Grace VanderWaal is the future of pop music
Clad in yellow leggings and clutching a ukulele, Grace VanderWaal took the country by storm when she performed her original song, “I Don’t Know My Name”, on America’s Got Talent in 2016. Not even a teen yet, the 12-year old proved herself as a musical genius and quickly found a tremendous fanbase, eventually taking the winning title of America’s most notable talent show. Though such drastic fame would seem daunting for someone her age, Grace remains poised and humble, eloquently speaking far beyond her years as we shared an Italian pastry at SoHo’s Pietro Nolita. Now at 15, Graces takes our cover as one of the future faces of music- and rightfully so with the release of her new single Stray. Not to mention her acting debut in the upcoming film adaptation of the novel Stargirl. Though, despite her success, she’s still just a teenage girl dealing with teenage girl things like school and friends. I caught up with Grace to discuss how she balances everyday life with superstardom, what it was like transitioning into the film industry and everything in-between.
You were only 12-years old when you won America’s Got Talent. What would you say is the biggest difference between you today and you then?
Probably the biggest change in myself is obviously just maturity, but also adapting to this lifestyle that I have. I go to school, so balancing school and friends and my career as well. I used to really have trouble with that, so I’d say the biggest change is adapting and getting better at it.
One of your most notable attributes is that you’ve always written your own songs. What was your first experience of writing an album like in a real studio?
It was weird at first, it seemed almost unnatural. Especially because I was doing a lot of co-writing for my first album, which I’d never done before. But you get to know the people. You get comfortable with them and then you get comfortable enough to be like, ‘That sounds terrible! We have to move on’ and things like that.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
I’m just writing about school, that sounds weird! But it’s the truth. And just all of my experiences. I wrote a lot during the movie. Just whatever I feel like I have a hard time explaining… You know that feeling where you just want to break something really bad? Songwriting kind of satisfies that same urge.
How would you say you’ve progressed as an artist since your first album was released in 2017?
My new music is definitely different, but I think it’s still organic. It’s more mature, but it’s not like ‘Oh! I’m grown up now.’ I think it’s just more of people being able to hear my growth. It’s like the same, but not!
Tell us a little bit about your experience on the Stargirl set. What was it like? Is acting something you hope to continue to pursue in the future?
I loved making the movie, like almost too much! When I got home I was so sad. It was definitely one of the best experiences of my life, but I don’t think I’d want to do it again and I don’t think I’d pursue acting. Maybe I’d do a movie years from now again. I had so much fun, but singing and performing especially, I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s just this feeling of passion and I know it’s for me.
Were you involved musically in the film?
(Though she really wants to tell us, nothing is confirmed yet!)
If you could write the soundtrack to any movie, what would it be and why?
An Audrey Hepburn movie would be really fun… Funny Face or Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Moon River- I wish I wrote that song. I feel like classic romances like that would be really nice to have strings on.
You have a collaboration out with Fender- which is huge for someone your age. How did that come about?
I wanted to work with Fender and I knew they might be interested in me too. I ended up visiting their warehouse office and it was really cool, it was where everything is made. We just talked and I thought that was really cool because they weren’t trying to get me to agree to anything yet, they simply wanted to know my ideas and I thought that was so modest and genuine. They genuinely listened to me. After that, I wanted to work with them and they wanted to work with me and it just kind of worked out!
Who is someone you’d love to collaborate with in the future?
I don’t know! I don’t think I have an answer!
You’ve obviously changed a lot in the three years since you won America’s Got Talent. Where do you see yourself in the next three years?
In the next three years I hope to have expanded my fan base with my new singles, I hope that all of my fans now have adapted to my new sound and hopefully they like me, I hope to never dye my hair again (laughs) and I hope to get straight A’s again!
Photos by Keri Dolan