Alessia Cara, 19, will be the first to tell you she’s an introvert. Growing up in Toronto, the mild-mannered singer spent her days writing short stories, but she always dreamed of performing. So she did what any millennial might do: She uploaded covers of Lorde and Taylor Swift songs on YouTube. One clip, a stripped-back rendition of the Neighbourhood’s “Sweater Weather,” even went viral in 2013. “I wanted to get my voice out there,” Cara says. “It’s still hard for me to sing in front of people, but being scared can be amazing.”
Fast-forward two years: Cara has become the soul breakout of the summer. Her anti-party anthem “Here” is scaling Billboard’s R&B chart and scored her a TV debut on Fallon in July. She won’t have to go back to just writing fiction soon: Her debut EP Four Pink Walls hits Aug. 28. As for its sound, Cara is at a loss for words—or maybe she’s not an extrovert yet. “I can’t really explain it, I guess it’s alternative pop,” she says. “If you hear it, you’ll get what I’m trying to say.”
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A version of this story appeared in Entertainment Weekly issue #1377-78, on newsstands now.