Variety’s 2014 ‘Music Up Next’ Breakthrough Winner: Skylar Grey

Newcomer co-wrote Eminem and Rihanna hit

Variety Breakthrough Awards Skylar Grey
Allen Berezovsky/WireImage

The Variety Breakthrough of the Year Awards, which recognizes a select group of rising stars in entertainment and technology, will be held Jan. 9 at the Consumer Electronics Show. 

When Holly Brook Hafermann was growing up in a small Wisconsin town in the ‘90s, any dreams of a music career – let alone stardom – seemed pretty far-fetched.

But today the 27-year-old singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, better known by her stage name Skylar Grey, is proof that dreams – if nurtured with talent and determination – can come true. She is among Universal Music Publishing Group’s writers.

Grey has already been Grammy-nominated, as a co-writer of the Eminem and Rihanna hit “Love the Way You Lie.” She has released her confident major-label debut solo album “Don’t Look Down” to much acclaim. And she’s collaborated on tracks with Eminem, Dr. Dre, Kaskade and Lupe Fiasco.

Along the way, her song credits have lit up the Billboard Hot 100 and iTunes sales charts, totaling more than 25 million singles globally.

Not bad for someone who was so broke five years ago she was subsisting “on fruit and avocados” scavenged from the Northern California property where she was staying.

“That was my lowest point and I wondered if I’d made a mistake even doing music,” recalls Grey.

“I literally couldn’t put food in my mouth, so I did a lot of soul-searching.”

Her break finally came when she reconnected with New York publisher Jennifer Blakeman, who was then with Universal Music Publishing Group, “the only person I still had in the business,” she says. “She introduced me to (producer) Alex da Kid. We just clicked, and he sent me this beat and I wrote this hook, ‘Love the Way You Lie.’ A month later it was on Eminem’s album with Rihanna, and I took it as proof I’d done the right thing.”

Despite her success, Grey looks unlikely to follow the conventional “pop star thing,” as she puts it, in the years ahead. Her Interscope Records album, exec-produced by Eminem, “didn’t have the same radio success everyone expected after the other hits I’d written, and I’d promised myself that by the time I hit 28 this February, I’d just do what I want to do,” she says.

Now living in Utah, she promises that her next album “which I’ll start soon, will be more experimental, without having to worry about people’s expectations.”