If you’re writing songs in 2022, vulnerability is arguably the coin of the realm.

From Donovan Woods to Carly Rae Jepsen, TOBi to Shawn Mendes, Julian Taylor to grandson, JP Saxe to Savannah Ré, speaking authentic emotional truth is the currency on which careers are based, and (not coincidentally) the thing that resonates most deeply with audiences. This has been the case historically with some genres – from confessional singer-songwriters of the early ‘70s to emo bands of the mid-‘90s. But with the rise of TikTok as the main vehicle for music discovery, vulnerability has mainstreamed, and its currency has grown exponentially in value – as the likes of Tate McRae, Charlie Houston, and renforshort share their strongest feelings, and reach their largest audiences.

Jessie Reyez – whose new album Yessie was released on Sept. 23, 2022 – serves as a kind of Godmother (or midwife, or architect, or Patron Saint) of the new vulnerability. Reyez started out with her raw, painful breakup song “Figures” in August of 2016, about a month before TikTok was launched. She followed that with an equally personal, intense tale of threatened sexual exploitation in “Gatekeeper,” and she hasn’t stopped telling true, heartfelt, powerful stories of her life ever since.

Her meteoric rise – parallel to that of the sharing app – testifies to how much, and how relatively quickly, Reyez’s openness has reverberated with a worldwide audience. She won the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame Slaight Music Emerging Songwriter Award in 2017, and the SOCAN Breakout Songwriter Award in 2019.  Her 2020 debut album Before Love Came to Kill Us charted Top Five on Billboard’s R&B Album Chart, and has amassed more than 1.2 billion(!) cumulative global streams. She’s received high praise from The New York Times, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, and Variety, and has performed on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Late Night With Seth Meyers, and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. In 2022, she played Coachella, and opened the Billie Eilish world tour. She’s been nominated for a Grammy Award, won four JUNO Awards and a Billboard Impact Award, and made a cameo in Beyonce’s Black is King visual album. It’s not an idle brag that the name of her Twitter account is Doing great things bitch.

The profile blurb of that account is, “I like to sing about shit I don’t like to talk about.” This remains true, even after her well-documented campaign of reading self-help books, undergoing therapy, and working toward self-healing that took place over the course of the pandemic. One wonders if it ever feels strange for her to be singing – to multiple millions of listeners – things that are so deeply personal that she wouldn’t even say them to another person (except perhaps a therapist).

Now it does,” she says. “Now, maybe because I’m more present. But it feels weird when we talk about it, when I’m doing this [being interviewed], ‘cause this isn’t natural for me. Singing is, performing is, so I don’t really question it. But this is funny, ‘cause it feels very analytical.”

Reyez has said more than once that it can be painful to continue performing her often gut-wrenching material; she’s even likened it to picking at a scab. Is it less so, now that she’s found some emotional equilibrium? “It’s still a scab,” she says. “But the difference is that I don’t stay in the space as long. So, if I’m in the studio and it’s coming out, then I’m in that space; but when I leave, I’m able to come back to the present faster.”

In another new direction for Reyez, there are some yearning love songs on Yessie“Forever,” “Only One,” and “Hittin” – that suggest she might just be ready for a lifelong partner. After a huge “did-you-really-ask-me-that?” laugh, she says, “I don’t know if I’m ready, but I’m definitely more open than I was before… I didn’t know how to love without it being all-encompassing, like a tidal wave, breaking the doors of my heart. Ugh, that sounds so cheesy! But I didn’t know how to do that. And I also didn’t know how to recover, ‘cause heartbreak would fuckin’ knock me down. But now I just feel like I’m stronger… ‘cause if it doesn’t work, I know I’ll be OK anyway.”

In fact, the main idea of Yessie is that pursuing true love is a high-risk/high-reward proposition. Reyez has always made music about being vulnerable, but being willing to take the risk for a permanent love –  one that might not work out – makes it even more so. Still, she’s comfortable with it now.

“I was scared of love for so long, and I didn’t even realize it,” she says. “I didn’t realize how much I was letting my past trauma project into my reality… When I met someone that was kind, and honest, and present, and willing to wait, and all these things, I still couldn’t open… that was the indication of, like, they’re not the problem; the problem is me now. Which made it a harder pill to swallow.”

The one constant for Reyez, from the beginning, is that she always speaks her truth. And her dedication to the art of songwriting, and its purity – which allows her to share that truth – verges on the spiritual. In January of 2022, she posted on Twitter (though she’s since deleted it):

My favorite part
Like my FAV part of everything in the sphere of the music industry
Is not touring
Nor parties
Nor checks
Nor videos
Nor awards
None of that comes close
To just creating a song
And letting it be
And setting it free in the room
In that moment soul sees itself

She still feels that way. “It’s crazy. It’s alchemy,” says Reyez. “It’s so basic, too, because you could say that it’s just a song… But you walked into a room, and there was nothing there, and then all of a sudden you made something. From a space you can’t even see; from a source you can’t even touch… I think that’s fuckin’ lit.

“When the song’s out, you’re talking about DSPs, and politics, and artwork, and videos, and directors, and features, the list is endless. But there [in the writing room] – and I think that’s what I love most about it, too – it’s present. You have to be present… I love that.”