In Billboard’s new monthly emerging dance artist spotlight we get to know Rêve, the Montreal-repping artist bringing dreaminess and raw songwriting to the dancefloor.
The Occasion: Canada’s Juno Awards, taking place next Monday (Mar. 13), where Rêve is nominated in three categories: breakthrough artist of the year, best dance recording of the year (for “CTRL + ALT + DEL”) and the fan choice award.
The Origin: The Montreal-raised artist, born Briannah Donolo, began songwriting as a child, using her pen and piano as a form of therapy. In 2014, a video of her singing of the U.S. and Canadian national anthems at a Canadiens hockey game went viral, leading to instant media and music industry attention. Despite seemingly reaching the spotlight, she says she still needed time to figure out who she was as an artist.
Rêve did some of that soul-searching in local nightclub, Velvet, which she describes as dungeon-like with candles lining the walls. It was there that she first experienced club music in its purest form, on a proper sound system. “There were no bells and whistles, just the music and the way that it connected the people in the room,” she tells Billboard. “I was like, ‘Wow, this is one of the most powerful things that I’ve ever felt.’” It ultimately shaped her direction going forward.
To get closer to the music industry, Rêve moved to Toronto at the beginning of 2020 and worked studio sessions to refine her writing and sound. During the first month of COVID lockdown, she met and instantly clicked with production-songwriting duo Banx & Ranx (Dua Lipa, Blackpink, J Balvin) over Zoom. “When we got together [in person], there was this unspoken energy in the room that really flowed,” she recalls.
Many joint sessions later, Banx & Ranx co-signed Rêve to Universal Music Canada via their label 31 East. In July 2021, she made her major-label debut with “Still Dancing.”
The Sound: Taking a cue from one of her biggest influences, Robyn, Rêve aims to make music that, she says, “moves your heart as much as it moves your feet.” “Still Dancing” perfectly captures this balance: the quarantine anthem pairs lyrical longing for the communal clubbing experience (“I don’t know who needs to hear this; we came here to get some healing… f–k, we’re sad, but we’re still dancing”) with a dark, sultry groove and euphoric piano build.
That raw songwriting is key to Rêve’s overall catalog — whether it’s vulnerable, sexual or fun and carefree, it’s unapologetically her. On a wider scale, Rêve pulls from early-2000s pop and R&B and classic ‘90s dance music — clock the nod to The Bucketheads’ 1995 hit “The Bomb (These Sounds Fall Into My Mind)” on “Skin 2 Skin” — yet her sound is still fresh and modern. Her name is French for “dream,” which also reflects how she views her music: “dreamy, ethereal, transformative — and dance/electronic and all of its sub-genres are the glue that keeps it together.”
Key Tracks: “CTRL + ALT + DEL,” released in Sept. 2021, was Rêve’s first major hit. Written during the first wave of the pandemic, she says it brought a fun, lighter mood to previous sessions marked by heaviness and uncertainty: “[Banx & Ranx and I] spent the next couple hours talking about how much we missed going out — not for the drinks, not for the boys or the girls, just to be there with a really good sound system and vibes and listen to music.”
The song hit multiple Canadian singles charts (AC, Hot AC, CHR/Top 40, Top 100), including a 29-week stint and No. 38 peak on the latter, and was certified platinum in June. To date, it has over 44 million streams between Spotify and YouTube. Rêve pins the success of “CRTL + ALT + DEL” to its earworm melody. “It drove us nuts,” she says with a laugh. “I was like, ‘This is a good thing.’”
A more recent song, “Whitney,” released in Oct. 2022, is coming for its throne. The lyrics were inspired by a dish towel in her mom’s kitchen. “[It] had something very Hallmark on it, like, ‘Dance like nobody’s watching, sing like nobody’s listening’” she says. “I was like, ‘What if I tweak it?’” She name-checks icons such as Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Marilyn Monroe to express her desire to live life fully present and not, as the song goes, “grow too old before my time.”
Like “CTRL + ALT + DEL,” “Whitney” is making a splash on the charts. It’s Rêve’s first top 10 hit on any U.S.-based Billboard chart (Dance/Mix Show Airplay) and has netted two more top 10 placements on Canada’s CHR/Top 40 and Hot AC, as well as a top five first (No. 4) on Canada AC. Rêve herself is holding steady at No. 3 on the Canada Emerging Artists chart.
Signed To: 31 East / Universal Music Canada
Managed By: Andrew Kennedy & Pat Murphy, CARE OF Management
Management Strategy: “Our strategy with Rêve has been to stay consistent with her releases; drip feeding singles, collaborations, and remixes to keep her footprint growing across all DSPs and social channels,” write Kennedy and Murphy. “Rêve is an incredible artist and songwriter, and it’s imperative to us that her unique POV is distilled into all of the creative… from the artwork to the live show and so on.
“For audience growth, we’re looking holistically at all of the potential drivers to ensure that there is strategy employed across all platforms and DSPs. This strategy looks different on platforms like TikTok than it does on radio, but it all comes down to finding the core fans and converting them consistently day by day.”
First Record That Made Her Love Dance Music: Rêve credits her mom for her early love of dance music, having grown up on the synth-based sounds of Eurythmics, Depeche Mode and Madonna. The latter’s 1998 album Ray of Light, especially, was a record she wore out from playing it on her Discman at school.
“I’ll never forget the way that it made me feel,” she says. “It made me feel like I could be anybody. It was like, this escapism… It’s very rare you have these artists that become even more interesting to you as you grow up. I loved Madonna’s music from the time that I was a child, but growing up trying to break into the music industry — what she did was just truly so incredible on so many levels.”
Advice Every New Dance Artist Needs to Hear: “Don’t worry about trying to copy who’s hot right now. Make things that make you feel something, that get you giddy inside, even though they might not be what’s trending right now. Just do things that feel good to you, and chances are it’s gonna feel good to somebody else.”
Why She Makes Music: “I make music because it’s at the core of everything that I do. I feel like we’re put on this earth to connect to it on the deepest level. I think I was put on this earth to connect to people and to myself through it. It just feels like the most authentic thing to me.”
Up Next: In addition to multiple Juno nominations, Rêve will be performing on the award show’s live broadcast alongside Banx & Ranx and label mate Preston Pablo. Consider it a warm-up to her first-ever headline shows at Toronto’s Access Club (Mar. 23) and Montreal’s Le Studio TD (Mar. 25). A debut album is scheduled to arrive later this year.
“You’ll hear so many different sub-genre influences within it,” Rêve says. “There’s drum and bass, traditional dance-pop, breakbeat, a little bit of acid… It’s basically my love letter to dance music, and really, to Montreal.”
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