As an artist that got her start posting cover songs online, Alex Porat is the perfect candidate for success during quarantine. The 23-year-old business school-dropout is used to spending extended periods of time indoors, having filmed videos of herself at home covering pop songs on YouTube for years. With the help of fellow Canadian internet sensation Shawn Mendes, who, in 2018, enthusiastically reacted to her cover of his track, “In My Blood,” Porat was able to reach a wider audience. She has millions of views on her videos and she is currently just shy of one million subscribers on YouTube.
Since then, Porat has been determined to prove her longevity as an artist beyond YouTube’s viral covers corner. She has released a self-titled EP along with a slew of original singles, the latest being “never say ily again,” – a bedroom pop banger. We reached Porat at home in Toronto to discuss the merits of viral fame, virtual music video productions and the power of manifestation.
You started out performing covers and posting them to YouTube. What was it like getting that recognition from Shawn Mendes?
It was super surreal. I say this all the time, but it just feels like that was like a pivotal moment for me mentally, where I realized that being a musician and being someone in the music industry was possible. It just felt like it was something that I could finally do, because before then I felt like it was such a far off distant dream. I started working a lot harder. I’m a big “manifester” and I believe if you want something bad enough, it can definitely happen. So it just definitely catapulted my mindset, way further than I thought it would.
Was your family supportive of your dropping out of school to pursue music?
Yeah, they were honestly so supportive, I think because especially near the end, when I decided to leave, I was getting pretty good grades. It was just obvious that as well as I was doing, nothing was going to make me as happy as music was. I get so much satisfaction from getting a good grade, but when you do well in something, you just want to excel in it more and continue to do it and I just didn’t feel that with school. There was a period of a couple months when I started my last semester at Ryerson, where I started posting videos on YouTube and I remember filming a cover and then going home and studying and I was like, ‘Oh my god, what am I doing?’ Then I posted a video and it started picking up traction and then the Shawn Mendes thing happened and with my Calum Scott cover that went viral… it helped my case with my parents for sure. I feel like if anyone asked me how you can make your family understand that you’re not doing something you want to be doing, there are different ways but I feel like for me, I introduced the new path before I left the old one. I decided to start posting things before I decided to call it quits with school. It wasn’t that much of a curveball but it still was still pretty drastic, leaving school and being like, ‘Now what do I do? I don’t have any plan, all I have is YouTube.’ But it turned out it actually turned out fine for me. That cliche “follow your dreams” actually works sometimes.
Did you consider switching to a music program?
It was weird because my mindset during school was that school was my backup plan for music. And then I got to the point where I wasn’t even really doing music at all. I realized that I had been putting so much effort into my backup plan that I was forgetting about music. I applied to the Creative Industries program at Ryerson, but I decided to go with the business program because I thought it was a good backup plan. It didn’t really make sense to study something in the arts and call it a backup because it was the same thing as my main plan. When I left, I just felt like I had to risk it all and put everything I had into the internet. I just trusted social media so much, which could definitely be seen as being super naive. But I think if your heart is in the right place and you work hard enough and want something, there’s ways to overcome and make things work even when you’re not in school. There’s something about school that was so structured and it felt so slow; with with music I just wanted to go full speed and dive in headfirst.
What is your songwriting process like and how has it changed during quarantine?
Starting off quarantine and trying to figure out how to write songs from home was weird because we were doing them over Zoom. It’s something that I think everyone’s starting to adapt to, because you can write songs from your literal bed and then get up for a refill of coffee and it’s no big deal. You can eat while you are brainstorming. It’s definitely a different process, but it’s not something that I absolutely hate. It’s kind of nice because I don’t have to travel to work with different people in different time zones, we can just do a video call. But there’s something to be said about in person writing where it just feels way more personal and intimate. There’s just a level of emotion that you can’t get when you’re talking to someone or like meeting them for the first time over a call.
The songwriting process is different every time. Sometimes a song just comes from us talking in the room – like producers asking what’s been going on in my life. And we’re like, ‘Oh, that line like could be a cool concept.’ With my single “only hanging out cuz i’m lonely,” I was just telling a story about this guy – we were only hanging out because I was lonely. Someone was like, ‘wait, that’s cool,’ and then we just started writing around that concept and took the wording exactly how it was because it was just what came out of my mouth. It’s kind of funny how he turned that one into the chorus of the song.
Who were some of your biggest musical influences growing up?
At a very young age, it started with Disney movies. I was huge on Mulan, Beauty and the Beast… that’s where I found my musical idols, like Christina Aguilera. Her version of “Reflection” turned into my anthem and then I just started branching out into that group of singers, Whitney Houston and beyond. From there it just started to go more into the pop direction, like Hannah Montana – it just like it was kind of all over the place, but I feel like those influences played a huge role in how I like to deliver emotion in my music. I feel like that’s more obvious in the covers because they’re like slower songs, but I have a love for all different genres. I love listening to classical, orchestral music and choirs. My mom played so much classical music for me growing up so I think that definitely played some role somewhere in my brain.
Tell me the backstory behind “never say ily again” – it’s a super fun, upbeat song but the lyrics describe opposite emotions.
It feels weird to juxtapose being bitter and bad with something kind of upbeat and fun, but that’s kind of how I wanted to wrap up this feeling – like, I’m not actually bitter about this, and anything that’s like sad or upsetting in my life, I just use humour to cope with it. So it mirrors that, it’s a fun little bop to sign off on this really bitter situation of being heartbroken and upset that someone has played you.
How do you come up with ideas for your visuals?
We have a text thread, where I’ll be like, ‘This is the next song,’ and she [Iris Kim, video director] will throw together a treatment idea. Her vision just aligns so perfectly with where I want the music videos and visuals to go. For the “never say ily again” video there’s a scene that’s filmed in my family kitchen and was just me and Iris on FaceTime, with her directing me what to do. She was like, ‘OK put out the whipped cream,’ and I was like ‘I got you.’ It’s very casual.
Tell me about how the most recent video for “happy for you” came together?
We got Iris to direct us and she gave us a shot list. Rence and I met last year and we’re friends so I thought we were going to film it in real time, like we were going to be on FaceTime screen recording our phones, but it turned out to be way simpler. We did our parts separately but it was interesting to see how it all flowed together really nicely. We knew what the vibe was going to be and we wanted it to be really cute and a good quarantine video, because it definitely falls into that category. I feel anything like that comes out right now is a quarantine video and we have to kind of deal with the circumstances as they are but it came out so great.
What are some of your summer wardrobe staples?
My friends are gonna absolutely murder me for saying this but I will still wear an oversized hoodie even though it’s like 30 degrees. I will throw on a huge sweater or t-shirt even and I’ll either do biker shorts or like short shorts under. I’ll do that with jewelry and a cute bag or something or just my wallet on my wrist. Jewelry always dresses things up. I always just throw a chunky chain or something on top of whatever I’m wearing. Then I feel like I’m not wearing pajamas anymore
What have you been listening to in quarantine?
I love LAUV. I listen to a lot of bedroom pop and alternative pop. Jeremy Zucker, too – I listen to his album top to bottom at least twice a week. I’ve been listening to Dua Lipa’s album on repeat, it’s so fun. Also BENEE and Conan Gray. It’s a mixture of fun pop music Jeremy Zucker really hits the feels for sure.
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