Courtesy of Hanorah
Courtesy of Hanorah

Culture | Getting unstuck

Singer Hanorah talks new solo project, Shia LaBoeuf

I was in the McGill metro station, craning my neck in search of my interviewee. I had first seen Hanorah in person at a Jam for Justice performance. Her sound was intriguing: smooth R&B beats, dreamy synths, and layers of soulful vocals. After some wandering in the station, I spotted her, smiling warmly and leaning against a post, trademark curls neatly piled on her head.

When we settled down for the interview, I asked about her sound, showcased on her debut album Unstuck. Her album is the perfect soundtrack for a long bus ride in snowy weather. I told Hanorah this, and she explained that most of the songs on the album were written on long metro and bus rides to the studio. Writing on public transportation is a creative ritual for the artist. “I think the lack of stimulation helps me because when you are on the bus or metro, you have no distractions. So, I use that time to write,” she said.

Hanorah began her musical career in a unique way. With roots in blues, rock, and jazz, music has been a constant force in her life and she had always contemplated a music career, but found herself putting it off. It was only when she saw Shia LaBoeuf’s viral video “Just Do It,” where a bearded LaBoeuf yells at his audience, “Just do it! Make your dreams come true!” that she decided to really dive into the world of music. “I saw [the video]. Then, I had a panic attack at 3 a.m. because I wasn’t doing anything with music. So I contacted everybody I knew in music and got a few emails and got a few producers and then just rolled with it.”

It was only when she saw Shia LaBoeuf’s viral video “Just Do It,” where a bearded LaBoeuf yells at his audience, “Just do it! Make your dreams come true!” that she decided to really dive into the world of music.

Not only is Hanorah a singer, she’s also a visual artist in the Fine Arts program at Concordia. Her visual art often has social commentary attached to it. “In my subject matter, I [explore] these grotesque baby heads that [are] racially ambiguous and [have] these gross limbs of skeletal figures. […] And I think for me, that has a lot to do with the fetishizing of youth in a death-denying society.”

This type of commentary translates to her musical style. Everything on the album is done deliberately and has a deliberate meaning. Unstuck’s album art features Hanorah posed with with a lemon and a watermelon. “Fruit comes up a lot,” she said. “It’s a symbol of femininity and fertility, and […] turning [the imagery] on its head and letting my femininity speak second to my artistry.”

“There was also a child-like instinct to it. To cut all of [the fruit] in half and draw a little face on my leg. […] That is what this project was too, it was kind of just like playing. There is this childlike curiosity in the nature of my work and I think that is why I [incorporate so much colour].”

Not only is Hanorah a singer, she’s also a visual artist in the Fine Arts program at Concordia.

Speaking on her artistic decisions as an up-and-coming artist, Hanorah said that she was initially hesitant to include her song “Cover Me” in Unstuck. She said, “It’s a four chord song like every other pop song and I was reluctant to put it on [the album]. But because of my resentment of the industry of pop music, I decided to make it a song about a girl who falls in love with her ex-boyfriend’s little sister. Just kind of poking fun at a progression that can be used for any song at all.”

This is not the only song on her album that plays with underlying social norms. “I have a song, we just shot a music video for it, and it’s called ‘In Order of Appearance.’ I don’t think many people know the real meaning of the song, but it is actually about sexual assault and rape culture. It kind of sounds like it’s a memory and like, ‘oh look at my life’ and this big existential thing. But it is really about rape culture. And the music video is really exploring that.” In the clips that are available of the music video online, Hanorah is tied up with rope, nude, and laying on a table as the song begins to play, representing themes of sexual assault in a visceral way.

When I first saw Hanorah perform live, she wore a long patterned cloak and bright green lipstick. I asked her about the distinctive style she rocks on stage. “In an industry that controls the standards of beauty so strongly, I like using those same materials to make you uncomfortable and challenge that. Sometimes, I will wear bright green lipstick or the weird hair and everything: boy’s clothes, girl’s clothes, and everything. We are told things are either male or female or that things are either pretty or ugly. I like flipping this notion on its head and being kind of kickass in the process.”

When I first saw Hanorah perform live, she wore a long patterned cloak and bright green lipstick.

From the way Hanorah describes her artistry, it seems that it is more than just a musical endeavour. But does her elaborate style, album art, and odd choreography overwhelm the music?

Hanorah replied, “You could even say that being an artist is a performance in itself. There is this whole idea of what an artist is supposed to look like and how they are supposed to behave, what they are supposed to do with their time. And I think that merging performance art with music was just so natural, for me. They are both time-based. They both involve the body. It is body and time. And music is body and time. And art is body and time. It made so much sense to marry them for me.”


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