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Moxie had it bad. It was a year ago, and she was going through a devastating breakup. It wasn’t a normal split, and her heart wasn’t just cracked: It was shattered so completely that she wondered if she’d ever experienced heartbreak before. Her heart felt like it had been ripped out of her chest and stomped on. Battered. Bruised. Pummeled to a pulp.

But you don’t get a nickname like “Moxie”—which literally means “force of determination”—if you’re not something of a fighter.

“You have no choice! You’re either gonna be in bed, or you’re gonna grow,” the 27-year-old singer and songwriter says now. “It was the worst heartbreak of my life, but that concrete road block is a stair. You have to step on it and go higher.”

Moxie has always stood heads above everybody else. Before she’d even released any music, she was handpicked to open for Justin Bieber’s 2016 Purpose tour. On the strength of her voice alone, she gained the respect both of publications—Rolling Stone dubbed her “soulful” and “heartfelt”—and her peers. In addition to Bieber’s cosign, her first mixtape, last year’s 931, featured legends such as Pusha T and Wyclef Jean. The music warrants the attention. Pop-kissed yet deeply groovy, her songs pulse with white-hot energy, which is intensified by her warm, richly textured voice that wouldn’t be out of place in a gospel choir. Small wonder she was so immediately branded a one-to-watch.

Now, with a tour for the biggest star on the planet, a solid project and a massive heartache to mine for material under her belt, Moxie is poised to take over with what Noisey praised as her “near-perfect pop” sung with an “acrobatic vocal range.” As evinced by the breezy, shuffling funk of “Wheels,” the first single from her new album, she’s more confident than ever before. Channeling her pain and burning it for creative fuel, she infused this record with a soul-baring vulnerability and even conjured a whole other world for the album to inhabit.

“I became obsessed with the color blue when I was starting this album. I moved to the ocean, made my whole apartment blue. Blue is sad, yes, but it’s also purifying,” she explains. “I went back to the truest version of myself. The ocean will do that. It’s so much more powerful than you. The way I sing, the way I write? I’ve just been trying to be … me.”

Born Laura Raia in a beachside town in New Jersey, Moxie spent her childhood dancing. From the age of three, she followed her deepest passion, missing birthday parties and tapping under the dinner table. Her Italian-American folks devoured Motown records (her father was such an avid listener that he left the radio on when he left his house so that he’d be sure to walk back into a music-filled home), building Moxie’s foundation in soul and R&B. When the family moved into a house with a piano left behind by former residents, it so enraptured Moxie that she proclaimed she wanted to be a singer and began writing her first songs.

Being a bit of a loner made music and dance a respite, so Moxie applied and was accepted to New York City’s Professional Children’s School when she was 13 years old. After high school, she studied jazz at Columbia University, but grew impatient with the amount of time spent studying instead of actually singing. When a group of her guy friends decided to move to Los Angeles, it was a no brainer. She dropped out and joined them.

After a few scrappy years in L.A., Moxie met Scooter Braun, and her career began a domino effect. But she’s grateful for the hard years, the struggle years and yes, even the heartache year.

“Dark times give you a chance to grow. That’s why they inspire me, ‘cause I’m like, okay, these are growing pains,” she says. She pauses for a moment, then laughs. “That’s when you make the awesome songs.”

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