When she was in 11 years old, Jillian Blair recorded her first original song in her bedroom and put it on iTunes.
She was stung by the bullying she got from other kids in reaction to the song, The World, which was a response to the anti-Semitism in the news, so she took it down. “I was a little embarrassed that people didn’t really like it,” Blair said. After that, she kept her songwriting to herself for years.
She emerged from her shell three years ago, when she was in Grade 12 at TanenbaumCHAT in Toronto. She recorded the song, Strobelights, in her living room with the help of her guitar teacher. She sent it to her friends and, this time, they loved it.
“They played it at a house party and everyone sang along. They played it at pep rallies and I kind of became a household name at CHAT as ‘the singer,’ ” she said.
Blair’s father, Mark Weisleder, was impressed with the song, too – his daughter has a mesmerizing voice and a talent for songwriting. Weisleder sent the song to a friend of his who’s an entertainment lawyer. “He emailed my dad back and he said, ‘Bring your daughter in. I’m going to make her a star,’ ” Blair said.
He set her up with a team of producers and sound engineers and she began work on a full-length album, which is set to be released later this year. Since 2016, Blair has been dropping songs from the album on Spotify, iTunes and Apple Music, and releasing her videos on YouTube.
Models, which is about a relationship that ended in heartbreak for Blair, is a melancholy song with catchy melodic lines. “The song is about an ex-boyfriend who left me for a model. He’s in the music industry, so when I played the song for him, he really liked it,” she said.
“When I first met my group of producers, they wanted me to sing a song for them. I sang them that song and they stopped me halfway through and they were like, ‘That’s all we need to hear, it’s a hit.’ ”
Her latest video, Yin Yang, which was filmed outside Los Angeles in the California desert with two dancers, features an upbeat love song.
She wrote Yin Yang under pressure, with her producers expecting a song in 30 minutes. She called a friend who gave her the idea for the song. “I just started singing into my phone and the words came out,” Blair said.
While she named Canadian singer-songwriters Alessia Cara and Jesse Reyez as songwriting influences and appreciates the vocal ability of British chanteuse Adele, Blair said she strives for originality. “I try to make my music a little different than what I’m hearing on the radio. That’s also why I try not to focus too much on who influences me, but rather how can I make something that isn’t already here,” she said.
While recording her album, Blair was in her first year at McGill University in Montreal, where she majors in finance. She was offered a record deal, but the terms required her to move to Los Angeles. She decided to finish her degree instead. “Choosing to continue my education was something difficult, but I’m really glad I’m doing it,” she said.
Now in her third year at McGill, Blair, 20, is the vice-president of Chabad’s student organization at the university. She’s in charge of the group’s volunteer program. Blair said her friends at Chabad are some of the biggest supporters of her music.
She has yet to decide whether she’ll pursue a career in music or in finance after graduation. “If I get a great opportunity when I’m out of school and a big label wants me to come to L.A., then maybe I would pursue it,” Blair said. “If not, I have a great educational degree to fall back on.”