Few songs evoke the determination to conquer one’s fears and insecurities like Des’ree’s 1994 hit “You Gotta Be,” which has lyrics that could double as a guide to life. That’s why we were more than happy when 17-year-old singer-songwriter Victoria Canal offered to cover it for our Fear Itself theme song:
We talked to Victoria about fear, over-thinking, and her nomination to become a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts—an honor she shares with other teen artists, some of whom are her closest friends.
ANNE T. DONAHUE: This Des’ree song is the actual jam. What does it mean to you?
VICTORIA CANAL: I grew up listening to this song. To me, it represents being a badass and loving yourself, regardless of whatever society is pushing you to be. Stronger, smarter, prettier, skinnier—none of it matters as much as love does!
How do you think it reflects the notion of Fear Itself?
Des’ree sings with a passion in her voice that I tried to capture in mine, with a twist. I think we’re all told that we “have to be” this way or that way, but really what matters most in life is being able to love yourself fearlessly and to have confidence that who you “gotta be” is who you choose to be.
What fears are you most proud to have conquered?
I used to get so nervous to perform onstage, as well as to just talk to people I thought were intimidating. Part of what growing up is leading me to is having the confidence to overcome my fears as an introvert and to get out there and make as many friends as life will allow.
What do you tell yourself when you find yourself retreating to introvert mode, particularly during moments when you want to be more extroverted?
When I need to be an extrovert, I remind myself how much love I have inside and outside myself, and that every opportunity to come into contact with another person is an opportunity I should take with open arms. Human connection is so valuable to me, and though it can be easy to retreat into “loner” mode, I remind myself that part of the reason I want to do music professionally is so that I can connect with people, and so they can connect with me and each other.
Tell me about your nomination as a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts. It’s so exciting—congratulations!
It’s very exciting! I’m absolutely honored to be a nominee—visiting the White House would be a dream. Some of the other finalists are close friends of mine, and I can say they are some of the most talented people I have ever known.
Do you ever feel pressure to compete with your peers?
I’ve never really considered myself competitive as much as just appreciative of my “competition.” I admire every person who has accomplished their passion. I have so much to learn from them. I figure that every person I cross paths with is a person I was meant to—so competition doesn’t play into it for me. Competition with myself, however…that’s a very different story.
What do you want people to take away from your music?
Hopefully people can get a sense of both comfort and excitement from my music! When I listen to music, I look for those two things, so I’ll listen to artists like Bon Iver, that make me lie in the dark and think, or I’ll listen to Bernhoft and jam. Going forward, a marriage of those two emotions are what I’d like to bring to the table as a musician. Like Michael Jackson was able to do—what a legend.
How do you defeat any creative—or not so creative—insecurities?
The lyrical part is always the part I’m most insecure about. I ask myself, “Will anyone understand what I mean by this?” I just get over it by reminding myself that I write songs for my own expression, and that if people understand what I mean, then I’m just blessed. But if not, I’m still an artist who loves to do what she does.
How do you maintain that sense of self-confidence?
Well, to be honest, sometimes I don’t maintain it! It’s really easy to compare myself and realize how much I always have to improve. Something I’ve learned from my parents and friends and general life experiences, however, is that nothing will ever be satisfying outside of myself. Every single thing I choose to be confident and happy about is exactly that: a choice, my choice. Knowing that helps me continually discover how much control one has over their potential. Also, this is an eternally true rule for me: You give good vibes, you get good vibes.
What have you learned about yourself through songwriting?
I’ve learned that overthinking is something I love to do. I’m kind of addicted to it, actually. But I have the chance to release all that built-up energy through songwriting. I’ve learned that I depend on my art for relief, relaxation, and general ease of mind.
How do you maintain a healthy relationship with overthinking?
It is undoubtedly the root of all our fears. Discipline is a slippery thing, and something I think not enough of us approach as being a solution to overthinking. When we sit around and think about how much we could be doing—“if only…”—we are only being destructive. The most important thing is to get up and do things that help us grow and realize our full potential, even minutely. This could mean going on a run or journalling or playing the piano or having a conversation—even watching a movie. Basic human experiences are the most beautiful and self-satisfying ones. After all, we have this life. We might as well enjoy it! ♦