Before 17-year-old singer-songwriter Hailey Knox took the stage at her music showcase at the New York City club The Box last month, I caught a glimpse of her in the wings. She seemed nervous, fidgeting with an earring and adjusting the bottom fringe of her shirt — it almost seemed like she wasn't psyched to be there.
Moments later she walked out on stage and greeted the audience with a perfectly goofy yet confident "Well, hey." Immediately, she was in control of the crowd as the most self-assured teenager I have ever seen perform live.
The upstate New York native gained a devoted following after posting her soulful and inventive covers of pop songs online just like her favorite musician, Justin Bieber. And like Bieber, she's hoping to make the transition from viral stardom to pop stardom with her debut EP "A Little Awkward" on S-Curve Records, which drops Friday (June 24).
Here's what you need to know about the teen singer-songwriter, and why she could be the next big thing in pop music.
She developed a loyal YouTube and YouNow following due to her unique acoustic covers of pop songs by Justin Bieber and The Weeknd.
Knox's YouTube channel features an eclectic collection of covers, ranging from recent hits by Adele and Selena Gomez to her spins on classics like "Ain't No Sunshine" and "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow." Her most-watched YouTube cover is her rendition of "Ex's and Oh's" by Elle King, which has over 100,000 views.
But Knox's fan base exploded on the live broadcasting app YouNow, where she has over 77,000 fans.
Knox said that she liked having the instant feedback from her YouNow videos and found it similar to performing live. "I’m able to just play a song and just know in seconds whether the audience or viewers like her or not."
Her audience definitely likes her videos, which have racked up over 1.9 million views to date. In fact, the singer was signed to S-Curve Records in large part to her YouNow following.
She has impressive loop pedal skills, just like her idol Ed Sheeran.
One talent that makes Knox stand out are her "looping" skills — which means using a guitar pedal on the floor to recreate the track as she plays riffs on the guitar, then performing along with it.
The teen's guitar-and-loop pedaling have become a large part of her signature sound. Knox said Ed Sheeran is her favorite "looper," and explained why she's a big fan of the technique.
"It’s basically just creating the track live, if that makes sense, harmonizing over the track [like a] one-woman band."
The teen's take on "Can't Feel My Face" with loop pedal also earned her a lot of attention, including an opportunity to perform the cover on VH1 last year.
Her new EP "A Little Awkward" perfectly captures what it's like to be a teenage girl.
Knox revealed that the plan had originally been to call the EP "Scatterbrained" — a title which would have sold the album short. This five-song EP has some of the freshest, funniest, most vibrant songs I've heard in recent memory — in essence, the very opposite of "scatterbrained."
"In a sense, the overall EP’s theme is kind of a journal," Knox said, whose collaborators included her producers Peter Zizzo (Avril Lavigne, Jason Mraz) and Mike Mangini (Joss Stone) as well as Imani Coppola. "[The EP] touches on each aspect of my life from my relationships to feeling like an outsider in high school, feeling like a geek or a nerd."
"We called it 'A Little Awkward' because I think that the EP is awkward. I kind of find myself in awkward situations," she added.
The EP deals with the pains of being a teenager — getting stalked online by her parents ("Awkward") and the unsettling but exciting, feelings you experience when you have a crush ("Loopty Loop"). The songs are inventive, funny and filled with great pop culture references, ranging from "Raiders of the Lost Ark" to Basquiat.
Her first single "Geeks" earned Meghan Trainor's seal of approval.
"Geeks," Knox's first single off her EP, is a soulful fight song for the underdogs, and a gentle "screw you" to the man. The single caught the attention of Meghan Trainor, who tweeted about how much she loved the song:
"Okay, I see you @haileyknoxmusic," Trainor wrote, along with a link to Knox's new single. "Obsessed with #GEEKS!"When I asked Knox about the Trainor shout out, she said, "that was seriously awesome."