Kira Kosarin would prefer if you could put aside the fact that she was the teenage star of Nickelodeon’s The Thundermans and simply listen. The 21-year-old, who was first introduced to the world as Phoebe Thunderman on the hit series, spent four seasons harnessing her acting abilities and inhabiting an image that never really allowed for her to express who she truly is. It’s why she spent her free time refining her skills as a musician and songwriter, stealing spare moments to practice the guitar and concentrate her adolescent experiences into R&B-inflected testimonials about life, love and figuring out who you’re meant to be.
“As an actor, my job is to be malleable and do what other people need from me,” says Kosarin, raised in New Jersey and Florida and is currently based in Los Angeles. “As an artist, your job is to know who you are, have strong opinions, and effectively portray who you are and make the calls creatively. It all comes from your own creative vision, and it wasn't until I realized that that I started to get the ball rolling. That was at first terrifying, but then really liberating.”
Spending the lot of her formative years in the public eye, Kosarin rocketed to cultural ubiquity during her time both on the network and off, earning three consecutive nominations at the Kids’ Choice Awards for Favorite TV Actress. On social media, she accrued almost four million followers on Instagram, 10 million on Musical.ly and 250,000 on Twitter. But when the show came to an end in 2018, she was left wondering which avenue to pursue: attend Stanford, where she was accepted to study psychology, or pursue her love of music, something she’s always wanted to explore.
She ultimately chose the latter, setting to work over the past year on her debut album Off Brand, a cheeky nod to Nickelodeon’s insistence during her time with the network to remain “on brand,” which meant pushing her musical ambitions to the side and concealing her nascent adulthood. It’s a mature introduction to Kosarin, who worked with a team of writers and producers over the past year in the studio to build upon her existing catalogue of unreleased original music. “This album is inherently off-brand and it's also a little subversive and tongue-in-cheek, like me giving myself permission to reveal my adult self,” she explains. “I was so grateful for the opportunity I had and I wanted to respect the network, but I hit a certain point where I realized, if I'm going to be an artist and be true to me as a successful grown woman, I need to let myself be a little off-brand.”
Lead single “Vinyl” is emblematic of the set, rife with crackling acoustic guitar arpeggios, velveteen vocals and lyrics about her awakening to contemporary soul and hip-hop, courtesy of an ex-boyfriend that inspired much of her early writing. Standouts include “Poison,” a swinging reflection on being attracted to someone toxic and pursuing it regardless; “Wandering Eyes,” a plucky kiss-off to the ex that you can’t shake off; and the smoky, introspective “Love Me Like You Hate Me” where she gives into carnal predilections.
“I think in every way, it's going to surprise people,” she says. Kosarin initially wrote an album when she was 16 that she doesn’t ever plan to release, but mined “Vinyl” and “Wandering Eyes” from the project and refurbished them for Off Brand. Her influences ring clear, infusing the singer-songwriter sensibilities of childhood heroes including Corinne Bailey Rae and Sara Bareilles with the styles of artists like Tori Kelly, H.E.R. and Frank Ocean. “The album shows all different sides of me. Every song has its own place, vibe-wise, but is sung from the same character, my alter-ego who I call ‘Bad Bitch Kira,’ fondly. Especially when I sing the songs that are like, oh god, did she just say that?”
For Kosarin, music has always been in the crosshairs. Born into a family of entertainers including parents who both worked on Broadway, she studied ballet and played flute and piano in middle school, picking up the guitar after her father gifted her one for her 12thbirthday. By 14, she was penning songs and by 16 began to fully commit to the art of songwriting. Though she hasn’t yet released any official music, she’s already played shows with Timeflies, Mac Ayres and Shwayze, and above all is ready to show the world a side it’s yet to see.
“There's nothing on this earth that ignites my soul more than music,” she says. “I'm a fan of music who also got lucky enough to be able to create music, and that combination has put me in this cycle of inspiration that’s everything I could ever ask and hope for. Sunshine, good friends, good workouts and music… That's what makes me Kira and makes me happy and keeps me grounded amidst an insane life and insane career and insane adolescence and an unbelievably uphill battle of a journey that's ahead of me. I think at 21 years old, I've figured out the things I need to stay sane. That's the biggest accomplishment.”