Kimbra proves she is more than just somebody we used to know

Illustration by Kat Barton

By Alannah Balfour

When Kimbra first stepped onto the stage, you could hear the crowd hold its collective breath. The audience did not stop dancing until the end of her double encore. Her black and white dress reflected flashing lights and her voice cut through the venue. The setlist mixed old and new, and each visual detail, from costumes to light projections, felt like it had been deliberated upon for months. “This is what it means to be human / I don’t know much, but I know this is true,” her fans sang the lyrics from her most recent single. It is a powerful and exciting experience listening to an artist perform new music, and Kimbra passionately embraced the moment. I was lucky enough to speak with her this past week about career success as a young person, her musical evolution and what advice she has for fellow artists.

Most people likely first heard Kimbra through her collaboration with Gotye’s 2011 Grammy-award winning song, “Somebody That I Used to Know.” The surprise comes when you find out that this popular song was released when Kimbra Johnson was barely 21 years old.

“I was aware of how hard the industry is, and was enrolled in university before signing the deal in Australia,” Kimbra said. “It was meant to be, really, a calling for my life. It is important for me to leave a mark on the world, to give a gift. Music is the way I can do it the best.”

Now 27 and preparing to deliver her third album, “Primal Heart,” she is midway through her North American tour. “Primal Heart” shares an almost entirely new style than her prior albums; where once she bombarded her tracks with electronica and fast-paced rhythm, she has replaced this with stripped-down vocals. Kimbra compares her previous sound to “an excitable child.”

“It was high on creativity, influenced by Dali, R&B and played with surrealism.,” Kimbra said.“‘Primal Heart’ comes from art being a reaction to what has happened and what is to come, how I am evolving as a human. It is rooted in reality, rather than escaping it.”

During her Feb. 8 performance, Kimbra switched between multiple instruments fluidly.

“Understanding the different aspects of production helps you articulate your vision in multiple ways and maintain creative control,” she explained. Her joy onstage was palpable. “There’s a mystical element to performance. There is something cathartic about it. I encounter fear of failure on stage, but by accepting where I end up I am able to let myself rediscover songs in new ways each time.”

Kimbra’s new album, formerly scheduled for release Jan. 19, has been pushed back to  April 20. Currently, three singles have been released: “Everybody Knows,” “Top of the World” and “Human.” The three releases, along with the concert’s preview, remain part of the indie-pop genre while moving away from Kimbra’s high-energy musical past. The album displays her maturity as an artist and she refers to it as “vulnerable in a new, direct way.” It boasts heartfelt lyrics that demonstrate Kimbra’s vocal skill, and fans will not be disappointed.

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