H.E.R. Says 'R&B Will Never Be Dead' as She Preps for Dunbar Hotel Performance and New Album
"I think we've seen a resurgence of R&B in the past two years and I think people are looking for substance. They're looking for soul and they love great singers," H.E.R. tells PEOPLE
H.E.R. is letting it be known that R&B music is far from dead.
The singer-songwriter is one of three artists included in Amazon's 2021 Prime Day Show, also featuring Billie EIlish and Kid Cudi. H.E.R.'s performance incorporates her reimagined vision of the Dunbar Hotel, known as the hub of Los Angeles Black culture that welcomed legendary musicians like Lena Horne and Cab Calloway in the 1930s and 40s.
While chatting with PEOPLE, the 23-year-old discussed her vision behind the 25-minute show and how it channels some of the same themes in her forthcoming album.
"I got to work with one of my favorite people actually, child. She's an amazing director. We both share love in Black history and Black music. So she felt like the Dunbar Hotel was a perfect place. And I was like, of course," says H.E.R (née Gabriella Sarmiento Wilson). "That's the perfect place to kind of blend the two worlds of storytelling and music, and adding a visual to it and kind of taking it back to some of those legends like Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday and people like that."
"We just wanted to take it back and make something that was nostalgic but fresh because of my new album and it was visually amazing, and it was the perfect vibe," she adds.
The immersive show features performances of her new songs, "My Own" and "We Made It," featured on the Grammy-winning singer's new album, Back of My Mind, which releases on Friday.
Embracing the meaning of her stage name, "Having Everything Revealed," H.E.R. is doing just that - giving fans a glimpse at the emotions she's felt throughout her career and the wide range of musical styles that have influenced her art over the years.
"This album is all the things that make R&B and it's a celebration of R&B. It takes you through my perspective up until this point - from the beginning until now - and some of the emotions that I had in my first project. It's more musical, you know? Now I've kind of opened up," she says, noting that she initially had reservations in releasing a project that she compares to her diary.
H.E.R. continues, "I think in the music, I've started to own just putting it all out there and laying it all out. Because music is an outlet for me but when you really own it, you lock into something different and I think I'm in the process of owning that."
RELATED VIDEO: Oscar Nominee H.E.R. Says She's Thankful Her Music Has Impacted and Inspired Others: "I'm Giving a Voice to the Voiceless"
Her ability to use music as an outlet and speak on societal issues in her lyrics has helped her become one step closer to achieving the elusive EGOT (the title for winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony), a status she hopes to earn one day but noting, "it's gonna happen when it's supposed to happen and how it's supposed to happen," as she continues to solely focus on her artistry.
H.E.R. currently holds two Grammy awards and recently won her first Oscar for her song "Fight for You" that appeared in Judas and the Black Messiah. "I'm always gonna fight for my people and fight for what's right, and I think that's what music does, and that's what storytelling does," she said in her acceptance speech.
Beginning her Prime Day Show with a snippet of the spoken word from her award-winning single "I Can't Breathe," which became an anthem for Black people in the United States during the past year's fight for social justice, H.E.R. revealed that poetry is a "big part of who I am." The singer and guitarist often utilizes spoken word in order to create powerful standout moments within her songs.
"A lot of people don't know I used to compete in high school with spoken word, but I just think sometimes in songs, one verse or two verses and of chorus isn't enough to say exactly what you want to say. And it isn't enough sometimes to fully get a point across," she says. "So the idea is to kind of express it without limits."
And exceeding any and all limits is exactly what H.E.R. plans to do with her music. As an artist, she places value on being able to utilize multiple forms of expression, sharing that along with more raw poetry incorporated in her music, fans will be able to see her play more of her instruments. The "Slide" singer first truly stepped into the music scene at 10 years old, being described as a child prodigy during her appearance on the Today Show when sharing that she plays several instruments.
But fully embracing her guitar on stage has been a journey, and now H.E.R tells PEOPLE that her strong relationship with the guitar allows her to help others be more comfortable in their artistry. In 2020, she announced the start of her "Girls With Guitars" weekly Instagram series, dedicated to holding conversations with and encouraging young women guitarists, which she plans to reintroduce this year.
"On my first tour, somebody said, 'Oh, people don't want to see that. People don't want to see you play guitar, it will go over people's heads,'" H.E.R. explains. "And now I'm seeing a lot of people want to play instruments. So you know, hopefully I've played a role in that. It's important."
With the release of Back of My Mind, H.E.R. is now looking forward to performing live for the remainder of the year, calling the Prime Day Show the "introduction to bringing live shows back" as the country begins to reopen following the COVID-19 pandemic.
In September, she's planning to hold her second Lights on Festival, an event the music sensation created as a way to once again celebrate R&B music and shut down those who believe the genre is dying.
"R&B has created some of the most timeless albums, whether it's Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Stevie Wonder's Innervisions, Marvin Gaye, Jill Scott. I mean, the list goes on. R&B will never be dead," explains H.E.R., discussing the status of the genre in today's pop culture. "As far as being in the forefront, I think we've seen a resurgence of R&B in the past two years and I think people are looking for substance. They're looking for soul and they love great singers. So, you know, I think we're finding the new generation of those people that are filling that void of R&B."
In her Dunbar Hotel-inspired performance, actress and special guest Taraji P. Henson - who portrayed the hotel manager - says that H.E.R. belongs on the stage that was "made for" and "home to" Black culture, and the singer tells PEOPLE that she has big plans coming up in her career that were inspired by some iconic names in R&B.
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