By Noel Tesfa

(Courtesy of @Chxrry22 Instagram Page)

Two hundred sets of eyes watched her every move, echoing each word that came out of her mouth. The fiery red lighting that filled the small room perfectly encapsulated her persona. The butterflies that filled her stomach gradually went away as she was able to make out some familiar faces in the crowd. “We love you Chxrry” cheers followed, one after another as she stood tall over everyone, like a queen over looking her kingdom. Her hands moved into the shape of a heart and she blew  a kiss to the cheering crowd. It’s true what they say: “There’s nothing like your first.”

By the age of two, a young Lydia Habtemariam had been introduced to the love of her life: music. Growing up in Toronto in the mid-90s and 2000s, Lydia was naturally gifted but faced her fair share of challenges. The daughter of Ethiopian immigrants, it was rare to see artists or celebrities at the time who looked like her. Even someone like Lana del Ray, who she looked up to musically, wasn’t someone she could fully relate to, because they came from two completely different backgrounds and upbringings. The lack of representation wasn’t as discouraging as much as it was an eye-opener. Even as a young girl, she decided that if she were to make it big in music, she would be someone that girls all over the city could look at and see themselves in.

Lydia grew up with two older brothers, Amen and Yobi, who noticed her special abilities from a young age. “I knew my sister had a rare talent when she was about six-years-old. She would sing at church and family events and you could just see how she stole the hearts of everyone who listened to her perform. But even beyond that, I just knew that my sister would become an entertainer of some sort. She is super resilient and if she sets her mind to something she will do whatever it takes to get there,” said Amen.

Their parents were both in a choir so it didn’t take long for her to find a microphone. “Singing felt like it was part of my DNA,” she said. “We would always sing in the house growing up and it was something we did as a family.” Music was definitely present in Chxrry’s household as a child but it was never a point of emphasis. Regardless of the talent she possessed or the fact that her family was equally musical, it was hard to actually look at it as a viable career choice, especially in her community, but it lingered in the back of Chxrry’s mind. “I didn’t really have much of a plan, I dropped out of university after my first year because my heart wasn’t in it and I knew that I wanted to pursue music full-time. I told my dad that I was going to drop out and to give me a year to prove that I made the right choice.”

Multi-platinum producer Jenius Level has worked with some of the biggest names in music, like Travis Scott and Jack Harlow. He understands the challenges of not just making it in the industry but also finding that staying power that gives you a full career. “This music thing is not easy, especially nowadays. You see a lot of people dealing with mental health issues, imposter syndrome, how they view themselves vs. how other people view them. Being able to navigate through these things is part of the journey. But I feel like if you’re a good person with a strong work ethic, it’ll take you very far in this business,” said Level.

Chxrry knows there have been moments where she became a little more reserved and closed off, whether it’s dealing with relationship issues or not getting as much recognition early on in her career. However, she’s learned to channel those raw emotions and convert them into great music.

“I think when you look around and see all the people who have invested all this time and energy into you, you are motivated to never give up. I don’t want to let anybody down and that’s what helps me keep going every day even when things get hard or I feel discouraged,” said Chxrry.

“What good is love?

Love if it’s plastic. Give me fireworks and hat tricks,

I’m talkin’ magic. I need a love, deep as the ocean

Pull me to shore, show me devotion.”

These are the opening lines of one of her most popular songs ‘Wasteland’, in which she gives us a peek inside her mind and what she believes love should look like. 

Stephanie Pereira has been managing Chxrry for a little over a year now, but the two have been friends for over a decade. Pereira instantly saw potential in Chxrry from the moment they met. “I think that she has the chance to be the biggest artist in the world. What makes her special (aside from her obvious natural talent) is her drive, her charisma, and mostly, her inability to take no for an answer. We definitely share that same ethos and that is the energy that I think radiates from our work.”

Maybe that’s why the moment didn’t feel real when Chxrry was first contacted about signing to XO Records a few years back. People were always telling her how much her sound mirrored the Weeknd and how cool it would be if she signed with the label he co-founded. Fast forward to September of last year, that dream became reality. “I feel like it was almost manifested for me in a way,” said Chxrry.

Chxrry says she has  realized that things don’t get that much easier, even after signing to a record label. “I think the hardest part is that you do a lot of things on your own – I am my own stylist, creative director, oftentimes my own glam team, and you have to fill many, many roles to make sure your creative vision is executed the way you want it to be. I think that it can also be challenging to try and make sure that everything you put out is of the highest level when you are known and may have fewer resources, so you get really good at making the most out of things,” said Chxrry.

The good thing is she can always fall back on what got her here in the first place: the music. When it comes time to get in that studio and hit record, that is where she feels the most comfortable. Fans are excited to hear new music from her and have fallen in love with how unapologetic she is and how she expresses that through her music.

“I had been recording for years before I signed my record deal so I definitely feel confident when I step in the booth,” she said. “All of my songs and the way that I write are based on real stories and real emotions of things I actually go through and I always just want to be honest and raw in my music.”