For our March 2016 cover, we’re featuring three young Canadian women who are breaking ground in the culture landscape in totally new ways.
Her nine-to-whenever gig: Comedian
Up next: First feature length film A Trip To Unicorn Island (available on YouTube Red in early February).
Trying to pick just one standout moment in 2015 is a bit hard for 27-year-old comedian Lilly Singh. From reaching seven million YouTube subscribers (which earned her a cool $2.5 million last year, making her one of the highest-paid personalities of 2015 on the video-sharing platform) to releasing a song (an ode to Toronto) with Humble The Poet to producing a world tour (A Trip to Unicorn Island) and making Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list, Scarborough-born, L.A.-based Singh may just be one of the biggest names in entertainment you’ve never heard of (unless you’re under the age of 17).
She uploaded her first video five years ago to her YouTube channel as a way to overcome depression. “I wanted so badly to be happy,” she says, “so I thought if I can make other people laugh, I can make myself laugh and distract myself with this project.” The “project” quickly turned into a business when Singh realized there were no female South Asians on the platform speaking openly about the immigrant experience in Canada. “I think it was important, and continues to be important, to show that part of my life simply because it is a part of my life,” says Singh, referring to the hugely popular series in which she imitates her parents.
Today, Singh now has fans worldwide watching her twice-weekly observational humour videos and daily vlogs. How has she navigated becoming a personality in her own right? “With great difficulty,” she says with a laugh. “But I promised myself I would find a balance between being a role model while still being my authentic self. And I will always go out of my way to try to do positive things.”
Check out Lilly’s indvidual portrait here!
Her nine-to-whenever gig: Desi pop artist
Up next: Working on her first book
“They’re meant to look like Internet memes,” notes Maria Qamar, who exploded onto the art scene last year thanks, in part, to the Internet. After being laid off from a Toronto-based ad agency in early 2015, the 25-year-old began creating brightly coloured doodles that depict her life as a South Asian girl (a.k.a. desi) living in North America.
Within days of posting to her Instagram account, her first two drawings were shared across the Web. “I still don’t add a watermark or signature. That’s the concept behind a meme: You just make it and let it happen.” What happened, specifically, was that BBC profiled the artist, as did Dazed and Vogue India. But Qamar says she knew she really had something when people started requesting prints.
The artist now runs her own shop, selling prints and T-shirts and totes bearing her signature Roy Lichtenstein-esque pop-art. “I grew up in Mississauga [Ont.] and was bullied a lot. My work is exactly how I feel about things—I had no idea that other people felt the same way!” Her unique sense of humour (phrases like “Trust no aunty” and “Didn’t she wear that sari last week?” appear regularly) has translated worldwide and, having had two exhibits already in Toronto last year, Qamar is now taking her work abroad: She has been asked to create a mural in India.
“I think it’s exciting that women of colour are using social media to share their artwork. I hope one day we’ll have our own galleries—instead of trying to jam our work into galleries that won’t take us.”
Check out Maria’s individual portrait here!
Her nine-to-whenever gig: Music producer
Up next: Trying to work with Kanye
“I don’t know, I’m just trying to create a new genre,” says Ebony Oshunrinde, before pausing and laughing at her own nonchalance. Her seemingly casual remark is particularly affecting here as, currently, the Brampton-based 19-year-old producer is a wunderkind of sorts and best known for being the 16-year-old girl who produced for Jay Z before going on to produce two songs for Drake’s 2015 album If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.
Oshunrinde’s now legendary story goes something like this: At age eight, she created her first track using a Casio keyboard and then spent years teaching herself how to create music on her computer before a chance encounter with rapper Travis Scott saw her music land in the hands of Jay Z, who asked her to produce the beats for the song “Crown” on his 2013 album, Magna Carta Holy Grail.
“It was weird,” she says. “It didn’t feel like my beat anymore because you never imagine Jay Z using your stuff—especially at 16. And then it just started, including people knowing my name.” While much of Oshunrinde’s early career may sound serendipitous, today the young producer spends nearly every moment working on her music. “I wake up and I make a beat, or I head straight downtown [Toronto] and just make beats at my friend’s condo all day. That’s it.” (She’s currently rumoured to be producing for Rihanna and Pharrell.)
Does she ever think about being a woman in such a male-dominated arena? “It crosses my mind because it has to cross my mind. Plus, people are constantly bringing it up. But I don’t care at all. It’s not about that, anyway—it’s just about creating something cool.”
See Ebony’s individual portrait here!
For the latest in fashion, beauty and culture, sign up to receive ELLE's bi-weekly newsletter