Save for her tour with Jorja Smith, Kali Uchis’ 2019 has been mostly quiet. She has but only three major song releases as a lead vocalist to her name. Even so, when the 25-year-old singer delivers, she delivers.
From Kali’s 2012 solo debut Drunken Babble to her 2015 breakout Por Vida, to her 2018 debut studio album, Isolation, the Alexandria, Virginia, native has amassed a mighty and dedicated fanbase. Looking at the gaps between releases, we can gather they’re a patient lot. But it’s not as if Kali Uchis starves her fans. She takes her time between albums while still appearing on songs with noteworthy artists such as Snoop Dogg and Tyler, The Creator. Kali Uchis has mastered the necessary art of anticipation, and her 2019 is a testament to her workmanship and thoughtfulness.
In an era where artists are expected to flood the market and be as accessible as possible, Kali Uchis opted to show face three times this year: The Free Nationals’ tear-jerker, “Time,” the independence anthem, “Solita,” and KAYTRANADA’s fresh single, “10%.” On each of these offerings, Kali Uchis gave us a window into her emotional growth. On “Time,” we got insight into her emotional availability and pursuit of independence, which was followed up nicely on “Solita.” KAYTRA’s “10%” showcased a flexing Kali, which points to her becoming comfortable and secure in her confidence. Each of these three tracks feels like a notable moment in the Kali Uchis cannon.
Starting with “Time,” released on June 12, 2019, we get the first taste of a smarter and wiser Kali Uchis. Where Kali spent much of Isolation battling with herself and establishing her identity, on “Time,” there is far less conflict. She appears sure of herself as she sings: “I gotta take some time to grow / But I don’t wanna let you go / How did we get too comfortable?” Even in the throes of difficult questions, Kali’s hook ends definitively, as if to suggest she understands her worth and is prepared to protect her energy, even if the actions taken might hurt her.
There’s something to be said for the notion Kali puts forward on “Time.” That is, taking time—see what I did there?—for yourself and not losing yourself to your relationship. This lesson is a difficult one to learn. Who among us has not foregone their growth to keep the peace in a romantic affair? Plus, look at how Kali asserts herself on the pre-chorus: “I just want to be your girl and not your mom / Is that so wrong?” On “Time,” we’re getting the never-settling Kali Uchis we deserve. To top it off, her voice sounds as hearty as possible for dream-pop. Her vocal plumes out and masks the track in an assured sweetness.
We have to admire the question of the hook, too. Kali approaches comfort with caution, as she should. In a relationship, comfort and stagnation brush shoulders all too often, and eventually, comfort can become akin to a heated blanket you cannot shut off. Sooner or later, you suffocate from the heat. As much of an earworm as “Time” is, the song also happens to be packed with an earned wisdom. This is not the same forlorn girl of Isolation. Best of all, the strength Kali Uchis brings forth on “Time” foreshadows her next two releases.
“This song is about healing, freedom, and embracing the mixed emotions that come with that,” Kali said of her first bi-lingual single, “Solita.” Produced by the venerable Tainy, the hook of “Solita” picks up where “Time” leaves off. Kali Uchis declares she’d rather dance alone than with the devil. As with “Time,” “Solita”’s hook is about making difficult choices in the process of learning how to choose yourself. As dicey as it may be, Kail Uchis chooses herself. With that, the seeds of independence and confidence planted on “Time” sprout on “Solita.”
“[The hook of ‘Solita’] just goes back to wanting to feel empowered about independence, rather than feel like, ‘Oh, poor me, I’m alone.’ It’s not really like that.” — Kali Uchis, “Kali Uchis on ‘Solita’”
“I was really, I guess, inspired by that uplifting, freeing feeling of just being on your own,” Kali said of “Solita”’s creation. The song was written a year ago in response to the end of a long-term relationship. With that in mind, “Time” becomes even more of a proper prelude to “Solita.” “Time” feels like the relationship’s breaking point, while “Solita” feels like Kali Uchis coming into herself with confidence in her decisions. We bask in her independence. Kali goes on to say: “When you cut that toxic stuff out, it leaves so much room for that good stuff to come in.”
“That good stuff,” as Kali put it, truly evidences itself on KAYTRANADA’s single, “10%.” As the song’s lead vocalist, Kali Uchis steps into her most confident self, opening the track with: “You keep on takin’ from me / But where’s my 10%?” There’s a simultaneous lightness and punch to her vocal performance. There’s a clarity to her voice. As a fan, you want to scream: Give Kali Uchis what she is owed! Unlike “Time” or “Solita,” “10%” is not some grand emotional statement—and it doesn’t have to be. “10%” is a classic flex track, one Kali Uchis deserves after all her hard work on herself this year. The Kali Uchis of 2019 has fought for her moment on “10%,” just talking her shit and sounding fly while doing so.
In just three songs, Kali Uchis gave us the ultimate look into her emotional growth. She could have rushed out an album or delivered an EP of B-sides. Instead, Kali chose to gently jostle the waters with three eye-opening and soaring performances. The three-act play that is Kali Uchis’ 2019 offerings says more about the singer than any off-hand release. In 2019, she moved with grace and intention.
“I’m at a point in my life where I don’t feel like I have to prove anything to anybody anymore,” Kali told People. “Once you let go of the feeling of having to prove yourself, feeling like outside validation is literally the only way you can make it, once you get past that and can openly share your creativity in a really genuine way—that’s what I’m looking forward to.”
And share she did. Kali Uchis’ 2019 releases tell a cohesive and easy-to-root-for story. Her voice has grown stronger. Her writing is more poignant. As she readies her upcoming album, Kali is ending the decade with mounting anticipation. Yes, Kali Uchis’ 2019 has been more or less quiet as far as drops are concerned, but we cannot sit back and pretend the singer has been anything short of mighty.