"I look like Jon Snow."
Rachel Platten glided into the MTV News studio looking nothing like the burly, bearded "Games Of Thrones" character, despite the fact that she had black (faux) fur wrapped around her neck. But she shucked off her winter coat nonetheless, draping it over a chair like she was visiting a friend's house. She'd been doing press all day to promote her major-label power-pop debut, Wildfire, but still beamed, her golden blonde hair tousled above her shoulders, her skin glowing as if she had just returned from the beach. "I got nine hours of sleep last night so I'm ready to rock," she said with a bright, white smile.
Taking a seat in front of our cameras, her publicist took inventory of the scene by assessing the color of the backdrop and the placement of her leather jacket. I saw him eye up the framing of our shot. Platten herself questioned the state of her hair. Since her stylist wasn't present, she asked if someone could take a photo to show her. We all assured her she looked like sunshine.
More than 10 years ago, though, there wasn't any fuss. "Music was the furthest thing from my mind," she said. While studying abroad at the diplomats office in Trinidad in 2002, she joined a soca band, which competed in the International Soca Monarch Finals. It was their first gig, and they played to 80,000 people.
"I fell in love with it," she said, smiling unrelenting as her mind went back to her abnormally large first audience. "I wanted the microphone at the center of the stage so badly, and I realized then that I needed to follow this. I needed to put everything I had into it and switch gears."
She moved to New York and starting playing with a funk band in the West Village, covering Sly & The Family Stone and Prince during the 1 a.m. to 4 a.m. time slot. She went on tour with her drummer (who's been with her for nine years now), cruising around the country in a van for house shows and coffee shop gigs. She recorded albums Trust In Me and Be Here, and next thing you know, she was signing on with Columbia and touring with Colbie Caillat and Christina Perri. Which meant she either had to get a tour bus, or convert her van.
"My dad got really into it, and found a van conversion guy," Platten laughed. "His name is Vinny up from Poughkeepsie and they put a bed in the back, like a shag'n wagon. My dad was like 'Should we put in Wi-Fi and LED lighting and a fridge?' I was like, 'Calm down.'"
Then "Fight Song" took off.
"Fight Song," with its self-affirming lyrics like "I might only have one match/ But I can make an explosion" and its high-powered, punchy chords that hit you like an overconfident Rocky Balboa, became an anthem for people going through tough sh--. Platten heard from survivors everywhere, who used her her song to fight through cancer, depression or disorder, like 16-year-old cancer survivor Caly:
"On the way to chemo, I had my music on shuffle and 'Fight Song' came on," Caly told Ellen Degeneres before getting the chance to give a tear-jerking performance with Platten. "I actually listened to the lyrics, and the lyrics correlated with my situation. It can be a song for anyone who's going through any struggle."
And although the story is slightly different for everyone, the song gives hope for those still hanging on -- "I've still got a lot of fight left in me," Platten sings on the track -- including 7-year-old Eva, who couldn't walk after a surgery to remove her brain tumor.
"She was completely paralyzed, and during 'Fight Song,' she gave her first steps," Eva's mother said during "The View" in August.
Platten is still trying to find the words to describe how she feels about all this.
"When I first wrote 'Fight Song' I had none of this going on, I didn't have a label or manager," Platten said. "I just had one thought that maybe it would reach a couple people and maybe it would help them but I didn't really believe that this could happen. I felt like it was kind of too late."
"Fight Song," written as a reminder to not give up on herself, is something that can resonate with everyone, and when it came down to it, if Platten wanted to get to the center-stage microphone, she had to take her own advice. So, here she is, with Wildfire sharing a space with Adele in Billboard's album chart. Her second single "Stand By You," followed in "Fight Song"'s footsteps and cracked the top 10 in December.
Wildfire, of course, deals with Platten's insecurities and confidence, but there's so much more on the album.
"I get asked a lot, 'So, you're the empowerment girl? You're really confident and inspring!' I'm like, 'Oh god, I'm not,'" Platten said, shaking her head. "I think that what people take away is that I am 100 percent human, and not only this confident, happy, powerful woman, but also someone who deals with a lot of self-doubt and inner criticism and my own demons, and the most important thing that I hope people can understand is that I'm honest, that the lyrics and the album are truly me."
On "Hey Hey Hallelujah," featuring "brother" Andy Grammer, she sings about a dude she has wrapped around her finger. On "Congratulations," she tells the story of a "painful" friend situation. And on "You Don't Know My Heart," she replays the frustrations of being misunderstood by her sister.
"I wrote ['You Don't Know My Heart'] like two and a half years ago," Platten said as we dug into some lyrics. "I was touring a lot and none of this was happening, so it was hard for my family to understand. It wasn't like, 'Oh, you're successful and playing on TV all the time, so we get why you're gone.' It was like, 'Why are you gone to be playing in a van to 20 people in Ohio?'" She added with a smirk, "Nothing against Ohio. It's a great state."
"My sister's one my best friends. And I was missing things," she said. "I missed her graduation. It really hurt her. She was really confused why I would not be there for her, and it was breaking my heart because I wanted her to understand how much I loved her."
Before leaving, Platten gave me a hint at what we'll be getting from her upcoming tour with Christina Grimmie, Hunter Hunted and Eric Hutchinson -- she's inviting local choirs to sing "Stand By You" onstage in each town. Coyly, she mentioned Grammer will show up -- "He's going to definitely be at one of the shows or two of the shows or three of the shows," she said, before joking about persuading Taylor Swift to come too.
And with that, she wrapped herself up in her Jon Snow coat and went on her way.