Updated: May 28
equality factor: self-reflecting & self-producing songbird
last album: "I Do Not Have To Be Good"
our favorite song: "Boats"
based in: Cleveland, USA
Most might know a 21-year-old singer-songwriter, Emily Keener through her 2016 participation in the American casting show “The Voice”. Even four years after she Cleveland-native made it to the top 12 of her season, Emily’s blind audition is still her most searched for and prominent appearance on YouTube. But do not be fooled: within four years, the teenager with an incredible voice has transformed into a sophisticated woman, artist, and producer, with a distinct vision - and even more incredible vocals.
"When I was 11, I decided I would play the guitar. My dad showed me a couple of chords, but then I taught myself how to play. I played until my fingers bled and practiced constantly.”
Emily Christine Keener was born on November 23 of the year 1998 in Cleveland, Ohio. From the early age of ten years on, she was playing the guitar and began to sing and write songs soon after. When she caught the eye of the public - and that of coaches Blake Shelton, Adam Levine, Christina Aguilera, and Pharell Williams - with her phenomenal blind audition on The Voice, Emily was only seventeen years old. With her moving rendition of Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road", she was able to impress the four world stars and audiences all over the USA within just a few notes.
After several successful renditions of melancholic classics ("Lilac Wine") and soft-singalong tunes ("Big Yellow Taxi"), Emily Keener left the show in the final rounds, as one of the top 12 candidates of the season. It surely was not for a lack of talent or vocal range - but perhaps the show's mainstream format was not the ideal audience for the distinctive character of the young artist.
Emily Keener's mezzo-soprano gained recognition beyond the TV show later in 2016, with the release of her debut album "Breakfast", an Americana-inspired soft indie record, with hints of pop. It was released mere months after her The Voice episodes aired, and the release surfed on the wave of medial attention that was given this unusual young singer. And rightfully so: from the first tone of her original release on, Emily served captivating honesty and vulnerability alongside fairy-like vocals. Many of her songs tell stories of herself, or female characters and their narrative. She touches upon delicate topics of depression and finding her way in the world as a young woman.
While "Breakfast" is filled to the brink with uplifting, dreamy folk melodies and Emily's crystal clear voice, it still leaves you hungry for more. As showcased many times on The Voice, Emily already had all the attributes to create captivating music, leaving her artistic fingerprints all over Elton John's classic and making it her own. Her first album did not capture her unique artistry perfectly - but it was still deliciously good.
"Music is one of my favorite ways to experience and express femininity."
Following her 2016 debut and album release, Emily Keener spent four years touring local and international stages with her guitar, as well as recording, writing and producing new songs. Through opening for, playing and connecting with fellow female artists, she began to explore her femininity through her music, too. Calling female loved ones her "sister-friends", and reminding her Instagram followers to "support women you aren't attracted to", her social media reflects upon the journey of a young woman finding her feminine voice.
Her 2020 release, the breath-taking "I Do Not Have To Be Good", shows Emily Keener as a young woman who has found and displays her distinctive voice. Now accompanied by dreamy folk-pop, Emily sings her heart out and bares her vulnerable, melancholic, and mesmerizing soul. "I co-produced this work with Dalton Brand and we poured everything we have into it. It contains three years of transformation, reflection, creation, destruction", she describes it herself. On nine hauntingly beautiful tracks, we witness a grown artist, who sings more confidently about her insecurities, instead of speaking through metaphors or the songs of others. The album sounds like a mix of A Fine Frenzy's debut album, James Bay's best ballads, and early London Grammar-releases with a hint of Birdy. Furthermore, as opposed to breakfast, it is best served with a glass of red wine at dawn.
Lyrically, Emily now speaks in metaphors and imagery, her verses sounding more like poetry than storytelling. The album's title, too, was inspired by poetry. In her poem “Wild Geese,” Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Mary Oliver writes: "You do not have to be good", and therewith serves as the inspiration for the album. It is her that "Mary, I love her", the seventh track of the album is dedicated to. Overall, the album reflects Emily Keener's process of defining herself, embracing her sadness, and turning it into something beautiful. Perfect vocal producing and exceptional drums enhance the artistic vision even more. This album serves listeners bitter-sweet melancholia alongside refreshing confidence and carelessness, unintentionally reflecting the zeitgeist of 2020.
"This is the album that I've always wanted to make. The process broke me down, scattered the shards, and forced a mirror in front of my face."
Although it was always there, it took Emily Keener three years to find her own voice. In co-producing her sophomore album, the young artist took control and moved away from her Americana roots, and the commercial format that served her as a stepping stone. With "I Do Not Have To Be Good", she reminds herself - and other young women - that they do not have to live up to anyone else's expectations and serve none other than themselves.