Many pop music fans may not recognize Kimbra Lee Johnson’s name, but they’ve probably heard or seen her dozens of times, if not more. That’s because this 22-year-old New Zealand singer-songwriter performs some key vocal verses on Goyte’s ubiquitous 2011 hit, “Somebody That I Used To Know.”
As of Tuesday, the video for “Somebody” (which features her in the singing role of the peeved girlfriend) has been viewed a staggering 327,682,166 times on YouTube. The song has topped the charts in 26 countries and is now approaching the 8 million sales mark, an apparent record for a digital single.
Kimbra, as she is known professionally, is now on tour to promote her debut album, “Vows.” She performs an all-ages show here Friday at House of Blues. The fact that she is still something of a blank slate, at least for most American audiences, should allow her a fair degree of artistic flexibility on stage.
On record, she at times sounds like an unlikely but promising mix of Regina Spektor, Lily Allen, Janelle Monáe and a subdued Bjork, by way of Adele (check out Kimbra’s “Two Way Street”) and (on “Settle Down”) jazzy vocal wizard of awes Bobby McFerrin. That said, with the exception of Allen, Kimbra is not as potent or distinctive a singer as any of her apparent role models, at least not yet, and her vocal delivery is at times self-consciously clever.
Ditto her use of heavily layered and electronically treated vocals, a studio technique that creates an inviting sonic tapestry on record and is hard to pull off live. But Kimbra is offbeat, in an inviting kind of way, and has personality to spare. With any luck, her pluck and her mix of pop and R&B, mainstream and quirky, could make her more than a one-mega-hit wonder (never mind that the mega-hit in question is Goyte’s, not her's).