From the Beauty Salon to Backstage at Bowery With Emmy Meli

From the Beauty Salon to Backstage at Bowery With Emmy Meli

By Erica CampbellMay 28, 2024

I’m standing on the balcony of Bowery Ballroom, Emmy Meli’s voice, staggering and striking, is filling up the venue. I watch as a group of young girls in the crowd turn away from the stage and toward each other, singing each line as if they wrote the song themselves. “I saw them singing to each other, and I pointed at them and said ‘yeah,’ and they were like, ‘wow!’” Meli tells us with a laugh backstage after her set. “It’s so cute, it’s so surreal. Sometimes it makes me emotional because all I've ever wanted to do with music was impact people in a positive way. To see that my music can be visceral for people is a feeling that only 0.000001% of the population could ever understand. For any musician to see an audience member screaming their song back to them is mind-blowing. The fact that I’m able to bring that many people into a room to sing with me to share that moment is the closest thing we have to magic, in my opinion. That's how it feels. It's incredible."

Earlier this month, Meli released her debut EP, Hello Stranger, which features seven tracks that tell stories of her life. The album also gives an audience that knows her from her hit song “I Am Woman” a multi-faceted view of the singer who grew up on a healthy dose of jazz music, to which she owes much of her musicality. The record digs into Meli’s challenges, growing up and accepting herself fully, even down to the natural texture of her hair.

Speaking of hair: Just hours before her Bowery performance, the singer paid a visit to Francis Rodriguez at The Paint Box in Brooklyn for a massive chop, an experience that brought her to tears. “I cut 16 inches of my hair,” she tells the audience from the stage before playing her track "Dear Little Me." "Normally my hair is very curly, and today I have it styled into a cute little bob, but I actually wrote this song for my younger self who felt the constant need to straighten her hair. I felt like I was not neat or not pretty if it was frizzy or untamed or curly. I woke up every day wishing I could wake up with straight hair. I don't know how long it’s been since the last time I straightened my hair before this, which is a huge accomplishment for me. I’m healthy, healthy and happy. This song is for my younger self, who felt that she wasn’t quite worthy the way she was. This is a letter to her to tell her that she is.”

Below, PAPER spends time with Meli after her transformative cut and Bowery show to talk about her new EP, self-love and what she’s excited to share with fans next.

First, I wanted to ask about “I Am Woman.” How do you feel performing it now compared to when you started and with this knowing that you originally wrote it on a napkin at your day job and you’re now performing it on stage in New York?

I think it comes from a different place now. It definitely comes from a more confident place, just because when I wrote that song, I was essentially teaching what I needed to learn. The meaning of the song continues to change, to be honest, it continues to grow and evolve with me. I love that the chorus may be simple, but I feel like it's simple for a reason, because it's all-encompassing. I love that it's that way because it can continue to grow and evolve with everyone else as well. It's continuing to impact me, and I hope it continues to impact everyone else.

How has it been to have Hello Stranger out in the world?

I sat on that EP for two years. Not by choice but it was circumstance. So actually being able to put it into the world is not actually just a literal release. But it is a physical and emotional one for me. It feels like I can finally reintroduce myself to people, especially if they only know me from one song, I can reintroduce myself as a person and tell them “Hey, here's where I came from. Here's where I am now. Here's how I did it.” I decided to call it Hello Stranger because it does feel like a reintroduction to the world. Because most people if you ask them, Do you know who Emmy Meli is? They might say no. But if you ask them if they know “I Am Woman,” they might say yes. I want people to be able to connect the dots. That's what this project is

I also wanted to talk about the big chop you had today and the speech you gave before "Dear Little Me" and the experience you've had with your hair and fitting in. Can you tell me more about that and the impact it had on you?

I truly believe that hair holds energy and memories. I have actually been wanting to cut my hair for over a year. But because I've been waiting on the project come out I haven't been able to. So once again, we have another big release, and that's what this haircut was. It was actually genuinely like if the project was the literal release, then this haircut actually got to be the physical release of all of that, all of that energy. There was honestly some shitty stuff in that hair. It kind of felt like I was just wearing a wig of memories like I was wearing someone else's hair or like I had extensions that weren't supposed to be in there. It didn't feel like me anymore. It felt like I was carrying the past around with me.

I haven't sung in New York since I was like 15 when I was that girl straightening her hair every single day because I thought that frizzy hair looked unprofessional or messy. It took me a really long time to not want to wake up and see straight hair. I would spend hours straightening my hair and I had destroyed it completely. So, it was a big deal for me today to let go of those memories and cut my hair. This is the first time I'm actually singing in New York, and I'm no longer the girl who has to straighten her hair to feel pretty. Maybe a haircut might not seem special to that many people. But for me, it was very, very special.

How was the actual experience like today getting your hair cut? What was your first reaction?

I'm such a crybaby, I started crying. I was crying happy tears to finally see it come off. It was like, "Okay, this is the new era." I can take a deep breath. I'm letting it all go. I'm just letting it go. I released the music. I've let it go into the world to reach the people it needs to reach. And now I can take a deep breath. I started to recognize myself again for the first time and so I started to tear up. I was just laughing and so happy when he finally did like the big chop, yeah. He was like "Oh my gosh, you really hated that long." Just a ton of hair was all over the floor. To see them sweep up, watching it fall away. I was so excited.

Before I go, what are you most excited about next? What's happening? What's on the horizon? What do you want fans to know about?

I have an album. I have an album and actually directly after this tour I'm staying in London to finish my album. So, lots more music. You're going to get sick of me! You're going to be seeing and hearing so much about Emmy Meli that you're going to be like "Okay, we got it you exist." So just a lot more music and a lot of performing!

Photography: Yohance Barton