Teenage singer-songwriter Zoe (Zoelly) Katzberg of Richmond Hill, Ont., turned her frustration with a boyfriend whose habit of smoking cannabis was bringing her down into a single she released on YouTube.
Blowing Smoke, which was released on her YouTube channel in November, opens with Katzberg declaring her unwavering love for her boyfriend, no matter what happens. “Ain’t nothing going to change,” she promises.
Then she zeros in on the source of friction in their relationship, urging him to “try and stay sober.” He promises to turn over a new leaf, but “watching paint dry ain’t slower,” Katzberg sings woefully. The outcome, a breakup, is revealed in the video by a pair of dancers representing Katzberg and her boyfriend.
Blowing Smoke is the sequel to her summer anthem, Warning, which she released on YouTube in July. The sunny video for Warning was filmed in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and features dancers who are around the same age as Katzberg, who’s 16.
In Warning, she addresses the boyfriend, who’s been saying they’re just friends. “I think we need to redefine where we’re going,” she intones. And the warning is in the chorus: “Like something in the lost and found, I’m not always going to be around.”
Up until Katzberg put Blowing Smoke and Warning online, she had been recording covers for her YouTube channel, which have brought her thousands of viewers over the past two years.
“I started noticing I was getting a lot of views and I said, ‘Hey, I wonder what it’s going to be like to release my own music,’” she said. “I wanted to write for other people, share my experiences and the stuff I’m going through. I want my music to be there for other people when they need it.”
Katzberg does much of her recording in a studio that she put together in the basement of her home. “I got a piano and a guitar, which is the stuff that I play, and I set up a computer. I have software because I know how to produce my music. I sit down there sometimes till midnight and I play around and I work,” she said.
Occasionally, inspiration strikes when she’s at school. “I’ll be at school and I’ll have this really great melody,” she said. “I’ll run to the washroom and pick up my phone and record me just singing. And then I’ll get home and put that melody into my software and I’ll play around with it and find the chords and play a melody with piano and a bunch of stuff I can use within that software and I’ll record a vocal.”
Katzberg has a powerful, soulful voice and is a gifted songwriter. Her musical influences include 17-year-old Billie Eilish, whose breakthrough song, Ocean Eyes, went viral. “We have a lot of the same writing styles. She’s a really big impact on me writing-wise,” Katzberg said.
She’s also a fan of superstar singer Ariana Grande. “She is the one who influences me to train vocally because she has a crazy, crazy range, a huge voice. That always gets me to work harder and practice, so I can get a bigger range like her,” Katzberg said.
However, being as talented and accomplished as Katzberg does have a pitfall – she is the subject of harassment on social media.
“Sometimes I’ll get messages on Instagram or comments on my videos that aren’t the nicest, but I just know it’s because I have a talent and I just have to brush it off,” she said.
Currently in Grade 11, Katzberg plans to release singles every month or two until she finishes high school, and then she’s going to put out an album. “Once I have that album, I hope to do shows and make it as an artist on my own,” she said. She’s also an actor who auditions regularly and is considering a career in musical theatre.
To listen to Zoelly’s music, visit her YouTube channel at