In 2021, Nemahsis caught the world’s attention, with a viral moment surrounding her debut single, “what if i took it off for you?” Since then, the Palestinian Canadian artist has been further establishing her name as one to watch, by releasing her debut EP, completing an international tour, and maintaining an influential social media presence. A multi-hyphenate creative, 29-year-old Nemah Hasan is fearlessly carving her path in the music industry while honoring her heritage every step of the way, without compromising her values. Here are seven things you should know about rising pop star Nemahsis.
Nemah Hasan grew up in Milton, Ontario, a small town in the countryside, just outside of Toronto. She owes her artistic moniker to a lyric from Nicki Minaj’s “Check It Out,” where she took note of the intonation of the word “nemesis” resembling her name’s. This gave her the inspiration to start introducing herself as “Nemahsis,” as a way of clarifying her name’s pronunciation to teachers and schoolmates. Various experiences from her upbringing as a daughter of an immigrant family directly inform her songwriting. Distinctively, “immigrant’s tale,” the opening track of her debut EP eleven achers, is a sorrowful ode to her mother — hailing from the West Bank city, Jericho — and the sacrifice of her happiness in service of securing a better future for Hasan and her siblings, which Hasan witnessed throughout her childhood.
Pop Star in the Rough
Singing, or rather humming, started as a coping mechanism for anxiety throughout Hasan’s teen years as an introvert, before evolving into a skill that would get her noticed by a music teacher at her school. Her performance of an Amy Winehouse cover at a talent show two days later would become the first step toward overcoming her insecurities and acknowledging her talent. Still, growing up, Hasan didn’t consider a future in music to be a possibility for her. “I knew if I was born white, I would 100 percent be a pop star. I would watch [TV] and I’d be like, ‘Yep, I have what it takes, but I don’t have what it takes externally, and it just won’t work.’ I’m a realist,” she told NYLON in early 2023. Only after she had proven to her family that she could keep a “real” job and maintain a sustainable income, would she be able to hone her musical craft, eventually taking it more seriously during the pandemic.
“what if i took it off for you?”
Before her music career took off, Hasan had garnered a modest online following as an influencer, through fashion and beauty content creation. She released her first single, “what if i took it off for you?” on June 23, 2021, to an overwhelming response. The song, an atmospheric pop-piano ballad accompanied by Hasan’s emotive vocal performance, is based on her real life experience. Hasan had shot a global campaign for a multimillion dollar makeup corporation and was offered no compensation for it. “Their justification was that ‘it’s more of an opportunity for the people of your community,’” she wrote in the YouTube description of the track. Inspired by Hasan’s story, Muslim women all around the world took to TikTok to discuss incidents of discrimination from their own lives, and their relationship with wearing the hijab.
Nemahsis’ debut EP, eleven achers, came about in the first half of 2022. A vulnerable, autobiographical portrait, the project dives into Hasan’s personal experiences, dealing with topics of immigration and mental health struggles. Across six tracks backed by simultaneously minimalist and lush instrumentation, Hasan explores facets of her identity, upbringing, and religious heritage, with a poignant pen. In an interview with COLORS x STUDIOS, she describes the EP as homey, warm, and naive. She further explains that the title refers to the 11-acre farm she grew up in with an allusion to the feeling of pain, hence “ache”: “With each acre and each step, it hurts to leave home.”
The Nemahsis Sound
Hasan is a master at pop balladry, weaving Arabic influences she grew up with, into soundscapes that dance around indie, folk, and soul pockets. “Whether in the production, or in my vocal techniques, you’ll always hear Arabic elements incorporated in my music,” she notes in a TikTok video, citing her songs “paper thin” and “immigrant’s tale” as examples. Self-reflection and vulnerability are present all throughout the Nemahsis catalog. Her songs often read like diary entries. Her confessional tone enhances the intricate interpersonal aspects of her narratives. It’s a testament to a nonchalant wish that shines through her songwriting: to reach young women navigating issues around their identity and place in the world.
Empowering Women of Color and Muslim Women
“For everyone that doesn’t fit the mold and has felt the need to compromise their individuality in order to be accepted — my wish is to echo your voices,” reads her Spotify bio, speaking to the empowering message embedded in Nemahsis’ music. When asked about her feelings around her work contributing to conversations centering women of color and Muslim women’s lived experiences, she shared with COMPLEX CANADA: “I open the topic of discussion in the music world and [among] my listeners and people that don’t necessarily surround themselves with people that look like me. And now they could say they know one Muslim. One hijabi. I think by having that power [and seeing what] my music has done, that makes it all worthwhile.” Additionally, she wants her music to convey ideas against the taxing desire for perfection: “You don’t have to be the prettiest, coolest, or the funniest one in the room all the time. For so much of my life, I felt like I had to dance, doing the most to stand out so I could be accepted. Whereas now I just think there’s so much room for not having to be like that,” she told Spotify’s For the Record.
Moving Forward, No Compromises
Whereas eleven achers served as a self-contained biography, Hasan’s latest singles, “criminal” (2022) and “i wanna be your right hand” (2023), expand her artistic caliber into broader territory. The tracks delve into themes of love and womanhood, with the latter experimenting with alternative rock sensibility, in the vein of Fiona Apple and Alanis Morissette. While on the cusp of a new chapter in her music career, in the first half of October 2023, Hasan revealed on social media that she was dropped by her label due to her political stance regarding escalations of war in her homeland. She went into detail on the situation on her TikTok account, where she has been consistently posting relevant content, and educating her followers on her heritage. Despite the incident, Hasan isn’t disheartened when it comes to her future in the industry, remaining unapologetic in her identity and values. “I won’t compromise who I am for anyone,” she writes.
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