Rising Star: How Lea Heart went from TikTok sensation to headliner

If you’ve listened to any Irish radio station in the past two years you’ve undoubtedly heard the name Lea Heart. The 22-year-old has taken the radio waves by force since she released her first single, Older in 2020.

Since then she has been going from strength to strength, releasing her first EP less than a year later, playing a sold-out Academy gig in 2022 and becoming the most-played Irish female artist on the radio.

She is the definition of a rising star. The perfect person to kickstart our new series about the burgeoning talent across the island. When VIP Magazine catches up with Lea, she’s as bubbly and energetic as you would expect.

She chats exactly like her music sounds, young, free and full of fun…

Hi Lea, what a whirlwind couple of years for you. Take us back to the beginning and tell us how your journey started.

Growing up I was obsessed with singing and writing little songs on my piano. I loved doing it as a hobby and for my family and best friends. But I was always scared to put myself out there online because you’re open to what anyone wants to say to you. For ages, I was comparing myself to other people, especially other women. I thought they had a better voice than me or that they wrote a better song than me. It took me a very long time for me to get out of that bad habit. Then during lockdown, I am very grateful for having all that spare time on my hand, because that’s when I pushed myself to do it. I thought that if I didn’t do it then I was never going to do it.

I loved writing songs and for the first few weeks of lockdown that’s all I did. I wrote a different song every day. I remember building myself up to make the TikTok and the Instagram page. The first song I posted was a cover of Dua Lipa’s Don’t Start Now, I sent it to my best friends and I showed it to my mam. I was like, “Promise me that this is okay to post. Will people think I’m good?” They begged me just to post it. And when I did the positive comments came in. And it’s not that I rely on that but it made me realise that I didn’t need to be so hard on myself, that I needed to push myself out of my comfort zone.

I haven’t looked back since. TikTok for me, I realised straight away, just how many views you can get and how many people you can reach on the other side of the world. I love creating content and writing songs and singing, so it worked out really well. I still post a TikTok most days, I love it. That’s where my management found me. The last two years have gone in a flash, but I released my first single, Older. To look back then and compare it to where I am now and the songs I’m writing and the people I’m performing to, I can’t believe it’s me. It’s very surreal. It’s a very pinch moment.

A lot of people are starting their careers on TikTok. And even really successful singers are promoting their music on TikTok, like Lewis Capaldi.

I’m taking inspiration from Lewis Capaldi because he just doesn’t care. And it’s real stuff. That’s what people want to see on TikTok.

You became the most-played female Irish artist on the radio in 2021, what was that feeling like?

Insane. The radio stations got behind me straight away. It’s still really surreal when I hear myself on the radio. It’s never going to be normal for me. I can’t believe it’s actually happening. And to know that I’m up there as one of the top women in Irish music is something I always dreamed of but I always thought it was so out of reach. I’m 22, from Kildare, I’m at home with my family every day. But realising what can happen, I think everyone should just go for what they want. There’s no such thing as it’s not going to happen to you. It’s mad.

It’s been over two years since you released your first single, Older in October of 2020. How has your life changed?

My home life is still the same. I still come home to my family home and my childhood bedroom. Nothing has changed in that sense. But I have had so many amazing opportunities. Playing in the 3Arena last November and I’m playing again supporting Lewis Capaldi, I grew up going to gigs in the 3Arena and that stuff is mad. That stuff is very different. My job is doing what I love and I’m surrounded by music and songwriters all the time. I have definitely become more used to it now. I know that my week is going to be doing interviews and being in the studio. I’m much more in the swing of things now. I’m so grateful that I get to do what I love every single day.

You mentioned you were in college before you really pivoted towards music. Were you studying music or did you even consider that as a job beforehand?

I almost studied music in college but then I decided to do it on the side. I love it so much that whether I studied it or not was not going to impact whether or not I did it. But I wanted a fallback. So I was studying economics, which is very different to what I’m doing now. My two favourite subjects in school were music and economics. But every night I was playing music in the student bar, I did open mic nights, I had a band. Most days were spent around music in college. So when the pandemic happened it felt very natural to pursue music. When I was in college everyone was asking where they could find me online. But at the time I didn’t have anywhere.

Going from student bars to TikTok to supporting Lewis Capaldi in the 3Arena within a handful of years is pretty insane. You’re playing sold-out gigs at the Olympia this year as well. Has any of that sunk in?

Things happen and I’m like, “Amazing, amazing, amazing.” But I have to actually sit down and be like, I’ve actually done that. I have to take a minute to take it in. The Olympia is such an iconic venue, growing up I saw Dermot Kennedy and Gavin James there. It’s such a big venue but it’s also intimate. If you had asked me two years ago where I would like to play I would have said the Olympia and the 3Arena, the fact that I’m doing that is a mad feeling.

I do feel more ready now. If you had told me that I was playing them two years ago I wouldn’t have been able to. I’d have been too nervous. I feel prepared, I feel so ready. Now is the right time. I have a lot planned and I have a lot of thought put into it already. I can’t wait to get out there in April.

You mentioned a lot of male artists there. And Ireland has an incredible music scene, even if it is a bit men-heavy. Now we have seen more women take over the industry. Do you think about the fact that little girls will look up to you as a role model?

Absolutely. I always say I’m a normal girl. I have a big family, I have loads of younger siblings. Music has always been my dream. And I want people to know that I’m a normal person and I am so happy to be doing what I’m doing. I just don’t want people to think that it’s out of reach because that’s what I thought growing up. There aren’t loads of Irish artists out there but the ones that are are really, really big. So you think how do I go from not knowing a single thing about the industry to doing what they’re doing?

I always thought it was a massive mountain that wasn’t even possible for me. I’m doing a school tour at the minute where we sit and have a chat with them because so many of them want to be performers and I guarantee that I’ll see those names in a few years. It’s mad to think that people will say that they want to be like Lea Heart but if you love it, go for it. If you put the work in, you’ll do it.

Who did you look up to growing up? 

I have always looked up to female artists in the industry. I looked up to Anne-Marie and Taylor Swift. Growing up I listened to Pink and Lady Gaga.

You’ve supported Picture This and Lewis Capaldi. But would you love to support some of those incredible women you mentioned?

I would love to support women like that. Being able to share the stage with someone who has written incredible songs and played iconic venues would be amazing. But whoever will have me, I’ll be there. [Laughs] The dream is to play my own world tour, my own European tour and play my own songs for people. I have put in the work and I want to see where it takes me. But if I got to play a big show like that I would absolutely have Irish artists on stage too because it’s an amazing opportunity. I know that first-hand.

You played your first headline gig in The Academy last year. You’re performing again later this year. What is that like? 

The feeling of singing your song and people singing back to you is unmatched. I’m so lucky Irish people have gotten behind me. I will never forget playing my first headline show last year in The Academy. Four days beforehand I released a song called Perfect Opposites and I knew people wouldn’t know it at the show but I wanted to play it anyway. But when I was playing the song on the night, I remember I stopped singing and let the room sing it back to me. Every single person knew all the words. That, for me, was such a big moment. That was the best feeling ever. It is a very strange feeling. You try to take it in at the moment but when you look back at the videos it’s like I can’t believe that actually happened.

You released your EP in 2021, tell us about that.

It was amazing, I always wanted to release a body of work. And that’s what I’m working on now to have another body of work because in that year and a half, I have definitely grown as a person, as an artist and as a writer. That EP was me to a tee in 2021, that’s the music I was listening to, the music I wanted to write and say what I wanted to say. But if I were to release another one today it would be very different. I have new stories to tell. I’m always working on new music and I want to release an album someday. That’s all at the top of my list. But it’s working my way up the ladder to get there.

So will we see an album soon?

It just depends, I have a lot of music and singles but why rush it? I want to be proud of it and I want to know that every single song on it was exactly how I wanted it. I don’t want to put an album out just to put it out. It’s so important not to rush. When it feels right then it’s go time. But I’m not there yet.

Finally, Lea, what’s next for you?

The main thing to me is new songs and new music constantly. I have lots of things planned as a songwriter. And I’m so excited for that. Last summer was my first time playing at festivals and I want to go back and do them. Not just Ireland, I’d love to branch out and maybe play in the UK. The dream is to do a European tour.

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