Our Take: Alessia Cara Is a Rebellious Wallflower On “Know-It-All”

Alessia Cara © Meredith Truax
Alessia Cara © Meredith Truax

Natalie's Take


Maturing is never easy, and it is a challenge for youths to be taken seriously when balancing the world on their shoulders. However, there is a new voice for teens who are beginning the winding path toward adulthood. It’s the voice of a girl caught in a whirlwind of fame and success, who doesn’t let the stars in her eyes stop her from seeing clearly. It’s the voice of someone who is paving the way for the outsiders while staying true to herself. She is a girl who values the importance of being who you are in a time where the world is trying its hardest to put teens in a box. She is the quiet kid who became the popular girl overnight, but rejects the label.

Canadian singer-songwriter Alessia Cara makes a stunningly soulful debut with her album Know-It-All (11/13/2015 via Def Jam Recordings.) At just 19 years of age, Cara has been making waves since April’s release of her single “Here.” The song changed the definition of introverted cool, becoming a #1 global viral track on Spotify. The single’s popularity led to Cara performing on the Tonight Show, on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and on princess of pop Taylor Swift‘s 1989 tour.

Know-It-All - Alessia Cara
Know-It-All – Alessia Cara

Despite Alessia Cara’s newfound fame, she returns to her individualistic outlook on Know-It-All to create an album that is honest, down-to-earth, and grounded in personal experiences. Littered with stories of family and friends, Know-It-All touches on everything from heartbreak to self-love.

This album is a call to youth to hold your hands up high in rebellion against societal norms, to feel okay to break traditional rules, and to stay true to who you are. Themes of reveling in awkwardness and isolation dominate the record: Know-It-All is truly about the perks of being a wallflower.

Starting off with the upbeat track “Seventeen,” Cara sings about how quickly life goes by as one grows up. It’s a fearful process, and she wishes she understood now what her parents had told her when she was younger:

So hear me scream
I was too young to understand what it means
I couldn’t wait til’ I could be seventeen
I thought she lied when she said take my time and breathe
Now I wish I could freeze the time at seventeen

Watch: “Seventeen” – Alessia Cara

She takes the wisdom of her mother and father and shares it with the listener. It is a juxtaposition of old and new, which reveals her coming to terms with her naivety. This self-awareness is unexpected and fresh. It’s the maturity that is all too often overlooked in the younger generation. The wistful desire for Cara to return to a time when things were simpler is something to which anyone can relate.

Following “Seventeen” on the album is Cara’s smash hit “Here.” It is a bold move to introduce the song that put her on the map so early on the record, but it grabs the listener’s attention and holds one’s intrigue. The song is undoubtedly her strongest. It is saturated in cynicism, wit, and a touch of attitude. It is an anthem.

Next up is “Outlaws,” a quirky, jazzy pop song about taking on the world as a team with a lover. It’s a little fantastical, but still catchy. Doo-wops and horns add a retro sound, and the theme of rebellion once again shines through via a comparison to Bonnie and Clyde.

We’ll be outlaws, partners in crime
We’ll take on the world together
I’m Bonnie; you can be Clyde

Alessia Cara © Meredith Truax
Alessia Cara © Meredith Truax

Not being alone is the main theme presented here. Cara is the one reaching out her hand to take you along with her as she sets out to conquer the pop world. Real-life Bonnie and Clyde don’t succeed in their endeavors, but there is an optimism on “Outlaws” that erases your doubts. You can live forever, escape the law, and dare to dream.

This idealization of the anti-hero continues throughout Know-It-All. On “Wild Things,” Cara sings about rebels who “rebel rouse and sing aloud.” She gives a testament to self-discovery and growing up. It’s self-assured uncertainty, in acknowledging she is cool in her own way. Seeking to redefine “cool,” she marks her place as the anti-pop pop star. Following this theme, both defiance and an unshakable strength are apparent in the songs “Stone” and “Overdose” later in the record. Cara’s connection to her generation is bulletproof.

In addition to direct messages to her peers, Cara’s diverse musicality shines through Know-It-All. “Four Pink Walls” is a standout on the record: It has the flavor of hip-hop with splashes of R&B, slightly reminiscent of a young Lauryn Hill/Amy Winehouse. With genuine, sincere soul, it’s a throwback to the past, where the swagger of independence shines through.

Watch: “Four Pink Walls” – Alessia Cara

On a more traditional note, “River of Tears” is a soft farewell to a lover. It’s about recovery and knowing everything will work out in the end. The confession is sensitive and fragile, and anyone unsure of the relationship they’re in knows all too well how it feels to be treading in such stormy waters. The beauty is found in the simplicity of the melody and the layering of the harmonies.

Love sinks and hope floats
In a river of tears

The awkwardness of adolescence is a difficult terrain to navigate, but Know-It-All covers the bases. To sing about love in such a knowledgeable manner is impressive: There is a progression from pre-teen infatuation to true, candid love gone awry. It’s that skeptical outlook that indicates Cara is learning through experience and recording her journey through a diary of songs.

Cara reprises her most recognizable track as her debut comes to a close. Channelling the anthemic prowess of Adele with “Here (2:00 AM Version)“, Cara showcases soaring vocals that strike their mark. Driven  by a voice full of depth and range, this song’s appeal lies in its pure honesty. Cara can work both acoustic and pop/R&B songs with ease, but the way they are interspersed on the record disrupts its overall cohesiveness. Aware of this, Cara bridges the gap by including this stripped-down version of “Here.” She is strongest when doing R&B, and she knows it: It’s suited to her rich voice, and it’s those songs that showcase her talents the most. She proves herself capable of expert storytelling when she’s in that soulful state, and “Here (2:00 AM Version)” allows her to bring out her best self while looking for some form of closure with the song that started it all.

Watch: “Here (2:00 AM Version)” – Alessia Cara

Alessia Cara © Meredith Truax
Alessia Cara © Meredith Truax

Know-It-All is an impressive debut, especially considering Alessia Cara’s staggering rise. The first album from a girl who ostensibly became a sensation overnight finds her making up the rules as she goes. With lyrics that are thoughtful and sentimental, Cara’s songwriting is dripping with endless potential. She is truly in her element when singing about defying the odds from the outside. This is the attitude that made “Here” so successful, and it gives the record an intimate, personal touch.

Alessia CaraThe album tells a story: It is relentless in its examination of life through the lens. From past to present, we grow up alongside Alessia Cara, and it is this transparent attempt at authenticity that makes Know-It-All perhaps the most relatable record of the year. It resonates with every teenager searching for an identity – and all teenagers are searching for an identity. Cara toasts to the loners – the teens who haven’t yet found their place in the world. Any 19-year-old can empathize and sing along to Cara’s music with confidence, finding comfort in a girl who refuses to conform to anything.

Like a true coming-of-age story, Know-It-All addresses the fact that Alessia Cara doesn’t have all the answers – not yet, at least. The contrast between the album’s title and its message highlights the volatility of the teenage experience: Cara humbly admits that she has room to grow, and one can find clarity in that admission of imperfection. Know-It-All is Cara’s foundation: It is a glimpse into the raw talent that Cara will refine and shape as she continues to break the mold and grow into her own.

She may not know it all, but Alessia Cara is definitely “Here” to stay.

 You can follow Alessia Cara on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Watch: “Here” – Alessia Cara

:: Alessia Cara Know-It-All 2016 Tour ::

1/15 – Montreal, QC – Corona Theatre
1/16 – Toronto, ON – Danforth Music Hall
1/22 – Boston, MA – Brighton Music Hall
1/28 – Cleveland, OH – Rock and Roll
1/29 – Chicago, IL – Metro
1/30 – Detroit, MI –  St. Andrews Hall
2/1 – Atlanta, GA – King Plow Arts Center
2/2 – Nashville, TN – Mercy Lounge
2/4 – Dallas, TX – Granada Theater
2/5 – Houston, TX – Warehouse Live Studio
2/6 – Austin, TX –  Emo’s
2/12 – Los Angeles, CA – El Rey Theatre
3/29 – Vancouver, BC – Vogue Theatre
3/31 – Calgary, AB – Macewan Ballroom
4/1 – Edmonton, AB – Union Hall Edmonton

Tickets & more information at alessiacara.com

Know-It-All – Alessia Cara

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