LO-FI: Anna Clendening
From the moment pop singer-songwriter Anna Clendening appeared on the scene, her music hit home with thousands—and very quickly, millions—of people.
Granted, that moment came when she least expected it: One night about five years ago, at home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Clendening recorded a video of herself singing an acoustic version of “Gas Pedal,” the monster hit from Bay Area rapper Sage the Gemini, and casually posted it online. It quickly went viral, so she began making more videos and eventually garnered over 2.5 million followers online. Less than a year later, she snagged her first major television appearance: competing on America’s Got Talent. (Her audition also went viral: onstage, she bravely described overcoming crippling anxiety to appear that day, then wowed the judges with a chill-inducing rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” on her acoustic guitar.)
Though by 2016, she realized she wanted to establish herself as an artist in her own right: “I think it’s cool that people hear a song and they want to hear me sing it,” she says, “But what really connects me to music is the words. I really did not want to be a cover artist. For me, that sounds like purgatory,” she laughs. “You’re doing music, but you’re not doing your own music. So in early 2016, I started writing.”
In 2017, Clendening’s breakout acoustic version of her single, “Boys Like You,” proved she has what it takes to go toe-to-toe with pop’s power players. The song—which Clendening says she conceptualized as a tongue-in-cheek, script-flipping version of Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself”—has amassed over 12+ million streams on Spotify (without any official Spotify playlist support), plus an additional 25+ million views on YouTube. Just in time for summer, Asylum Records released a sleek new version of the song June 1, 2018.
Stylistically, Clendening’s songs range from acoustic to alternative pop with an edge, but each is hook-heavy and relatable. Vocally, she can deliver incredibly personal material with a honeyed grace (as she does in the not-yet-released “Drowning” which she wrote about her own struggles with mental health), but can also carry a power-pop chorus with confidence. In terms of career inspiration, she cites artist-songwriters Sia and Julia Michaels.
Throughout her growth as an artist over the last few years, Clendening has also continued expanding her social media presence with a YouTube channel (nearly 600,000 subscribers) and on Instagram (over 540,000 followers), where she often “field-tests” the hooks she’s working on in real time to get feedback from her fans. She also regularly shares her experiences with her own mental health. “There’s this huge stigma around mental illness,” she says. “It’s so weird to see people be like, ‘Well, I don’t want depression, I don’t want anxiety!’ This is just a normal part of my life. It shouldn’t be glamorized or romanticized, but it should be normalized.”
Ultimately, though Clendening has spent years honing her craft and building a loyal fanbase, this is just the beginning.