How DaniLeigh danced her way to the top
The 24-year-old dancer talks to us about her debut album and working alongside the late superstar Prince
After years of working in the background, RnB rising talent DaniLeigh is finally front and centre. The Dominican singer from Los Angeles, real name Danielle Leigh Curiel, entered the industry at the age of 16, when she made her name as an in-demand dancer and choreographer for the likes of Pharrell Williams, Daddy Yankee and Nelly Furtado.
All that graft and industry clout has paid off: and because she is armed with strong songwriting skills, record executives at major urban music label Def Jam Recordings (which has also released records for Kanye West and Alessia Cara) recognised she was a complete package and signed her up as a priority artist.
The end result of all of this is her solid debut album, the sultry RnB record, The Plan, and international shows that included Dubai’s SoleDXB Festival late last year.
As the 24-year-old tells us, her career is no accident, and is going according to her well-laid plans. “It had been a bit of a whirlwind,” she says an hour before her performance. “But, you know, I can finally see it. I can see that everything I have been working for, and that grind, is finally paying off. But I am still working every day to be able to have a respected career. I am only at the beginning.”
Watching her 45-minute set at the Dubai festival’s Puma stand, you can see – and hear – why she got the industry buzzing. There’s her sly and assertive vocals, and then her beat-perfect dancing and choreography. Coupled with her unmistakable fashion sense and congenial nature (she’s an absolute delight to talk to), you can’t help but root for her success.
That said, behind her smile lies a relentless will to succeed. It was this determination that intrigued the late pop legend Prince. He emailed an 18-year-old DaniLeigh and offered her the opportunity to direct and perform in the music video for his 2013 single Breakfast Can Wait. “It was a great feeling, but a lot of pressure, and I had my family helping me out,” she recalls. “I have been involved with working in different videos, but only behind the scenes. So I knew a little bit, but this was a different level and a once-in-a-lifetime situation.”
Prince’s only stipulation was that he shouldn’t appear in the video, and his advice for DaniLeigh was, as she tells us, “to be myself”. This led to a slick dance video full of complex choreography, in locations ranging from a suburban home to a dark alleyway and a warehouse. And since Prince was a no-show, she jumped in front of the camera as The Purple One herself, complete with black afro and pencil moustache, singing intently into the camera in a close-up frame, recalling Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares to You (a song Prince also happened to write).
The constant physical movement in the video is something DaniLeigh has continued on with in her own work. The videos for her two new singles, the trappy Lil Bebe and the atmospheric Blue Chips have her dancing alone or with a troupe in nearly every frame. Such an approach, she says, comes from the fact that people no longer consume their visuals through television anymore. “You are thinking about different things like how it looks on social media and online,” she says. “It is all about what feels personal and real, and I realised that my brand, what my audience like to see me do, is to dance.”
Those moves and interpretation skills also got the attention of none other than superstar rapper, Drake. Impressed by the YouTube video of DaniLeigh taking on the In My Feelings online dancing challenge, he met her during his American tour last year.
This all goes to show that the television and radio industries have lost their monolithic powers when it comes to making pop stars. The artist says the game has moved online. Indeed, like pop stars Justin Bieber and Dua Lipa, she began her career by uploading covers of songs on her YouTube account to get noticed.
“It is everything. In this day and age, everybody is on Instagram and YouTube. Everybody is on their phone. I don’t even remember the last time I watched TV,” she says. “It is a different generation nowadays, and as an artist, you really have to focus on your social media platforms because that is the number one way of showcasing who you are and making money.”
The Plan by DaniLeigh is out now
Updated: January 6, 2019 03:42 PM