In “Seventeen” you talk about “freezing time” at that age. Is growing up something you were worried about?
AC: A little bit, because in a way, you have to grow up a lot quicker than other people. It’s a whole different responsibility that I wasn’t used to, and a role that I wasn’t necessarily prepared for, or didn’t expect. There are so many positive aspects to that, of course, and it’s been a real blessing to have that responsibility. But at the same time, when you’re one person who hasn’t even fully grown up yet, that can cause a lot of confusion in your own head, and a lack of care for yourself. I was so focused on caring for other people and making sure that I was sending these messages to others.

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HB: With songs like “Here” and “Scars To Your Beautiful,” you really champion the underdog. Have any of your fans, especially young women, reached out to you, saying your music touched them personally?
AC: Every day I get messages. It’s such a beautifully jarring thing to just make a song because you feel something, and then have real-life people, one on one, tell you that it’s changed their life to the point that they love themselves in a new way, or to the point that they were able to come out to their family. It’s weird how people can find comfort in your insecurities, but it’s amazing that there are so many people in the same boat. I think the more you talk about universal feelings, the more we become aware that people are a lot more similar than than we think.

HB: Also, congratulations on your first Grammy! Where do you want to go from here?
AC: It’s hard to say because you think the Grammys are like the end all be all. But I would love to win one for one of my full projects one day. This one I won for being the artist that I am, which is amazing, but it would nice to win something for a project. Outside of accolades—because that is only a small fraction of what I do and why I do it—there’s so much. There’s always a new thing to try. There’s always a new goal to reach. And, I feel like if you think, “Oh, I’ve done it all, there’s nothing more to do,” then there’s no point.

Cara wins Best New Artist at the Grammy Awards in January 2018. Photo: Getty Images

HB: Did the win affect how you made your next album in any way?
AC: Not really, honestly, because one, I had a lot of it pretty much written, and two, I don’t want any outside events, or any outside things, to affect the way I write music. I think when I write in my purest form, it always comes out way more honest. I feel like I write best when it’s purely unfiltered and me. So I try not to let any outside things affect the way that I write music.
This time around, I am definitely aware that I have an audience now and I have people that I have to really connect to, and there are people that are waiting to connect to me. I’m always mindful of what I put out, because I don’t want anything to seem like it’s just me complaining about my life. I want them to really relate to it. Because my circumstance and my career is very unusual, it’s seemingly difficult for people to relate. But I think there are so many common feelings, even in uncommon situations. People are always bound to relate if I’m honest enough.

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“If you think, ‘Oh, I’ve done it all, there’s nothing more to do,’ then there’s no point.”

HB: Does it get lonely doing what you do? You’re touring a lot, you’re meeting people constantly, and sometimes you don’t really have a lot of time to yourself, but do you ever feel a little too detached?
AC: You know what, I do, a lot—a lot. I think that’s partly what “Growing Pains: is about, too. It’s just feeling of being alone. You can have as many people around you as possible, even if they know you personally, but nobody can ever truly know what this is like, you know? I don’t wanna make it a negative thing, because it’s something I’ve always wanted. But at the same time, you have to accept how you feel. And, if that’s not always positive, that’s totally okay.

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“It’s absolutely okay to feel whatever it is you’re feeling, no matter how positive your life seems”

For a long time, though, I struggled with the fact that I was feeling negatively toward this career and this job, because it’s something I’ve always wanted, and people always tell you, you should be grateful, and there are so many people that would kill to be in my position. And I’m aware of that, but because I was so aware of that, I was almost mad at myself, and not allowing myself to feel properly because I wanted to suppress it in order to be grateful. But there’s a big difference between being ungrateful and being a human being going through things. That took me a while to accept. Once you do, I think it’s a lot more comforting to know that it’s absolutely okay to feel whatever it is you’re feeling, no matter how positive your life seems.

HB: What can you tease about your second album?
AC: The last album was very much about rebelling against my problems, but this album is a lot more about facing them head on and accepting them fully instead of suppressing them.
I think I wanted to open with “Growing Pains” because it’s a general introduction to what I’ve been going through and a little bit of a peak into my head and my life. The songs to follow will be more of a microscope on specific things that I’ve been going through. “Growing Pains” is like, “I’m going through some stuff,” and then each song following that on this album is, “Here’s what they are.” Whether it’s about love, or if it’s about personal stuff, whether it’s about the state of the world. But it’s not all negative. There are happy moments in there, too, nostalgic moments, of course.

Stream “Growing Pains” below.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

From: Harper’s BAZAAR US