courtnie is the rising r&b star empowering other black women

Courtnie's new visual 'Mesmerized' is a seductive meditation on self-love — made entirely by black women.

by Teryn Payne
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14 September 2018, 4:50pm

“It’s ethereal and grounded at the same time,” Courtnie Henson says to describe her music. “There’s a lot of duality in my sound. It’s ethereal and escapist for sure, but also super soulful. One minute my voice is taking you to another place and the next, you’re melting into it, right where you are.” Courtnie’s professional singing journey started only four years ago, unlike some of her peers who have been creating music for over a decade. But the now-25-year-old composer and singer can effortlessly belt out renditions of your favorite neo-soul and R&B jams at the drop of a hat, as well as perform songs that she created from life's experiences.

When releasing her first EP I Feel Like Color in September 2017, Courtnie decided to approach sharing her music with the world much differently than she had before. “I was a little burnt out at that point in my life. I was getting tired of releasing things and it falling on deaf ears,” the Chicago and St. Louis-bred artist tells i-D. “I was just like, ‘Fuck it, here it goes. I am just going to let people listen and see how they feel about it.’”

To her surprise, the response to I Feel Like Color was overwhelmingly positive. After its release, Courtnie landed a commercial with Viceland singing one of her personal favorites on the EP, “Never Be,” and a partnership with Airbnb, where she hosted a series of intimate concerts in New York titled Soul Sounds. “Life tends to work in my favor when I let go of what I want out of things and just put shit out there,” she says. “I decided to stop obsessing over how people received things. How many likes, plays, and streams it got and just focus on the fact that I love to write, I love to create music, I love to sing, and I love to record. I’m going to do it no matter what.”

As Courtnie gears up to release her second visual from the EP, “Mesmerized,” she is hoping to broaden the scope of how women artists are viewed. “When I first started writing, I was really frustrated with how the subject of love came so easily to me. I almost felt like it was very pigeonholing and limiting,” she says. “Human beings are multifaceted and I didn’t want to come off as one dimensional, especially as a woman.”

While Courtnie doesn’t want to be limited to talking about love in her songs, she also doesn't want feelings and emotions in songs to be viewed as something negative. She acknowledges the importance of women having emotions and showing that our feelings can be more than love for another person. “It’s important that we explore our feelings outside of love. I want to continue writing about all facets of my passions and just realizing that there are other feelings in the world that can be as strong and powerful as love for another person,” she says. “Obviously we are emotive creatures and I love that about us. Emotions are more powerful than logic in a lot of instances because emotions are logic. Feelings are real.”

From a quick listen of “Mesmerized,” it can easily be inferred that Courtnie is detailing her infatuation with someone else. Although that isn’t the case, it is exactly what she wants you to think.“I was on my way to calling it yet another love song [in my head] when my creative director Marisa and I decided it would be more fun to flip the narrative and make it about the love of self. Something we could all use a little more of. That’s when I realized love itself is multifaceted, and there’s nothing wrong with expressing it over and over again, just in different ways.”

Courtnie also sees the importance of having black women producers and directors in all of her projects. “We need to prioritize putting each other on and show up for one another. It’s important that we actively seek each other out like people of other communities do,” she says. “There shouldn’t be anyone wanting for work; [if we can help it] we should be hiring our own. I just wanted it to be on purpose instead of just passively waiting to meet black women that I could add to my team.”

There’s no denying that the number of black women in television and film is not nearly where it should be, but thanks to women like Issa Rae and Ava DuVernay that number is slowly but surely increasing. Courtnie tapped two New York-based creatives; Marisa Truitt and Mya King, a director and choreographer respectively.

“When I first heard the song, I liked that we didn’t know exactly who she’s talking to. So I went off of that and suggested that rather than be super literal, and create this lover, we have her be ‘mesmerized’ with herself,” Marisa says. “Courtnie already knew she wanted the main colors to be pink and purple, which naturally communicate love and admiration, so it was really just a matter of figuring out what other elements could capture the essence of vanity. Self-love, we need more of that.”

Although the choreography in the visual seems subtle, every movement was very intentional. “I had Courtnie improvise to the music with the lights low. Her improvisation influenced me to create movement inspired by her natural way of dancing to her song,” Mya says. “Which is super important to me as a choreographer. I knew I wanted the movement to be authentic to Courtnie and the vibe of the song. The song exudes confidence, power, and sensuality. I wanted the movement to portray just that — creating art that will hopefully influence and empower women to love and be mesmerized by all the things that make them who they are.”

As women, it’s important to be reminded on how amazing and powerful we are, and “Mesmerized” sends you on a lucid dream of self-love and empowerment. I Feel Like Color is just the start to Courtnie’s promising career. As she enters the last quarter of this year, she has set new goals for the immediate future. She has started writing new music and plans to go to L.A. within the next few months to record. She intends to release several singles throughout 2019. In addition, she wants to be more intentional with storytelling through her music.

She said, “I’m not Kendrick To Pimp a Butterfly level yet, but I really want my music to tell a story verbally and sonically.”