Chxrry22’s debut EP The Other Side opens with a sweet, but scathing missive to a toxic ex. On the eponymous track, the Scarborough native dusts the remnants of a painful relationship off her shoulders as she enjoys the spoils of newfound fame – relishing her post-heartbreak glow up. “You never know where you’ll be in five years,” she muses through honeyed vocals. “You should’ve been nice. ‘Cause I’m on the other side.”
The song is an example of the deeply personal approach Chxrry (pronounced “Cherry”) applies to her songwriting. Like her lyrics say on “The Other Side,” her life has taken a dramatic turn in the past five years, and surely there’s a regretful ex or two who would eat crow if they could see her now.
Chxrry, of Ethiopian origin, was born Lydia Habtemariam. Her parents both sang in a choir, and encouraged their children to develop their own musical gifts. As a child, Chxrry sang at birthday parties and weddings, making a name for herself at family gatherings. “[Singing] was an easy way for me to make friends, and for people to like me, so I always wanted to do it,” she says. But it wasn’t until 2017 that she considered taking her talents further.
At the suggestion of a friend, she began posting social media videos of herself singing, and they quickly went viral. Soon after, she went from fledgling internet singer to the first woman signed to XO Records, the label co-founded by The Weeknd (Abel Tesfaye) – who, like Chxrry, is also from Scarborough, and also of Ethiopian heritage. It was an unexpected outcome, but one for which she proved to be ready.
As a label, XO is an extension of Weeknd’s laissez-faire leadership. Chxrry had full creative freedom as she crafted The Other Side, and was encouraged to lean into her sound, and make the project her own. To work on the EP, she relocated to Atlanta and teamed up with Grammy-nominated producer Sensei Bueno (Kid Cudi, Snoh Aalegra) and equally decorated songwriter Daijah Ross (Baby Rose, Eli Derby).
“Writing this EP was like talking to your friend and explaining something that happened”
Instagram posts from both Bueno and Ross depict cozy, lighthearted scenes: Chxrry in sweats, singing before a computer screen in Bueno’s compact bedroom; the trio cackling as they do trust fall exercises in between recording sessions. They’re working on something major, but the sessions look more like a carefree slumber party between friends. Chxrry says that kind of comfort was important to her writing process.
“Bueno’s like my therapist at this point. And Daijah is my friend from Atlanta who I met through Bueno. They’re, like, best friends, and when I came, I was part of the trio,” says Chxrry. “Writing this EP was super-natural and organic, nothing was forced. It was like talking to your friend and explaining something that happened – then you just start writing about it.”
Chxrry’s goals on The Other Side were to develop her confidence as an artist, and establish her own voice — a mission she accomplished in spades. Her sound is trance-like and ethereal, but the lyrics are sharp and no-nonsense: on “The Falls,” she holds herself accountable for cheating but doesn’t apologize; on “Call Me,” she shatters the hopes of a friend with benefits looking to deepen the commitment (“the look in your eyes sayin’ stay back/call somebody else if you want that”). “Wasteland,” on which Chxrry and Sensei team up with Sonic Major and Childish Major, is a cutting, no-holds-barred report on a barren dating scene. Her withering verses aren’t for everyone — and Chxrry doesn’t mind at all.
“I’ve always had this attitude [that] I’m just gonna say and do what I want,” she says. “It will have its consequences for sure, like sometimes people perceive me the wrong way. [But] I don’t have the energy to constantly be censoring myself. It’s easier to be real and honest about who I am. I don’t really care to keep up an image. Doing all the people pleasing doesn’t really last.”
With her debut complete and out in the world, Chxrry already has her sights set on releasing another effort – at the top of 2023, if she has her way. No matter when it drops, Chxrry promises one thing: it’ll be an experience. “It’s hard to describe [my sound] because I have so much music in the vault that’s very different from what’s out right now,” she says. “But it’s not just about the sound, it’s about the whole brand, all of me. From my personality to my music, to my style, to my content, it’s really just an experience. Honestly.”