DJ performing in front of laser lights at an EDM show.
Many know the DJs of EDM, but few know the vocalists. (Illustration by Shelly Freund, Elon University)

Shedding Light on Kai, One of the Voices Behind EDM

If you’re into electronic dance music, you know artists like Calvin Harris and Flume. But do you know the names of the vocalists featured in their songs?

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DJ performing in front of laser lights at an EDM show.

If you’re into electronic dance music, you know artists like Calvin Harris and Flume. But do you know the names of the vocalists featured in their songs?

EDM artists are gaining more recognition in the music industry than ever before. This particular style of music pioneered the “virtual music festivals” we all have become familiar with in the age of COVID-19 and is one of the fastest-growing genres in the business.

If you listen to EDM music, it’s likely you know the big-name artists, like Diplo, Flume or, at the very least, the EDM legend Skrillex. Their music has been topping the charts over the last few years as they’ve become widely known as talented musicians.

When you stop to think, it’s easy to recall the names of the DJs or producers who put out such songs as “Chicken Soup” or “Lean On,” but you can’t quite put your finger on the owners of the voices that make these songs so iconic.

There are countless featured artists who fail to receive the same recognition as their producer counterparts, but one artist who stands out in the crowd of unknown faces is Canadian singer-songwriter Kai. She has been nominated for and won multiple Grammys for her vocal and songwriting work with the popular DJs that we all know and love.

So why haven’t we heard of her before?

Kai is one of the most well-known “unknown” EDM vocalists in the industry. Although she primarily collaborates with electronic dance musicians, the artist has rubbed elbows with A-listers across all genres of the music industry.

First entering the music scene in 2011, Kai released her debut album, titled “11:11.” It is vastly different from her later works, and to put it bluntly, you could say the same about its inferior quality. On top of that, the promotion this album would have needed to be a success was simply not there, or maybe simply unattainable.

Despite her first release being a flop, Kai was able to persevere in the industry when she had the opportunity to collaborate with Adventure Club, another Canadian artist who primarily produces dubstep. Kai is credited with writing part of the lyrics and providing the vocals of Adventure Club’s song “Need Your Heart.”

At first listen, one could easily doubt that the vocalist singing in Kai’s debut album and the one singing in “Need Your Heart” are actually the same person. Comparing her 2011 album and her 2012 collaboration with Adventure Club, it is impressive how much she was able to come into her own as an artist in such a short amount of time.

From there, her career as a featured vocalist took off. “Need Your Heart” topped the iTunes EDM chart at No. 2 and served as Kai’s window of opportunity to get into the EDM scene. Bigger artists took note of her powerful vocals and unique sound, and they weren’t about to pass them up.

In 2013, Kai was invited to collaborate with Diplo along with Faustix & Imanos. Together, the artists created “Revolution,” where Kai served as the sole vocalist and a contributing songwriter. This intense, fast-paced track quickly defined Kai as a powerful feature artist due to the ability of her dramatic voice to hold a lot of body.

“Revolution” went on to peak at No. 20 on the EDM charts, according to Billboard. Diplo later released two different sets of remixes from the likes of musicians Party Favor and Unlike Pluto. The song was even later used in an ad campaign for Bernie Sanders.

Kai and Diplo worked so well together that they regrouped two years later to work on a joint-artist project titled “Skrillex and Diplo Present Jack Ü.” Kai is credited with writing one of the songs, “Mind.”

In this track, Kai’s unmistakable voice is accompanied by an unknown male counterpart, although some fans have speculated that the person joining her in this song is actually Skrillex himself.

The project ended up winning a Grammy for best dance/electronic album in 2015. To this day, “Mind” remains one of the most-listened-to songs by all three of these artists. In 2016, the song peaked at No. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

In 2015, Kai collaborated with smaller artist Hunter Siegal. Their song, titled “Let Me Love You Right,” strays a little from Kai’s signature intense sound, taking on a lighter tone than her earlier work.

While the result of their collaboration was a refreshing track, it didn’t receive the same recognition as her songs with Diplo and Skrillex. Perhaps this is because it isn’t as hard-hitting as her other works, but likely it can also be attributed to the popularity of the prior lead artists that Kai had the opportunity to work with.

With several well-known collaborations under her belt, Kai went on to write the lyrics and perform the vocals for Australian EDM artist Flume’s track “Never Be Like You” in his sophomore album, “Skin.” It is here that Kai was finally able to define herself as a talented singer and songwriter.

Kai was invited by Genius Media Group to dissect her work with Flume line by line. She went through each verse and detailed the thought process behind it. Her primary message in “Skin” seems to be that everyone makes mistakes, so we must move on and accept each other in order to be happy.

“Never Be Like You” made the Top 20 in the U.S. charts in 2016 and was nominated for best dance recording at the 2017 Grammy Awards. The song continues to be Kai’s most-revered track.

It goes without saying that Kai was a powerhouse as a featured artist, a fact that did not go unnoticed by musicians outside of the EDM genre; she was featured on hip-hop artist Childish Gambino’s 2013 album, “Because the Internet,” on his track “Crawl.”

Kai has also proven time and time again that her musical gift goes beyond her vocal talent. In 2014, she had the opportunity to write Jessie J’s song “Sweet Talker,” which was featured in her album of the same name.

The artists that Kai has collaborated with over the years are well-known leaders in their industry, and you may have already heard many of the songs she helped create. It leads listeners to wonder why she hasn’t blown up as an independent artist.

In an interview with Aesthetic Magazine’s Curtis Sindrey, there were talks of her releasing a solo album in 2016. As of yet, though, it hasn’t come to fruition. Since the interview, Kai seems to have mysteriously fallen off the face of the music world.

The circumstances are thought-provoking to say the least. What does it truly take to make it in the music industry? It seems as if possessing unrelenting talent and creativity just won’t cut it in “The Business” anymore.

Be on the lookout for Kai in the future. It’s possible that instead of retiring from her music career, she may have just taken some time to truly perfect her album. Until we know for sure, fans are still hoping for Kai’s quick and safe return to the music industry.

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