Posting a video of yourself to the internet and reaching the kind of virality that changes the path of one's life and career is a relatively common experience in today's TikTok-driven climate. But back in 2017, before Gen Z took over the internet with choreographed dances and political hot takes, a story like that of Justin Bieber (who was discovered on YouTube as a pre-teen) was hard to come by.
But that's exactly what happened to Chxrry22 (pronounced 'Cherry'), the Ethiopian-Canadian singer-songwriter who posted a video of herself singing song covers to Instagram and soon became the first woman signed to The Weeknd's record label, XO. Growing up, Chxrry22 knew she wanted to be famous — she just didn't know what for. But singing was always what she was known for, whether that be in church or in the choir, she just didn't realise it was possible until she got the call to come to Los Angeles for a meeting — something she initially thought was a joke.
Now, technically, living in L.A. with time split between her home city of Toronto, Atlanta and New York when she's not on the road, Chxrry22 released her highly-anticipated EP, Siren, last week to a cult-like audience — who already knew every word four days later at the intimate release party in L.A. on Monday evening. She's been announced as the opening act for the Australian and New Zealand leg of The Weeknd's tour (which was recently postponed with dates to be announced in 2024), counts SZA as a fan (if IG follows are anything to go by), and sat front row, beside Emily Ratajkowski, at New York Fashion Week in September.
Here, we speak about the creation of Siren, communication with fans, and what's to come.
Congrats on your EP, I’ve been listening to it all weekend. It’s really so good. The response online has been amazing, too. How did it feel to finally play it live last night?
I was very taken aback. I wasn't expecting everyone to know all the words already. But they knew every single word. I was honestly so shocked. I think that's why there were so many points where I would stop singing because I was looking at them very puzzled, like, 'Huh?'
You have really great stage presence. Do you get nervous beforehand?
As I do more performances, I get less nervous. But I definitely get overwhelmed sometimes when I see so many faces in the crowd. I feel like I have out-of-body experiences when I'm on stage sometimes. Because I'm like, 'How are all these people here? To see little old me?'
You looked amazing last night and have such a specific aesthetic in general, how much do clothes and beauty have to do with the way you communicate with your fans?
I think it plays a big role because they love me for my music, but I think they really appreciate the whole package. They appreciate how much I put into my creative and how intentional I am even just with colours. A girl at the show yesterday came up to me and said that she'd made me clothes, specifically in red and black. It just made me realise that they really appreciate all the little things that go into it. I think it plays a huge role in the way we connect and communicate.
What did she make you?
She made me bunch of designs. But the one that she was really excited about was this strapless dress which was sheer in the middle and had belts and lace on it, it was very intricate.
So cute! So back to Siren, can you talk me through the process of making it? How long did it take? An how did it all come together?
I started making this project last year. Once I finished my first project, The Other Side, and it came out, I let it live for a couple of months. It was my first project ever. So I was just seeing how people reacted to it and what people gravitated towards, and just naturally living with the music in the real world. I took a lot of notes. And around December, I started making Siren. I would say, honestly, until a month before it came out, I finally was like, 'Okay, this is done.' I'm very picky and very particular, so I was going back and forth about which songs I wanted to put in and which songs I didn't.
And even what order they go in. I was thinking today as I was listening, because it's such a journey when you listen from front to back.
Oh my god, thank you. I was very intentional with that. I did it myself. So I'm glad you like the order because usually producers can help you put music together and help you place things in certain orders, but I think this time around, I was very hands-on. So I had been nervous about how people would interpret it. But generally, I'm very hands-on.
Was there something or somewhere in particular you were inspired by as you were writing?
Toronto will always be my biggest inspiration because there is a sense of like, darkness there. Not in a bad way. But in a very, you know, the weather gets colder and people are more... It's just more moody. I don't know. I feel the most inspired when I'm at home for sure.
The music scene in Toronto is so amazing, isn't it?
Yeah, it's incredible. There's just something about artists from Toronto.
What song did you anticipate to resonate with people the most? And were you surprised by what actually seems to have?
I knew they would love Do It because it's very different — it's not R&B. My fans are all from different walks of life — I have a lot of both male and female fans, which I'm really happy about. It's a very mixed crowd. I knew after performing Worlds Away live, which is another song I put out this year, I knew they loved high-energy music for me. So I knew they would appreciate Do It. And I was expecting them to also really love Favourite Girl, which they do. But I was surprised at how much they love Granted. Even men really love it, that's so cool. The anticipation for my project was really heartwarming for me because as an artist, all you want is for people to pay attention and to listen to the music and care and resonate with it.
And working directly with The Weeknd, how has that influenced you musically?
Abel creating an entire genre is so inspiring. For somebody at that time to come out with dark R&B, there was nobody doing that. So, I think the ways he inspires me is to be courageous and to try new things. And even if people might not necessarily understand it at first, just to see it through. That's something he tells me a lot: see your vision through because you just never know. Even with me including Do It in this project, it was very experimental and very much a risk because it's not R&B. But I'm glad I did it. And I want to continue to keep pushing the needle and pushing the genre. I'm really drawn to artists who are different, creative and bold. I like risk-takers.