POP’S BRIGHT HOPE: TORI KELLY

Elle (Canada) - - Radar -

Tori Kelly has no gim­micks. “I’m not try­ing to be su­per out there,” says the “No­body Love” singer. “Yes, I’m re­served, but I’m com­fort­able in my skin, and peo­ple re­ally re­spond to that.”

The 22-year-old Cal­i­for­nian is curled up on a leather sofa in a Toronto ho­tel room, and noth­ing about her “look”— black jeans, blond curls—screams “pop star on a pro­mo­tional tour.” And that’s on pur­pose: “Grow­ing up, I al­ways got told that I was too shy, that I wasn’t bub­bly enough, that I needed to show my per­son­al­ity,” says Kelly with an ex­as­per­ated look. “I’m just not that girl.” When asked if she feels like she’s “the pop star for shy girls,” she laughs and says, “I’m just a weirdo who’s some­how mak­ing it work!”

That’s an un­der­state­ment: Kelly’s al­bum, Un­break­able Smile, de­buted at num­ber one on iTunes this June. It’s named af­ter the first song Kelly wrote for her de­but record, a bouncy bit of R&B that has dis­tinct un­der­tones of Lau­ryn Hill, al­beit reimagined with a slick Swedish sen­si­bil­ity. In it, Kelly sets out a kind of the­sis state­ment for her ca­reer, singing “I’d rather make ’em yawn than be a pawn” and “maybe I can sell out shows with­out tak­ing off my clothes.”

Kelly’s quiet self-con­fi­dence is hard­won: Be­fore get­ting her big break on YouTube, she strug­gled with op­por­tu­ni­ties that didn’t pan out (like Amer­i­can Idol) and meet­ings that seemed promis­ing un­til she was told “you’re just not good enough” or “you’re not ready.”

On this al­bum, Kelly got real about the rejection she’d been deal­ing with since start­ing her mu­sic ca­reer at 15. “For so long, I wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily hid­ing feel­ings but just push­ing some of the darker emo­tions aside and writ­ing about fluffy things,” she says. Fast-for­ward seven years, and she’s grate­ful rather than re­sent­ful. “All those things had to hap­pen for me to be where I am now,” she says— or, as she sings in “Un­break­able Smile,” “Here I am, and that’s all I can be.” n

“I’m a weirdo who’s some­how mak­ing it work!”

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