Estonian singer/songwriter Kerli takes a chameleonic approach to her music, borrowing from various sonic styles while maintaining a sharp, pop-centric focus. On her breakthrough 2008 debut, Love Is Dead, she blended goth rock and anthemic alt-pop, scoring a pair of modest mainstream hits before a shimmering electronic dance makeover heralded 2013's Utopia EP. Scoring a trio of U.S. dance hits, she continued to incorporate electronic elements, finding a balance between worlds on her official sophomore LP, 2019's Shadow Works.
Born Kerli Kõiv in the Soviet-occupied town of Elva in 1987, she dreamed of becoming a pop star, studying singing, dancing, acting, and piano with the hopes of leaving her homeland and a fraught childhood behind. In 2001, she was the runner-up in that year's Eurolaul, a televised competition that determines the song that will represent Estonia in the Eurovision Song Contest; two years later, she competed in Sweden's Melodifestivalen, but was eliminated in the second semifinal round. She continued to perform and write songs, ultimately scoring an audition with L.A. Reid, who signed her to Island/Def Jam in 2006. Kerli worked with producer, songwriter, and mixer David Maurice on an autobiographical set of songs, the first batch of which were released on the digital EP Kerli in 2007. Two of those tracks ended up on her debut album, Love Is Dead, which arrived in summer 2008. Featuring a goth-kissed blend of genres that recalled Björk, Evanescence, and Avril Lavigne, the set made a modest showing on the Billboard 200 and topped the charts in her native Estonia. In the wake of her international breakthrough, she contributed music to a number of film, television, and video games including Fringe, Smallville, Punisher: War Zone, Almost Alice, and Frankenweenie.
In 2013, Kerli returned transformed. Originally intended as a full-length, her Utopia EP unveiled a new side of the singer, who had embraced electronic dance fit for raves and EDM festivals. Rousing anthem "The Lucky Ones" topped the U.S. Dance chart while promotional singles from this era — "Army of Love" and "Zero Gravity" — landed at number one and six, respectively. Later that year, she parted ways with Island and signed with Ultra Music. In line with her new dance music label home, she also joined electronic artists such as Benny Benassi, Cash Cash, tyDi, and Seven Lions on a handful of collaborations.
Just as soon as she had made the switch from goth-pop to electronic dance, however, Kerli switched it up again with singles "Feral Hearts" and "Blossom," a pair of shimmering dance-pop tracks that recalled Marina. Stomping anthems "Diamond Hard" and "Spirit Animal" followed. The quartet of songs was originally intended to be featured on her official sophomore LP, but those sessions were scrapped and she continued recording fresh material. The first taste of that album eventually arrived in late 2018, along with another metamorphosis for the artist.
The atmospheric electronic single "Savages" joined the similarly dramatic "Better" and "Legends" on Kerli's second album, Shadow Works (Seeking Blue), which was issued in early 2019, over a decade after her debut. Debuting at number 24 on the U.S. Heatseekers chart, the 12-song set featured production input by AFSHeeN, Crash Cove, and Said the Sky, with the bulk of the writing and production handled by Kerli herself. ~ Neil Z. Yeung & Heather Phares