On her new album Hiding Place, L.A.-based singer/songwriter Tori Kelly honors her deepest musical passion and delivers an R&B-infused, infectiously melodic take on classic gospel. The follow-up to her full-length debut Unbreakable Smile—a 2015 release that premiered at #2 on the Billboard 200—Hiding Place finds the co-star of the 2016 feature film Sing teaming up with 12-time Grammy Award-winning gospel legend Kirk Franklin.
As she embraces gospel’s boundless intensity and pushes her vocal performance like never before, Hiding Place offers up what Franklin refers to as “hope-pop”—a classification that fully resonates with Kelly.
“One of the things I want for this album is for people to feel uplifted and encouraged when they listen,” says the 2016 Grammy Award nominee for Best New Artist, who’s now at work on her next pop album. “I want them to know that, no matter what they’re going through, there’s a God who loves them so much and so unconditionally, and there’s always a reason to feel hope. That’s what I really believe in, and I want everyone out there to hear my heart.”
Here, Tori takes us through the stories and inspirations behind each song on Hiding Place.
Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)
"For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago."
I don't know about you, but when I wake up in the morning I don't always feel like a masterpiece. There's always a new insecurity that seems to make its way into my head and if I don't stop it, it'll grow until it binds me. All sorts of thoughts about myself press into my mind; some from within and some from the outside world. Whether it's comparison to others, concerns about physical appearance and how much makeup can actually do for me that day or thinking I'm not worthy to be loved, I can believe lies about myself all the time.
To drown out all the voices surrounding me, I need the word of God. I desperately need to hear what God thinks about me. Before letting the lies take root, I have to open myself to God's voice even more than my own.
One thing God says is that he created us each uniquely and without mistakes! Psalm 139:13 says, "for you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made." Before anyone decided what to name me, or even knew I existed, God created me with specific intention and purpose.
But what about the actual flaws, failures, and sins in my life? What about the times I have actually mistreated other people close to me, ignored the hurting people around me, or ignored the God who has given me everything I have? Even in these times, God has the final word over shame. He says we are still his masterpiece because "he has created us anew in Christ Jesus." Even in our struggles, we are called clean, holy, and pure through simple faith in Jesus. He made us new and does this again and again with "new mercies every morning" (Lamentations 3:22-23).
Lord, help us to trust your voice above all other voices, including our own.
02. "Help Us To Love"
1 John 4:19 (NIV)
We love because he first loved us.
Considering the state of our world, if there's anything we can all agree on it's that we simply need more love. This is said so much nowadays that it makes loving people sound easy to do. Not mistaking love for being kind to strangers, however, when we really commit to love anyone we all know it can be hard and involves great self-sacrifice. Personally, I have hurt the people I've said I love most, have had the sharpest words with the people closest to me, and have taken for granted the very people that made my life what it is today. We all want to be loving, but which one of us has ever loved perfectly let alone consistently?
The truth is we need help! Scripture reveals that we are able to love because he first loved us. We are just like cups that need to be filled before we can ever pour out. Inclined to look out for ourselves first, selfless love is not something that is natural.
Jesus is the one example of perfect love. His love enables our love. Jesus IS love. When we needed him most and deserved him the least he gave up everything to save us - his very own life on a cross. John 15:13 says, "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." Before we mustered up any effort to love him or his people, and while we were still enemies, Christ died for us! We deserved that spot on the cross but he took our place. That's a crazy kind of love! I look at Jesus's life and think there's no way I can love like that. And it's true - I can't. That's why I need him. I need the Holy Spirit to help me love unconditionally, sacrificially, and selflessly because that's the way he loves us. May we look to him and pray, "God help us to love the way that you love me."
Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast
Romans 3:23-27 (ESV)
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
I grew up in church, I was homeschooled, I made an album called "Unbreakable Smile," I have been successful, and I've learned the art of editing the perfect Instagram picture. What's my point? I think people can get the perception that I have it all together.
In fact, the world of filtered social media makes it easy for lives to look perfect and think, "meanwhile I'm just a broken mess." Believe it or not, I can fall prey to this evil cycle of comparison at any moment. Even the church is far from immune to this deadly cycle. Perhaps the most filtered time of the week is Sunday morning where everyone puts on their "Sunday best,"greet one another with a big smile and a "Hallelujah," and promises to pray for all their friends the rest of the week. I'll admit that I, too, have presented the best version of "the good girl" during Sunday service.
Behind closed doors, I know I am far, far from perfect. My life may appear to be a certain way, but just like everybody else, I desperately need God's grace every moment. Being very familiar with the "sin that is always before me" (Psalm 51:3), I know it's silly to put a mask on in front of anyone, especially God. To be a Christian means to be broken and needy before God. In His presence no one can stand proud, and anything good in me is a result of his grace.
For this reason, "don't let Sunday fool ya!" You and I don't deal with God based on good days and bad days hoping that our good ones win out in the end. Our God came only for the sick and the broken, and "a broken and contrite heart he will never despise" (Psalm 51:17). So let's take off our filters and masks with God and with each other, and recognize "by grace you have been saved through faith. This is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." Oh, how we need his grace every. single. day.
04. "Just As Sure"
Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)
"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Psalm 18:1-2 (NLT)
"I love you, LORD; you are my strength. The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety."
There are not a lot of things in life that are certain. Life has so many ups and downs, new seasons and trials that come our way, it's hard to feel secure in anything at all. There are people I thought I could lean on who have let me down, the seeming stability of a music career can always change at any moment, and this world is fading away. As a friend once said, one day "my legs won't work like they used to before... my hands won't play the strings the same way... and the crowds won't remember my name." In reality, I don't know if I'll ever get old enough to experience that "one day" because tomorrow is never promised. Where then can I turn for assurance?
With so much of life that can change and so many things unsure, we need a constant in life. Unlike this fading world, God's promises are sure. He will never leave or forsake his children, and nothing can separate us from his love. From age to age he stays the same. When I stumble, his grace picks me up. When I am weak, he is my strength. When I fail, Jesus is my victory. When I am ashamed, Christ carries my shame. He is the only one who has never failed me; the only one who has always been there. He was with me before I was born, he will be with me until I die, and he will remain with me for all eternity. All of this is sure! All of this is the assurance of his love. "Just as sure as the sun sets at the end of the day... I know you love me." I cannot help but love my God in return.
05. "Psalm 42"
Psalm 42:1-2 (ESV)
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When I was a little girl I received Jesus as the treasure of my heart. The problem I have dealt with throughout my journey, though, is that there were times when he wasn't my only treasure. His biggest competition was perhaps the greatest gift he gave me - music. Like a child who loves the candy more than the mom who bought it for her, so my heart was set on music more than the creator of it. Ever since I can remember I have wanted to be a singer and was told I'm good at it. I even had my first record deal when I was 12 years old. I got a taste of what it was like to have people hear my music and love me for it. It felt as if the world was offered to me on a silver platter. Promise after promise made my desires grow like weeds, and music quickly took the place of my first love. Jesus never left me, and I still valued him throughout my childhood, but his voice often became a distant echo behind the applause and cheers of a crowd.
Just a couple years later, it felt like my dream of a music career was ripped out from under my feet. Certain people did not believe in me, the record deal fell apart, auditions were met with rejection, and every new record label I met with all had different reasons to not sign me. This went on for years, as the dreams and hopes of a young girl seemed to be shattered. All of the promises that I held onto from musical success, and the tendency to make it my whole identity, left me in a dry place. Being thirsty for joy, as Jeremiah put it, I "sinned in two ways - rejected God, the spring of living water, and tried to collect water in cracked and leaking pits dug in the ground" (Jer. 2:13, CEV). Left in this desert of unfulfilled dreams, God met me there and slowly led me to grasp that, before anything else, I am first his daughter.
It took some time, but slowly I found peace in letting go of music as my first identity. Since then some of my biggest musical dreams have actually come true. Even though the battle of identity will always continue, a chain was broken by God's grace. It is more clear than ever before that "all this world won't ever satisfy," and I am reminded daily how desperately I need him in my life.
The object of our deepest desires is God himself; our thirst was made to be quenched by him; "as the deer pants for the water, so our souls thirst for God." Yes, all good gifts are from his hand, but may we never trade the ocean for droplets of water.
Psalm 44:24 (ESV)
Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
God's word is a rich treasure of answers. These answers to life's biggest questions provide a rock to stand on, hope in the midst of pain, and light in the midst of darkness. That is why the church throughout history has rightfully become obsessed with these answers and hold on to them for dear life. Sometimes, however, this obsession makes me wonder if we have room for questions.
If I can be honest, I have so many questions in this life that I simply don't have the answers to. There is so much pain and suffering in the world that I don't understand and can't even begin to try and explain. So much darkness that drowns out the light, sometimes to the point where I wonder if there's hope at all. "Bombs falling in Syria, a child dying of aids; fighting 'round the world, a daddy lost his girl..." While the Bible may speak to these things, is there room for my heart to feel overwhelmed by questions? Is such honesty allowed for believers?
According to the journals of "a man after God's own heart," I know the answer is yes. The Psalms show that we are allowed to ask God "why;" we are allowed to cry and grieve and mourn; we are even allowed to doubt. Doubt is not the opposite of faith, but rather the outworking of faith. The last thing to do is to ignore or cover our doubt as if it doesn't exist. What Father who loves his children would not want them to come ask and wrestle with him? May we boldly approach the throne of grace with honest questions.
07. "Never Alone"
Deuteronomy 31:6 (NIV)
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.
Traveling on the road can get lonely. There have been times where I was more familiar with airports and hotels than my own home. Even though I was surrounded by a lot of people and performing in front of crowds, at the end of the day it's just me laying my head down surrounded by white walls, and that can feel very lonely.
One specific morning before a writing session I got anxious. I realized I was going to write songs about God for the first time in my life and I started doubting myself and whether I had the ability to do it. I've always loved God, but could I articulate this in a song? There were so many other dynamics that made me feel even more lonely. I was in a new city, missing friends and family back home, and I didn't think anyone could understand me in that moment.
Working in mysterious ways, it's like God dropped a little reminder into my heart saying, "remember I told you I'd never leave you? I've already gone before you and I am in control. Just trust me." I instantly felt his peace come over me. Courage filled my heart and I grabbed my phone and typed out the phrase "I'm never alone." Little did I know what God would do with that note.
Later that day I spent time writing with a man who made me feel the furthest thing from lonely. "Papa Kirk" (aka. Kirk Franklin) and I sat down to write our first ever song together. We started talking and I read a note to him from my phone. "Let's start with this," I said, "I am never alone." Around this simple phrase a song was built that, I pray, reminds people of the same thing God told me that morning... you are never alone.
08. "Soul's Anthem (It Is Well)"
Romans 8:18 (ESV)
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Suffering is guaranteed in this life. The devil is always throwing fiery darts at us. Right now at this moment, he's trying to attack my family, my health, my relationships, and my peace. He'll do anything to take my eyes off of Jesus. He wants to take everything away from me, and most importantly, he wants to take my faith.
Our faith is not grounded in our circumstances. Neither can our joy in Christ be. Recently, my grandfather passed away in the time I felt I needed him most. I felt like I had lost my best friend. It was so painful to go through and I cried so much until my eyes had nothing left. But through every tear, God was with me in those hard moments. I could still be in a dark and lonely place, and even be mourning, but my joy could not be stolen because it is secured in Jesus. No matter what happens, no matter what arrows are thrown my way, no matter how dark it gets, I know I will be okay. It's not always easy to believe but I know that when I remind myself that God is in control, I find rest and am able to sing, "it is well with my soul."
Most importantly, I can always sing "it is well" because God spoiled the movie for us and we get to know how this story ends. "It is well with my soul" because there is a place called heaven where death will be no more, every tear will be wiped away, and any tears shed in this life will be redeemed (he has bottled each one).
Maybe your suffering is different than losing a grandfather. Maybe it's worse. Maybe it's as bad as the writer of "It is Well" who lost his entire family (wife and children) the day he penned this hymn. Even still, God says all of it is not even worthy to be compared to the glory to come to us. Like an adult reflecting on his experience in kindergarten, so believers in heaven will remember their suffering in this life, saying, "oh yeah... I think I remember vaguely..."
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