Eighteen-year-old R&B artist Jody Upshaw is still riding the high of her song’s appearance in HBO smash-hit Euphoria, but this is only the beginning for the decorated Nova Scotian sensation.
Upshaw, who is from Lower Sackville, has been making music that Nova Scotia hasn’t been able to get enough of for years now, but this is a surprising new height for her.
Months ago, the singer received an email from a music industry representative asking for some information about her and her work. Upshaw says the email mentioned Euphoria in passing, but she never really thought that her music would be on the show – that is, until her song Straight Shooter appeared during one of the most important scenes of the show’s season premiere.
“It was a crazy, crazy feeling and I still haven’t fully processed it,” she says.
Although Upshaw already loved the show and had seen the first season — her favourite character is Maddy, for those interested — she was asleep while her song was being played to millions.
“I was totally just taking a nap, and opened my phone and I’ve never had so many messages,” she says. “It was very overwhelming and it was shocking and I could not sleep after that whatsoever.”
This intense reception is no surprise; the HBO juggernaut is drawing in record numbers of viewers. Upshaw’s track can be heard on an episode with over 13 million viewers on HBO platforms alone.
The song accompanies the emotional reunion of the show’s two leads, played by Hunter Schafer and Zendaya.
Upshaw, who was a die-hard Zendaya fan growing up, says it was surreal to see her face plastered over the screen while her song Straight Shooter played.
“I watched Disney channel religiously, you know? Miley Cyrus and Zendaya were my idols and still are,” she says.
Euphoria may be a major step in Upshaw’s career, but it’s not her first. She released her first song on YouTube six years ago when she was 11 years old.
As a child, Upshaw was involved in voice lessons and sang in church. She says her eyes were already on the prize by this point, thanks to some major musical influences.
“My love for music started with older R&B music. Whitney Houston was the first singer that I heard and was like, ‘Okay, I want to do this for the rest of my life.’”
With the help of her father, who is a former musician, Upshaw dove headfirst into music. She’s been releasing a steady stream of singles ever since, all while managing the rest of her life – no small feat for a busy teenager.
“It was hard,” she says with a laugh. “It was very hard, but it was fun.”
The singer also happens to be a talented basketball player. She was the captain of the varsity team in high school, played on a provincial team and still makes time to coach at the YMCA. Upshaw says the relationships she made on these teams made the balancing act a little easier.
“I made a lot of sacrifices growing up, but luckily I had the right people in my life … they were always with me when it counted,” she says. “I never felt like I was truly missing out on anything. I felt like I was gaining things instead.”
The next level
It didn’t take long for people to notice Upshaw’s talent. She gets regular nominations at the East Coast Music Awards, took home the African Nova Scotian Music Association’s Rising Star Award in 2018, and has made regular appearances on Global News and in the Coast.
Upshaw says being recognized this way is unbelievable, especially when her fellow nominees are her role models.
“It’s a beautiful thing to look up to certain people, and to now have my name be mentioned in conversations where their name is mentioned as well,” she says. “To be nominated for awards alongside them or at the same shows as them, it’s a surreal feeling every time.”
The singer’s success led to her now well-established connection with celebrated Halifax rapper Classified, who has produced a number of her songs, including Straight Shooter. Upshaw says the relationship has been a major boon for her career.
“I’m still very starstruck by his experience and his accolades, and the people he has surrounding him,” she says. “Not a lot of people can say that they’ve been in rooms with these people, so I feel like I’ve been a given a nice head start to have met them and been able to learn from them early on.”
Although she’s spent most of her career as a child star, Upshaw is looking to push the envelope and shift towards more provocative territory.
“Now that I’m 18, I really want to step into a releasing more mature content and tapping into that audience,” she says. “It’s going to be interesting to see how people react to me being a young adult rather than a little girl.”
This checks out. Upshaw’s proudest accomplishment happens to be her most recent Classified-produced single, Evil, which tackles a relationship gone wrong.
Most of all, Upshaw is looking forward to getting back to live performances – she says her favourite part of making music is sharing it.
“My true original love has always been performing, I love live shows, and I love just singing with people,” she says. “Usually, the East Coast Music Awards are on my birthday, so I don’t plan anything for my birthday. I just can’t wait to go onstage, see everyone and hear what people think of my music.”