Culture

Preston Pablo is the Canadian R&B crooner on everyone’s Spotify playlist

Preston Pablo rose from bedroom YouTuber to must-see showman. He’s still finding his voice. 

Lora Grady
Prospect_June_FINAL
(Photograph by William Ukoh, styling by Chad Burton/Cadre Artists; grooming by Kristjan Hayden/Cadre Artists. Cardigan/Jacquemus; tank /stylist’s own; pants/Martine Rose; shoes/Vans)

Preston Pablo has achieved a staggering level of early-career success, unheard of even among Canada’s biggest musical mega-stars. See: 51 million streams of “Flowers Need Rain,” his debut single; a spring Juno win for breakthrough artist of the year; and a slew of sold-out headlining gigs. His origin story sounds a bit more familiar. Pablo grew up in Timmins, Ontario, hometown of country-crossover icon Shania Twain. And by 13, he’d taken up drums and guitar, posting YouTube covers of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” and Daniel Caesar’s “Best Part”—the same formula that made Justin Bieber Justin Bieber. “There was zero pressure then,” says Pablo of his lo-fi MacBook-and-USB-microphone setup. “It’s hard to let go of the expectations that come with making music now.”

For all of his obvious star quality—like his infinitely streamable blues-inflected croon—Pablo, now 21, has always wanted to be the author of his own artistic destiny. A break-up nudged him toward songwriting at 16, and his first self-produced effort—the moody, confessional “OMO,” released in January of 2019—amassed more than 500,000 Spotify plays within six months. “I didn’t think this would turn into a career,” he says. “The initial reaction inspired me to keep creating.”

It also pushed him to contact producers. “I’d either get no response or they’d say, ‘I’ll send you a beat for $300,’” he says. “I was in high school; I didn’t have that much money in my bank account.” In 2020, Pablo received an unexpected message from a producer named Soké, who wanted to hear more. After some light googling, Pablo discovered that fateful DM had come from one half of Banx and Ranx, a Grammy-nominated duo from Montreal whose collaborators included Dua Lipa and the K-pop supergroup Blackpink. Within five months, Pablo had left the comforts of home for a Quebec recording studio. Those sessions secured his eventual record deal with 31 East/Universal Music Canada and spawned “Flowers Need Rain,” one of Canada’s most streamed songs of 2022.

Pablo’s musical family is now much larger than Dawson, his sonically gifted older brother, who records under the pseudonym pablø. Banx and Ranx are still close friends, and in early June, Pablo will open for fellow Ontarians Walk Off The Earth at Toronto’s Budweiser Stage. His main priority, though, is continuing to define (and refine) his own soulful sound in a crowded market. “A lot of people still don’t know me beyond songs on the radio,” says Pablo, whose Twitter handle, @whotfisprestonp, is soon to be outdated. “I’m still trying to understand myself as an artist—and a person.”

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P O P  Q U I Z  W I T H  P R E S T O N

Hometown haunt: “My friend’s treehouse cabin in Timmins, where I spent all my summers growing up. We still hang out there.”

Background music: ’60s blues

Dream collaborator: Singer and Euphoria actor Dominic Fike

Most underrated Justin Bieber song: “‘My Bad’ from his Journals album. Wait. It’s called ‘All Bad.’ My bad.”

Favourite Preston Pablo song: “My new single, ‘For Keeps.’ How convenient!”