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For the last nearly 3 and a half years I have followed Grace’s career since being introduced to her in mid competition on America’s Got Talent when she performed her song “Light The Sky”. That night, listening to her song, and to her lyrics, I saw in her not a little girl with promise, but a hazy vision of what she would someday become.

I’ve always been a fan of Grace’s, but it was always with an eye toward her future self. Don’t get me wrong, I love Grace’s previous work, most especially the songs that never made it beyond her livestreams where she shared with fans her writing process, or early drafts of songs, just her and her ukulele, guitar, or piano. Those songs, more than anything filtered through the recording label’s clockwork complicated process of co-writing, producing, selecting and packaging, exemplified Grace’s artistry, and in those pieces we get to see what is truly awaiting her.

Grace has recently made low-key statements that implied she had sometimes only a very limited amount of say regarding the final versions of her songs that made it onto releases from her label. She did not go into specifics and did not state which of her songs she felt had been creatively compromised and perhaps did not wholly reflect her vision. After listening to “LETTERS Vol. 1”, however, I feel that, and as Grace has said in recent interviews, this collection of songs comes closest to her realizing the songs as she imagines them swirling and racing around in her imagination.

Letters Album Cover - Grace VanderWaal

Track 1. “Intro (Gucci Shoes)”

The first track, I suspect, best exemplifies what I’m talking about above. “Intro (Gucci Shoes)” is highly experimental, both sonically and lyrically. Ben Homewood, a writer for the UK’s Music Week trade magazine recently stated that he felt Grace’s songs on this EP are “…aimed at speaking to a generation”.

One can hear that in the at once introspective and sociologically critical lyrics (excerpt);

“I just bought some new Gucci Shoes
Wasted my college funds just to look cute
Forty minutes to look like I did it in two
Maybe I am vain, so are you
And, and I want it for free
Yeah I wish that I was free
I wonder if anybody sees what I see
Why do I care?
Why do I?
Well, I don’t know
Why do I care?
Why do I care?
Why do I?”

This short song, just barely over two minutes in length, is a strange and beautiful creation; moody and atmospheric one moment, scary the next, then hyperactively danceable, followed by a sweet and jazzy sounding outro whose nihilistic lyrics subvert the breezy/groovy vocal delivery as it trails off.

I mentioned this in a message I sent to a music journalist, with whom I’m working on our documentary about Grace coming out next year, that I felt “Gucci Shoes” is, whether the masses ever hear it or not, this generation’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. What I mean by that seemingly wildly hyperbolic comparison is that both songs feature many entirely different sonic components, songs within songs, with lyrics that, and again as mentioned by Mr. Homewood, “speak to a generation”. Grace in this two minute roller coaster ride obliquely addressing the hypocrisies of the “woke” movement, social media fed nihilism and image obsession, all executed with complicit ambivalence.

What a magnificent introduction to this latest version of Grace, as I’m sure there will be so many more to follow. This song, and the collection of songs that accompany it, only reinforces my suspicion that Grace, throughout her career, will be a chameleon, never satisfied with any one style, music, fashion, or message. She greatly reminds me of the kind of artist that David Bowie was; a creator who constantly reinvented himself, took great chances and suffered at times the barbs of both critics and fans alike, but never stopped pushing his own boundaries.

That Grace, at this early stage in her career, and experience, can produce a track of this caliber is simply mind-blowing.

Track 2. “Poser”

Grace previewed this song on her headlining “Ur So Beautiful” tour this summer, so I was somewhat more prepared for this track as compared to “Gucci Shoes”, but Grace still had tricks up her sleeve, most especially with a brand new outro that feels like a bittersweet goodbye to a relationship that never lived up to her expectations, or hopes.

I’ve written about this song in great detail in two earlier articles, when the song title was still spelled “Poseur”. Click on the links below to read them at your convenience, and imagine reading them with a healthy heaping of praise regarding the exquisite production work of Ido Zmishlany applied…

“Poser” Can Stand Tall & Proud Amongst Any Company

Lyrical Grace: Poseur

Track 3. “I Don’t Like You”

I’ve already reviewed the studio recording of this song when it was first released as a single. If you care to read it, please follow the link…

Review: I Don’t Like You (Studio Version)

Track 4. “Ur So Beautiful”

Again, as this song was first released as a single many months ago I reviewed it when it was first released. Please follow the link…

Damn, This Song is Beautiful

Track 5. “Waste My Time”

Once more I’ve already written extensively about this song, and if you care to read it, here it is…

Lyrical Grace: Waste My Time

Track 6. “The City”

This song was written by Grace and Dan Nigro and produced by Ido Zmishlany, and what a dream team this turned out to be.

Like “Gucci Shoes” and “Poser” there is nothing lazy about the production of this song. It’s experimental with what is either an extended theremin solo, or a highly processed slide guitar, trumpets, jangly guitars that REM would be proud of and a really dynamic vocal performance from Grace where she shows off so many different parts of her voice; low notes, jazzy riffs, compressed belting, it’s all here.

Then, of course, the lyrics have to be discussed, that explore issues of jealousy, insecurity, guilt tripping, frustration, and questioning the depth and meaning of a relationship.

I’ve loved this song since Grace debuted it in live performances this past summer while touring and the studio version is just as (if not more?) beautiful, because of the fuller sound and the clarity of Grace’s vocals. I would normally bemoan the loss of an electric guitar solo (that Melissa Dougherty slayed on tour), but the creativity on display here for that section makes up for it.

Love, love, love this track and it’s a nice calm note to end this brilliant EP.

To think that this is only the first part of a new sound that Grace is sharing with us is incredible. While we wait for that second installment I’ll have this on repeat.