Incredible Women

Incredible Women Of 2024: Singer-Songwriter Victoria Canal

Next up in our Incredible Women of 2024 series – in which we celebrate the trailblazers whose talent, energy and impact are defining the year – is the recording artist VICTORIA CANAL. From composing ballads in her bedroom to collaborating with Coldplay’s Chris Martin and winning an Ivor Novello award, OLIVE WAKEFIELD discovers why Canal is an unstoppable force

Victoria Canal

An unexpected sea change has taken place in the world of music lately. Instead of the usual powerhouses of pop commanding the airwaves, it is the industry’s underdogs – the ‘sad girls’ – who have been quietly climbing their way to the top of the charts. It is in this brave new world that Spanish-American singer-songwriter Victoria Canal has found her creative freedom. “I feel like it was Phoebe [Bridgers] who gave songwriters permission to be sad and share it,” she says – “that it wasn’t shameful to write that kind of song.”

Marking the musical mood, at this year’s Grammys, Boygenius – the ‘sad girl’ supergroup formed by Bridgers, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus – was nominated in seven categories and won in three. So we are officially in our ‘sad-girl’ era. However, 2020 was the year that melancholy first went mainstream – and it also brought Canal her own tipping-point moment.

“Growing up, I always leaned in to sad when I was making music, but I never felt like people were ready for it. I think something really shifted, culturally, during lockdown… There was a universal isolation and despair that everybody was feeling.”

During that year, Canal released a string of singles, written from the confines of her bedroom, all of which received widespread praise from the mainstream music press. Her songs are vignettes of grief, love, depression, queerness and body dysmorphia – and, at the heart of her music lies a deeply relatable vulnerability.

Like other breakthrough artists, Canal’s diverse and devoted fan base has come together with some help from social media. Self-publishing her music on YouTube brought Canal to the attention of Coldplay’s Chris Martin, who declared her ballad Swan Song “one of the best songs ever written” – after which she was swiftly signed up to Parlophone.

I’m most interested in claiming the intersectionality between [my disability] and every other part of me that makes me me – as a woman, as a person with a disability, as a queer person, as a Latina person. All of those things…

Canal enjoys the direct digital line to her fans. “It’s such a joy to connect with people and to feel my music is doing something,” she says. “I feel the response; that people are moved by it.” In this space, Canal details her struggles with mental health, and calls out the reality of life as a rising musician facing financial losses and extreme burnout. In the comments, her followers spill their hearts out right back. The human condition, she observes, is reassuringly universal.

“I find that completely comforting because, if I’m naturally lonely, then the antidote is to realize I’m not alone in that. We all fall in love, we all grieve, we all grow up… we’re all figuring out our relationship to ourselves and how that relates to the world.”

On her EP Well Well, released last August, Canal addressed her disability for the first time in her music. She was born without a right forearm due to amniotic band syndrome. “Having a disability is super-complex because this is how the world perceives me and I have no say in it,” she says. “Just like, as a woman, the world has decided I’m a woman. So, what do I do with that, you know?

“I want to be seen as a person despite my disability. But it’s also important to say the world is not catered to people like me,” Canal explains of navigating how to advocate for representation, without it defining her. “So often, I move through the world and there are so many things preventing me from being an independent, functioning person.” She reflects that feeling ‘different’ can come down to many factors. “I’m most interested in claiming the intersectionality between [my disability] and every other part of me that makes me me – as a woman, as a person with a disability, as a queer person, as a Latina person. All of those things…”

With an Ivor Novello Rising Star award, four critically acclaimed EPs, and a Hollywood debut (in Apple TV+ series Little America) under her belt, Canal is on course to conquer. This year is set to bring even more firsts: an inaugural headline tour, as well as the highly anticipated drop of her debut album, which Chris Martin has helped to produce.

But, despite her enormous achievements, Canal’s work is far from done. “I’m in a weird middle ground between some of my dreams coming true and so many still to go… I have so much left to do in my career for me to feel successful.”