It's entirely possible to have a chart-topping song and yet feel...well, invisible. Just ask Grammy-nominee Skylar Grey.
When the singer/songwriter debuted five years ago under her given name -- Holly Brook -- she shot up Billboard charts as a featured vocalist on Fort Minor's hit "Where'd You Go." After landing in the U.S. Top 5, she was gone as quickly as she came.
In 2010, Grey returned in a big way. She not only cowrote Rihanna and Eminem's acclaimed #1 single "Love the Way You Lie," as a vocalist she hit the Top 20 with Diddy-Dirty Money's "Coming Home" and joined Eminem and Dr. Dre in the Top 5 on “I Need a Doctor."
Still, she never forgot that painful experience of “disappearing.” It inspired Grey’s debut solo single "Invisible." Drawn from her upcoming CD Invinsible, her feelings of failure in life and the music industry reach out to under-dogs everywhere – and have given her a Top 20 Billboard Dance hit all her own!
How much thought went into changing professional identities after already scoring a Top 5 hit under your previous name?
Well, having a Top 5 hit doesn’t really mean anything if it doesn’t give you a career. (Laughs.) I kind of fell off the map after that happened. I was trying really hard. I made and album, and nobody cared. I didn’t feel attached to my old identity in any way. I felt like I needed to change my identity because I’d changed so much. After going through that experience in the industry and failing – or feeling like a failure – then moving up to a cabin in the wood, and having that empowering experience of being in isolation, it changed me. I wasn’t even thinking of just changing my name for artistic reasons but also personal reasons. I was feeling like I’m a completely different person, and if I was going to really take control of my life for the first time, I may as well start by naming myself so I could have a rebirth. That’s where that came from. It helped in music too. People in this industry tend to be a little bit jaded about things, and if they were to hear, “Holly Brook is writing new music now and looking for a record deal,” they’ll just go, “We’ve heard her name before. That’s just Holly Brook. Whatever.” Coming out with a new name tricked them for a second into thinking there was this new person. It’s really not, but it is to me. It was very helpful.
How is Skylar different from Holly?
Well, Holly Brook was the girl who let people walk all over her, fought for things for the wrong reasons. I used to fight for my friends to work on stuff with me, to be my producers, stuff like that. I wasn’t thinking about what was actually going to be best for me artistically. I ended up trying to take care of everyone around me instead of myself. Eventually, that was just kind of my demise. Now, after proving to myself that I can survive in the wilderness and make music on my own, without having to rely on a producer or anything like that, I had a totally different perspective on how to live my life basically. I feel like if I don’t take care of myself and do what’s best for me, then all the people around me are going to suffer from me not taking care of myself. That’s kind of my new perspective, having my own visions and fighting for what I want, not what someone else wants for me.
Is it naïve to think after a hit like “Love the Way You Lie,” you don’t struggle to get people to work with you now?
I get phone calls every day from people who want to work with me, but I turn a lot down, because it’s not what I want to do. It’s not about just another check. I’ve never been in this industry to make huge amounts of money. If I wanted to make huge amounts of money, I actually wouldn’t be in this industry. (Laughs.) I just want to be creative and make great art and be able to do that for the rest of my life without having to get another job. That’s my goal, you know?
“Invisible” brought to mind people in my community -- young, gay kids we hear about taking their own lives. Who did you have in mind when you wrote your new single?
I wrote it about me, having that feeling about trying really hard to have people understand me, and still being misunderstood -- like nobody really knew who I was, and I couldn’t relate to anybody. That’s something I felt so many different times in my life! It kind of comes in phases. Middle school was a crucial time. I would cry every day after school because I was bullied or people made fun of me. I was the weird girl who didn’t really have any friends. (Laughs.) I was artistic and different and living…where people didn’t seem to have as open of minds as I had. My mom was an artist, so I grew up with a mom who was a ‘weirdo,’ too, which I’m really grateful for now. At the time, it was difficult. That was a hard time. Then, in high school, I started feeling all these girls around me were so pretty and getting boobs. I felt totally undesirable, like nobody was interested. I struggled with an eating disorder. That was another time I felt invisible, and I went to extremes to try to get people’s attention. I wouldn’t have admitted it then, but looking back, that’s what it was. Then, a couple years back, when I failed with my music, I had spent almost 20 years working toward this music dream, I found myself broke, eating fruit off the trees to stay alive. Nobody cared, and nobody got it. I think that is something everybody can relate to, and I would imagine the gay community especially. It’s hard anyway to feel accepted, and to be seen for who you really are inside. That’s what “Invisible” is about.
Do you feel being “different,” “artistic” and on-the-fringe has attracted gay people into your life?
Yeah, I guess it has. I think anybody who is feeling something a little bit different or they appear a little bit different than the traditional – I grew up in Middle America, so I related to that all the time. People who got out of my small town and are actually doing something, we kind of all unite in a way. We’re doing something different, but we’re proud of it. So, yeah, my friends are people who are allowing themselves to be themselves and be proud of who they are.
You’ve been extremely successful writing and singing hooks on hip-hop hits. That’s a community not so open to and accepting of LGBT people. Has there been a culture clash?
Well, for me, no. I never bought hip-hop music growing up. I was raised in folk music and rock of the ‘90s and totally independent stuff I got into. Working in hip-hop was a totally random thing I did not plan on happening. One of the things I wanted to do with hip-hop was mix it up a bit. I was sick of all these rappers always trying to act so tough and act like they didn’t have any problems or their problems. Well, not that they didn’t have any problems, but that they didn’t have any emotional problems. There problems were always like cops and money and bling, stuff like that. That’s not really real. I wanted to bring vulnerability and a softer side to hip-hop, and that’s what I did, you know? “Love the Way You Lie,” for example… That’s a pretty emotional song for hip-hop. I think I’ve been able to tap into a different part of that world. I would by no means call myself “a hip-hop artist.”
You describe Invinsible being “sonically different.” Tell me about the sounds we’ll hear.
Because I came from such an eclectic background, I have so many different influences. I don’t really think about it when it write, I just write what I feel. What comes out of me is a weird mixture of things. There’s elements of, as I said, I love rock from the ‘90s, so there’s guitar that’s influenced by that. Songwriting-wise, I have more of a folk-y style lyrically. Drum-wise, I love beats in hip-hop music, because they’re kind of janky and not totally on the grid. They have a feel. It’s kind of a combination of those things. Then, there’s one song on the album which is a cinematic piece. It’s like a movie score, it’s not even a “’song’ song.” There’s another track called “Weirdo” which is more of an up-tempo, fun song about being proud to be a weirdo. It’s really fun, then right after it is a song that’s really soft and emotional. It takes you on a journey by listening to the whole album back-to-back.
Join the Skylar Grey Artist Page / Group on Guidetogay.com (watch videos here too!)
Become Friends with the author - Pollo Del Mar
Follow Pollo Del Mar on Twitter