December 6, Kenya Grace, the dynamic UK artist behind the viral sensation “Strangers,” joined Brooke Reese for an exclusive interview as part of the Apple Music: Emerging Artists series. Held at Apple Soho in New York, this event offered fans a unique opportunity to connect with Kenya, whose blend of dance-pop has captivated audiences worldwide. Known for her innovative approach to music and storytelling, Kenya's session with Brooke Reese provided insightful glimpses into her artistic process and future aspirations.
If you missed it, fear not, we've got the highlights for you.
Brooke: So glad that you wanted to do this. Your name has been everywhere, your song has been everywhere. I think it’ll be fun to start our conversation with the song “Strangers”. When you made it, did it feel special? Was there something about it? Because people just gravitated towards it immediately.
Kenya: Honestly, no. I did not think that. I wrote it super casually and didn't think anything of it when I posted it, but I am very happy that people connected with it so much. It’s crazy.
Brooke: Your style is unique, and you live in that dance-pop world. What is your process creatively when writing music?
Kenya: When I write, I always start with making the beat. I usually start with chords or something that inspires me in that realm, then I probably do drums, and lastly would be the vocals: start with the melody and then lyrics. It always is the hardest part for me. When writing the lyrics, I always want to tell a story, so I spend the longest on that.
Brooke: I love that for you, the beat and melody guide you, and it's the storytelling where you take your time.
Kenya: It always takes so long to write the whole story.
Brooke: I’m always intrigued talking to artists who have had huge moments on social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram, building a community with your fans and just collectively watching things grow so much this last year. What is that like? The numbers are one thing, but knowing that there are actual people behind them, becoming a fan of Kenya Grace. Could you explain a little bit?
Kenya: It’s definitely mental. I didn’t expect any of this to happen at all, and it is so crazy, but it's so nice to actually meet people in real life. Sometimes on social media, you read DMs and don’t realize there’s actually a cool person behind them, so it's cool.
Brooke: I don’t know if that’s too TMI, but what does your TikTok look like? You are in my TikTok feed a lot as far as FYP and the algorithm, but what do you go on there for? I feel like there are so many different communities, which is why people gravitate towards it, to find new music, to find new artists.
Kenya: I’m really into music. I like so many DJs, producers. I think that's mainly what I get, and just like random shows, with 20 parts, so funny.
Brooke: This is so embarrassing, but I saw one of those on social media, and it was “say yes to a dress” show. Have you ever heard of that?
Brooke: There were five parts, and then I went and watched it all because I needed to know what was on there. Have you ever done something like that, where it takes you to a show, and you go, “well, now I have to watch it”?
Kenya: Yeah, literally so many. I saw so many good films on TikTok. It's pretty good.
Brooke: I love that so much. I was reading how you were born in South Africa but grew up in the UK. I would love to know if any of that has influenced your music and also growing up, the music you listened to.
Kenya: I think I’ve been influenced the most by the UK scene. I lived in South Africa for 8 months. I was a tiny baby, so I don’t really have too much inspiration from there, but I’m very into the UK music scene. There are so many different artists, especially in dance... so many different mini sub-genres. It's very cool.
Brooke: So growing up, whom were you listening to? Whom were you inspired by? What was playing through the speakers in your home when you were younger?
Kenya: When I was really young, my mom always used to play Neo Soul, and I really liked Neo Soul in general. It was amazing. I just loved the chord progressions, and the melodies are stunning. And then when I went to college, I got really into dance music.
Brooke: What is it specifically about dance that just draws you in that way? It seems like you have a very beautiful relationship with how you feel about the genre in general.
Kenya: I've loved it since forever, to be fair. I think it's the drums that I love so much, that makes me feel... I remember when I was really young, maybe 7, I was on YouTube and I found dubstep, and I would just sit there in my room with headphones listening to dubstep, not dancing or anything. But I just loved it. It's really cool to go from very soft to like really [big]...
Brooke: And also being on your music journey and releasing songs this year, everything grows so quickly with you, by the way. How do you decide what you want to release for the next song as you are trying to build your journey as an artist?
Kenya: Honestly, I just play it by ear. I write a lot of songs all the time. And I love posting them, and then I’ll just make a little beat video, and I randomly decide. There is no plan at all.
Brooke: So it’s not calculated? Some people are down to the T, and I kind of like that you just go with how you feel. Do you ever find yourself where you tease a song on social media and people get so intense and so invested when they’ll be like “drop the song! Where is the rest of it?”
Brooke: What do you think is one of the songs where you teased and people were like “we need the full version now”?
Kenya: “Strangers” 100%. And then “Out of My Mind”, I teased a part and then released “Strangers” and I think some people were upset that I didn’t release that one. But they both are out now.
Brooke: Are you currently working on a project? How do you see yourself as an artist going forward because we are at the end of 2023, which is so wild to even say, and you’ve already grown and done so much. Where do you see yourself moving forward with your music?
Kenya: I’ve been working on a project, which I’ll drop next year, which is exciting! I’m so excited to release the project instead of just singles. It's gonna be really cool.
Brooke: When you are doing something like that, how do you know you are building a project? Do you go in being like, ok, I’m going to make an LP or an album, or do you start writing songs and then collectively feel like thematically and sonically they work?
Kenya: I feel like I've been accidentally, subconsciously doing that for the whole year, and I've got so many things that I've posted but haven’t released, which I think actually work very well together, so I’m going to make something big next year.
Brooke: That's so exciting! I would like to talk about this, because I was doing my research, as one does for a job, and I would love to know what it's like making history as the only female artist besides Kate Bush to hit No.1 as a sole writer, producer, and performer on the UK pop charts?
Kenya: It's crazy. Kate Bush is so sick. She is such an inspiration, she is amazing. I just think there should be more people to have done that.
Brooke: But maybe you are holding a door for other women to do that, and you don’t even know yet.
Kenya: I hope so. I feel like it's our moment now. It's coming.
Brooke: It is our moment.
Kenya: There are so many sick girls and women that are smashing it in writing and production. It's the moment.
Brooke: I feel like also in the dance genre, not only as performers but as DJs, women have also grown exponentially, which is very exciting.
Brooke: You did decide to release the sad acoustic version of “Strangers”. We love an emo moment. How did you decide that you wanted to come up with the acoustic version of it, and where do you begin, or did it start that way?
Kenya: I thought it would sound good, honestly. I tried adding strings and then worked on adding cute harmonies. I don’t really release stuff like that, straight up and chill, so I wanted to give it a go, I guess.
Brooke: I think it would be interesting to talk more about the dance world where you live so much. You’ve been talking so much about being in the UK and the dance scene being so huge, but have other areas of dance influenced you as well? As far as other places, other countries.
Kenya: I feel like my main biggest influence at the time was Flume from Australia. He is a huge influence of mine. And everyone else is probably UK and house vibes.
Brooke: I love dance music, and I feel like I didn’t know enough until this year, really diving in. But it's amazing. I feel like it's growing a lot as a genre, and you as an artist have also done that, where you are helping dance to break through globally. When you hear things like that and people start to dive into the genre because of you, what does that feel like?
Kenya: Crazy. I'm happy that people hear drum and bass, to be fair. I didn’t expect you guys to like that.
Brooke: Oh, that's right, it's your first time visiting us in The States. You just had your first show in New York. What was it like? The energy? The vibes?
Kenya: The vibes are amazing! I did one last night, and one the night before at “Elsewhere” in Brooklyn. It was so cool, everyone is so nice and such good vibes.
Brooke: How do you begin to prepare for your show? It's one thing to be an artist and make music in a studio or in your safe space, but it's another to take that music and go and perform in front of people. How do you get from A to B?
Kenya: I’ve struggled, actually, over the past couple of months getting over stage fright, honestly. Because it's scary going from being in your room and posting online, where you kind of remove yourself from being in front of everyone, but it's so fun. It's a completely different process from writing. But I still do a lot of writing. When I make my set, I love adding transitions between songs. I love doing that.
Brooke: There is still so much for you to accomplish. This year it's just the surface level of what we’ve seen so far from Kenya Grace. I feel like 2024 is going to skyrocket and take off. There is a song that you put up, “Paris”, which just came out not so long ago. I would like to talk a little bit about it, the lyrics, and how you decided to release this one.
Kenya: I wrote it ages ago, and I really love the concept of it. It's basically about how social media is fake and, more specifically, something I’ve noticed about relationships on social media. They can look really good but actually are fake, and that goes for relationships as in couples and friendships as well, I think. I've seen that. I’m happy it's out. I think it's a little something before the big thing next year.
Brooke: So it's coming soon?
Brooke: I’m always so intrigued with somebody who is a newer artist and emerging, having so much success so quickly. It's just fun to know where your head is with all of this, and where you want to go. You are building out your brand and your artistry as Kenya Grace, and it's always fun to see where you want to take things because you can go anywhere with your projects.
Kenya: I’m trying to take it day by day. I'm trying not to think about the big picture too much because it's stressing me out. You can just overthink it.
Brooke: I know that we are entering towards the Holiday time and hopefully, you’ll get some time off. What do you usually do for the Holidays?
Kenya: Just chill with my family, to be fair. We don’t have a massive Christmas. It's just me and my brother, and my mom and dad. It's quite wholesome and chill.
Brooke: It's nice to go back and just be with your family, just do you and be you.
Kenya: I think that's the thing I like about Christmas because it's the time with your family.
Brooke: There is still so much to do, so much to accomplish for you as an artist. What are your goals for 2024? Obviously, we talked about the upcoming project, but I would like to know what else, and that could be anything.
Kenya: I’m really excited to play at festivals, different shows, releasing new music, and maybe a collab.
Brooke: Who is a dream collaborator for you, if you could work with anybody?
Kenya: I have so many. Should I list them all? Definitely Flume, that would be my dream. I love him so much. Maybe Chase & Status, but my ultimate dream collab would be Lana Del Rey, but it’s so far away…
Brooke: I love Lana.
Kenya: She is so amazing.
Brooke: Is there any artist, music you know through and through so well, where like, “I’m having a moment. I’m gonna put on music that makes me feel better”?
Kenya: Probably her [Lana Del Rey]. I love her. She is so soothing, her voice... everything. I love it.
Brooke: What do you want the world to know about who you are?
Kenya: It's so hard. I don’t know if people can tell, but I’m quite an introverted person. But maybe it's pretty obvious [laughing], but I’m quiet and reserved, and I love music, and I feel like I’m an emo at heart. Basically, music is my only hobby, apart from it, I love tattoos and all alternative things.
Brooke: What advice would you give your younger self and anybody who starts to make music?
Kenya: I always say, try to teach yourself how to produce. I think it's a very empowering thing to do. It’s so good to be able to do it whenever you want, without putting time in a studio with somebody else. I would say that's my main advice, and post those online, even though it's scary.
Brooke: What virtually inspires you?
Kenya: I love watching TV shows. I think it's so artsy, and people sometimes look down on watching TV, but there are things that are really cool, like “American Horror Story”. Things like that are so inspiring. It's so cool.
Brooke: What was your favorite song to record?
Kenya: It's so hard to pick. One of my favorite songs to perform is “Meteor”. I just love singing it, and I think “Strangers” was pretty fun to record.
Brooke: And it must be special in a way, to know now how many people connect to it on a deep level. What is your favorite part of the writing/creating process?
Kenya: I love all of it, to be honest. I love making the beat first, and then you feel the vibe of it, and then you get this moment where you like, “oh, I really like that”, where you know that’s working. That is my favorite.
Brooke: What inspires you, and whom do you look up to?
Kenya: So many people. Chase & Status, and so many singers. When I was younger, Adele - amazing songwriting, and Fred Again, I saw him recently, the energy at his concerts is insane.
Brooke: How are you managing to advocate for yourself with management and label as your success grows?
Kenya: I really love my team. They really get the whole thing, and they are very supportive, and I feel like they back my ideas 100%.
Brooke: Congratulations on everything. Thank you so much for taking the time to sit here with us today and getting to know you better.