Tori Kelly seems to be the 'in' girl of the moment. No doubt 2015 has been the year that has seen her impress her way into some of the most highly coveted performance slots at major award shows; Billboard Music Awards, Radio Disney Awards, MTV’s VMA’s. Yes, you've probably heard her music played on radio stations, seen numerous features on TV shows and there are now murmurs of her receiving a nod for a Grammy nomination with her 2015 album 'Unbreakable Smile', but make no mistake, this is not overnight success.
It's easy to look at Tori and think she's just another pretty face with backing from a superstar team, a celebrity manager and a major label but you'd be grossly underestimating the situation here; Tori has been working very hard for a very long time.
We’ve been fans for years, ever since our friend AJ Rafael mentioned her in 2010 and since then we have been closely following her progress. It's refreshing to see her finally get widespread of recognition. Tori used to be everybody's ace up-the-sleeve when stumbling into discussion about new music. "Yeah but have you heard Tori Kelly sing" is the general way conversations were started and/or ended. But Tori's hobby-turned-career started way before 2010, way before Simon Cowell's "you're not going to make it" and way before Justin Bieber's manager took a doting interest in her. Tori signed with Geffen Records as a pre-teen and after a few years on the label they parted ways without any of Tori’s music seeing the light of day. Around this time Tori started posting videos on YouTube while it was still in its infancy - the perfect place for unfiltered content to be presented directly to an audience. This blossomed into a fully fledged YouTube channel which today has just under 1.5 millions subscribers.
People started paying attention to the music that Tori was making in her bedroom and after a string of simply crafted viral videos which turned more heads and deservedly garnered the attention labels, producers and celebrity fans, Tori found herself in a situation that she had faced as a young teen. Once more into the fray.
But YouTube's sweetheart is so much more than just a fad artist. Let's talk ability. Tori’s clean sound matches her faux-messy but deliberately tidy look. There’s nothing gritty or anything obnoxious going on. You won't find shades of Shakira or Anastasia here, it appears as though Tori’s sound has been influenced by a roster of more complex musicians. The cadence of Lauryn Hill's sing-rap style that Jhene Aiko and to a lesser extent Drake have both assimilated, leaks out on occasion. Gospel has to be an influence here too. Smokie Norful's runs or at least Tori’s own versions of them pop up every now and then in her music and have seemingly become a key element to the Tori vocal arsenal. It’s only natural that comparisons will be drawn to other 'radio-friendly' artists, Tori's predecessors, Stacie Orrico and the jailbird that is (was) Jojo can be heard chiming through her deeply intrapersonal stories of love and rejection.
Great, so she has vocal control... Yes but that's not it, it never really was, otherwise Tori would be destined for a few years of average/good songs and then fade back into niche circles, underground clubs and the YouTube hall of fame along with some of the more unfortunate musicians that stepped in the ring with a label’s support only to have them disappear at the first wrong turn.
Tori's strength appears to lie with her multitude of talents. Not just vocal ability, and it’s so important that anyone over the age of 16 understands this and doesn’t mistakenly take her for a cute, ditzy, blonde (that's not her natural hair colour by the way). Watch any of her live shows and as much as she's jumping up and down and taking selfies with the crowd she's still very much part of the band. She knows how to rock it, ask anyone who saw her performance at the 2015 VMAs. Ever since her split with Geffen, Tori has been crafting her sound, actively working on taking her artistry and musicianship to the next level. It’s bizarre that we’re talking about someone who was then in her teens, her get-up and brush-it-off attitude is one that the majority of people don't acquire until later on in life, let alone while they’re still below the legal age to watch an ’R’ rated movie. With this in mind, in 2012 Tori released ‘Handmade Songs By Tori Kelly’, which is exactly what you think it is; an EP written, produced, recorded and engineered by herself - released on her own record label Toraay Records.
Tori makes it okay for kids to want to be pop stars but still care enough about the artistry and musicianship that is needed to become a good one. Tori sets a mould for her fans who want a career in the arts but not the distractions and superficialities that can often come with it, somewhere between the dedication, skill and confidence exhibited by John Mayer and the hysteria that surrounds a megastar like Katy Perry, Tori ticks boxes for lots of people. Don’t be surprised to see a 14 year old at a Tori Kelly show who is as genuine fan, and don’t be surprised to see a 30 year-old at a Tori Kelly show who is more than a fan than that 14 year old.
Though there’s a good chance that she will find widespread success, it’s okay if Tori doesn’t hit the heights of Taylor Swift or if she doesn’t see the kind of prosperity that Ariana is enjoying. Tori Kelly has an extended and prolonged shelf life. From a business standpoint, even after her youth she’ll have tremendous value and her overabundance of talent will still ensure her success. I am every bit confident that we’ll see her with the same smile and iconic curls, still playing for people and making music but with the grace of an older woman at the age of 50. This is something that the majority of artists who have a record featured in the top 40 albums right this second won’t be able to lay claim to.
Find Tori online, give her a follow and a 'like' and tell her we sent you.