America’s Got Talent, just like Britain’s Got Talent, doesn’t have a great history of producing successful pop stars, but Grace VanderWaal has demonstrated how an artist with true star potential can use these huge shows as a platform to gain international fame in an instant, especially if they’re clear on who they are and what they want to get out of it. And that’s what’s so remarkable about this 12-year-old prodigy – not just her oversized talent, but her pre-defined pop persona. When Zara Larsson won Sweden’s Got Talent in 2008 at age 10, she was lumbered with a Celine Dion cover as her winner’s single and faded into obscurity – Grace’s emergence as a ready-made, distinctive pre-teen star ensures she won’t face the same fate.
Grace stands out from the typical child star because she’s not a cliché – she didn’t turn up singing a song from Annie or covering a current pop hit. She auditioned with her own original song, and it was actually good! Her songwriting talent has gained comparisons to Taylor Swift, but in terms of positioning, she’s more like a baby Regina Spektor, or a pop star version of Tavi Gevinson. Grace’s quirky voice and style, and honest lyrics on relevant themes such as finding your own identity, impressed not only the middle-America audience of AGT, but the discerning music media and influential artists. Her fans include Rolling Stone and Billboard, Stevie Nicks and Cyndi Lauper. She’s basically the ultimate hipster kid, but rather than growing a cult fanbase on YouTube and Instagram as you might expect, she’s cut to the chase and aimed for the top.
After she (obviously) won AGT in September, Grace signed to Columbia Records and last week released an EP of original songs, Perfectly Imperfect. Produced by Greg Wells, the EP capitalises on her newfound fame, but I hope will give her some breathing space now to take the necessary time over her actual debut album. Just not too much time, cos then she won’t be a star of 2017. New single for the summer, right?
Click here to find out more about This Must Be Pop’s Stars of 2017 and come back on 19th Dec to vote for the artists you think, and hope, will be the biggest pop breakthrough of 2017. The results will be announced in the Future Pop mailer on 2nd Jan.