Canadian pop newcomer Jessia is rising to new heights

Her motivational melodies are winning over fans across the country—and some of the industry’s biggest names
Lora Grady
(Photography by William Ukoh)

Jessia’s rise to fame is a classic Cinderella story—with a modern, TikTokky twist. Last year was a particularly rough time for the Vancouver-based vocalist. She’d lost her serving job—and all of her music gigs—due to COVID. “I was eating up all my savings just to survive,” she says. Jessia was sitting in her car the day she recorded the video clip that would launch her into viral territory. “Maybe I’m not pretty, maybe I’m just fun, ’cause I got a belly, and I got a bum,” she sang, pounding out a beat on the steering wheel. Within hours, the clip had surpassed a million views on TikTok. “I thought there was a glitch in the system,” she recalls.

For Jessia, who is set to play Rifflandia Music Festival in Victoria on September 18, fame has been a long game. Born Jessika Harling to a music-teacher mother, she started singing at age two and writing her own songs at 11. At the time of her fateful video, Jessia had been gigging for five years. Her car-karaoke clip quickly caught the attention of fellow Canadian pop-electronic artist elijah woods, who offered to finish the song with her. The end result, “I’m Not Pretty,” hit 25 million streams within a month of its release.

Jessia’s lyrics tap into emotional subject matter, like lost love and body dysmorphia. “I think everyone has struggled with their body at some point,” she says. “Society brainwashes us into wanting what we can’t have.” She’s received thousands of supportive messages from fans—teens and postpartum mothers alike. 

Jessia also found an ally in Grammy Award–winning singer and producer Ryan Tedder, who reached out via DM, signed her to Republic Records after a Zoom meeting last October, and brought her along as an opening act on his band’s 22-city European tour this spring. In May, Jessia took a brief break from touring to attend the Juno Awards, where she won Breakthrough Artist of the Year. “I FaceTimed my family at the airport—they were celebrating for me,” she says.

A Grammy is the next big goal, but in the meantime, the high of live performance is enough to keep Jessia going. “As a pandemic artist, it’s so nice to finally be out,” she says. “Seeing people sing my lyrics back to me is so cool.”


P O P  Q U I Z  W I T H  J E S S I A

Artistic influences: Sarah McLachlan, Paramore and Christina Aguilera. “I was into Aerosmith and Metallica in high school, too.”

On repeat: “Skinny Dipping” by Sabrina Carpenter

Off-hours exploration: “Checking out speakeasies and hole-in-the wall restaurants and getting lost in the streets.”

Dream venue: Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado

Juno storage: “On a shelf in my living room—or maybe I’ll sleep next to it every night.”

This article appears in print in the September 2022 issue of Maclean’s magazine. Buy the issue for $8.99 or better yet, subscribe to the monthly print magazine for just $29.99.