Growing up, alumna and award-winning singer and songwriter Kina Grannis wasn’t always comfortable in her skin.
But, through her own music and lyrics, the Japanese-Caucasian singer started to gather a following of fans who appreciated her style and, in turn, felt more able and happy to embrace who she is.
As a part of Mixing It Up, a Visions and Voices showcase event on Tuesday, she will celebrate her mixed heritage with a performance at Bovard Auditorium.
“Some people thought I was Hispanic or part black; I was this confusing-looking person, and it made me very adaptable,” Grannis said. “I wouldn’t say that it directly affects the music I make, because music is about the human experience regardless of race or anything like that, but I do think in my career that I’ve had a ton of support from the Asian community because of this, which is really amazing.”
Grannis’ support hasn’t just come from the Asian community. She began her career with the support of friends and mentors at USC, who convinced her to release three EPs during her time in school. College gave her time to retreat to the stairwells to perfect her songwriting skills and also gave her experience performing.
“It really allowed me to work on my songwriting even though I was doing a bunch of other academic stuff too,” Grannis said. “Also, I started playing shows — I played at Ground Zero all the time — so it was a perfect practice stage for me.”
Her success grew exponentially through all of her online support. Most artists have dreams of making it big — of having audiences scream for encores, of selling millions of album copies, of doing what they love and getting rewarded for it.
She was close to fulfilling that dream. Her music video was featured during the 2007 Super Bowl to 97 million viewers, and then following that she landed a major record deal with Interscope Records in 2008.
But then she turned it down.
Her confidence in her own sound, as well as her independence as an artist, made her rethink and finally forfeit the deal in favor of publishing her album herself.
“They wanted me to scrap the album and make a new one with songwriters they would choose,” Grannis said. “For me, music had always been very important and personal, so the idea of having to make a new album that I don’t really care about when I have one that meant a lot to me sounded bad.”
Despite taking an alternative path, she has gained huge popularity, especially in the singer-songwriter world. Her sound is very much acoustic and mellow, perfect for a coffee shop.
“A lot of my songs can have a more introspective and, on the surface, sad feeling, but I think the thing I hope comes out through my music is a feeling of hope,” she said.
After a whirlwind of time since she graduated in 2007, Grannis will begin producing her second album, set to debut in the fall.
She also hopes to tour again soon, debuting her new music, spreading the Trojan love and continuing to fight the odds as a half-Asian performer in the music industry.
Meanwhile, she will return to USC in the hopes of inspiring the same tenacity and dedication in current students.
“I really will take any excuse to come back to ’SC, and it’s been a couple years now, and it seems like a fun opportunity,” Grannis said. “It’s also a hapa show, so all the performances are half-Asian. … All of my life that’s been a big part of my identity, so it gives me an excuse to give back to my alma mater and get to meet some cool people.”