I remember that day like it was yesterday. Thomas reached for my hand between us and squeezed it gently. That boy. He was always so gentle. That time it may have been because my palms were so sweaty, but nevertheless.
I wondered if he could see my tremors. They felt so strong, like if I wasn’t careful, the entire STAPLES Centre would turn and look at me. But I was just being nervous, of course. I wonder briefly what I wouldn’t give to feel that same fear again.
Of course, it’s just as likely that when he curled his fingers around mine it was because of who had just walked on stage. I recognized the woman who would be presenting the award immediately.
I remembered my speech and silently scolded myself for not running it in my mind at every possible moment. Not that I thought I’d win, but I’d wanted to be prepared. I’d run it so many times that I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. Flashbacks to my childhood played in my mind alongside my speech.
When I was a little girl...
My parents used to tell me that I sang to them when I was younger. I would sing back everything I heard on the radio and they would clap and I would smile. I grew up listening to music, every song I could get my hands on. I remember dancing around in my room for hours until my mom would come to check on me and I would pull out my homework like it had been there the whole time.
The first time I touched a piano, I was seven. I remember being fascinated by the idea of making my own music. I convinced my parents to sign me up for lessons and I started playing short tunes about our dog. I held a guitar for the first time at ten and it opened up a whole new world of possibilities. My fingers just seemed to know where to go, what to do. I loved it.
...I would watch the Grammys on TV. I always wanted to write music, to play music, but I never let myself imagine what it would be like if I could actually get here.
My music instructor first asked me to perform at eight. I was so excited to play right up until she called my name. I walked up in front of a crowd of thirty bored parents and I froze. Looking out on the sea of people, I was petrified. In fact, it wasn’t even a sea. It was barely a pond. I tried to run away, but my parents made me perform anyway and I threw up afterward. I was mad at them for weeks.
Turns out, it’s terrifying. Absolutely terrifying. But the good kind of terrifying. The kind that I’ve learned to live for as a performer.
It took a few tries at performing before I realized that my kind of stage fright wasn’t usual. I started to become more self-aware as I grew up and found ways to cope. It was frustrating, but I learned to be patient with myself. I would perform for my parents first, then my grandmother, then my friends, and finally a crowd. I knew before I turned ten that I wanted to sing for a living, and that meant I couldn’t be afraid.
And as a songwriter, I live for words and melodies. The perfect string of notes with the perfect lyrics to capture a perfect picture of something beautiful.
I fell in love with words a few years later. We did poetry in school and I haven’t put a pen down since. That’s when I really started writing songs. They were measly at first, but I got better. I would go home and I would write for way too long and then rush through my homework after dark.
There are so many beautiful things to write about in this world. Beautiful nature and beautiful people and beautiful emotions and more than we can imagine.
I wrote about everything because when you’re young, everything is exciting. If I saw a pretty autumn tree on my way home, I would put it in a song. If I liked the smell of morning air before school, that too. I wrote about the first time I had a real crush, Peter Li in tenth grade, and the day I came home to find out my grandfather had died. It helped me cope. It was instinct, habit. Even now, I couldn’t stop writing songs if I tried, and I have. Music is my world. It has always been my world.
When I started to look for a record deal as a thirteen-year-old, I realized something very important. I realized that music isn’t about making music that people will like. It’s about expressing myself and by doing so helping others to do the same. It’s the finest form of storytelling.
I started looking for a record deal at thirteen. My mom would drive me to record labels downtown and I would just go in and talk to people. Make friends with the secretaries and convince them to listen to my CD. Even after all this time, I chuckle sadly at the image of little me running around in my baggy sweatshirt with all the music notes on it. I still have that sweater.
I finally had a bit of success when I turned eighteen. My Dad asked some friends to invite their cousin to bring their friend to one of my small performances. I sang a couple of my originals and, apparently, did alright. That guy worked for a small record label and he got me a deal.
Releasing my album First Chance along with this single has been the most rewarding experience of my life because I got to share these stories for the first time. My stories. Getting here showed me that apparently, people like to listen to them, and that’s the most rewarding part of standing here.
I released my first album only a few months after that. I had been writing music for years and it didn’t take long to pull the best of it together and record. I never dared to expect results then and there. I would’ve just been happy to put music out into the world. I was asked to film a music video for a song called Thomas. (Can you guess what it was about?) I watched the video go viral and I screamed and jumped and cried when I was nominated for a Grammy.
And so as I stand here, I remember every sacrifice I made. I remember the journey. The story. The thousands of stories that brought me here. And you have no idea how glad I am that they did.
And there I was, sitting five rows in front of the stage at the STAPLES Centre four months later. I remembered it all. Every tear, every groan, every deep breath before every performance, every bit of heartache, every note, every word, that led to that day. It was all there in my mind, keeping me present. Knowing everything that brought me there, the risk and the reward at stake, made it that much more terrifying. I didn’t dare to imagine what would happen if I won.
All of this in that last singular, eternal, everlasting second. I’ve revisited that day countless times since. At first, it was alive in the lingering high of the weeks following. Later on, it turned bitter as I slowly began to realize I would never have another day like that one. It’s become almost dull over the years. Almost. But on quiet nights, when the wind is right, and it’s not too cold, and I close my eyes, I can still hear my name being called from the stage.