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When interviewing Grace’s music teacher/first songwriting collaborator, Dylan Kay, for our documentary we engaged in a bit of a debate over whether or not Grace was in fact a prodigy. I argued that her songwriting and intuitive sense of storytelling and ability to imbue her songs, and even covers, with empathy and emotional resonance alone qualified that status. Dylan argued that in his mind child prodigies were more along the lines of Mozart and Stevie Wonder, musical geniuses who possessed innate knowledge of the way music is created and could master instruments seemingly at will with little effort.
Grace, by contrast, does struggle with learning new instruments (by prodigy standards). Instead, Dylan suggested that what Grace possesses is “raw talent”, itself a gift, but one that must be nurtured and exercised diligently. With this raw talent, if she pursued it with heartfelt passion, she would become a “musical monster”.
Keep in mind that Dylan hasn’t worked with Grace since she was 12 years old.
As we have witnessed Grace evolve as an artist I do believe she has nurtured her “raw talent” and pursued it with passion. She still isn’t a master ukulelist, pianist, or guitarist, though she has grown proficient enough to write songs with each.
Where she has truly grown is in her wordsmithing as a lyricist. In this form she was always gifted, and Dylan acknowledged this stating that lyrics always came easily to her and that he was struck by how mature her songs were.
Grace isn’t at a point as a songwriter where her music is as sophisticated as progressive rock (say Rush, Pink Floyd, or Yes), but it does exhibit raw genius. Her music, thus far, hasn’t relied on advanced musical theory, but instead ploughs on using often simple, but solid melody. Over the last two years we have seen a progressive shift forward in the musicality of her compositions. She’s always said that she can hear the songs in her head, but that she lacked the language, and musical knowledge, to appropriately express it to her producers, though that has changed significantly, and progressively since her second EP “Letters: Volume 1”.
We’re now entering an age where Grace is truly starting to tap her true potential as a songwriter and musician, with her voice being her primary instrument and one she is quickly beginning to master (we have but seen thus far the tip of that proverbial iceberg).
If someone ever questions whether or not Grace writes her own material, or has any talent (“raw” or otherwise), simply point them to this video of Grace ad-libbing a song. Yes, the musicality is barely there, just the same single strumming pattern throughout the song, but it’s the heartfelt and clever lyrics, phrasing and vocal dynamics that are far in advance of most everyone working today and on the level of Adele, herself also a prodigy*.
“Maybe” (ad-libbed song by Grace VanderWaal):
“Follow Me Around” (latest single from Radiohead):
*On Adele the prodigy: watch this video of freshly turned 20-year-old Adele singing her first hit song “Chasing Pavements” that she wrote when she was only 18 or 19.