My personal history of expectations regarding Grace VanderWaal’s career has been a roller coaster ride of extreme highs and lows, and that’s entirely my fault.
For the first two years of Grace’s career I was in a state of denial. I had completely bought into the post-AGT hype that Grace was about to set the world on fire and become the next global sensation. I refused to recognize just how psychologically damaging that would have been to a sensitive 12-13 year old girl unused to the entertainment industry and fame. Thank God I was wrong and that a more responsible plan was well in play regarding Grace and her long-term career progression.
When Grace announced in the early Spring of 2019 on the Zach Sang show, in very clear terms, that she and her record label were employing a “slow build” philosophy I was forced to confront my personal set of wholly unrealistic expectations regarding Grace’s career. I had an embarrassingly difficult time with it.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I still fully believe in Grace, and feel that she will become as “big” as she wants to, when she wants to, but I’ve given up my fanboy expectations that it will happen on any schedule that I’ve set within the confines of my own narrow mind.
This brings us, of course, to Grace’s EP “Letters Volume 1”, and how it performed on the charts in its opening week…It didn’t chart.
I’m perfectly fine with that. I’m also not going to compare the performance of “Letters Vol. 1” with either “Perfectly Imperfect” or “Just The Beginning”. The Grace of those two previous releases is an entirely different commercial entity than the one who put out this most recent effort. Those two earlier collections capitalized well off of Grace’s AGT win. “Letters Vol. 1” stands on its own merits, and it does so quite proudly from an artistic point of view and that’s the one that matters most at this stage in her career.
In many ways, Grace could have titled this recent EP as “A New Beginning, Volume 1” as it breaks entirely new ground, artistically speaking, not just in style, but independence. I’m now quite grateful for the extended break between “Just The Beginning” and “Letters Volume 1”; it was necessary.
Grace now gets to re-imagine herself and brings along with her only those original fans who had the most faith in her as an artist first, and a true artist follows her own muse, and not the whimsies of music fads, or market-informed trends. Grace has recently stated numerous times that this new collection of music best reflects her own creativity and imagination and is far less compromised by label meddling (well intentioned or not), and that’s the best news I could hear, far and above what any impressive chart position could provide.
Before anyone begins accusing me of being a Grace apologist let’s first discuss how very well Grace is actually doing considering that she’s virtually starting from scratch as a commercial recording artist, and one not yet going “all in”.
Gird yourself as comparisons to other artists are to follow, mostly dealing with career trajectories, and levels of investment (from the label and the artist’s commitment). Ready?
FINNEAS (that’s how he spells his name) is the 22-year-old elder brother/co-writer/producer of Billie Eilish, and his career (as a solo artist) is for the most part currently pretty much at par with Grace’s. Despite recently being nominated for 5 Grammys, touring around the world several times over (and often opening) for the second biggest selling artist of 2019, and doing the same on-line media rounds as Grace (Elle, Seventeen, Teen Vogue, Genius.com, Paste,etc) as well as very publicly dating a social-media celebrity (Claudia Sulewski), he still isn’t doing as well as Grace on YouTube, though his Spotify numbers are sometimes double hers. That’s a tonne of extra advantages, exposure-wise, than Grace, and his solo music is artistically solid, and not all that dissimilar to Grace’s eclectic/mature sound, so in this comparison Grace shines. His EP, released this past summer, also didn’t chart in America.
I brought up solo-FINNEAS as a comparison for a very specific reason, and that is because, and some of you may take offense to this, but it’s an objective reality, that by music industry standards both Grace and FINNEAS are doing this solo-music-thing on a part-time basis.
Again, this is by music industry standards where a “fully committed” artist is expected to tour, globally, 70-80% of the year, and when not touring, record new music in the studio and go on media tours as well as constantly “networking” and collaborating with other artists. These people are literally working about 70-80 hours a week, if you consider travel time as work time, and that between shows they have to make radio station appearances, shoot music videos, write new music, record demos and so on.
This brings us to the next comparison, one that’s a far more fair one…17-year-old (since October) Australian singer/songwriter Ruel. Grace recently identified him as being an artist with whom she would most like to collaborate.
— Grace VanderWaal News (@GraceVW_News) November 16, 2019
Ruel began his career in his home country of Australia (where he has since “made it” with a #3 debut album (EP)), but he has been roaming the planet for nearly two years now, touring constantly. He is “fully committed” with virtually no social life beyond what he can steal away from the confines of his bunk on his tour bus, or between flights. That sacrifice has seen his career rise exponentially since he first met Grace back in the Spring of 2018 in New York City while the two were in the middle of their own separate media tours.
— Grace VanderWaal News (@GraceVW_News) April 20, 2018
Back then he had less than 200,000 YouTube subscribers, but will soon gain his first million. His videos are doing about as well as Grace’s on YouTube, but it must be noted that he has double the number of monthly listeners than Grace at 6.6 million on Spotify. He also just finished a headlining tour of the U.S., selling out shows in venues of similar size to Grace’s. Since wrapping his U.S. tour he has since performed across the UK, Europe and even went back to Australia and New Zealand to open for Shawn Mendes. He is about to head out on the road again for Asia in the new year. Despite all of that his EP also didn’t chart in the U.S.
So what I’m saying with all of these comparisons is that Grace is actually doing phenomenally well for someone who still isn’t “fully committed” by record label standards.
Don’t get me wrong, Grace works very VERY hard and for long hours, but in fits and spurts, and nowhere near the same level of soul-crushing toil that artists like Ruel have been putting in for the past year.
When Grace and Columbia truly do decide to pull the trigger, her ascent will be rocket-like, but I hope it’s only when she’s really ready, because she’ll have to be.