Imogen Heap on Her Relative Anonymity: "Being Famous Can Be Quite a Hindrance"

Imogen Heap
Imogen Heap Photo by Jeremy Cowarts
Imogen Heap knows what it's like to be a successful musician and mentor to the world's biggest pop stars even as she remains anonymous to entire swaths of the human population.

The Grammy-winning English singer-songwriter, producer, and engineer knows fame and success in the music world don't necessarily occur in tandem. In fact, Heap is living proof that worldwide recognition isn't a guarantee for most working musicians. And she seems to like it that way.

"In a way, being famous can be quite a hindrance," Heap says. "You know, you've got a lot of expenses to deal with when you become famous, like probably a bodyguard."

Even within the context of a hypothetical, Heap is always thinking of logistics. What tools would she need to contend with that level of fame? And if that's something an up-and-coming musician desires, how would one even get there?

Heap's unconventional career arc has afforded her more than two decades to consider these questions. Along the way, her music has been discovered by audiences in a series of bursts: through her collaborative work with Jeff Beck, through her band Frou Frou's appearance on the Garden State soundtrack during the indie-music heyday of the early 2000s, and through Jason Derulo's sampling of her best-known song, "Hide and Seek."

More recently, Heap's music has been introduced to a generation that wasn't even in grade school yet when Zach Braff and Natalie Portman existentially screamed into the pouring rain and shared life-changing Shins songs on their portable CD players.

Ariana Grande recently reimagined Heap's "Goodnight and Go" on her 2018 album, Sweetener, adding a trap beat to Heap's bubbling electronics and substituting lyrics such as "Skipping beats/blushing cheeks/I am struggling" with "Lately, all I want is you on top of me/You know where your hands should be/So, baby, won't you come show me." And in 2014, Taylor Swift closed her definitive album, 1989, with the song "Clean," which was inspired by the music of Imogen Heap. The two collaborated on the track.
Now, Heap is headed to Miami Beach on the Mycelia Tour, which looks back at her past musical endeavors even as it seeks to imagine the future of music-making for Heap and other artists alike. The yearlong, 40-date tour consists of not only concerts — including a set of reunion shows with Frou Frou bandmate Guy Sigsworth — but also panels, workshops, and exhibitions introducing musicians to Heap's project Creative Passport, which aims to create a web interface where all musicians, famous or not, will be able to represent themselves and access expanded revenue sources beyond streaming and performing live.

Heap says she envisions a future where musicians will have greater control over their online representation without relying on third parties. Instead of letting Spotify write outdated artist biographies, for example, musicians should have a platform where they can input that data themselves and show the wide breadth of their talents, even beyond making music.

"I do actually think this is the future of work in general," Heap says. "I think once we have that, we can all stop worrying about, How does somebody else do it? and you can just be really excited about doing what you love and being good at that and being interested in things. And the more you learn about a variety of things, your weird constellation of interests will be somebody else's weird constellation of interests, which will give you a job."

Heap's own "weird constellation of interests" recently led her to compose the music for the West End production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which debuted on Broadway in 2018. Earlier this year, her project the Life of a Song, which explores the dissemination and complicated revenue process behind her song "Hide and Seek," was nominated for a Webby Award in the Best Data Visualisation category. And these days, she's releasing two new songs — "Guitar Song" and "The Quiet" — on the record label of storied songwriter Linda Perry.

Even as Imogen Heap looks back on the past through her reunion with Frou Frou and a project based on her biggest song yet, she's always seeking to shape the future.

Imogen Heap. 8 p.m. Sunday, April 28, at the Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 305-673-7300; Tickets cost $30 to $45 via
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Celia Almeida is the digital editor of American Way and the former arts and music editor of Miami New Times. Her writing has been featured in Venice, Paper, and Billboard; and she co-hosts Too Much Love on Jolt Radio.
Contact: Celia Almeida