On the heels of her Billboard’s Women In Music Awards performance, Lu Kala joins our video call in full glam, sporting her handy dandy bonnet to protect her vibrant orange tresses. This is what her life has become as one of the most promising acts in pop music. A genre distinction she has fought tooth and nail to secure.
The Congolese-Canadian songwriter goes from stage to press set, and if time permits, the studio (or as Lady Gaga famously said, “No sleep. Bus. Club. Another club. Plane. Next place”). However, she is sure to emphasize that she wouldn’t have it any other way. “I’ve put in 10,000 plus hours of work, and now I’m finally starting to smell the flowers a little bit. I’ve been working at this my whole life. From the moment I put out my first-ever song nearly four years ago, 100% independently,” exclaims the musician.
In fact, to the singer, her inaugural Billboard Hot 100 placement alongside rapper Latto for their collaborative record, “Lottery,” is only the beginning. Despite her true start in the music industry dating back to 2014 after Kala landed her first songwriting placement on Jennifer Hudson’s JHUD album, it wasn’t until around 2018 that she began to release music as a solo act. Then during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kala decided to cash in all of her creative chips by dropping the debut EP Worthy.
Ever so poetically titled, the 8-track project was the catalyst of self-reassurance she needed after dropping out of college to pursue music full-time. When describing the body of work, Kala shares, “[Worthy was] about me finding and falling in love with myself. Realizing that who I am as a person is worthy. No matter how people in the past have counted me out.” Kala holds nothing back as she continues to call out the naysayers, “the music industry, especially being a Black woman in pop music, being a plus size. In my dating life. Even [former] friends! Sometimes people don’t want to be friends with a plus-sized person. So I feel like I’ve always been counted out and made to feel like I’m not worthy. But I came through this cycle where I was like, no, I’m worthy of everything I want. I’m worthy of love.”
To be clear, Kala isn’t standing on a soap box when chronicling the mistreatment she’s experienced as a plus-size woman. She’s just calling it like it is. “For me, me making it is a big deal because I’m fighting so many different battles being a Black woman. A Black plus-sized woman. And you add all these different titles, but it’s like, I’m not telling anyone to look like me. But I’m telling people, I’m allowed to be here as well,” says Kala.
Body neutrality isn’t a cause Kala volunteered to fight, same as fellow pop singer Lizzo; rather, they were forced to take it up as the genre has maintained a vile history of gatekeeping who can enter the ranks mainly rooted in desirability politics. This means pushing white-abled-body cisgender heterosexual men primarily to the forefront, followed by their white cishet woman counterparts while all others duke it out for their spots. Every so often, an outlier will break through the boundaries, and for today’s rising stars, Lu Kala aims to be that dismantling figure.
“It’s so stupid. I don’t know why people make a lot of this stuff political just because you’re in a different body size. People are like, ‘oh, I love her, but she needs to lose weight.’ Or ‘this advocating for obesity.’ Just because someone is being shown to the world and people are loving on them doesn’t mean they’re telling you any message. If there is a message that they’re telling you, it’s ‘this is me. Take it or leave it.’ If you see someone that’s smaller, you don’t see them as a gym ad. But for some weird reason, if you see someone that’s bigger, you see them as an obesity or diabetes ad. And that’s very odd.”
Under those divisive circumstances, Lu Kala wasn’t supposed to be here, but thanks to her fierce belief in self and great solo music such as her single, “Pretty Girl Era,” which has dominated TikTok’s trending sounds, her career as continued to flourish in ways beyond her imagination. Still, Kala doesn’t deny it has been an uphill battle, saying, “That’s the tough part about this journey. As a Black person, I’m fighting so hard to just be seen as exactly what I’m doing. But, you know, a lot of times when you’re white in this industry, or sometimes even other races, but mainly, predominately white, you’re allowed to be the most popular genre. Even if that’s not really the kind of music you’re making. You get to be in any space. You get to drop an R&B album but be considered for a pop album. And here’s a nuance in some of these things, but it would at least be great if it went both ways.”
Musicians like Justin Bieber and Doja Cat have both verbalized their frustrations with the ways in which their music has been categorized in the past. On the other hand, legacy acts, such as Dionne Warwick and he impact on pop music, are often forgotten. In spite of that, thanks in part to the camaraderie of musical sisterhood, Lu Kala and her music continues to occupy spaces of reverence. Rapper Latto is certainly one of those allies.
Wow, A bunch of Queens I hope to 1 day be in the conversation with but it’s meeeee🧡 #latto #greenscreen #lottery #music #womeninmusic #blacktiktok #luckygirlsyndrome
When asked to detail her experience working with Latto on their record, Lu Kala poured with excitement. “It was pretty cool,” shares the singer. “I actually started writing the hook for the song with some people I love nearly a year ago. I wrote it because I was in my confidence bag. Like, ‘being with my babe, is like winning the lottery.’ But that hook was originally supposed to be on a song for my project. In the end, Latto heard the record and was a big fan of it, but I hadn’t really worked with rappers, so I didn’t know what the pop-rap collaboration would be like.”
The prospect of reviving the traditional formula of what crossover songs did in the early 2000s is what was the selling point for Kala. As she says, “what made me love pop music so much was the fact that everyone knew the words to the song.”
Kala continues, “when I got back to Los Angeles, they played me her verses, and I was like, ‘oh, okay. She went crazy on this.’ In the end, it ended up being her song. I’m just so grateful that she kept me on it. I just feel like it was meant to be. I’m so excited to see what this song does for the both of us. I think that we’re gonna be hearing it a lot this summer.”
With the odds stacked up against her as the child of conservative Christian immigrant parents, a Black woman, and a Black plus-size woman in pop music, Lu Kala’s work ethic and unabashed displays of vulnerability have garnered her a fanbase that shows no signs of slowing down. “I’m just happy that I’m finally living in a time and space where pop stars can be Black. They can be queer. They can look completely different. But Black women, especially, are allowed to be whatever they want,” she declares before adding, “I’m so excited for the girls that are coming after me because they get to see me, Hemlocke Springs, and Willow Smith. There are just so many options for who they can be now. And hopefully, when it comes to they can freely create the next new thing.”
Thanks to artists like Lu Kala, the next generation of pop music lovers have nothing to worry about. As for her ultimate goal as a musician, she says, “I really believe music has the power to heal us. To shift us. So, I hope people feel a shift hearing my songs. Words are very important, but so is the musicality. I want to heal the world. I want everybody to dance and have a good time while we’re here being human in this thing called life.”