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Borrowing from jazz, R&B, dance music, and rock, Kimbra makes some of the most adventurous pop fusions of the 2010s and 2020s. The New Zealand singer/songwriter experienced a burst of acclaim early in her career, winning awards for recombining nearly a century's worth of pop music on her 2011 debut album, Vows, and appearing on Gotye's Grammy-winning international hit "Somebody That I Used to Know." However, this success didn't make Kimbra take fewer risks in her later work. The effortless genre hybrids on 2014's The Golden Echo made it easy to hear why Prince, Imogen Heap, the Mars Volta, and Minnie Riperton are among her favorite artists, and even the more unified approach she took to pop and R&B on albums like 2023's moody A Reckoning reflected Kimbra's individual yet widely appealing talent. Born in Hamilton, New Zealand, Kimbra started writing songs at age 10, began taking guitar lessons around age 12, and was performing live by her teens. Along with singing in her high school's jazz choir, she competed in the national schools' music competition Rockquest for several years and won second place in 2004. That year, her song "It Takes Time" was included in Play It Strange, a national showcase for emerging singer/songwriters. In 2007, Kimbra caught the attention of Melbourne, Australia-based label Forum 5 when she won the Juice TV Best Breakthrough Music Video for her single "Simply on My Lips." After signing to the label, she relocated to Melbourne and started work on her debut album. Her first single for Forum 5, "Settle Down," appeared in June 2010, with the Miami Horror collaboration "I Look to You" following in December. In March 2011, Kimbra released the single "Cameo Lover," which won the Vanda & Young Global Songwriting Competition. That June, she signed to Warner Bros., and the label issued her debut long-player, Vows, that August. Featuring production by M-Phazes, the album was praised for its inventive genre-hopping and became a Top Five hit in New Zealand and Australia (and was certified platinum in both countries). Kimbra won the Critics' Choice Prize at the 2011 New Zealand Music Awards; at that year's ARIA Music Awards, she won the Best Female Artist Award, while "Cameo Lover" won the award for Best Song. Around the time of Vows' release, Kimbra appeared on Australian-Belgian singer Gotye's smash hit "Somebody That I Used to Know." The multi-platinum single became her first number one in the U.S. in early 2012. That May, a significantly reworked version of her debut album was released in Europe and the U.S., where it reached number 14 on the album charts. Featuring six new songs that included a cover of Nina Simone's "Plain Gold Ring" and "Warrior," a collaboration with Foster the People's Mark Foster and DJ A-Trak, this incarnation of the album was released in Australia as Vows: Australian Tour Edition and in New Zealand as Vows: Deluxe Edition. After contributing the song "With My Hands" to the Frankenweenie soundtrack in September, Kimbra rounded out 2012 with shows in Australia and New Zealand. At the end of that year, she triumphed in five categories at the New Zealand Music Awards, most notably Best Female Solo Artist and Best Pop Album. She also continued to receive plaudits for her Gotye collaboration well into 2013, among them the 2012 Grammy for Record of the Year and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. Along with touring with Gotye, collaborating with John Legend on the Love in the Future track "Made to Love," and making festival appearances, Kimbra began work on her second album. She returned to the studio with producers including Rich Costey and M-Phazes and collaborators such as Bilal, Van Dyke Parks, Muse's Matt Bellamy, the Mars Volta's Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, and Silverchair's Daniel Johns, who co-wrote some of the album's songs. Building on Vows' eclecticism, August 2014's The Golden Echo took inspiration from grunge, R&B, and Top 40 pop as well as Kimbra's interest in Greek mythology and her need to get away from the spotlight. Another critical success, the record was once again a Top Five hit in New Zealand and Australia and peaked at number 43 on the U.S. album charts. Kimbra reunited with Bilal in 2015, appearing on his album In Another Life, and debuted her own single "Sweet Relief" in 2016. The 2017 track "Everybody Knows" offered the first taste of her third album, Primal Heart. A more streamlined, contemporary R&B-inspired set of songs that included collaborations with John Congleton and Skrillex, Primal Heart appeared in April 2018. The record reached number 31 on the Australian album chart and number 12 in New Zealand. At that year's New Zealand Music Awards, Kimbra won Best Solo Artist. In 2019, Kimbra made her acting debut in the musical drama film Daffodils, then appeared as an expert and mentor on the New Zealand singing competition TV series Popstars and Apple TV+ series Helpsters in 2020. Late in 2021, she embarked on a U.S. tour previewing her upcoming album. Arriving in January 2023, A Reckoning used the reflective and explosive extremes of her music to embody the conflicts and need for balance in the world.
© Heather Phares & Matt Collar /TiVo
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