Alessia Cara is wise beyond her years. The 20-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter first came on the music scene in 2015 debuting with her hit song ”Here.” In it, Cara sings of a party she once attended that she described as "not her scene;" rather than trying to fit in where she doesn’t, she steps aside and sings, “I’ll be over here.” Speaking to iHeartRadio, Cara noted how it was a surprise hit, “Usually when you think of party song you think positive, let's have fun, but it's the complete opposite."
So began Alessia Cara’s music career, and with it her mission to reconsider many of our social assumptions about those things we need to do to fit in.
Cara’s latest hit “Scars To Your Beautiful” is a gorgeous followup on this theme but giving a closer focus on the issue of body image. Currently enjoying a high spot on Billboard’s Top 40, “Scars To Your Beautiful” sings a message our culture could use more of: You don’t need to fit someone else’s standard of beauty to be beautiful.
“She just wants to be beautiful...She craves attention,” the song empathically starts, before delving into the many negative paths young women can take in efforts to meet unrealistic beauty standards. For women who value thinness at all cost, she tackles the topic of eating disorders: “She has dreams to be an envy, so she's starving… / She says beauty is pain and there's beauty in everything / What's a little bit of hunger?” How about perfection? She torches the “I’m fine” temptation to cover up pain and pretend everything is perfect: “So she tries to cover up her pain and cut her woes away / 'Cause cover girls don't cry after their face is made.” These false attempts at beauty, the song seems to say, put scars in what really makes us beautiful. And we don't need them.
Wow. Critics instantly noted this goes beyond the average beauty anthem—it’s going right to the dark stuff and bringing the light.
Which happens to be an allusion Cara uses in her lyrics when providing listeners with the remedy to these hollow attempts at beauty. “There's a hope that's waiting for you in the dark / You should know you're beautiful just the way you are. / You don't have to change a thing, the world could change its heart.”
That last part captures what’s so great about this hit. The world can change to accept you, or not; but we don’t have to change ourselves to match it.
In an interview with Idolator's Mike Wass, Cara elaborated about the song's inspiration: It's "a song about these things that certain women go through on a daily basis in order to feel loved or in order to love themselves….These weird things are instilled in us...that tell us that we’re not good enough or that there's only one kind of beauty. This song basically is contradicting that idea. It's saying, 'Well, if the world doesn't like how you look then they should change. They should change their perspective. You don’t have to change yourself.”
Speaking to iHeartRadio, Cara went deeper into what she feels are the origins of these “standards”: “Whether it's in media, or in just regular life...these things that we're being told, whether it's indirectly or directly, they get into our heads and it got to the point where now girls can't look at themselves and just feel happy anymore. We have to find something that we don't like, or something that we have to compare ourselves too. And that can get so tiring.”
Cara suggests the messages all around young women today can warp our vision from seeing our true beauty; as she sings in the lyrics, “she don't see the light that's shining / Deeper than the eyes can find it / Maybe we have made her blind.”
“I wanted to make a song that was saying to block out all that noise,” Cara concludes, “to just appreciate yourself, and not go to these extremes to love yourself.”
The music video for “Scars to Your Beautiful” includes short vignettes of different people of different walks of life—one hairless cancer-fighting woman, another weight-lifting female athlete, another albino young lady—all with undeniably beautiful sparks in their eyes.
What’s next for Cara? If her interview with Idolator is any indication, we’re in for more fresh thinking. Because here is how she describes her strategy: “You just go with your gut and put out honest music. That’s all you can really do, right?”
Cara’s words almost sound like naivety to the way the music industry works, but it’s quite possibly a nouveau-intelligent version of youthful rebellion: “Even if you do have a big marketing plan, at the end of the day, the world decides what they like and what they don’t. You can have the best plan in the world and then it fails because it’s just not honest, or maybe people just don’t enjoy it. You just have to gamble and do what you believe in.”
Words to live by, and ones many in our culture would benefit from marinating on. In the meantime, you just keep doing what you do, Alessia. We’ll be listening.
Photo Credit: Scars to Your Beautiful