Tori Kelly, Unbreakable Smile

Tori Kelly

Tori Kelly

Tori Kelly has a voice so sweet, so angelic, you’ll shiver and wish you were as talented. Luckily for Tori, she’s starting to get the recognition she deserves. And how can she not? Her song writing and musical skills are exceptional; there’s no other way to put it. In this excerpt below, Tori chats with EW about her success.  (Dec. 2015)

Tori has been writing and performing music her whole life, but it was her February 2015 single “Nobody Love” that landed the 23-year-old a spot on the Billboard Hot 100.

The California native auditioned for American Idol at age 16 and appeared on Star Search and America’s Most Talented Kid, beating out country singer Hunter Hayes. When her YouTube cover of Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin Bout You” went viral in 2012, she ended up under Scooter Braun’s tutelage — the same manager shared by Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, and Carly Rae Jepsen — and eventually linked up with Max Martin to produce her debut album ‘Unbreakable Smile’, which dropped in June.

First of all, congrats on the Grammy nomination! Has it sunk in yet?
I don’t know if it ever will though and I’m not mad at that because I think it should feel surreal. That’s one of the best things that can happen to an artiste.

You have that line on “Unbreakable Smile” where you say you want to sing about real things and sell out shows without taking off your clothes, and it seems like you’ve stayed true to that.
I do feel like that’s still true. It feels good because for so long I went back and forth. It’s like, “Do I need to really do these things to conform to what’s going? Do I need to change my sound? Do I need to change my look?” I was tweaking things on my own, bettering myself and getting older, but it feels good to know that I stuck to what I wanted to do.

Why do you think this was the year people really took notice?
I think the album coming out was probably a big one. It feels like it was kind of bubbling up for the last couple years, doing stuff overseas and creating this small buzz, which now looking back is kind of cool. I credit my team a lot with that and, yeah, something about this year felt like everything was just starting to line up. All the connections I had made years prior, it was all making sense; everything fell into place.

Is there any one song in particular that was extremely difficult to write, or almost didn’t make the cut? 
“Should’ve Been Us” is a good example of a song that we all knew was eventually going to get there, but for some reason it just took forever to get right. But it’s that thing, once you get it, you’re like “I’m so glad I stuck through it.”

In a world of often overproduced music, do you feel pressured to stay pure during live shows?
I actually think that hearing those imperfections, hearing the honesty in a vocal is actually kind of becoming cool again. You hear it with Sam Smith and Adele and it’s almost like, the more raw the better. So that was kind of my drive, like even if it is produced, as long as you can hear what I’m trying to say, then I think that’s what I was going for.

What’s it like having your fans sing your own lyrics back to you?
It’s the best. It really is.