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ONE Musicfest 2018 Performing Artist: H.E.R
It's been an incredible year and a half for H.E.R. In that time span and over two remarkable EPs, the enigmatic singer/songwriter has established herself as one of modern pop's most fascinating new voices—an artist with a keen skill for channeling the pain and ecstasy of life through a variety of sonic moods. "I've learned a lot about myself, but it's still surreal to me," H.E.R. reflects when discussing her career trajectory. "I wrote these songs during a dark time, so selling out shows has blown my mind."
And just a little over a year since the release of the breakthrough H.E.R. Volume 1—and four months since its intriguing follow-up H.E.R. Volume 2—H.E.R. has compiled both releases for the deluxe release H.E.R., featuring six new and previously unreleased songs. This is the definitive reflection of H.E.R.'s singular vision, and it makes for an excellent introduction to her work; and for those familiar and returning, the release offers a thrilling recontextualization of her impressive career thus far.
Volume 1 was created over the course of four years from 15-18 years old. "I always used to say that I'd never be the girl who fell for the wrong guy or ended up being in a lot of situations that most females end up in—bad relationships or whatever," she says. "Growing up, though, I ended up being that girl—her. That's why I named the project H.E.R." With the help of Carolyn Williams at RCA, she put forth the project's first volume of music under the veil of anonymity. "I realized that I needed to be super honest, and that's how the music came out the way it did. I was forced to be honest and comfortable with myself and my vulnerabilities. I felt like I was alone in my situations, but when I dropped the project, I realized that a lot of women go through what I went through.
Volume 2 came together soon afterwards, comprised of songs written both previously to and after the release of Volume 1. "Volume 1 was very dark, but Volume 2 is a little brighter," H.E.R. specifies on the differences between the projects, further emphasizing that H.E.R.'s new songs came about during the recording sessions for Volume 2. "I didn't feel like they necessarily matched with the vibe—it was another mood," she explains. "Some of them I wrote in London, and I thought they were a little different than the rest—but they were very good, expressive songs, so I wanted to drop them separately."
And the new songs on H.E.R. indeed expand H.E.R.'s sonic and emotional palette, while staying true to the intimacy that's already garnered so much adoration and acclaim. There's the dusky and acoustic-tinged Daniel Caesar duet "Best Part," the moody crawl of "Free," and "Let Me In," a woozy slice of R&B with pleasing vocal samples buried in the mix, below H.E.R.'s own expressive voice.
"I felt very free to do a funky, groovy, cookout-music type vibe," H.E.R. enthuses when discussing "Let Me In." "It shows the musical, old-school-influenced side of me. It's about how some people can be very guarded and closed off in relationships, and how you have to reassure them that you just want them to feel safe and protect their heart—not hurt them. Some people just close their mind, and you wonder, 'Is it someone else? Is it me?' But they're scared to love. So the song's about me asking this guy to let me in." The anxious, Timbaland-esque melodic storm of "2" explores different subject matter, as well: "It's a revenge song," she says with a laugh. "The song is really dark, a different perspective that people don't really talk about—the idea that instead of crying over somebody that you found out was cheating on you, you ended up cheating back."
Paired with the time-tested cuts of her previous releases, the new songs on H.E.R. offer a tantalizing look at what's to come from H.E.R. while giving a window into an artist's exploratory creative process. "Musically, I have to stay true to myself," she states when looking toward the future. "It's easy to get attention and make music to please an audience instead of being honest. The real stuff is what people really want, though—the raw stuff. My sound is starting to shift, and I haven't been afraid to try new things because the people that love the music have bought into me and who I am. I have the freedom to do whatever I want musically, and I'm super grateful for that. If you're always true to yourself, they're gonna love it."