Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
Kaleah Lee File 6

On the Rise
Kaleah Lee

19 January 2024, 09:00
Words by Janita Purcell
Original Photography by Spruce Bohen

With co-signs from Taylor Swift and Gracie Abrams, Vancouver-born Kaleah Lee is making nuanced and songwriterly pop music that gives a space to the emotional experience of being a young woman.

Chatting with Kaleah Lee has a familiarity to it. The Vancouver bedroom she talks to me from is the very same space where she writes, produces and uploads her covers and vlogs to YouTube and TikTok.

It’s also where she’s been teasing the release of her new music, with the latest "Rotting Fruit" out this week. The second single from her upcoming debut EP – due later this year – it’s a somber and uplifting track that reveals even more depth and sensitivity to the young Canadian artist and her story.

The time Lee has spent growing up in the suburbs of her hometown has been put to good use, allowing her to carve a digital space of her own and building a community awaiting her next move. Despite the virtual world she operates in, Lee welcomes personal connection: it’s what keeps her sharing her renditions of other artist’s songs – everything from Bob Dylan, SZA and Billy Joel to Taylor Swift, Paper Kites and Justin Vernon – even as she seeks to expand her own discography.


Her very first upload – a take on James Bay’s “Bad” – has since been deleted. Her sister uploaded the track despite Lee’s protestations but the choice to continue was entirely her own. “Deep down, honestly, I wanted to [upload it] but I was just scared,” she tells me. “So once I saw people encouraging me, it was like, ‘oh, okay, I don't really have to be scared. It's okay.’”

Her covers are stripped back homages that she rebuilds from the bones of the track, leaving them a world apart from their original version. Lee sings in a whisper and her delivery isn’t tethered to the original sound or style but finds its own world. In her hands and voice, sad songs become sadder – a SZA or Boygenius track becomes a Kaleah Lee song. When she covered Taylor Swift, even Swift herself paid attention and Lee has racked more than two million likes on TikTok alone.

Kaleah Lee File 19

Her formative years were soundtracked by artists such as Lorde and Bon Iver, so it’s no wonder her own music is so lyrically driven. She even gushes over growing up with Hannah Montana and it only adds to her charm - a girl in her room making music who is now taking centre stage.

Since that first upload, her life has done a complete 180. Lee went from studying interior design in college to re-evaluating her life when Covid hit and her class became no more than a browser tab. “When it went online, that's kind of when I was like, ‘oh, this is weird’ and I backed away from that," she explains. "Everyone was kind of paused, so I paused too and found writing and making music.” She didn’t return to college and she hasn’t needed to.


Since then, Lee has toured with Leith Ross across the West Coast, from Canada to LA. “That was huge for me, playing shows in general,” she tells me. “I think that's the one thing I was really scared of and I'm sort of still nervous when I do it, but getting kind of thrown into that, where I had to do it for a few nights was a great way for me to get out of my shell in that way. And it also just helped me feel more comfortable to share what I'm making with a direct audience.”

It’s certainly a jump from performing at home: “I only just play in my room for the most part, and that's super comforting,” she says. “So to be able to kind of pivot and do that elsewhere feels comforting as well. But, yeah, I think the start of making music too, I was really scared to add production to stuff because I was just so used to how stripped down acoustic stuff was, and it was comforting. I think it's just always been a safe space for me.”

Even her music videos reflect the safe space that home represents for her.. Snippets of rivers and rocks and tree roots appear as she wanders through the vast expanse in the visual for “All at Once.”

“I'm very affected by my environment and I guess a lot of the things I write about are more personal topics and more emotional-based things. So that's honestly directly influenced by my surroundings,” she explains. “So definitely the rain and all of that is a huge thing. Just as a person, too, kind of the same thing. I’m very influenced by what I'm around.” It's no surprise that this carries through in her writing to today given that she is still in Vancouver, hometown based and adjacent to the elements that offer so much solace.

The likes of Swift and Cyrus continue to influence Lee and have laid the foundation for her own songs, where she’s making space for the emotions of young women and validating them in her own self-expression, ushering in fresh lyricism that comes from her own vulnerability.

Kaleah Lee File 5

The perspective of her work is rooted in the experiences of her adolescence and what it is to navigate this time in her life as she comes of age. “I would say ‘Rotten Fruit’ is probably one of the most emotionally liberating things I have written,” she tells me. “And it's sort of about as you get older, you start to form your own opinions and your own belief systems, and I think it was weird at first to realise, like an out of body, third person kind of watching yourself thing. It was strange to navigate, but once I was able to sort of surrender to the feelings, like maybe things I believe now don't align with what I used to believe or what I was taught growing up, it became super liberating. That's sort of what the song is about, just navigating those feelings.”

Even as she builds upon the production in her music and moves away from the purely acoustic sound she has come to be known for, the themes stay constant. “I just always will find some kind of comparison to relate it back to nature. It feels like a safer way for me to express things. Not super directly, but through something that's comfortable.”

She wants to get out of Vancouver soon, but being a product of her environment bodes well for Lee. It’s this perspective and observation that has gotten her this far already. “The nature will always find its way in,” she says.

"Rotting Fruit" is out now

Share article

Get the Best Fit take on the week in music direct to your inbox every Friday

Read next