Lu Kala is in her pretty girl era. “I’ve been standing firm on what I believe in,” the Congolese Canadian singer explains to POPSUGAR, defining this moment in her life. That mentality — “being myself to the fullest level and loving myself at any part of where I’m at” — that’s what Kala is singing about in her December 2022 track “Pretty Girl Era,” a bubbly pop beat that had a quiet debut but has since built steam thanks to TikTok (more on that in a bit). While Kala sings about it being her “hottie time of the year,” embracing herself in the now is “more than a physical thing” — though, she notes, “I feel very pretty, I’ve been looking really great.” (Her signature orange hair and embrace of colorful clothing prove it.)
“It’s more about that feeling when . . . you feel like everything is connecting for you,” she explains.
Born Lusamba Vanessa Kalala, Kala is the second youngest of eight children. She learned quickly how to make herself stand out. At a young age, she recounts, she would tell “anybody who would listen” that she was going to be a singer. Her stage presence was ingrained: “I knew how to be in a room with a lot of people.” That crowded household “automatically made me comfortable in myself.”
Young Kala was also thinking about music constantly: on her bus rides to school, she noticed the variety of genres the driver played on the radio. It solidified the dream: “I can’t wait till the day that I have a song that everybody else is singing back.”
“I make pop music, and I am meant to be in this space.”
In 2018, her debut track, “DCMO (Don’t Count Me Out),” dropped. That same year, Kala won the grand prize in the sixth edition of Canada’s Emerging Musician Program. She’d long been honing her craft — including attending Discovery Song Camp led by Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds — by the time her “vulnerable” first EP, “Worthy,” dropped in 2020. Success came first in Canada. She recounts clearly the moment of hearing herself on the radio for the first time. That feeling was “pretty crazy,” especially for a girl who developed a love of worldly music via radio.
The industry, of course, comes with ebbs and flows. Through it all, Kala admits, she resuscitated a plan B, so to speak. “I’ve had a million tough moments of being a Black woman in the pop-music space who makes more mainstream-sounding pop music. It’s definitely been tough, because for so long, people thought that a pop star had to look a certain way, and it’s been like an absolute battle trying to break those barriers,” she says, pointing to Rihanna as a personal inspiration. “I make pop music, and I am meant to be in this space.”
It’s obviously all been worth it. This year, “Pretty Girl Era” became a popular sound in the US on TikTok — the social media app that has propelled many would-be stars to chart-toppers. Kala says she started using the platform later than many who latched on to the video-sharing network amid the early 2020 days of the pandemic, instead first joining in mid-2021. “The amazing thing about TikTok is that I’ve been able to connect with my audience,” she says. “Every time I post, I feel like I’m reaching people that want to hear my music or music by an artist like myself. It’s really opened the door. Old songs I put out started moving like a year after.”
And there’s the new song. Kala’s collaboration with Latto, “Lottery,” earned her a career-first entry on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Kala actually wrote the chorus with some friends first, and Latto heard it. Kala was “so excited,” especially because she hadn’t initially imagined the track with rap. With Latto’s presence, “Lottery” took on “a whole new life.” They took turns tweaking elements of the song, building up each other’s ideas.
Says Kala, proudly, of her feature, “Through this song, more people got to hear my name, which is amazing.”
While Kala just dropped some “Pretty Girl Era” remixes, there’s also a new project on the way, which she teases as “more fun” than “Worthy.” This next drop really highlights the self-described sassy Kala. And while she loves being in the studio, Kala says she most craves performing — that little girl eating up the spotlight is still inside her. “Being on stage, it’s all about the emotion,” she explains. “I really feel like I come alive, and I just cannot wait to perform a ton more.”
No matter what, she wants her fans to know how much she sees them — and how much their support emboldens her. “There’s a lot of lows that come with wanting to pursue this type of career, but on the low days, sometimes I go through my DMs and [fans] send me the nicest, sweetest messages — so much love and support,” she explains, “Or even seeing people who have come across me for the first time on an app and say, like, ‘Wow. I wish there was an artist like you when I was growing up.’ It makes me feel like I have to double down and go even harder, even on the hard days. . . . They give me the strength to keep it moving and to go even higher.”