The Canadian songstress, as herself, sets the JESSIA moniker aside to talk new music, her instant rise with "I'm Not Pretty," and more

When an artist lands on a song that is, ultimately, the vehicle that catapults them to long-awaited success, there are so many questions regarding the “how?” and the “why?” the song came to be. After some time, asking those questions feels redundant, but that song remains a necessary part of telling their story. “I’m not Pretty,” a COVID-era hit for the Canadian singer-songwriter Jessika Harling aka JESSIA, is one of those songs.

“When it did start blowing up, and people started attaching themselves to it, it became more of a serious thing,” she said, on the reality that set in during and following the unexpected success of the song which, upon blowing up on TikTok in 2021, had not even been completed yet. “I felt like I had a good opportunity to talk about EDs and body dysmorphia in pop music. There is a seriousness to it, but it’s also very tongue-in-cheek. Even when we were searching for a feature, or when people were doing the open-verse things, it was all, ‘Go ahead, take your makeup off!! You don’t need them lashes!!I was like, ‘This is not what the song is about.’”

The song, produced to completion by fellow Canadian elijah woods and given a status boost with a remix featuring Bebe Rexha, is not about the external pressures of body image. It is about the internal. Less about the front one puts on for others, and more about what they see and think when they look in the mirror. Following the initial burst of “INP,” JESSIA, knowing she needed to maintain a steady output, has released nearly 20 songs within the last few years.

Her newest release, “Care About Me,” is out now.

More Than Names on a Screen 

Coming up in a pandemic was great, but it was so limiting in that everybody was just names on a screen,” said Jess, who was not able to fully grasp the fan-artist connectedness until she was up onstage opening for the likes of Dean Lewis and OneRepublic. “I wasn’t able to actually see who my fans were. What were they wearing? Who are these people? What’s going on in their lives? I really like to be that connected with them so that I’m able to write songs that they might need to hear. I think my songwriting has really improved in just being able to see the people who are listening to my songs.”

Songs like “Be Here Now,” a message to herself to give herself grace and be more present, and “Nobody Hates You,” a plea to the listener to slow down and take a breath, came out of that in-person connection. The latter features one of her strongest hook melodies (very Anne-Marie-like) and an intro that sounds like “Red” by Taylor Swift at half-time.

“Care About Me” 

Her vocal inflections and adlib choices reflect a bit of Julia Michaels, while her overall range is one of the purest and leisurely of the modern pop girls. On songs like “Nobody…,” “Next Time,” and new release “Care About Me,” she easily pops out belted notes with tiny doses of distortion that would prove difficult for most. She shines throughout the final chorus, adding a thick, fervent layer of harmony that displays her frustration with both the situation and herself as a whole: “Rip my heart from my chest and I still apologize for making a mess/ Cause you don’t even care-re-re-re-re about me.”

“I wrote ‘Care About Me’ in a green room in Manila right before I went onstage to open for OneRepublic,” she said, detailing her observance of an individual’s lack of effort, and her unwillingness to do anything about it in the tune. “It was funny hearing Ryan every night… just hearing him sing and his melodies and I think that definitely seeped its way into this song.” She says the song is “a good landing place” for her current musical direction and that a body of work, coming soon, will maintain a similar vibe.

“I really like playing with an organic and electronic kind of thing,” she continued. “An ‘organic pop’ is what I’m lookin’ for. I’m really proud of all of the songs I put out last year but after becoming newly independent and being able to completely depict what I put out, and not have to ask for permission, it was very much just like, ‘Let’s just try out all of these hats.’ Just seeing the response to ‘Care About Me,’ I’m like ok… this is MY favorite song I’ve ever written and it’s also being really well-received. So, we’re all on the same page here.”

Cry, Dance, and Celebrate Individuality

JESSIA’s music, both a kindred of her influences and a display of her originality, is far from a catalog of sad-bops-only. Within her own music, she knows how to lighten the mood, how to celebrate individuality, and how to make music to dance to. “He’s a 10” acts as a Miley Cyrus “7 Things” style intervention for a bestie of all the reasons she should probably dump her guy, “One of the Boys” is a self-love anthem concisely jammed into just under two minutes, and “’HELL OF IT, emulating early 2010’s experimental pop production, unabashedly, encourages a “do what you want, and do it while you’re young” mindset.

At large, she has a voice tailor-made for the hooks of pop hits, both traditional and electronic. Consequently, she is well-versed in the world of EDM/electro-pop crossovers. “It was funny… I was charting in like, Germany, and was just like, ‘Ok cool, this is fun!,’” she said. “I took a step back to start my artist project because I was really wanting to be able to say what I wanted to say, and I felt like I was molding to those DJs.”

Behind The Moniker

JESSIA, the moniker of the “artist project,” is the part of Jess, the girl behind it, who can pull forth the humor, confidence, and vulnerability in this music. The part that can proudly declare, “I’ve got a bellyyyy and I’ve got a bummmm,” in “I’m not Pretty.” “JESSIA is a lot more outspoken,” said Jess, who essentially looks at JESSIA as a ‘she’s me, but stronger’ version of herself. “She’s a lot of what I need to hear sometimes. I like traveling and doing yoga and meditating… living a very wholesome life, whereas I find that JESSIA is fun-lovin’ and very, very strong. She’s got a lot to say. She lifts me up sometimes. I just want to be inspiring and uplifting.”

Stream songs by JESSIA: