CELEBRITY

From sailor to smash hit­maker, she’s the next big thing in pop. BY SARAH LAING

Elle (Canada) - - StoryBoard - By Sarah Laing

Meet Kiesza, pop’s next big thing.

In Canada, we are pretty good at pro­duc­ing su­per­stars with un­likely ori­gin sto­ries (ahem, Drake). But Kiesza, the singer-song­writer poised to have the dance hit of the year, takes things to a whole other level: She is a for­mer Miss Canada hope­ful who al­most be­came our first fe­male sniper be­fore de­cid­ing to write mu­sic for Ri­hanna.

Kiesza (real name Kiesa Rae Ellestad) is the 25-year-old Cal­gar­ian be­hind “Hide­away”— the ridicu­lously dance­able house beat that de­buted at num­ber one in the U.K. in April and was the third-fastest-sell­ing sin­gle of the year across the pond.

“I had ab­so­lutely no ex­pec­ta­tions!” says Kiesza over the phone from the back of a car in Lon­don, her base for the sum­mer. Af­ter all, she wrote the song in less than an hour. The self-de­scribed “Prairie girl” grew up fig­ure skat­ing and play­ing hockey on the out­skirts of Cal­gary. She was “very, very artsy” and dreamed of be­com­ing a prima bal­le­rina un­til a knee in­jury at 15 put an end to her dance ca­reer.

Luck­ily, Kiesza had other in­ter­ests, like mu­sic (the “first ever” song she wrote, a folksy tune about her par­ents’ di­vorce, was played on lo­cal ra­dio when she was 18) and sail­ing, a pas­sion that led her to join the Royal Cana­dian Navy. While there, she proved to be an ex­cep­tion­ally good shot and was ac­tu­ally of­fered a spot in the sniper-train­ing pro­gram. “I never would have done it,” she says. “I could never ac­tu­ally pull the trig­ger on a hu­man be­ing.”

And any­way, by this point she had be­gun to find the rigid­ity of the Navy sti­fling—and the h

thrill of per­form­ing in front of her ship­mates ad­dic­tive. Af­ter study­ing mu­sic at Selkirk Col­lege in Bri­tish Columbia, she trans­ferred to the pres­ti­gious Berklee Col­lege of Mu­sic in Bos­ton. By the time she grad­u­ated, Kiesza had be­gun to make a name for her­self by writ­ing for other artists, in­clud­ing Icona Pop and Kylie Minogue. “I had a strength for be­ing able to jump gen­res,” she says. “If I lis­tened to some­thing for even a lit­tle bit, I could ab­sorb the vibe and pick it up quickly.”

Now, fresh off a plane from a record­ing ses­sion in Ger­many, she has nearly fin­ished her de­but al­bum and prom­ises lis­ten­ers a lit­tle bit of ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing R&B, soul­ful bal­lads and plenty of dance mu­sic. “When you put out a song and it goes to num­ber one, ev­ery­one wants you to write ‘Hide­away Part II.’ I refuse to do that.”

That said, she owes that one song an aw­ful lot. Writ­ten with her pro­ducer, Afuni, “Hide­away” came at a time when the mu­si­cian was strug­gling to find her artis­tic iden­tity. (A disco-pop phase was pre­ceded by a rock band, a brief death-metal episode, wed­ding singing and be­gin­nings in two-chord folk.) “I just said to my­self, ‘Let go, and it will come.’ And within a month I had writ­ten ‘Hide­away,’ and I knew that it was the song for me.”

The song was posted on­line, where it caught the eye of tastemak­ing DJ An­nie Mac, who played it on her ra­dio show. Within a week, the track had 200,000 SoundCloud plays. And then came the video, a crit­i­cally ac­claimed (with com­par­isons to Michael Jack­son!) four min­utes of Kiesza, in her nowsig­na­ture crop top, high-waisted jeans and “1940s punk” hair, dancing (with a bro­ken rib, BTW) in the streets of Wil­liams­burg, Brook­lyn. “We didn’t have a per­mit or any­thing,” says Kiesza. “There was no budget! We rounded up our friends and just danced in the street. You can see there are jog­gers go­ing by.”

Now, be­tween tour­ing and star­ring in a sum­mer video for Fendi, she is writ­ing a screen­play “that’s still very new,” plan­ning an ex­hi­bi­tion of her “sur­re­al­ist” paint­ings (she de­signed her al­bum cover) and work­ing on guer­rilla art. “I stole a ceil­ing tile from a build­ing the other day, and I’m go­ing to paint it and then put it back,” she ex­plains, be­fore laugh­ing. “Yeah, there’s a lot of dif­fer­ent sides of Kiesza, I guess.” We’ll just have to wait and see which one she re­veals next. ■

Kiesza shows off her moves—and her coif— at the Great Es­cape Fes­ti­val in Brighton, U.K.

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