From self-releasing music to a record contract to self-releasing again – what sounds like a step back was a huge step forward for Kina Grannis. The brief stint with Interscope Records in 2008 didn’t even result in one album release. Her own work, especially her exemplary use of YouTube, have resulted in much, much more. And that was exactly how I learned of this talented singer-songwriter from California: YouTube … a cover song … a friendly ‘Hey, have you seen this girl? She’s brilliant. I’ll send you a link.‘ over lunch. That’s how you find new audiences (it’s only part of the recipe, of course, but any young artists not doing that seriously needs to rethink their strategy). Kina Grannis found a co-worker of mine that way and, through him, found me. It wasn’t the most likely find either. After all, Katy Perry, while perfectly fine pop music, isn’t exactly part of my main music diet.
The important thing is that it was good enough to make me curious. Which is how I would describe much of the material on Kina posted in her channel before that video (December 2010) or between then and late 2012: good enough to make and keep me curious. There was some nice but not phenomenal original music. There were some nice covers. There were some really good covers. The Tracy Chapman Fast Car cover (with Boyce Avenue … these guys sure know how to pick their female collaborators) was among the really good ones, as was Adele’s Rolling In The Deep. The obligatory Hallelujah cover was not the best I’ve ever seen but still better most on YouTube (and there a plenty). The same goes for Use Somebody by Kings of Leon. But then, in late 2012, something happened. With a new haircut also came another change. The visual quality of the videos didn’t just go up a level, it jumped and left out a few levels like a wunderkind going from 6th grade straight to university. With the better visual quality, the music got even better as well. And there were some notable collaborations. A The A Team cover with 2/5th of a capella sensation Pentatonix, the inevitable Cups version (with Kurt Schneider, Alex G and Sam Tsui) of 2013, Passenger’s Let Her Go with Marshall from Walk Off The Earth, not one but two absolutely phenomenal collaborations with Fresh Big Mouf and his special kind of make-music-with-everything sound (Lorde’s Royals and Happy by Pharrell Williams). To name but a few.
But Kina doesn’t need collaborators to wow with her covers. A very unexpected Gangta’s Paradise cover or my personal favourite, a version of Neighbourhood’s Sweat Weather, speak volumes. What Kina also didn’t need (not anymore) to wow me was to cover other musicians’ music. February 24th, 2014, marked the first full length video for her upcoming new album, Elements, and that gave me a very pleasant this-is-what-I-have-been-waiting-for-all-along feeling. A feeling that would return with the next release for Elements and then with the album itself. To me, this is one of the albums of 2014 – and that is saying something with competition in the singer-songwriter/acoustic pop genre by such mega talented artists like Passenger, newcomer George Ezra, Stu Larsen and, yes, even Ed Sheeran (although his second album, x, is a lot more regular pop).
In case that sounds like I believe this is the end or the pinacle of Kina’s development and upward movement, you couldn’t be further from the truth. I’d say anything before 2013 was a warm-up. Musical foreplay, if you will. Testing the waters. Preparation, maybe. What we have seen from Kina Grannis in 2013 and 2014, however, is – I believe – the very beginning of a very gifted artist coming into her own. And with this kind of talent and apparent work ethic and dedication to music, there is plenty of room to the top still.
Releases (studio albums only):