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6 min

Kiesza brings star power to Glowfair

The Ottawa culture fest turns it up with concert from the pop superstar

Kiesza is the hottest Canadian export this side of Alanis and Celine. Credit: Dominic Chan

For a pop sensation whose big hit is called “Hideaway,” it seems like Kiesza is just about everywhere these days. The Albertan singer (real name Kiesa Rae Ellestad) leaped to stardom last year with a video for the breakthrough single from her Sound of a Woman album: a one-take boogie along the streets of New York in acid-wash jeans and Calgary attitude. Gajillions of YouTube hits later, and Kiesza is the hottest Canadian export this side of Alanis and Celine.

A big part of the package is Kiesza’s style, a blend of 90s’ denim and crop tops with hair straight from the golden age of Hollywood. It may sound like an improbable combination, but the petite redhead makes it work.

“I really love to play around with fashion,” says Kiesza. “I love to dress up. I like to wear different hats in that sense. I tend to have a little bit of a classic funky look. But I mean that’s not every day. Today I’m wearing a white shirt to my ankles, like Lucille Ball from the ’50s.”

The music is unabashed pop, with plenty of house beats and infectious melody hooks. Writing with sure-fire producers like Rami Samir Afuni and Joey Badass, Kiesza has recaptured a ’90s feel with the escapist lyrics and butt-shaking grooves that made that decade so damn fun. But there’s a deeper side to this northern songbird that comes out in tunes like “Piano” and “Cut Me Loose.”

“A lot of songs deal with finding pockets of inner strength,” she says. “I’ve been there myself. I think a lot of women, first time in love, find themselves in a situation where your gut tells you something isn’t right and you’re afraid to speak your mind. Maybe they’re afraid of society and the way things have developed (or) they’re afraid of losing someone. It’s so important for people to be honest and speak their mind.”

Life is pretty busy for this former Navy cadet and Miss Universe Canada contestant. She’s now an in-demand songwriter for other artists like Skrillex and Gorgon City, as well as fronting Fendi’s new line of fashion eyewear called Color Block. But while downtime may be a luxury for Kiesza, there are always bigger goals ahead.

“You have to have the desire to work hard or you won’t get what you want. You get better and better and it never gets easier.”