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How H.E.R. Rose to the Top of the R&B Scene Using Just Her Voice and Ambition–‘It’s About the Music’


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Alongside her rich vocals and resonant, passionate take on R&B, singer-songwriter H.E.R. is perhaps best well-known for her efforts to keep her personal life out of her musical endeavors. For the first portion of the singer’s career, which officially began in 2016 with the debut EP H.E.R. Volume 1, H.E.R. maintained a level of anonymity that quickly caught the attention of the media and ravenous fans. She even refused interviews after her song “Focus” went platinum, and her features were obscured in any photos or music videos. With the EP being shared on Twitter by stars like Alicia Keys and Wyclef Jean and the only hint to H.E.R.’s identity being a full-silhouette cover photo, the search was on to discover the face behind the voice.

The cover of H.E.R.s first EP featured just a silhouette of the mysterious singer. Photo thanks to Spotify.

Despite all the effort, H.E.R. was quickly discovered to be Gabriella Wilson, who memorably sang Alicia Keys’ “If I Aint’ Got You” on the Today Show at ten years old and signed to RCA at just fourteen. Wilson, who was nineteen when the EP blew up, had also released several singles under her real name. It didn’t take long for fans to connect the dots.

However, H.E.R. didn’t seem too troubled by the identity reveal and simply continued life as normal—with the addition of sunglasses, which have since become a large part of her brand—making it a point to never divulge too much personal information. While her identity has technically been leaked, Wilson herself remains quite the mystery. Her songs, while passionate, vulnerable, and toeing the line of personal, don’t leave any specific details to grasp on. It’s a fully intentional gimmick, and it has a fully intentional effect.

While it could be chalked up to H.E.R. simply wanting to keep her private issues to herself, she gave another, more genuine reason in an interview with radio personality Angie Martinez: the ability for listeners to fully appreciate the music itself. “For a while, we’ve kind of lost the focus on what’s important, and that’s the music,” she said. “It shouldn’t be about the faces and association and who has the most followers. It’s not a popularity contest to me. It should always be about the music. And I think that’s why real R&B is coming back—because artists are showing more of the authenticity, and we’re focused on the music and not anything else.”

It also granted her the ability to deliver more candid, raw content. “Even though I don’t show my face and I don’t tell people who I am— really, you get to know who I am in my music,” she said. “I’m a lot more confident in my perspective on the world and in my values. And the music’s a lot more definitive, I guess. It’s a lot more sure.”

H.E.R. won 2021’s Song of the Year for “I Can’t Breathe.” Photo thanks to interaksyon.

Given her successes—now twenty-four, she touts fifteen music awards, including four Grammys and one Oscar—it seems as though the play at almost total anonymity paid off. Her fame didn’t stem from scandal, sexualization, personality, appearance, or any other superficial avenue. As was her intent, it came from the everywoman persona she undertakes both in her songs and as she slides on her signature shades. While her moniker, which she revealed to be an acronym for “Having Everything Revealed,” might at first seem laughably ironic, it’s also very fitting. She’s relatable because she is everybody and nobody at once—with nothing revealed, there’s room for everything to fit.

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