8:30 am PST 02/17/2021
“The song seemed to bring you back but also remind you of what’s happening now,” the singer says of her powerful “Fight for You”.
People are talking about ELLE, who recently rocked Super Bowl LV with a touching rendition of “America the Beautiful” (with a guitar solo that would have made Prince smile) and whose groovy “Fight for You” return can be heard in Warner Bros. ‘ Judas and the Black Messiah, about the 1969 police assassination of Black Panthers leader Fred Hampton. The 23-year-old Grammy-nominated virtuoso with the acronym of a name that is pronounced “she” and means Have Everything Revealed addressed THR from his recording studio in Miami on his goals of representation and revolution through music.
Congratulations on your performance at the Super Bowl. It was a highlight of the game.
Thank you very much. It was the highlight of my career from now on, because it was so much fun. I was really nervous, but it looked like a full crowd. It was like the first time I had really played in front of a crowd since the pandemic, so it was a really special moment.
It reminded me of the Princes 2007 halftime show. Was that an inspiration?
Thank you. Big compliment. I watched it years ago. I didn’t even think about that in [preparing for] this but I’m a big fan of Prince. It’s one of my biggest inspirations, but the idea was to make this performance totally me all aspects of what I do and everything I love. And it’s R&B and also rock and so much. I just wanted to mix up some of the things that I love and really make my guitar stand out.
The other thing it reminded me of was when Jimi Hendrix performed “The Star-Spangled Bannerat Woodstock in 1969.
Another one of my favorite moments. I wish I could have experienced this in person.
Of course, what made this show so special was that it was as much a protest against the war as it was a performance of the national anthem. We all know the NFL doesn’t have the best record when it comes to civil rights. Was your performance a political statement?
I don’t mean to say it was a political statement. I think the fact that there were three black women technically four, with Alicia Keys opening the Super Bowl and singing these songs with emotion the way we see and hear them and want to be represented is a message. [Were] up there giving a positive message to other black women saying, “You can be on a big stage like this someday too.” Whenever I’m on a stage, I represent everything that comes with who I am as a person from the black community as well as a Filipino girl from the California bay area who plays guitar and writes. R&B and different types of music. I represent my communities, and on this big stage, I don’t think there is a better way to do it.
Your song “Fight for You” from Judas and the Black Messiah reminds me of the classic Curtis Mayfield. How did it happen?
I had a conversation with [the filmmakers] and they said, “We really need a song that sums it all up and is the theme of the movie. And, knowing a little bit about the history of Fred Hampton and the Black Panther party, I was like,” I would like to like. I know it’s going to be amazing and that it’s going to tell a great story. “I watched the movie and literally told them, I said, ‘I think I can do a masterpiece for you. “
We listened to Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, we listened to a lot of Sly and the Family Stone, some of my favorites. I picked up the bass thinking about this theme of fighting for something. Because there are so many things that Fred Hampton fought for and we still fight for. That was the idea of the song, but I just really wanted to portray all of the storylines in the movie and not just the struggles to be black in this country at that time. The song felt like it needed to bring you back but also remind you of what’s going on now.
You tweeted about Fred Hampton: “His revolution inspired my revolution.” What did you mean by that?
For my generation, we have a responsibility to continue to do its job. People will watch the movie and hopefully it makes them want to start their own kind of movement and start their own kind of revolution and make changes in the way you can make changes. It doesn’t mean creating a whole organization like the Black Panthers, but even just through my music to tell these stories, it’s my revolution.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
A version of this story first appeared in the February 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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