In the three years since Alessia Cara released her Isaac Hayes-sampling anti-party anthem “Here,” the Canadian singer-songwriter has released a debut album; appeared on two Top 10 hits in collaboration with other stars (Zedd’s “Stay” and Logic’s “1-800-273-8255”); sung the pop radio version of a the latest Disney princess classic (“How Far I’ll Go,” from Moana); and won the Best New Artist trophy at the 2018 Grammys. It’s been a nonstop ride, and Cara is already starting to feel the pressures, as heard on “Growing Pains,” the lead single off her forthcoming, as-yet-untitled sophomore album.
“The growing pains, growing pains/They’re keeping me up at night,” she sings on the reflective song. Like the rest of her new material, “Growing Pains” was written solely by her without any co-writers or features. (Pop & Oak, the same team she worked with on much of her first LP, returned to produce the single.)
Cara, who had just flown into NYC after performing at Washington D.C.’s Pride Fest, spoke with Rolling Stone about her new material and the life changes she’s encountered along the way.
Beyond fame, what are some of the growing pains you’ve been dealing with lately?
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It’s hard to pinpoint them all, because they feel so scattered. I’m still, in a way, in the thick of it. I’m still adjusting to adulthood and the responsibility that I’ve been faced with, along with the circumstance that I’ve been thrust into–which is a very unusual one, and an amazing but scary one.
Figuring out exactly who I am, among all of this, has been a huge growing pain for me. Of course, there are a bunch of other things, like just being sad for no reason and having to understand what every feeling means. Figuring out the dynamic of different relationships, whether they’re romantic ones or family ones. It’s just a lot that comes with what I do, and a lot that comes with being my age in general. When you put those together, there’s bound to be some sort of dissonance there emotionally.
There’s a line that I loved in “Growing Pains”: “It’s starting to look like “Mrs. Know-It-All can’t take her own advice,” a reference to your debut album, Know-It-All. What kind of advice from yourself did you find hard to take?
Over time, people who listened to me branded me as the girl who speaks on positivity and self-love. Which is an amazing box to be put into, if I do have to be put in a box. At the same time, I found during certain moments where I had to talk to other people about why they should love themselves, I was still struggling with loving myself and for a long time I didn’t want to talk about it. It’s not even like I didn’t love my self, because I do. I feel like I’m a pretty confident person. I think it’s so important to talk about self-love, but at the same time, it’s also important to remind people that it’s not going to be every day. I’m getting a lot better at it now, but just for a while there was a period where I didn’t like anything about myself, or anything about anything.
Was there a specific moment that prompted you to write “Growing Pains” or was it just these emotions that were built up over time?
Definitely built up over time. I’m the type of person who always suppresses everything, especially because everything was going so well for me in my career. I thought I had to suppress it, it because if I didn’t then I would be ungrateful. Of course that’s not the case, but when you’re in it and you have people telling you how lucky you are and how many people would kill to be in your position, you just think, “Okay, I’m not allowed to be feeling this right now. I need to suppress it.”
And so I did for a very long time until I just couldn’t anymore. [With “Growing Pains”], I realized like it’s not just about writing songs for an album anymore, I am writing because I have to. It turned into the album, which I think is a way better way to create a piece of work, when it just happens. Every song that I wrote on this thing, I wrote because I felt like I needed to.
At what point did you decide or realize that this was going to be an album that would feature you as the sole writer?
Before it even started. I almost knew what this album was going to be, because I was going through so much in those three years. It’s very difficult to sit in a room with someone else, or with other people, and have to tell them about that and be that person with them so that they can write something with you.
I just thought, there’s no better person to write this than me. It was so personal to me. It was a really sacred thing; I didn’t want anyone to know exactly what I was going through. When you have full control, you can give away as much as you want to give away, and be as honest as you want and you know what it means and no one understands you better than you.
Also, I really thought it’d be cool to have a nice challenge to see if I can write something, like a whole project, on my own. It’s something that I wanted to see if I could do.
You also mentioned the way your relationships shifted over the last few years. Were these mostly family, friends or romantic relationships?
It was all of those. I’m having conversations with my parents that I wouldn’t have necessarily had when I was younger. That dynamic is starting to shift, and I’m having this urge to take care of them now, the older I get. Which is a really scary thought, because I see them getting older.
With friendships, this lifestyle seems very glamorous and it makes people want to be involved in it. I think have become very paranoid like who I let in. I found myself not being too optimistic about making friends and being guarded, because I’m not sure if people really like me for me, or if they want to be in my life for the benefits that they think they’re going to get out of it.
Of course, romantic relationships too…throughout this album process I was in a relationship, and that relationship ended. There were a lot of emotions that came with that, and the grieving process of that. I know that sounds dramatic, but it really is a grieving process!
What was the most surprising thing you learned about yourself while writing and recording this album?
I’m a lot more capable of things than I thought I was. Even just with writing an album, I never thought in a million years that I’d be able to do that all on my own, you know? When I was younger I would say, “Oh, I don’t think that I could ever write music.” Let alone the whole thing. Of course, the things I’ve accomplished are due to great luck and amazing blessings, but it’s also, I think, due to things I didn’t know I was capable of, that I actually am capable of. That’s been really great for my self-esteem and as a reminder that I’m good enough.
I also [learned] that I am apparently very emotional and very dramatic. [Laughs] But that’s just who I am.
How do you practice self-care and self-love in your spare time?
Well, for a while I really didn’t, and that’s probably why things caught up to me. Now I realize how important it is. I try to meditate a lot more, even if it’s just breathing. Walking away from things, even if it’s from social media or from people.
I just started getting really into skincare. It’s probably a placebo thing, but I feel like if I can see physical positive change then in a weird way I feel like I’m taking care of my soul too. It’s just nice to like to have, like, 10 minutes where I’m in the bathroom putting on cream. Something as simple as putting moisturizer on makes me feel better about the day.