She may seem to hide behind sunglasses, but 21-year-old Gabi Wilson—better known as H.E.R.—has made it her mission to be at ease in the spotlight, as she told Vogue while prepping for last weekend’s AfroPunk festival in her home base of Brooklyn, NY.
“[My style] is straight-up comfortable,” she said, confessing that she doesn’t really suffer from stage fright. “Like, I wear sweats on stage.”
In fact, the Vallejo, Calif. native doesn’t even regularly wear makeup—even on stage. “Sometimes, I could have no makeup on, and my hair could be a mess, but I feel beautiful,” she explains.
Granted, most of us haven’t seen Wilson’s face behind her extensive array of lenses, but it’s this kind of cool girl indifference that has captured the imagination of contemporary R&B audiences, coupled with her smooth vocals and intimate lyrics.
It could also be argued that Wilson’s tomboyish style keeps the focus on her music, while evoking 90s favorites like TLC, Aaliyah and Wilson’s idol, Lauryn Hill. It’s a strategic aesthetic choice she confirmed in a recent interview with Rolling Out magazine:
I’m not really hiding. If anything, the music is displaying exactly who I am. It’s telling you everything. When I first [decided to] release the music, I didn’t want my name attached to it, and I didn’t want my face attached to it because that would get in the way of really understanding who I am. If anything, I wanted to show more of myself, more of what I go through and what I feel more so than what I look like, what I wear, or who I’m with. It’s about focusing on the music.
For her appearance at AfroPunk, Wilson rocked a printed satin track suit and white tee, which the obvious sneakerhead paired with yellow Reeboks that matched her chosen guitar that day. Softening up the look was red lips and her trademark mane of curls—she told her stylist she prefers it “the bigger the better”—which was punctuated by two whimsical topknots for her performance.
But if Wilson is one of the coolest new kids on the scene, it’s daily diligence that keeps it that way, as she tells Vogue’s cameras she relies on her faith and meditation to keep her grounded.
“I just take five or ten minutes out of my day in the morning when I wake up to focus on my day, focus on myself. It just keeps me sane.”
She’s also keenly aware of the impact her lyrics have on her predominantly female legion of fans, many of whom chanted “We want H.E.R.!” as they waited for Wilson to take the stage after a substantial tech delay at AfroPunk. Speaking with Vogue about her confessional musical style, she said:
“I guess I just help a lot of young women accept themselves and accept their mistakes and grow.”
It echoes the sentiment she shared with Rolling Out, where she referenced Hill’s iconic album—which turned 20 years old as Wilson took the stage at AfroPunk on Saturday—as a point of empathy and affirmation for its female audience.
It’s so important to be a voice for women and for my music to be a voice, because there are a lot of social injustices going on in the world right now. ... Women need someone to say the things that they’re afraid to say, and I think that my projects are very comfortable with vulnerability. It’s hard to admit sometimes that you have been that girl who fell for the wrong guy. It’s hard to be strong. Women have to be strong all the time so it’s just that feeling that you’re not alone. ...
Musically, I just know that I want to continue to be that voice for women. I want women to be able to look back and have this same feeling they had when they listened to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. That still lives on and still gives a great message to women, and that’s what I think my impact is going to be. I have yet to discover so many other things that I can do for the world, but that’s the number one thing.