The first thing you notice about Atlanta-raised singer/songwriter Riley is how self-assured she is at sixteen. Her vocal virtuosity is undeniable too. But neither trait marks her as an outlier, not among what a new book calls Alpha Girls: talented, highly motivated, and self-confident.
She’s also not the first teenager to write her first song after school on her neighbor’s laptop. But few of those compositions hook big-time collaborators and Elton John’s management company. From that first effort, she was a natural at taking something specific, like a classmate’s lack of self-confidence on the guitar (a boy, naturally), and making the creative leap to a universally relatable theme. “We all feel a little broken on the inside.” That’s a rare knack.
“I try to write about what’s real,” Riley says. “I write about love, because everybody knows what that’s like, good or bad.” She won’t apologize for her youthful lyrical frame-of-reference. “You’re learning what heartbreak is. Later you realize it gets better, but at the time you’re like ‘Oh my God, it’s my whole life.’” Riley recently found herself dumped. And like a true Alpha Girl, she made the experience work for her. She considers the song she wrote about it the best of the two hundred or so she’s written or co-written.
Riley continues to write and record in Atlanta, Nashville, New York and Los Angeles for her forthcoming debut album.