A pop and hip-hop singer and songwriter reinvents herself with A-list credits
By Kathy Iandoli
Special to MSN Music
When Holly Brook transformed herself into Skylar Grey, she knew there was no turning back. The name change is one she identifies as a vital career choice.
Brook earlier achieved entry-level success on the hit single "Where'd You Go" for Fort Minor, a Linkin Park alternative hip-hop passion project. Yet in the wake of that milestone, she found herself weathering a dark period marked by career frustrations and frayed personal and professional relationships.
The singer and songwriter responded by resetting her persona and nom du disque as Skylar Grey. After meeting producer Alex da Kid, Skylar penned the Grammy-winning song "Love the Way You Lie" for Eminem and Rihanna. She went on to write and sing the hooks for Dr. Dre's "Detox" teaser "I Need a Doctor" (beating out Lady Gaga), Lupe Fiasco's "Words I Never Said" and Diddy-Dirty Money's "I'm Coming Home."
Once invisible but now ubiquitous thanks to her prolific array of collaborations, Skylar Grey is geared for the release of her debut album, "Invinsible," in early 2012. She discusses her journey to this point, battling an eating disorder in her younger years and evolving into a role model.
MSN Music: Is the change to Skylar Grey strictly musical or part of your everyday life?
Skylar Grey: It's starting to become my everyday life; I don't want to be Holly. It makes me feel weird. I got rid of Holly for a reason.
Your single was titled "Invisible." Had you at any time in your career felt invisible?
Well, the song kind of is inspired by the last time I felt invisible, which was right before I wrote "Love the Way You Lie." I was in a really dark place in my life, where I felt like no one was really noticing my efforts in music. I was totally broke, and it had been 20 years that I'd been working in music. Still, I was feeling like a failure even though I knew that I was good and working my butt off. So it felt really bad to be ignored. Then "Love the Way You Lie" happened and my whole life suddenly changed.
"Invisible" is one of those feelings that creeps up again from time to time. It's something that I felt when I was in middle school when I really didn't have any friends because I didn't have the same interests as my peers. They all wanted to go into the city and go shopping or go to the movies or get their nails done, and I wanted to run around the woods or be creative and make something. In high school, when all those girls around me were getting boobs and butts, I was feeling like a boy. I didn't really get any attention as an attractive woman or anything like that. I had a little brush with anorexia. So I think "invisible" is one of those feelings that a lot of people have, and they're just afraid to talk about it.
Does it feel weird for you now being in the public eye and viewed as a sex symbol?
Here's the thing: I realized later that I wasn't unattractive. I learned there were boys that had crushes on me but were afraid to talk to me in school. I eventually realized that I wasn't ugly and I embraced myself and my looks and everything. When I was maybe 19, I really started feeling like myself. It was the music stuff that got me down the last time I felt invisible. My feeling on all of this is that music speaks before the image. I have no problem with being looked at like some kind of sex symbol, but I just want my music to speak first. So I've made it a point my first photoshoot was very mysterious and dark because I didn't want to reveal myself and try to promote my looks when I was really trying to promote music. It's one of those things that bugs me about pop music these days. It seems to be more about the sex appeal than the music itself. I feel like it takes away from the focus on the music and therefore doesn't turn out as good as it could be.
How much of your past do you touch upon in your album "Invinsible"?
I metaphorically tell that whole story on my album. There are some songs about relationships; there's some relationship stuff that I went through in that period of time, from 2006 to 2009 basically. I wrote the songs over the past year, but the songs are about the past five years. A lot of times it takes me looking back and reflecting on the past in order to really understand what happened.
What conclusions did you come to from revisiting your past?
When my stuff fell apart musically, at the time I was pissed off at everybody else. Like, "Oh, the label's not treating me right, or Linkin Park's not treating me right." Then I realized looking back that a lot of the reasons things fell apart were actually my fault because in the position I had been in, I should have been more in control and more of a leader. I was so timid and naïve and scared that I let other people kind of run the show. & Now, coming back into this, I'm grateful for that period because I learned so much about how to do this, how to run this business. It is a business at the end of the day.
Do you feel that's why you work so well with Eminem, considering you both rose above your respective pasts?
We never talked about it, but I think it could be one of the reasons why we connect on a creative level so well
Eminem went to bat for you when they wanted to put Lady Gaga on the hook for "I Need a Doctor" instead, right?
Yeah, Alex (da Kid) suggested when we were in the studio about getting Lady Gaga and Em just shot it down right away.
What are some of the highlights of your album?
Well, there's a song called "Building a Monster" and that's kind of self-explanatory. Building a monster, becoming Skylar Grey. That's the metamorphosis song. It doesn't really sound like a song; it's like a cinematic piece. Then there's a song called "Final Warning," which is aggressive, something Holly Brook would have never done. You can see the change in my character, like how I deal with a relationship. It's very different than how I used to. There's a song called "Weirdo," and that one is kind of about accepting your flaws and being proud to be weird.
It seems like the things you speak about on "Invinsible" a lot of young girls can relate to. Did you ever think you'd be a role model?
If you're ever going to be in the public eye, it's kind of a responsibility to be a good role model. You have to be very conscious of what you do publicly. I just think it's a great opportunity to reach out and touch some of those kids who feel like they don't have anyone or feel invisible. Sometimes they just need to know that they're not alone. That's what I'm trying to do: bring some real meaning and depth into pop music.
Kathy Iandoli has written for publications including The Source, YRB, BUST, XXL,VIBE, RIME and Vapors, and her work has appeared online at MTV, AOL and MSN Music sites. She is the former Alternatives Editor of AllHipHop.com and the current Music Editor of HipHopDX.com.