Front + Center is Rated R&B’s artist discovery series, putting new and emerging R&B singers at the center of your attention.
Being ready and fully prepared can be an excuse for people to hold themselves back from going after their dreams. We tend to hear that waiting for the right time to go after what you want will bring you further away from the goal in reach. Things like fear, uncertainty, and doubt take away from the experience of the journey. That’s why for singer-songwriter Sinéad Harnett, ready is always too late.
As a young girl growing up in London, Harnett relied on playing the piano as a source of solace. It was a comforting outlet that helped her cope with her parent’s separation. Naturally, her piano lessons cultivated a love for music where artists such as Aaliyah, Destiny’s Child and Lauryn Hill, ignited a melodic flame in her spirit. Enveloped by R&B music, the soulful emotion of the genre inspired her to sing.
“I think one of the first times [R&B music hit me deeply] was seeing Lauryn Hill’s MTV Unplugged and she sung a bunch of songs, but one of them, I wish I could bottle the feeling of the first time I heard it. It was “I Find It Hard To Say (Rebel)” and it was very simple, but she was expressing such truth and pain,” Harnett explains to Rated R&B during a video call.
She gravitated to R&B early in her musical development, fueling the hidden talents that she could no longer contain. “I grew up hearing a lot of artists that sung in that way. So probably as early as it coming out naturally, maybe like age eight. When I started recording, I think I posted something on YouTube in 2011 and it was like an old neo-soul tune that I had written something over. It’s been a long time. I don’t feel like it was something that I tried to do. It just came out.”
Named one of Rated R&B’s Artists to Watch in 2021, Harnett had been creating and releasing music since 2011, getting her breakthrough opportunity being featured on grime artist Wiley’s album, Chill Out Zone. She had released EPs consecutively for three years, starting in 2013, but her 2016 viral global smash “If You Let Me” featuring GRADES amplified her career on a major scale. It’s currently one of her most popular songs on Spotify at 74 million streams.
“I had a bit of a year where I just didn’t write or I didn’t like what I was writing. I was trying to find vices because I felt very unfulfilled as an artist and then went through a breakup and I just sat at the chords and the verse basically wrote itself,” Harnett shares about “If You Let Me.” “Then I went into the studio with GRADES and he was like, ‘Let’s do these two chords,’ and the rest of it came out. I knew that there was something special happening because I finally was taking ownership of myself as a lyricist.
Before then I’d been writing with so many people, being put in so many different rooms that I didn’t know what my voice was anymore. Because it was writing itself, I was getting into my zone without really knowing what getting into your zone is. I hoped that people would resonate because it was so raw and true. Then when I saw the reaction, I honestly just thought, thank God that I stopped for a second and then found out who I was again and peeled back.”
“If You Let Me” allowed Harnett to exhale for the first time in her career and reassured her capabilities of pursuing singing professionally.
In 2019, she released her debut album, Lessons in Love, an anthology that followed her accounts of love and heartbreak with eloquent potency. Harnett doesn’t run away from the feelings that seem overwhelming to deal with, showing listeners and fans the bravery it takes to go through the emotions instead of running away from them.
“Lessons in Love, I can see how much depression was running through my energy at that point of my life,” she recalls. “I wasn’t doing the things that I needed to do to take care of myself — even simple things like making a good routine for myself. It was almost like me giving myself therapy with that album. With this one, I felt like I’d learned those lessons. I realized how important it was to take care of myself. So this album was a more light-hearted approach.”
If Lessons in Love was a guidebook on the importance of solidifying love for self before seeking it in others, her new album Ready Is Always Too Late is a reflection of what self-work looks like from those previous situations.
Harnett’s sophomore contribution is more assertive and collected than her last, owning and accepting her vision of who she’s presenting to the world. As there have been moments where ready was too late in some aspects, she has also reached a point where ready is quite prompt in other areas.
“The inspiration for that title came from track one, which was about me really feeling someone and he didn’t feel the same. He would say things like, ‘You know, we’re not really there yet. Let’s wait until we’re ready.’ From one kind of quite light-hearted, rejection song, came the theme. I’ve been grafting on my sound and really on myself as a person, because I feel like until you gain that confidence and that self-assured tone to your life it’s really quite hard to be like, ‘this is the artist that I am, listen to me,’” Harnett says.
“I think when ready became something that was on time was when I learned how to like who I was and love myself. I would say find my confidence, but it wasn’t finding it. It was birthing it. I really had to do a lot of work to heal, deal with the past as we all come with our different scars and stuff. I’d say that a lot of my career, everything felt too late. Now, I feel like I’ve got the balls to carry this.”
Manifesting moments of clarity and acknowledging hard-hitting emotions are some missions that can be found on this album. One of the most therapeutic songs Harnett wrote was the retrospective number “Last Love.” She touches on the delicately liberating process of acclimating to being single. Harnett captures the precise feeling one gets when recalling a fleeting amorous memory on the road to romantic independence.
“I’d been single for maybe half a year when I wrote that song. I knew that it was the right decision. I learned from Jada Pinkett Smith that no matter how much you love someone, sometimes you do have to love them from afar. So whether they’re a good person or not, if they don’t share those core values with you, sometimes you have to walk away,” Harnett shares.
“I would get caught up sometimes. You’re like, ‘Oh, I’m fine’ with your friends and then you get home, and then you can’t cuddle a bottle of wine. It was just those little moments where I was like, ‘I’m not fully over it because maybe I’m over him but I’m not over the love that I now can’t nourish.’ It was liberating making the song. It was also me admitting to myself that I’m not bulletproof. The biggest thing I learned from it was sometimes it’s not the person that you crave; it’s just the feeling.”
A track that will automatically catch fans’ attention is “Anymore,” featuring Lucky Daye. The pair take a gently tempestuous trip down memory lane as they recount the love they used to share. Their vocals develop the evocative cache of the relationship, as the tender production paves the road ahead.
“Lucky [Daye] was someone who I sent the song to. This was the last collaboration for the album. I didn’t know if he would feel it. I didn’t know what he would think but he did it extremely quickly. When I heard it, I was like, ‘Wow. I think now I’m afraid.’ I was like, ‘This guy is too sick! How do I get as good as him now because I’d done my bit?’ He did [his part] and I was like, ‘I need to level up,’” says Harnett.
Whether it’s embarking on a relationship or stepping out on fulfilling a goal, doing the task simply because of how it feels will always hold more weight than waiting to be prepared. Harnett kept her want for singing under wraps until the feeling to release her gifts couldn’t be contained. She may not have been completely ready at the time, but each step that was taken led her to where she now feels like things are happening as they should.
Equipped with various nuggets of wisdom, if there’s anything to learn from Harnett is that whatever you choose to do, do it with the best intentions for your greater good.
“The first album was all about how do we love ourselves. [Ready Is Always Too Late] is how do we maintain that? How do we continue that journey and what happens next once you get to that? There’s so much beauty to be embraced when you set yourself healthy boundaries.”