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Meet Kerrin Connolly, YouTube Phenom And Your Favorite Mass. Entry To NPR Music's Tiny Desk Contest

Last month, we invited you to vote on your favorite Massachusetts entry to NPR Music's Tiny Desk Contest. Voting closed on July 8, and, at last, the numbers are in. We are pleased to announce Kerrin Connolly as the Fan Favorite for her song "It's A Conspiracy." (Anjimile was chosen by a panel of judges as WBUR's favorite.) Connolly will perform at WBUR’s new venue CitySpace, which opens in 2019.

Among this year’s submissions to NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Contest, Connolly’s stood out — not just for its slick production (at least by Tiny Desk Contest standards) but for its clever premise and devilishly catchy melody. “It's A Conspiracy,” one of Connolly’s original compositions, riffs on an oft-explored theme — unrequited love — but with a twist: In this fable, the moon is a scorned lover, and her ex is the human race. “You changed everything with one giant leap/ Then you left me,” Connolly croons. “It’s a conspiracy.”

The 23-year-old Weymouth native is an old hand at the YouTube music video game, having uploaded her first songs to the internet when she was just 13 years old. Those years of experience have garnered Connolly a dedicated online fanbase and over 10,000 subscribers on YouTube.

Connolly says the inspiration for “It's A Conspiracy” came when she was noodling around on a chord progression with a swingy, ‘60s pop vibe. What was happening in the ‘60s? “We were going to the moon,” Connolly says. “So I thought it would be fun to sing about the moon being heartbroken.”

The retro feel of “It's A Conspiracy” may be a throwback, but for Connolly that’s par for the course. One of her earliest musical influences, she says, was the pop-punk band Green Day, whose mid-'90s heyday was winding down right around the time she was born. Writing “It's A Conspiracy,” she took a lot of inspiration from “That Thing You Do!,” the 1996 Tom Hanks vehicle about a ‘60s boy band riding the wave of a radio hit. “That's one of my favorite movies ever, and I love the music to it,” Connolly says. “If you listen closely [to ‘Conspiracy’] you'll hear specific parts that are even similar to the title track.”

But perhaps her most enduring influence is Jonathan Coulton, the former internet star who rose to prominence in the mid-aughts with geeky, tongue-in-cheek novelty numbers. “I just try to be as nerdy as possible,” says Connolly, who has written songs about falling in love with a zombie and feeling jealous of your evil twin. She also attracts clicks on YouTube with playful covers of songs by indie rock bands like Young the Giant and Arctic Monkeys. With covers as well as originals, Connolly writes the arrangements, plays all the instruments and records and mixes the tracks herself. Her most successful videos have tens of thousands of views.

Connolly is able to monetize her popularity with a Patreon account that allows fans to pledge for monthly rewards. “I do make a substantial amount of money through that platform,” Connolly says, although it’s not quite enough to earn a living — she still works a day job as an assistant manager at a tea shop in Weymouth.

Making it as a full-time musician is the ultimate goal. And yet, there are certain lessons Connolly can’t bring herself to learn. YouTube’s algorithms favor users who upload daily or weekly. But, Connolly says, “I like to stew on stuff and create more complicated things.” Maybe that’s not the quickest way to stardom, but it has paid off in sophisticated, carefully-crafted pop gems like “It's A Conspiracy.”

Amelia Mason Twitter Music Reporter/Critic, The ARTery
Amelia Mason is an arts and culture reporter and critic for The ARTery, WBUR's Arts and Culture team. She covers everything from indie rock to avant-garde to the inner workings of the Boston music scene.

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