Elle Varner was born into a musical family, so the fact that she is now a singer shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. Both her parents, Mikelyn Roderick and Jimmy Varner, are songwriters, and her mother sang backup for Barry White. Varner, 23, is from California but went to college right here in New York City, studying at NYU’s Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, from which she graduated in 2008.
Varner released her debut album, “Perfectly Imperfect,” on Aug. 7, and it spent the first few days after its release as the second most downloaded album on iTunes and has remained in the top 20 since then. Varner has been compared to such R&B singers as Jazmine Sullivan and Alicia Keys; her style seems to be a return to the R&B music people have been missing so much, with elements of jazz and soul music all wrapped into Varner’s “Perfectly Imperfect” package.
Varner performed at New York City’s Highline Ballroom on Aug. 9, just two days after the new album hit stores, and played to a sold-out crowd. Her family was there to support her, with Varner telling audiences that her little brother, mother, father and grandmother were all present at the concert. The show was a great success; Varner performed songs off her 11-song album and signed CDs, shirts and whatever else fans wanted signed.
The first single, “Only Wanna Give It to You,” featuring rapper J. Cole, was released a year before her album came out. “To see how far I’ve come in a year … I have so many people to thank,” she shared during the show. Varner went on to thank her family and her label for their support. To her fans, she said, “You know how much I love y’all for real … I appreciate y’all and I love you.”
She opened with a song from her mixtape “Conversational Lush,” the title taken from the lyrics in her song “Refill,” which is the second single from her new album. Joining Varner on stage was beat boxer Anointed S, who accompanied Varner when she performed “Only Wanna Give It to You.” (For fans who were hoping rapper J. Cole would make an appearance to perform his verse, no such luck.)
Varner also performed “Refill,” “So Fly” and “I Don’t Care,” during which she took a break from her song and sang the part of the chorus from Brandy’s “I Wanna Be Down,” with her own little Elle Varner spin. She closed with “Not Tonight,” a love song about how she is just too nervous to approach the guy she is crushing on; she wants to, but not tonight. She says she wrote the tune with her dad, whom she credits for helping to shape her sound.
Varner is definitely a new artist to watch out for. Her Twitter fans, commonly known as “#ellephants,” are especially excited. Patricia Foy of Harlem was at the concert and said, “I loved it … even when she [Varner] wasn’t singing, you could tell how grateful she was for tonight.” When the AmNews asked Foy if she was a fan of Varner before the concert, she said, “I was a fan from the first time I heard ‘Only Wanna Give It to You.’ I was like, ‘Who is this with this voice that you don’t hear every day?’ Her music is so relatable, and you could tell her fans feel so connected to her experience.”