At 23 years old, Kiana Lede has had her fair share of love and heartbreak. Her brutal candor on the latter is what makes her debut album KIKI a gripping experience. Whether she’s throwing her ex’s clothes out of the window on “Plenty More” or yearning for words of affirmation on “Attention,” the Arizona-bred fireball has no issue wearing her heart on her sleeves.
“I think that’s one of the things that I do best,” Lede tells Billboard on Wednesday (April 8) regarding her transparency. “It’s really scary because also as an Aries, I’m good at opening up to people, but I’m very scared to be hurt.”
Lede, who celebrated her birthday last Friday — the same day KIKI was released — is aware that her searing honesty could be both a gift and a curse. Previously released records such as 2018’s “Take It All” and 2019’s “Heavy” were appetizers devoured by fans because of Lede’s veracity towards relationships. So when it was time to put together her debut album, the thought of digging deeper initially rattled the Republic Records signee.
“It was definitely a little harder because I had more songs for this album,” she reveals. “I could get a little deeper, and that extra layer of depth is what really freaks me out. So it was a little hard to write the songs and be transparent and truthful this time, just ’cause I had to get deeper, but I’m really glad I did it.”
And while Lede thrives in delivering melancholy songs, she can easily create spirited bops such as “Mad at You” and “Labels.” Her adoration for ’90s and 2000s music shine on both records with her choosing to sample Outkast’s “So Fresh, So Clean” and Biggie’s “Juicy,” respectively. Rather than allow the samples to dominate the tracks, Lede’s vivacious energy serves as the extra jolt needed to push the records over the top. “It kind of reminds me of that carefree feeling. That’s what I get every time I listen to early 2000s songs,” states Lede. “I just feel so carefree. It just reminds me of such a good time, and I live in nostalgia.”
Lede’s appreciation also emanates from her popular YouTube series Soulfood Sessions, which played a significant role in revitalizing her career after she departed from RCA Records in 2014. The cover series showcased Lede’s flair and buttery vocals while remixing records such as Drake’s “Hotline Bling” and DJ Snake and Justin Bieber’s “Let Me Love You,” which generated hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube. A month before releasing her album, Lede treated fans to a rare return to Soulfood Sessions, where she redid a pair of Mustard and Roddy Ricch collabs, “Ballin'” and “High Fashion.”
While she credits the series for restarting her career, she cautions aspiring singers on relying heavily on covers to gain traction. “The gift of covering songs is that it plays on peoples’ nostalgia, it gives people something recognizable, so you’re easily introduced,” opines Lede. “The curse is very obvious — it’s not your original music. People can sometimes get attached to you singing the old things. I think that’s what’s important about being super-original. That’s the only way I was able to break out of the cover world.”
Watch Lede’s interview with Billboard above as she talks about her love and appreciation for Arizona, what tattoo she plans to get once quarantine is over and what love means to her today.