Born Ready: Sinéad Harnett
Photographer: Hollie Fernando / Stylist: Carlotta Constant / Set Designer: Olivia Giles / Hair: Joe Kelly / Makeup: Chynara Kojoeva / Words: Tracy Kawalik
Thai-rish R&B songstress Sinéad Harnett is stepping up to earn her flowers with her most self-defining full-length project to date; Ready Is Always Too Late.
London bred, LA-based singer-songwriter Sinéad Harnett has been clocking clout since her lush R&B vocals first hit airwaves. As a skilled lyricist, she laid her emotions bare alongside top-tier producers and spoke her truth with raw determination whilst delivering live performances that would suggest she was born for stardom.
But despite the growing hype, Sinéad Harnett took to IG a couple of weeks back to set the record straight that up until her forthcoming album Ready Is Always Too Late (out this Friday), she was only warming up.
“I didn’t feel ready. I didn’t feel ready to be an artist that just knew who she was and could go and be confident on stage. I didn’t feel like I was ready to earn my flowers. This album is about me literally throwing all that bullshit away.”
In over a decades worth of making moves, Sinéad’s flexed confidence at every corner. She caught the attention of UK grime pioneer Wiley back in 2011, who selected her out of hundreds of Twitter applicants to feature on “Walk Away” from his album Chill Out Zone. Propelled on a meteoric rise from there, she cut her teeth by lending her vocals to club-ready / chart-dominating producers such as Rudimental and Disclosure across the later half of the 2010s. Sinéad spent the first half of the next decade blossoming into a top-flight musician in her own right. All this building towards her debut solo single “Got Me”, in 2013 via Black Butter Records.
While her solo projects gained traction, a string of deeply thoughtful, introspective R&B records followed. By 2019 she was racking up global fans and critical praise for her highly-anticipated debut album Lessons in Love. Not to mention linking with production heavyweights like Kaytranada, Snakehips, and Sonny Fodera and dropping breakout singles such as “If You Let Me Love You” which currently sits at 70 million Spotify streams and counting.
More than that, she carved out a mission for herself to break away from the conventional “big talk” of R&B front runners and tap into something much deeper in the genre.
Throughout the 11 track run of Lessons in Love Sinéad articulates her ups and downs and digs deep down to the flesh and bones of her insecurities, romances and heartbreak while blending in her honeyed vocals and opulent range.
In the case of singles like “Pulling Away”, Harnett might have teamed up with R&B crooner Gallant to focus on the idea of self-love, but she credits the album most of all, for kickstarting her journey, learning about her flaws and patterns and figuring out how not to repeat them.
“I used to use “ready” as an excuse – “I’ll do that when I’m ready, I’ll love myself when I’m ready, I’ll go for that thing I always wanted when I’m ready” And with men in the past – or “wastemen” as some of them might say, I was often told “you know, I’ll commit to you when I’m ready, but we’re not really there yet, let’s wait until we’re ready” Sinéad vents on IG. “The continual thought I would have towards myself was “, Bitch, why aren’t you ready for me NOW! I’ve learnt my lessons in love. Now it’s time for me to do the damn thing and own it. The time is now, baby! Who wants to join me?”
On Ready Is Always Too Late, Sinéad celebrates her empowered state of mind. Firstly by finally being “ready” to be the best version of herself and secondly by accepting greatness only, whatever that looks like – while elevating her fans to do the same.
When asked about what 10-year-old Sinéad would say if she could see her today, the artist blushes, “She’d be like wow bro, look what happened?!”
Growing up in North London as a kid, Sinéad struggled to find her voice. By being the daughter of an Irish father and a Thai mother, the self-proclaimed ‘Thai-rish Gyal” says kids at school wanted her to be one thing or another and pick a cultural lane. Thankfully not one to ever pander to normative views, Sinéad decided to carve out her own and pour her heart into the piano as a self-taught instrumentalist.
“Music was always a huge dream, but it wasn’t something that I thought was in my reach at all.”
“As a kid, it started where I would just like plinky, plonky. Go on and try to work it out, and it was like therapy.” Sinéad laughs.
Raised on a diet of Tina Turner and Etta James, Sinéad remembers that the thing that made her fall in love with music, and her earliest childhood memory of discovering it was the feeling that came with it.
“I was very deep from really young. I was more enticed by artists that were telling their story with real pain in it,” she explains. “When I discovered the first Coldplay albums, and I remember listening to that so young…I was probably looking up into the stars with tears in my eyes,” she smirks before flipping the mood. “Clocks is so fun to play on the piano, but Scientist is one of my favourite songs ever. ” She admits that the first time it clicked that maybe she had a penchant for vocals, as well as keys, was thanks to a less complex record Britney Spears ‘Hit Me, Baby, One More Time.’ “There was this adlib that she did that was really low, and I remember I could do it but my sister couldn’t do it, so I thought maybe I’m on to something.”
Despite honing her natural-born talents from an early age and diving deep into music Sinéad sadly felt misunderstood the majority of her childhood. Thankfully, her firm sense of self began to pick up the pace and develop with age, and by 18 years old, she decided to follow her heart against all odds. She attended acting school as a way of becoming a better performer.
“There weren’t any singing degrees, but I knew with acting, I had to build my confidence. It was really hard to get up every day in front of everyone and be like, ‘This is me!’. But fuelled by an unstoppable determination, Sinéad was soon centre stage delivering monologues and credits the experience of conquering her fears as changing her entirely as a person.
A wild mix of day jobs followed from being an estate agent to cold calling people to upgrade their kitchens and working as a singing waitress for £20, but her dreams refused to be shut out.
“Music was always a huge dream, but it wasn’t something that I thought was in my reach at all. It was all I did. Even when I was at Uni, I would get a coach to come for 3 hours and record tracks on my friends’ bedroom floor. It was obvious I was putting all my energy into it, but I didn’t think it would be a reality. “
Fast forward to her lauded debut 2019 full-length Lessons in Love and a slew of singles with some of the industry’s finest and you’d think Sinéad would’ve been riding high off her hard-earned fame without self-doubt. “When I told my family I was going to go into music, they were really worried because there’s a lot of dangerous parts to the entertainment industry. Where my friends were all just really gassed! They’d see it so glamorised! For me, it was always this slog of like “Is any of this good? I don’t know how to do this?” Sinéad admits.
Becoming her most aware amid the struggles of 2020, Sinéad turned her visceral, and honest thoughts into a time capsule through song. She released ‘Quarantine Queen’ questioning how the pandemic was altering the way we all live and if the end of the world is near. All whilst reflecting on her own life, the mistakes she’s made, the things she’s never done, and if she has ever really learned to love, all with a doo-woop sway.
From there Sinéad crossed the pond to America solo to record her most self-defining album to date ‘Ready Is Always Too Late‘ and in the process- learnt what she cites as her most important lesson yet – to become her own best friend.
Fiercely independent and always ready to embrace every obscure detail as a self-professed ‘weirdo’ is what makes her so next level – in 2021 Sinéad Harnett is a force to be reckoned with.
She actively speaks out on Anti-Asian violence and is more passionate than ever about championing the mixture of her roots in her visual aesthetic as well as her sonic output.
“One thing I learnt from doing an acting degree was that when I did my dissertation on ‘How East Asian Women are Typecast in Film and TV’- I saw the development and evolution and how that representation is way more celebrated now,” Sinéad says. “When it comes to music, I feel like that same celebration is lacking. I’m still trying to find more of my culture in that world. I want to be more proud of where I’m from, so for me, this album cycle was about being more representative.”
On set, flashbulbs light up like fireworks as Sinéad steps into the frame like a new-age goddess. Drawing inspiration from her roots and the proud Asian women that she looks up to in the industry today, she moves between looks styled around Thai-inspired accessories and silhouettes that weave through the shoot.
When pressed to sum up the turning point that prompted her to trust her gut and destiny completely, Sinéad opens up, “You know when people ask, what would you tell your younger self… It would be, “Stop listening to everyone else and just listen to yourself because your gut knows. Sometimes we are naive, so we think all these people, they must know better. But actually, no one can tell you how to be yourself more than you.”