You may not have ever heard of Georgia Ku, but chances are you’ve heard her music.
See, just like Chirs Stapleton and Bruno Mars, Ku got her start in the music industry behind-the-scenes as a songwriter, penning tunes for the likes of Zedd, Fifth Harmony, Dua Lipa, Iggy Azalea and more. As a performer, she made a few appearances here and there — including being featured on NOTD’s 2018 hit song, “So Close” — but Ku has never fully stepped into the spotlight as an artist… until now.
On Friday, Ku released her debut EP Real via Atlantic Records. Having worked in the shadows of the industry for years, she had ample time to really think about how she wanted to jump into the world of being an artist. An incredibly skilled crafter of dance music, Ku realized that her biggest priority was not just using her platform to release music, but using her platform to really connect with her audience… hence the EP’s name, Real.
By weaving lyrical intimacy throughout her melodic, irresistibly dancey pop tunes, Ku creates a uniquely personal atmosphere. Between the contemplative lines of the verse and catchy hooks of the chorus, it’s clear that Ku’s naturally infectious personality is deeply entwined with her artistic output. Last week, American Songwriter chatted with Ku over the phone to dig into these elements of her artistry, her views on the changing role of music and the story of how Real came to be.
This is your first official project as a solo artist — why now?
Well, when I signed my deal a few years back I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to say or what route I wanted to go down. It took me a second to figure that out. So, this EP has been in the works for the past year or so — finally, this is the moment when everything comes together.
Normally when I go into a studio I don’t really like to go in with a mindset of ‘okay, this song will be for me.’ I don’t like putting that pressure on my co-writers either. When I go into the room, I just want to write a great song. A lot of the songs I write are pulled from my own experiences anyways — or at least some kind of experience that I can relate to. All of the songs on this EP came from that kind of philosophy. It wasn’t until after a song was written that I’d say ‘yes, this sounds like a song that I want to put out.’
What are you listening for when you determine if a song is going to be for you?
Specificity is something that I feel sets the songs I put out apart from the rest of the songs I write. I love to not only have the listeners hear the music, but visualize it too. It’s really important for me to set up that picture for them. That brings me closer to them, letting them know me more as a human — it paints the picture in a more intimate way.
The lyrics, melodies and rhythm of your music fit together in such an intricate way — how much of that is pre-planned and how much of that is found during the recording process? What does the technical process of writing look like for you?
Honestly, it depends on the day, on who my co-writer is — it’s all different. Sometimes I’ll go into a session with a very vivid concept that I want to go for. It’ll start as an idea in my mind and we flesh it out from there. We start by determining what we want to say lyrically and then melodies follow after. Other times I’ll go in without having anything, I’ll listen to the chords the producer plays and I immediately get inspired. In a situation like that melody actually tends to come first and then lyrics follow. So, it all just depends on who I’m writing with and how I’m feeling.
It’s always been really important to me that I pull people in with my verses, build them up with my pre-choruses and then I have a big release in the choruses. So, that’s always been a structure that I try to go by. Once you catch people with the intimacy of the lyrics on the verses, you can take them wherever. I aim for choruses to be catchy, but I also don’t like for the lyrics to be too straightforward; I don’t want it to be generic. I like for my songs to have that storytelling element, I like them to be specific to me.
You place a heavy emphasis on intimacy in your work — do you find that sense of openness to be therapeutic?
I think it’s a way to let go of everything I’m feeling. It’s such an incredible experience to have the resources to make a song when I’m feeling a certain way. It’s liberating. It’s also bigger than just me too, it’s not just for myself. The most therapeutic part might actually be the fact that these songs can potentially be an inspiration and a light for others. I love being able to help someone get through something similar to my own experience.
You’ve been able to connect with listeners in the past as a songwriter, but are you looking forward to being able to connect with them as an artist?
Definitely. Something that I thrive off of is using the platform for something greater. It’s less about having people listen to the music and like my voice and beats, it’s more about being that role model, that person that people can look up to and connect with. To me, it’s important to be bigger than the music in the sense of ‘what else can I give? What else can I do? What else can I share to help people?’
Artists using their platforms as a vehicle for positive change seems more important than ever in the current moment — what do you see as the role of music right now?
I think music is so crucial, now more than ever and we all need to be uplifted, empowered and inspired during these uncertain times. Music is so powerful and can be used to help fuel the positive social changes we all want to see in the world. Especially during a pandemic, it’s pretty special to see how music can help keep us connected during a time when we’re not physically able to be together.
You were quoted as saying that you hope your listeners “relate to me not only as an artist but as a human” — as someone going into a very commercialized sector of a very commercialized industry, is idolatry something you worry about? How do you keep the ‘you’ that the audience sees as authentic as possible?
There’s a lot of people who have a platform, but it’s about what you do with it that counts. For me, I want people to come on my page or listen to my music and feel a sense of familiarity. It’s so important to me that they can connect on a personal level, and not through the filtered lens of social media. In addition to my music I want them to know me as a human, and think ‘you know, I could be friends with her.’
So, what would your advice be to someone who sees you as a role model and wants to achieve what you’ve achieved?
Be yourself. If you have something you’re aiming for, set goals and stick to them. You also have to be willing to grow and learn through this process. I am so personally grateful that I was able to be a songwriter before I became an artist. If I didn’t do rounds of sessions day and night learning the trade, I don’t think I would be the person I am today. I wouldn’t have been able to really tell my own story as an artist. Lastly, always stay grateful and be humble.
Watch the music video for “Lighthouse” off of Georgia Ku’s EP Real below: