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Review: VanderWaal’s music is just the beginning

By Freddy Roberts, Round Table PSA managing editor

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A bright and wide-smiled Grace VanderWaal makes her way across the stage in front of thousands of people. The four judges notice the 12-year-old, not expecting a surprise. The teen stuns both judges and viewers at the eleventh season of the NBC TV competition show “America’s Got Talent,” singing an original song that took her to the very end.

After her win in 2016, VanderWaal wasn’t finished playing her ukulele. When chosen for the golden buzzer in the audition round of AGT, Simon Howell called her “the next Taylor Swift.” The young artist stepped on stage and wowed the judges and audience with her original song about identity, called “I Don’t Know My Name.”

Because of VanderWaal’s win in September 2016, doors in many directions opened up for the aspiring musician. She signed a record deal with Columbia Records in the same month, releasing her debut EP “Perfectly Imperfect” that included five original songs, all produced by Greg Wells. VanderWaal promoted “Perfectly Imperfect” with a series of appearances and performances.

Moving on from her EP, VanderWaal started to work on a full album soon to be called “Just the Beginning.” She told an interviewer for Rookie Magazine about how her process changed for the album, writing songs “on demand” with a collaborator: “I’ve never done this before; it’s kind of weird to go into a room with usually a 30-year-old man and just be like ‘Oh, let me open up about my life to you and write a super personal song!'”

Being said, the 12-year-old wrote not one, but 12 songs to be produced for her new album. VanderWaal has a lot of talent and experience for being so young that has been noticed by the entire world. The inflection and vibrato in her voice creates falsettos that are somewhat unknown, but appealing to the ear.

In June 2017, she participated in VidCon’s opening show, YouTube Onstage, in The Arena at Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, California, where she premiered the first single from the upcoming album, “Moonlight.” From then, she has released more singles from the album, and finally promoting the album on “Ellen” in September 2017 and Austin City Limits Music Festival in October 2017.

“Moonlight” has small verses with longer and repeating choruses. Sung by VanderWaal, the song is about remembering the times in the past that would never be forgotten. She seems to be writing to a friend who is stressed, and wants to comfort her with these memories. VanderWaal then compares the light from her friend’s eyes as if they were dancing in the moonlight.

VanderWaal said, “This one, ‘Moonlight,’ is a specific story. I knew someone struggling with mental health. At the time, it was still going on. Now it’s all good. She is all good. When someone’s going through that, they’re not them anymore, they lose that spark, you know?”

The upbeat song can remind the listener of the good times they once had. The memories created are supposed to be stories that help us through stressful times. She said that this song is a song about walking down memory lane. People may seem like a “perfect poster child” or seeing them as “picture perfect,” but deep down, something is wrong.

The “Just the Beginning” album was produced by pop mastermind Ido Zmishlany and NYC songwriting duo Kinetics & One Love. VanderWaal called this more of her “I don’t care” album; she likes to think, “I don’t care what anyone else thinks about it.”

All of her songs seem to be written as if she can cure something; more specifically, her song “So Much More Than This” was composed to be more produced because that is what she likes and that is her.

This song encompasses VanderWaal getting too hung up on what people think about her style and songwriting. She probably understands that she will never be able to make everyone happy, so what is the point in caring about it?

“I’m still really the same sound, because I can’t really change my style or else it will feel forced – and I always think that definitely shows through. It just won’t be a good song because people will hear that it’s kind of forced and not organic.”

Each of VanderWaal’s songs sound anything but organic and produced. Her voice is appealing to pop and indie rock listeners, and her originality is noticeable among all musicians. VanderWaal’s  music today is most definitely known to be just the beginning of her success.

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