Westwood Horizon

Grace VanderWaal Impresses, Inspires with ‘Just the Beginning’

Becca Halaney, Reporter

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The words that popped immediately into my mind when I hit the play button on the first track of Grace VanderWaal’s most recent album, Just the Beginning, were nostalgia, noncommittal, and whimsy. Although folk-inspired pop music tends to not be a part my listening repertoire, I found myself pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable VanderWaal’s unique vocals and catchy lyrics were. It came as no surprise to me when I learned that she has performed at the Austin City Limits Music Festival previously, as her style mirrors that of many of the roots-type bands that audiences flock to Zilker Park to see. Her vocals switch between gauzy, swaying lilts and powerful, ballad-type belting that build with the ukulele underneath. The only qualms I had with the album as a whole was how repetitive the lyrics and tunes became. However, as soon as I discovered that VanderWaal is only thirteen years old, any thought of criticising her work was banished — her voice holds the command and practice that one would expect from a professional singer with years of practice under their belt, and I can best describe it as a mix between Eliza Rickman and Sia.

Despite her young age, VanderWaal has many accomplishments behind her, having won the eleventh season of America’s Got Talent by singing her own original songs when she was 12 years old, the Radio Disney Music Award for Best New Artist and a Teen Choice Award in 2017, and performing the opening and closing of the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games. I feel confident that she has the potential to serve as an important role model for young girls, with her lyrics inspiring power and independence and lacking the romanticization of low self esteem so pervasive in the music scene targeted toward girls today.  

There is something uniquely Austin-esque in her songs; the interesting stories she tells with very few words over slow, fantastical melodies played on ukulele and piano remind me of warm, teenage summers spent around Lady Bird Lake and South Congress, and they strike a personal chord in me that I think many others will relate to. Although most definitely pop music, she twists her genre with folk- and alternative-inspired quirks in vocal tone and enunciation. Despite the heavy nature to a select few of her songs, the entire album serves as a confidence booster, and I felt a strong desire to stand up and dance while listening (which, for me, is a very rare thing). VanderWaal often plays her own accompaniment on her ukulele, and I was very surprised by the variety of different emotions her simple chord progressions could evoke. Her music is relatable and relishes in the ephemeral nature of youth and the freedom that comes with it. I would highly recommend this album to anyone looking for an uplifting new addition to their listening routine.

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4 Comments

4 Responses to “Grace VanderWaal Impresses, Inspires with ‘Just the Beginning’”

  1. Bobby on December 19th, 2017 11:37 am

    Much appreciated review! From this album, listen to Better Life, Dsrkness, Lungs, and all the others. Such depth of emotion and soul, transcendent, genius.

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  2. Bill Graham on December 20th, 2017 10:56 am

    Excellent review Becca. Pithy and to the point. Grace at 13 touches me, at 77, as much she does my grand-children.

    Since you wrote your review you may not know Grace added to her palmarès the “Rising Star Award” from Billboard Magazine’s recent “Women in Music Event”.

    Grace is smart, knows her mind and will go far.

    Bill, Paris

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  3. Jeff Lang on December 20th, 2017 12:27 pm

    Wow! My opinion, you have written an exceptional review about Grace. So many reviews of Ms VanderWaal are rewrites or rehash of earlier reviews. I have read translations of most European and of course, North American reviews. You were able to bring something fresh and deeply heart felt to your work. I found your review through Facebook. I expect l will be reading your reviews in other major publications. Good job Ms Halaney

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  4. Larry Kulp on December 20th, 2017 6:44 pm

    Nice article, but you left out what was probably Grace’s most important award: Billboard’s “Rising Star”–important because it was not fan-driven.

    [Reply]

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