The Lowdown on Kelly Kiara

From a hit Justin Bieber cover of fan favourite ‘Love Yourself’ to now a proclaimed debut mixtape to her name, newcomer Kelly Kiara radiates in confidence and continues to do what she loves.

Hailing from Leeds and finding a love for music from a young age through the influences of her dads Motown collection and icons such as Christina Aguilera and Mariah Carey, Kiara slowly stepped into the world of music with YouTube whilst still working the joys of being a recruiter. Though believing her dreams were far gone, her covers proved to be a big hit, and the artist went on to connect across the music scene with like-minded producers and writers. 

From travelling back and forth to London to honing her craft, Kiara vastly picked up the attention of publishers and picked up a deal with Universal Publishers that led to writing credits with Ashnikko and Mabel. However, Kiara wanted more. And after two years of hard work and chaos, Kiara independently presents to us her debut mixtape, Hopeless Romantic. A journey of heartbreak, vulnerability, revenge, and the ever-growing feeling of love. 

As she covers all corners of R&B and her life, Noctis caught up with one to watch Kelly Kiara about her latest work, how it all started and what the future holds. 

Hey, hey, how are you? And congratulations on the release of your debut mixtape, ‘Hopeless Romantic’ – what has the past week entailed?

Thank you for asking. I’m great. This past week has been really heightened emotions. Obviously, this is my first mixtape, so it’s important for me. It’s also been quite a whirlwind to get to this point and a lot of learning. I haven’t known for sure if I’ve been making the right decisions or certain things. So, it’s nice to see that the support and the feedback that I’ve had has been positive. It’s made me feel reassured that the decisions and the sound of my music that I’d be making is correct. Overall, it’s been really emotional. 

I felt I’ve spent two years working on something and pouring my emotions into a project, and all of a sudden, it’s out to the public. It’s not mine anymore. I’m not sitting at home picking it apart, choosing which are my favourite or least favourite, it’s out and not mine anymore. It’s strange because if I wasn’t an artist, I don’t think I would understand that principle. It’s quite a unique feeling and emotion to have. It’s nothing physical and tangible, but when it’s out and into the world, you feel a sense of closure over what you’ve been talking about. You feel a sense of closure on the songs, and that’s a weird feeling to be having. That’s why people call it a baby because it literally is birthing something, and then it’s out. It’s a weird feeling, but it’s good. 

Opening with the track ‘Intro’ and quoting “these boys are just a shitshow”, could you tell us a little more about the inspirations and influences behind the project?

First of all, not my words, but the inspiration for this project was to be as authentic as I could be as to what I was going through within the two years that I’ve been creating it. I was going through a situation, and it was very consuming, hence wise what I was writing about. And one of my girlfriends had sent me a voice note about the situation, and I was like we have to use this as the intro because it sets the tone. It’s a bit random, and it’s not a usual thing for a UK artist to have loads of skits in the project, but it was something that I, and the producer felt was authentic and felt like it needed that injection of comedy and realism to go alongside the whimsical sadness of it. 

It was a nice, uplifting intro, and it was a real voice. I think that’s what I wanted to get across. Everything that I put into my art and my music is 100% authentic. And that’s what I pride myself on, and that’s where my integrity of art comes from. 

Working alongside a series of producers and bringing in your love for R&B, how long did it take to come together, and how would you describe the creative process? 

The project was a million different projects before the project that you see today. It’s grown and evolved in its own way and directed by me and the producers that I’ve worked with. But it never started out that way. It’s funny because before you make a project, you don’t know how it’s going to come together. You have a vision, and it started for me with making one song. And the first song that was made from the mixtape was “girls like u”. But I didn’t make “girls like u” with the intention of it going on a project. I was making music and enjoying what I was producing. Then as soon as I started to recognise a natural sound and encompass these songs. I was like, “Oh, this is the sound, this is what I want to say. And this is the project.” Once we identified that, we started bringing in other producers and people that I admired to come in and bring it to life. So that’s how the process developed. 

But there were definitely more than weeks that I didn’t touch it, even months where I didn’t do anything. And then there would be months where I would do everything, so it was intense because there was a two-week period where it was me solid everyday writing and rewriting over and over again like a verse of the songs that are on there now. I’ve probably rewritten them a billion times and taken them off, and I don’t like this one, I’m going to replace it with this one. It was a constant thing, and that was really probably the most difficult challenge in my career of artistry and writing because it made me feel crap about myself. I felt like I’m learning this whole new thing, and I’m putting together something that I needed to make sure was 100% perfect and authentic, and at times it really got down on me. I was like eurgh, whereas before, if I’m writing for somebody else and even writing for myself, I don’t think much about it, I get on with it and don’t think about it afterwards. Whereas this one, there was a lot of pressure. I had to learn to use my voice in a way that I had not used before and train it. It was difficult, but it opened my eyes a lot more to what hard work is required as well moving forward. So, I’m glad that I had that challenge. 

Out of the 13 tracks, do you have a favourite song off the mixtape or one that’s particularly meaningful to you? 

I think all of them are meaningful in their own way. However, I would say I could listen to it on repeat, and the most meaningful is “girls like you”. I think the reason for that is because I didn’t set out to write it as a female empowerment song or something close to me. I was just writing it. I guess it came out of my head, and then when I listened back to it, I was like, oh, actually, it’s quite a deep-rooted meaning to girls like you because it’s predominantly used as a derogatory term to say girls like you were like this. And I think it’s important, especially in the age that we’re in now, with anyone who identifies as female, can be put into a category or a box. And I think flipping that on its head was something that I listened back to and was like, I like what I’ve done, and that means a lot to me. Because of the struggles I’ve faced as a woman or being pigeonholed or told that I can’t be this or I got to be enabled to be what people want me to be. I have to fit into this mould. 

It’s about liberation. You don’t have to explain yourself anymore and be apologetic. That goes for anyone. I’m proud of that song and what that means something personal to me. 

Being your first ever bigger project, how has this piece of work helped you grow as an artist, producer and writer, and what do you take from it for the future? 

This has definitely helped me grow in learning the dynamics of putting a project together. Obviously, this is the first time I’ve ever done it, so I would never have known how to do that before. And everything for me right now as an artist is a first, which is an interesting place to be because it leaves no room for laziness. It keeps me on my toes because everything I’m doing is the first time, so I’m learning every single step. And that’s a good place because it means that you’re going to accelerate probably a lot faster. 

But in terms of learning from putting the songs together. From learning how to access a different range within my vocal to learning to be vulnerable – which is a whole process in itself – which had to do with the mixtape. It’s left me feeling like I can honestly achieve anything. And that honestly sounds so cliche, but it makes me feel really confident. Whereas before, I was constantly asking, what do you think of this? Or what do you this, or relying on other people’s thoughts? Now I’ve realised the happiness in doing it for yourself. And when you do it for yourself, people can feel that in the music and feel that’s what makes people enjoy it. That’s the advice I would give to myself moving forward, especially within the next project. Stop thinking about the states and whether or not this is who you’re going to be in so many years old, just think about what you want to do right now. Put it out, let it be, and whoever wants to listen to it will listen to it. And that’s the beauty of music. Why should music be any difficult than that? It shouldn’t be. So that’s kind of what I’ve learned. 

Looking at how you emerged onto the music scene with the viral cover of Justin Bieber’s ‘Love Yourself’ whilst working as a recruiter, how did you lead yourself into the music industry?

It definitely started from that cover, and I would say that cover made people see who I was and see that I could write and see that I could flip something and be daring. I feel like everything who I was, came to life at that moment. And from there, I started going back and forth to London, creating with people and had no intention or preconceived ideas of what might happen. It was just me. The cover gave me the confidence to realise my abilities and not shy away from what’s great. And I just carried on doing it. I thought it doesn’t really matter what happens because I’m not doing anything anyway. So, if nothing comes from it, it’s a win-win. All you’ve been doing is what you enjoy and spreading the love of music. 

Then after the cover, though getting in with different people and producers, I was recognised by different publishing companies who wanted to sign me as a writer. And even though I was writing at the time, I didn’t know anything about being professional. I didn’t know anything about publishing. I knew nothing. So, it was all a big surprise to me when people started offering me money, and I remember going to the meeting when I signed initially with Universal publishing, and I was like, so what do I need to learn? How do I get better? How do I do this? And they just laughed and were like, you’re good. You don’t need to learn anything or do anything, and I was like, okay. I found it weird that people started to believe in me, in a way that I didn’t perceive as impossible. I didn’t even know I could be a writer. I didn’t even know that I could be published. I didn’t know any of those things. So as soon as people started to tell me I was good enough. It gave me even more confidence to continue what I was doing. 

I grew from there, started working with more producers and artists. And I think that my inexperience as a writer pushed me forward so much because I wasn’t overthinking anything. I was saying whatever I wanted to say, and other people were like, we don’t talk about sex or drugs. We don’t talk about this. And I was like, really? Well, isn’t that what people do? Like? Isn’t that what everybody does?, and talk about? Why would I not write that? So I feel that fresh baby mind is what progressed me to be a hot writer at the time. Then it grew from that, and maybe a year or so is when I decided that I wanted to focus on writing for myself. I’d always wanted to be an artist, but I didn’t know how to. I knew that wanted to do it independently and not signed to a label. 

And I guess everything that I’ve projected and forecasted actually has come true. I’ve always had a plan, and I stuck to it. 

Whilst already growing your network across the board, who is the dream to work with and why? 

So many people I dream to work with. I feel like it’s somebody who I would be able to give a song that can deliver it. That’s what I look for as a writer, somebody who can deliver something in a way that nobody else can. That’s what excites me. So, I would definitely say something like Rhianna, and I would also love to give Christina Aguilera a song to write. That would be a huge passion of mine because I grew up singing all her songs. And it would be great for me to be able to give something back and feel like I did something for her because she did it for me. And lastly, my biggest dream out of my entire career before I die is to write a Disney song. 

Finally, beyond 2021, where do you see yourself next?  

I see myself expanding in all the ways that I have done so far. I see myself finishing my album, which I’ve already started. Next year I see myself continuing to design and produce clothing. I also see myself continuing to write in many different ways. I’ve written a children’s poetry book, which should be released next year. And I see myself not taking everything so seriously. There’s no timeframe on creativeness and success. I’m doing what I enjoy and continue to build. Whether that takes me a long time or short, I’m prepared either way.

I’m doing what I love and what I’ve always wanted to do. Therefore, as long as I keep going it, I’ll be happy. 

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Words: Ross Mondon