Kristinia DeBarge: Elle DeBarge
B&S speaks to Kristinia DeBarge - 19-year-old daughter of Eighties Motown hit-maker James DeBarge - who this month steps out in her own right with her debut single ‘Goodbye’ and its accompanying album ‘Exposed’.
Born in March 1990, Pasadena, California-raised Kristinia is indeed carrying on the trailblazing musical tradition of her aforementioned father James DeBarge, keyboardist and founding member of chart-topping Motown Eighties family group DeBarge. Having first came to national US TV prominence six years ago on the ‘American Idol’ spin-off programme ‘American Juniors’, she is now prestigiously the first artist signed to Sodapop Music - a new label owned by legendary multi-million-selling writer/producer Kenny ‘Babyface’ Edmonds, who is in turn musically responsible for a large part of her debut LP ‘Exposed’.
Indeed, pioneered by the punchy upbeat US Pop Top 15 single ‘Goodbye’ (whose chorus prominently samples the familiar hook from Steam’s 1969 American Number One ‘Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye’), her aforementioned new album lyrically showcases the teenage Ms. DeBarge’s personal journey of self-discovery through a variety of musical moods - ranging from the robust urban pop of ‘Somebody’ and furiously-driving ‘Sabotage’; to more soulful cuts like the hauntingly yearning ‘Future Love’; sexily undulating ‘It’s Gotta Be Love’, and the sadly-surging break-up anthem ‘Cried Me A River’.
Amidst a hectic day of promotion which also marks her first-ever visit to London, a sweet-sounding, youthful Kristinia (whose vocal influences include Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera and Alicia Keys) enjoys a breezy introductory chat with ‘Blues & Soul’s ever-attentive Pete Lewis.
How Kristinia describes her debut album
“I’d describe it as fun, young and sexy pop/urban music that’s like a mixture between Rihanna, Gwen Stefani, Brandy and Beyonce. You know, it is pretty diverse because it’s going in so many different directions.”
The lyrical content of the songs
“While the songs are vulnerable, they’re also very empowerment-filled. So, though some may sound a little sad at first, once you keep listening to them all the way through you’ll hear that there’s a message there. You know, I’m basically a confused young person going through a transition in my life from a little girl to a woman. So, in that way, it’s an interesting album that I think both women and young girls will be able to relate to. Because, while the young girls will identify with what I’m singing about as the same things they’re going through right NOW, the women will also remember going through it at an EARLIER stage in their lives.”
How Kristinia first hooked up with her mentor and label-head - multi-award-winning songwriter/producer Kenny ‘Babyface’ Edmonds
“I first met Babyface at his recording studio when I was 14, through a person who at the time was my manager. Because he had a really good relationship with Babyface, he introduced us and just very casually asked Babyface if he wanted to hear me sing. He said ‘yes’ - and, as soon as he heard me, he was like ‘I have to work with you! You’re a STAR!’… And we’ve been making music together ever since!”
The ongoing musical relationship between Kristinia and Babyface
“Oh, we have a fantastic relationship! We’re very close, and we have a lotta fun in the studio. We write together; we’re very open-minded about the music... I mean, over the five years we’ve been working together, he’s really seen me grow and change and evolve. And, with me being the first artist on his new label Sodapop Records, he’s invested a lot of time into the project. So this album is just as exciting for HIM as it is for ME!... Plus, on a personal level too, he’s genuinely one of the coolest people I know. Like, even though he’s written so many hits and worked with the best of the best (Madonna/Whitney/Mariah etc), he’s still this really quiet, down-to-earth person whose humility really does inspire me.”
Growing up as a member of soul music’s legendary DeBarge family
“Everyone in my family, on my dad’s side, plays at least one instrument - in some cases MORE than one. Plus they all sing and they all song-write. So, growing up and seeing all that, I couldn’t help BUT fall in love with music! You know, my father always had me in the studio, always had me onstage with him… And it all kind of opened me up to just going out there and DOING it! Instead of being afraid, it was more like ‘If you have a talent and you have a gift, why would you waste it and pull it back? Why NOT share it with the rest of the world?’... I mean, my father introduced me to a lot of different, good things about music - as opposed to me just being introduced to all those CRAZY things that also come with being in the entertainment industry! So yeah, having my family around has definitely been a plus. Because, with them being experienced and knowing the ins-and-outs of the business, it really has allowed me to be more realistic in terms of my decision-making.”
The role Kristinia’s father - James DeBarge - in particular played in kick-starting her music career
“Originally my father had wanted me to be a doctor or lawyer. But, though I tried to be open to other careers because I didn’t want to disappoint him, secretly my heart had been set on singing since I was three! So when, at 12 years old, I finally TOLD him I wanted to sing, he took me to the studio to record a duet with him. Then, when it got to like 4AM - because he wanted to see how bad I really wanted to do this - he was like ‘Aren’t you tired? Let’s go home!’… But I was like ‘NO! Daddy, I really wanna DO this! Let’s finish this song, and then let’s do ANOTHER one!’… So he was like ‘WOW! OK, if you wanna do it, let’s do it the right way! We’re gonna have a long talk, and I want you to know that there’ll be many MORE of these recordings till four in the morning! This isn’t just a one-off!’... And, from that day on, he SUPPORTED me! You know, he took me on tour with him for the whole of summer 2003, which got me over a lot my initial fears of performing... And it was actually after that summer tour that I decided to go all-out to pursue music as a full-time career.”
The single ‘Goodbye’ is released August 24. The album ‘Exposed’ follows August 31, both through Sodapop Music
Words PETE LEWIS