R&B’s New “It” Girl: Elle Varner
by: Iman N. Milner
Elle Varner doesn’t think of herself as a household name yet but she undoubtedly is one. Her signature curls, pin up girl curves and enviable pout coupled with her perfectly raspy vocals—and a really dope cosign from our nation’s First Lady–have already made her R&B’s most sought after female rising star. But Elle’s ascent cannot only be attributed to her talent; the 23-year-old songstress also has the humility of an artist looking for a second chance rather than one who is having one hell of a breakout year.
“The biggest mistake new artists make is getting ahead of themselves and not understanding where they really are on the ladder of success”, Varner says, “becoming established is a long and difficult process, it doesn’t come overnight”. No one would know that more than a girl whose rocky teenage years threatened to derail her dreams by convincing a then “curvier” Elle that she was not good enough. “I was just miserable.” she says vulnerably, “Growing up I was surrounded by so much love and when I got to high school I experienced so much cruelty”. Not easily defeated, young Elle turned to music as her savior and began writing her way through the hard times—the result of which we hear on her freshman debut Perfectly Imperfect that debuted at No.4 on the coveted Billboard Music charts. The vibrant aural palette of her first album compliments the raw honesty of the lyrics written by a young woman who has discovered more than enough reasons to love herself exactly as she is. Her self acceptance shines through in the humorous and upbeat track “So Fly” where she sings, “I can’t help being depressed/when I look down at my chest/oh yes, my chest it might as well be non existent.”
That determination and way of finding the silver lining in her cloudiest situations has inspired a movement amongst her more than 200,000 social network fans. “Oh yeah, hug life,” she says with a laugh, “I was tweeting about how much I love Tupac one day and I was just about to type ‘thug life’ but then I thought what am I doing? I don’t know anything about that—I’m about that hug life.” Often times Varner’s timeline reads like a Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul book as she shares personal stories, lots of insight into her knack for silliness and of course her obsession with bright colors, fitness and, yes, shoes. “ I have to be honest, my favorite thing to do right now is shop.”
Though she’s not alone in her pursuit for the best retail therapy that being a young music star can buy, Elle’s recognition and acknowledgment of her position as a role model is very different from that of her peers. While many early twenty-something’s are using every chance they get to ferociously rid themselves of the responsibility of providing a good example to their young and impressionable fans, Varner not only welcomes the idea but relishes in it. “I want to be a positive voice for my generation. I hope that I will create a conscious movement where people think long and hard about their actions and realize the power we have to affect change.” Perhaps it was this attitude that gave her what she calls “my best moment so far”—a shout out from First Lady Michelle Obama who admitted to being a fan of Elle’s work and listening to it with her daughters, Sasha and Malia. “That was huge.” she says emphatically, “ I was like the First Lady enjoys my music? Oh yes!”
The Obamas are not alone in their fandom. Elle’s second single “Refill” broke onto Billboards top 10 list and the accompanying video for the track has seen well over 5 million views. After headlining BET’s Music Matters tour earlier this year, Elle has found herself sharing the stage with two of R&B’s biggest names, Trey Songz and Miguel, and will also make an appearance on stage this New Year’s Eve at the legendary Radio City Music Hall with rap icon, Nas. But with her schedule filling up one has to wonder, how does she keep her signature hair so fabulous? “Here’s the thing”, she says, “the biggest mistake people make with their curls is styling while it’s wet, that’s what makes it frizz. I don’t touch my hair until it’s dry.” And her styling secret weapon? “Shea Butter. It keeps my curls moisturized.”
Her beauty is no doubt well revered by men everywhere but Elle has no qualms about enjoying a life focused solely on her career. “ I’m not at all a man basher”, she explains, “but I’ve observed that men have no problem putting their work first and we become so committed to holding our men down that we ignore everything we need to be doing, meanwhile he’s getting ahead in life.” No worries though, fellas, she still knows what she wants for when the time is right. “I love funny guys. My standards are really high when it comes to respect and chivalry too. A lot of both has been lost in this generation but I don’t play when it comes to either of them.”
Though she’s not looking for love, she’s already captured the hearts of so many music fans across the world and there’s no doubt in our minds that she’ll capture many more in her perfectly imperfect way.
Photography: T. Woods
MUA: Kori Fields
Hair: Sonia Castleberry using Bumble and bumble
Stylist: Rosco Spears
Studio Manager: Kelly Love
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