When I meet Charlotte Cardin on a Thursday afternoon in early March in Montreal, she’s scheduled to fly back to L.A. a few days later. Of course, she won’t be going anywhere, but we don’t yet know how the world is about to change.

She clasps my hands warmly when I arrive and leads me into the tiny studio where she’s been recording with her creative accomplice, Jason Brando. With a feline smile, the 25-year-old singer – clad in white jeans, an old pink T-shirt and Converse – pulls her hair into a messy bun and sits down next to a row of classic guitars. Like the unassumingly powerful music that got her signed to Atlantic Records in 2017 alongside boldface names like Janelle Monáe and the Rolling Stones, Cardin’s look seems effortlessly flawless.

But actually, since the former model rose to fame at only 18 years old when she was a finalist in the Québécois edition of singing competition The Voice, her life has been defined by effort. “I wasn’t ready to release my own songs, but everybody was telling me ‘Go! Go! Go! You have to ride the wave!’” she says. “But in the end, I came up with something I’m proud of.”

Alexis Belhumeur

Metallic-printed-leather coat and crystal bag (Chanel) and denim pants (Cardin’s own)

Three years later, Cardin released her first EP, Big Boy, to massive critical acclaim, dropped another the following year and then went on a two-year tour – performing, she blushingly admits, a patchwork of gigs, from sold-out shows to more humbling evenings, like one in Denver where only eight people showed up. (She sang without a mic, to the delight of that handful of fans.) Since then, however, her audience has only grown, and the clamour for another album has become deafening. “We worked for a year and a half on this album,” she says of the body of work that’s just been cut but is still awaiting a release date. “I know…it’s long. Some artists just need a few months to get there, [which] made me insecure. When I stayed late in the studio every day and nothing came out, it sometimes felt like I had nothing to offer people. But I kept writing. There isn’t really a way to explain it other than I believed the results would be worth it.”

As we plop down on a settee to listen to some of the much-anticipated music, I notice a microphone right at eye level. “So, you sing while sitting on the couch?” I joke. But Cardin nods. “I’ve always done that,” she replies.

Alexis Belhumeur

Leather pants, leather and glass belt and metal, resin, rhinestone and glass neck- lace (Chanel) and denim shorts (Levi’s)

Writing has become a way to deal with what upsets me; it’s a time for me to sort out sadness or relive joy.

Then the first chords of “Anyone” – a warning to guys who treat women as if they’re purely ornamental – fill the small space. “You’d better set us free or else we’ll fuck you up,” echoes the verse, which immediately gets stuck in my head on repeat. “This pressure is something every woman feels,” explains Cardin before cueing up another track, “Je quitte”– the French song that will close out the album. It’s a musing ballad about impossible love (“I’m leaving, but I’m not leaving you…”) – a theme that underscores many of Cardin’s songs.

“There are a lot of people who limit themselves, who don’t want to feel to the fullest – but [feeling] makes me grow,” she explains. “Writing has become a way to deal with what upsets me; it’s a time for me to sort out sadness or relive joy.”

I was still thinking about those words long after the music stopped and Cardin gave me a kiss on the cheek as I left the studio. These days, we could all stand to relive some joy.

Alexis Belhumeur

Metal earring (Chanel)

Writer, Émilie Villeneuve; photographer, Alexis Belhumeur; creative director & stylist, Annie Horth; makeup, Julie Cusson (Chanel); hair, David D’Amours (Folio/ Kérastase); editorial producer, Estelle Gervais; photographer’s assistants, Frédérik Robitaille and Aljosa Alijagic; styling assistant, Bianca Di Blasio

This article originally appeared in the June 2020 issue of ELLE Canada. Subscribe here. Buy a digital copy of this issue here or on Apple News+.