H.E.R. is the voice of our generation and it’s not up for debate. With 5 Grammy awards, an Academy Award for Best Original Song with “Fight For You,” and a Golden Globe nomination, the singer-born Gabi Wilson shows no signs of slowing up anytime soon. However, even in the midst of all her success, H.E.R. takes a beat to appreciate stillness and recognize the worldly hardships that impact her mental and emotional health as a musician and human being.
“I’m all right. It gets a little heavy,” the singer admitted during our phone interview before her Bridgeport, CT tour stop. “Sometimes you got to know when to turn off the phone, and instantly, when I see things going on in the world, I’m like, what can I do? Then I have to remember sometimes simply being you and spreading the love that I, at least, try to spread within my music, my message, at my shows. That’s me doing something, and I have to remind myself that even that matters, and that’s making a difference in itself. It’s a day-to-day thing, and it’s really about using my platform. I just try to keep myself up and keep my spirits high through what I do.”
While keeping her spirits high and being focused on her work, H.E.R. recently secured the bag with financial services and insurance company Nationwide for their “On Your Side Soundtrack” marketing campaign. You may have heard the famous jingle, Nationwide is on your side, sung by notable Black artists such as Jill Scott and Leslie Odom, Jr., but now we get to hear the 24-year-old’s sultry rendition of the song.
She described the opportunity presentation as “random,” but at the same time “super cool” that Nationwide thought of her, to begin with. Like most Gen-Z’ers and millennials, H.E.R. grew up hearing the catchy tune on her television during commercial breaks so she was admittedly excited about getting to sing “one of those jingles we know and love,” referring to the song.
“I never ever thought that I would be the one singing it, doing my own version of it,” H.E.R. said humbly. “I was like, really? Me?”
Much like her ritual performance style, H.E.R.’s Nationwide commercial featured solo shots of her and her trusty guitar. In an effort to “make it me,” she told ESSENCE, the “Damage” singer strummed her instrument on-camera as she would during a live performance or while recording a smash hit. “I felt like it needed a cozy kind of feeling. Something that was warm and inviting because I think that’s also what the Nationwide message is about,” she said.
“Melodically, the choices I made was whatever was going to highlight what I was saying,” H.E.R. continued. “That whole ‘knowing they always care’ line, it’s got to feel like you care. The melody has to feel that way. It couldn’t have been rockish, or it couldn’t have been too slow R&B. It had to be right in the middle in that singer-songwriter world, and I felt like that was the approach.”
No stranger to the world of performance, H.E.R. also told ESSENCE about some of the major differences between preparing to take on the Grammy Awards stage versus filming a commercial, including the numerous takes and camera angles it requires for the perfect shot. “Hopefully, my next take is always better than my last in that space,” she laughed.
The “Best Part” singer noted the ambiance of a studio session is “a lot more relaxed” without the pressure of performance involved because of the opportunity to have fun in a recording session. “I had room to experiment a little bit within the melodies that I chose, and I got to try different things, and there’s a little clip of that whole process,” she added. H.E.R. described the commercial shots as more of a studio session feel than a live show, but she was still able to tap into her artistry. “Of course, it was me and my guitar just noodling around and having fun with it.”
As she prepares to make her acting debut in The Color Purple movie musical, H.E.R. reflected back on her career as a singer and what transferrable skills she’s amassed over the years to make her a strong actress.
“The thing that I’ve learned within performing, my musicianship, and my artistry is that it applies to the acting world,” the “Fight For You” singer explained. “To be in a film is really just the courage to have fun, to try new things, and to be spontaneous. It’s not just about reading lines and sticking to a certain facial expression or a certain tone of voice. Just like in music, it’s not about learning a song and singing it the same way every single time, sticking to a riff, or singing the melody dead on.”
H.E.R. continued, “It’s really about expressing yourself and putting yourself into what you’re saying, into what you’re singing, and finding that within you and being connected to that emotion in your own personal way. Even in acting like someone else. Finding yourself within that character, finding yourself within that song. I see the performance almost the same as just you’re using a different muscle.”
She described her set life as interesting and expressed to ESSENCE that her experience has been “so cool” to work with actors such as Danielle Brooks, Fantasia, Colman Domingo, and Taraji P. Henson. “It’s a lot more spontaneous than I thought it would be, especially in something like The Color Purple,” H.E.R. said of the Warner Bros. feature adaptation.
For H.E.R., there is no hesitation as to whether or not there will be more acting and on-screen opportunities in the future of her career. “I’m so excited to be in more movies and TV because it’s something that I absolutely love. I really would love to do an animated show or animated films. That’s something that I’ve been wanting to do for a really long time,” she excitedly told ESSENCE.
“Honestly, I just want to have fun within that world. Just like in music, I don’t feel any kind of boundary or any kind of limit,” H.E.R. continued passionately about the versatility of the music industry. “I love music, so I’ll make a hip-hop song, an R&B song, a pop song, a country song. I love what I do within music. It’s such a playground, and I feel the same way about acting. I think there’s nothing I can’t do and I’m excited to take on all the challenges within acting and putting in my 10,000 hours. I’m ready for it all.”