Like John Lennon, David Bowie, Joni Mitchell (in her early years), Stevie Wonder, Freddie Mercury, and Sia, Grace rarely provides the public, through interviews, a glimpse at the artist who writes brilliant and provocative lyrics that stir souls, break hearts, inspire, and open doors to the imagination long thought closed or that one had never suspected even existed. All of the genii mentioned above are also, like Grace, goofballs of the highest order… They possess equal parts hyper-confidence and biting self-deprecating and sardonic senses of humour.
On occasion, however, those same artists, if they feel comfortable with the interviewer and the environment where the conversation takes place, sometimes open up, however slightly, and allow the public short peeks into their more artistic sides, where we begin to understand, as much as we can, how these people can create such magical works of art.
One of my favourite examples of this, from Grace, occurred just a little over one year ago when Grace broadcasted, solitarily from her elaborate custom-built tree house in her parents’ back yard that she had purchased with the winnings from her AGT win, a livestream of her writing/polishing a rough idea for a song: “Maybe This Could be Something”. I’ve featured the song heavily in all of the promotion for the documentary we’re working on as, for me, it crystalizes the theme of the film that focuses on Grace as a prodigy on the verge of becoming a well-rounded and sophisticated adult artist. During the livestream Grace creates new lyrics at will mid-strum, discards entire verses, changes others slightly, comes up with a bridge on the fly and ad-libs a truly haunting non-verbal outro.
Not all of the lyrics make perfect sense, but you know that if Grace ever decided to finish the song, which she most likely never will in this particular case, she would have changed the lyric: “Cause the future is comin’ and it’s comin’ fast, but it’s goin’ so slow at the same time it just won’t pass”, but nitpicking a thought as it’s being formed is being petty. One can tell the thought she was formulating. Grace admits, as does Billy Joel (another musical genius whom she also admires), that most of her songwriting flows directly from her subconscious and that she’s often surprised with the results once the song is played back or she reads what she just created.
The ability to tap into one’s subconscious mind is definitely one of the key aspects that makes Grace’s work so special, but it is only one component. Grace is also, and apparently has been since age 11, a master wordsmith, specializing in the ability to convey deep and multilayered meaning with impressive economy.
Take these opening lines from a sampling of a few of her songs:
“They drifted away
but she wants him to stay
even though she knows his feelings will never change
She waits and she waits, just to hear her name
and those three words that mean everything”
– 12 Stars (age 12)
“Stars, they got nothing on us, I don’t think you understand.”
– “Light The Sky” (age 12)
that’s how I explain you and I
Lost in the dark
just gotta find where you are”
– Unfixable Minds (age 13)
“You tell me that I’m crazy
Doing this alone
You don’t need to save me
Oh, how I have grown”
– “Burned” (age 13)
They speak to me
But I don’t know, what they are saying
But I think I know what you are thinking”
– “A Better Life” (age 13)
“Opening my eyes seems like it gets harder sometimes
Look at the skylight,
would you be mad at me if I tried running away to it in the night?”
– “Darkness Keeps Chasing Me” (age 13)
“I tried to wake up today
Kept making withdrawals
But now we’ve got to pay”
– “Hope For Change” (age 13)
“I wanna write a song
One that can explain my lungs
I wanna write a song
That you can hear and…
Know how my heart yearns, and how my insides churn, and how my cheeks burn from the weekly storm
And how my face turns before you return to the wall and then down the floor”
– “Stray” (age 14)
“Lower East Side and it’s pouring out
Don’t you look right at me now
Is it you, or are the lights
getting brighter in the night?”
– “Ur So Beautiful” (age 14)
“Runnin’ with you it’s like we’re in a memory
That I’ll try to forget when you go up and leave”
– “Waste My Time” (age 15)
With each song Grace sets the tone almost immediately, sometimes even painting a lush portrait that we suddenly find ourselves falling into within just a line or two. That’s a skill some songwriters will never learn, or if they do it won’t be with such effectiveness, or subtle elegance, but for Grace this all comes naturally.
Grace’s genius, that which makes her a prodigy, affords her a shortcut to bypass the grueling years of failure, disappointment and toil that other writers, some very successful ones like Ed Sheeran, have to go through.
Here’s a quote from Sheeran on his early days attempting to become a songwriter (starting at about the age Grace is now):
“[You can spend up to] five years unclogging your creative pipes before you can write a good song.”
Grace might have spent a few weeks in her backyard and living room before coming up with “I Don’t Know My Name” at age 11 shortly after purchasing her first ukulele.
She recently mentioned how much of her first LP “Just The Beginning” was the product of “lazy” songwriting, because she viewed much of it as a chore and as such did not always give her best effort, which is shocking when you stop and read the lyrics to those songs (see the quotes above).
With this latest batch of music, or at least those songs she has thus far shared with her fans in concert and the officially released singles, you can feel a palpable shift in Grace’s tone and approach.
Where before her songs were veiled in allegory and metaphor, these newer songs are highly personal and specific, though they still use very powerful metaphorical statements and allusions that allow a listener to interpret more meaning that may have been intended, just as her earlier work did.
Grace still, in interviews, shies away from revealing the true meanings, or inspirations, for her latest songs, often trying to promote them as something they were never written to be, such as claiming “Ur So Beautiful” is an anthem for self-love while it is seems rather obvious, even upon a cursory reading of the lyrics, that it is a very specific romantic narrative filled with caution, bittersweet emotions and open-ended consequences.
As both the author of her songs, and the performer of them, Grace has every right to promote, or define them, as she feels comfortable, but the songs themselves, separate from any marketing angles, show a very rapid maturation in progress.
With each new song Grace reveals, beginning with “Ur So Beautiful” we can see not only a broader holistic narrative unfolding, one of a troubled and complicated romantic entanglement, but also an ever-growing musical and lyrical sophistication. I can hardly wait for the fall EP she announced while on tour to drop and I hope there are one or two new tracks we haven’t yet heard on it to enjoy and be inspired by.
The future is coming and it’s coming fast indeed.