story / Koko Ntuen
photos / Rachel Thalia Fisher
makeup / Lisa Thai
hair / Kayo Fujita
styling / Kat Banas
set design / Erin Gray
assistance / Miria-Sabina Maciagiewicz
creative direction / Erica Russell
To call twenty-year-old Jasmine van den Bogaerde — otherwise known by her stage moniker Birdy — a child prodigy is too obvious. Trained classically on the piano since she was five years old, she began writing and performing her own songs at seven. Describing her childhood as “really lovely,” she grew up on a vast family estate outside of Lymington, England where, by her account, she spent her days writing “weird piano cinematic pieces.” When she discovered singing, she spent hours using her voice, accompanied by the keys, to create music of heartbreak, love, and loss.
“My parents would listen by the stairs when I first started doing it. I think they were quite worried,” she recalls, laughing. “People have asked me, ‘How can you feel this so young? Do you really feel what you’re singing? Do you really experience these things?’ But you know, for me, I think anyone can feel anything. You just have to pay attention to what’s around you.”
At the age of nine she was belting out all the cheesy pop her heart desired, mostly into a karaoke machine she was gifted by her parents. She remembers fondly singing along to The Bangles, Avril Lavigne, and Tracy Chapman, among others. By twelve, Birdy had won the U.K. talent contest Open Mic U.K., and by thirteen she was officially a working musician, performing backup vocals for her older brother’s band in pubs and clubs — along the way having to wait, on occasion, outside until showtime since she was at the time too young to enter the venue. “That was my first taste of performing live,” the artist explains. “We’d just go around in his cool car. It was really nice. It was a really fun time for me, because it was my older brother. It was exciting.”
By fourteen, she had made it. When Birdy released her cover of Bon Iver’s indie classic “Skinny Love” in 2011, she hit her stride: The video for her rendition has, to date, garnered over 100 million views. “I see the number and it looks huge! It’s terrifying, but I can’t really imagine that many people, I guess. It doesn’t really feel real a lot of the times. Now, looking back at the past few years, it feels so much more surreal than it did then. I was going with it then, it was like being in a weird dream — almost normal. I definitely find the whole fame thing quite hard. I’m such, I guess, an introvert. I’m shy, so it’s really strange to me to suddenly get all these follows. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that. If someone comes up to me on the street and recognizes me, it’s always weird — every time.”
Yet fame was in the cards, and the single catapulted to the top of the charts. On the track, Birdy’s soulful voice glides through the music, her haunting, deep-rooted vocals adding evocative musings to each lyric; her affections effortlessly tugging at an international heartstring. The cover re-cemented the song as runaway hit and the young singer-songwriter suddenly became its associated artist: “I’ve never met [Bon Iver]. I’ve never talked to him, ever. But I’ve heard he likes the cover. I’d love to meet him one day.” A month later, her self-titled debut album was released and would eventually peak at No. 1 in Australia, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Her whirling, ethereal, breathy croon went on to captivate the rest of the world.
Music may have made Birdy famous, but family has always been at the forefront of her life since she can remember, from playing family weddings to jamming with her siblings to singing in children’s choirs before ever becoming her own successful act. “That’s been so important,” the singer reveals of her family values. “I’ve had my parents traveling with me until I was eighteen. They were always there… I would have gone crazy probably without them. You need to have people you really know, that already care about you, which I’m really lucky to have.”
In today’s fast-forward world, the British songstress is an anomaly with her old soul charm and carefully-paced rise. When she sings, she soars and elevates every emotion she can take with her. She has an otherworldly approach to music that would not be out of place a thousand meters below sea level in a choir full of mermaids lulling you to the depths of the ocean bed. When you put on a Birdy record, a certain nostalgia really settles in your bones.
On her latest album, Beautiful Lies, she was inspired by Arthur Golden’s best-selling novel, Memoirs of a Geisha. “It’s really visual to me as well. It all felt very inspired, like I was in Japan,” she gushes dreamily. If you close your eyes and listen carefully, you can almost see a kimono-clad Birdy singing every song on the album under a cherry blossom tree, her brown mane blowing in the breeze, a koto arrangement twinkling in the distance. It’s an evocative image: The nuances of growing up, loneliness, and love are all there.
Watch any interview with the young ingenue and you can see the spotlight is not where she wants to set up shop. She is much more comfortable with her fingers drifting over a piano, her voice filling a room. On her new album, Birdy allows us into a narrative that is closer to home than we have been privy to before. For the artist, touring — the long road trips away from home, being alone in hotel rooms, rushing from city to city, venue to venue — has been a whirlwind, perhaps resulting in changes that happened too soon, too fast. Thankfully, refuge is always waiting: “Going back to the countryside where I grew up is very grounding. It makes me feel like nothing’s changed. It’s so secluded. It’s such a different world there, such a small town. I love going back,” Birdy expresses, wistfully.
Regardless, the evolutions in her life have been a source of inspiration for her work. The aptly titled track “Growing Pains” speaks of these changes. “For me, I will say that being away so much, my friends have been at school and partying and all of that. [I’m] kind of missing a lot of that. It’s tough. My friends are doing such different things now, and it’s so weird because they’re all at university and I’m away doing music. We never really see each other. I see my close friends, but it’s so weird how the people you could be so close to at school just… you never talk to them again.”
While the past may call out to her from time to time, the future continues to pull her forward. And she has so much more to accomplish: “I’d love to do more film music,” she reveals. “Being part of things like The Fault in Our Stars and Hunger Games, I enjoyed so much. I also love writing for stories, because I like the characters. I love writing for something. It would be nice to do a lot more of that.”
The way the songbird weaves through the most soul-crushing, yet beautiful experiences of the human condition, and then swirls them into hymns of defiance and strength, is a magical feat. Because of this, her wunderkind aura seems to grow stronger with each album release and performance. For now, however, Birdy is going with the flow, and letting her wings take her as far as they can — her voice trailing not so far behind.