Chanel Loren wants to be a rebel.A defier of genres and a boundary pusher, the music industry revels under artists like her. But it’s only a minuscule few who succeed at creating waves in world culture - and being one of those relies on challenging the structures laid out before you. You also have to be - by nature - a little bit different. It’s a bill Loren seems to fit.Speaking to VICE, Loren quotes Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West as examples of this archetype. Marvin Gaye, too, who is her biggest influence.
“I don't want to just be this pretty girl that just makes songs,” she says. “I want people to look back and be like, ‘She may not have been groundbreaking, but she was pushing certain agendas or themes and ideas’.”
It’s a big goal for someone just starting out their career.Loren’s debut single, “Playlist”, was released just last week – and her discography isn’t yet extensive. But through her nomadic upbringing and multi-faceted points of view, Loren has all the pieces. The next trick is putting it all together.Born to Caribbean parents and growing up in London’s South-East, Loren moved to Australia at 17. While her love of performing manifested in dance, ballet and acting, it wasn’t until she began to sing that everything clicked. But worries also set in. “I just didn't think I was good. My voice was different. No one sounded like me,” she said.Believing she didn’t have a voice that fit the norm – too distinct and too jazzy – for years, music sat on the backburner. She’d go on to sing backing vocals for Australian artists like Kwame, until she was approached by a determined producer who pushed her to release music. “I had imposter syndrome,” she said. “I didn’t promote myself as a musician, but everyone was always like, ‘When’s your song coming out?’”
“And then COVID came, and I was like ‘What the hell am I doing with my life? Should I pursue this music thing seriously?’”The pay-off came later when she was suddenly - to her own surprise - signed to major label Sony Music. “I wasn't really expecting it to happen so soon because I thought I had to show that I was worthy,” she said.“It's honestly about right time, right place, and knowing the right people. And that's where I was. I guess my talent overrode all of the other semantics that people think they have to do to get signed.”Though Loren says she never thought of herself as an insecure person, the move into full-time music pushed her to look into who she was and where she was going. The result: a stream of self-doubt.“I'm the type of person where I would avoid what makes me feel uncomfortable. And so I feel like music has become the mirror where I can physically and audibly see my imperfections,” she said. “So I used to just kind of run away from it.”Loren’s tug-of-war between ultra-confidence and stunted self-belief is an interesting character trait. But it’s less about being nervous and more about being incredibly self-aware. It stems from an identity crafted when she moved to Australia. She believed that being both British and Caribbean is what at first attracted people to her: it was almost a novelty for her peers. And she believed she didn’t fully fit in.
“When I came to Australia, and there was no one, I felt isolated. And I didn’t want to explain myself. I didn't want to explain my blackness.”It’s a situation that may lead one to develop an outsider-mentality yet for Loren it was key in the creation of two characters: one for herself, and one for the world of music.
Though she doesn’t necessarily want to be like Lady Gaga – big glasses and over-styled hair – she wants to pick an aesthetic that is constantly evolving. Especially when it comes to genre, an aspect of her character that also flits between the multi-faceted aspects of her identity.“I feel like sometimes in music, especially R&B, everyone sticks to the lines. And I don't want to do that. Because I feel like R&B is my heart and soul, but my voice isn't,” she said.“Yes, I could do neo-soul, but it doesn't fit my lifestyle and who I am.”“My songwriting is versatile, so it fits into any genre. So why would I limit myself and just do something because number one: I'm black. I also have this weird obligation to the black community to make black music”.Rather than sticking to certain types of contemporary style of R&B that revolve around ideas of being a “bad bitch” or “not needing no man” (which she still notes is good, just not her style), Loren is looking to be more vulnerable and deliver something with a bit more “gutter”.Her debut single is the beginning of that sound. Through harmonies, her lyricism, the garage-style beat and her British accent, she hopes that the song will show her intent, down to the tiniest grain.“I think the reason I’ve taken so long to get to where I am is because I refuse to follow a formula. I want to live in uncertainty when it comes to my creativity, because it allows me space to grow. I didn't study music my whole life to just be a sheep”.Follow Julie Fenwick on Twitter and Instagram.Read more from VICE Australia.