It involves a pair of bad scissors, taking your time, and a couple of French phrases.
At Baby’s All Right in the midst of a swaying crowd, I feel a drink fall and shattered glass brush right up against the inside of my knee. There’s no blood on my leg, but I can feel it drain completely out of my face as I make eye contact with French-Canadian singer Charlotte Cardin.
She’s currently onstage, and I know she sees me because she told me she would, earlier on a red couch at The Williamsburg Hotel. “I usually spot [the first] two rows, because then it gets darker, and there’s always people that are super into it.” I easily fall into that category as a fan (long before I met her) and move closer to the stage to hear more of a song of hers I haven’t heard before, louder. I pick up on a few things: California, a boy, his hair. And then I forget about the possibility that I’m bleeding. Cardin’s voice will do that to you.
I first discovered her on Spotify, where she currently only has five songs. After I listened to them endlessly on repeat, I had to know more. So I found myself on YouTube listening to all the covers she performed on Canada’s version of The Voice, La Voix, and those she did independently—my favorite being her rendition of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Games,” followed by her interpretation of Justin Beiber’s “Sorry” (performed in a chapel instead of poolside in Miami).
Part of Cardin’s appeal is her authenticity, which most people might want to write off with the catch-all “it’s because she’s French.” But there is so much more to Cardin than her ability to speak a romance language. “I guess I just don’t force anything out,” she says when reflecting on where her inspiration comes from. “When I’m not inspired, I just do something different. I’ll try to find inspiration elsewhere. I’m not one of those people who can just sit and write and be like, ‘OK, today I’m going to write a song.’” Cardin’s music doesn’t feel like anything out there right now because she isn’t rushing to be like anyone else. Instead she considers every lyric, every note, every song.
And when we talk music icons, even her answers are refreshing. “Oh, absolutely the Spice Girls! They were so free and badass,” she tells me. “They introduced us to crop tops, but they were sexy on their own terms.” Cardin also admires Céline Dion, and her favorite song of hers is the lesser-known French “L’Abandon.” “She’s so disciplined. Her whole life is devoted to music and to her job, and that’s just insane. Whether you like her music or not, it’s undeniable that she’s super talented and so rigorous in everything she does.” As for her dream collaborator? “Definitely Snoop Dogg!”
But if there’s anything that can be blamed on Cardin’s French-ness, it’s her look, and when I ask her about it, she laughs in surprise. “My look?” Even though the appeal is how unintentional it is, with messy bangs, plain white button-downs and black jeans, it shouldn’t come as a shock to her, considering she’s modeled for Jacquemus and Christopher Kane. The secret seems to lie, though, in her surprise simplicity and a pair of “shitty scissors.” “I have shitty scissors at home, and I like the fact that my bangs aren’t perfect. I just do it in a minute, and they look cool. Don’t cut them straight. Don’t cut them in a line. Just do bits and pieces!”
She moves her hand through her hair before picking up her phone, and I can’t help but notice she’s texting in French. “I guess my favorite phrase is ‘Je t’aime.’ It’s ‘I love you’ in French,” Cardin tells me while pointing out the phrase typed into the text bubble on her iPhone, addressed to her maman, her mom. “I say it a million times a day. My family is always just like, ‘Je’taime! Je t’aime! Je t’aime!’” She sends the text and looks up at me. “It’s good to say it. It’s good to hear it!”
Most recently she’s been living by another French phrase. “There’s a sentence that I heard recently that I really liked. It says, ‘il ne fait pas de risque de temps.’ It means you shouldn’t try to rush time.”
Watching her onstage in Brooklyn, it’s evident Cardin is in no rush. And before she starts, she breathes into the mic, “Album is coming soon, but not yet,” and with a smile I see her eyes again under the red lights. “I’m taking my time.”