The award-winning musician wants the world to know who she is and where she came from.
As 2022 drew to a close, an unassuming town in the Philippines welcomed home its superstar daughter.
Gabriella Wilson, better known as H.E.R. on stage, has had a whirlwind year; touring the globe, winning her fifth Grammy, and making headlines for becoming the first Black-Filipino Disney Princess as Belle in ABC’s Beauty and the Beast 30th anniversary special. The 25-year-old singer is also recognized worldwide for hits like “Every Kind of Way,” “Best Part” with Daniel Caesar, and the Academy-Award-winning track to Judas and the Black Messiah, “Fight For You.”
Despite already being a radio staple and accustomed to the stage and spotlight, with the likes of Rihanna, Alicia Keys, and Janet Jackson singing their praises, Wilson has always kept a low profile. According to her, she’s remained somewhat enigmatic to direct focus on her music rather than superficial things like appearances; hence her moniker H.E.R. (short for “Having Everything Revealed”) and signature shades.
However, for the Vogue Philippines cover shoot and her homecoming, the award-winning musician decided to ditch her trademark glasses. Though she managed to find success without putting her identity at the forefront, she tells us that she’s finally ready for the world to really get to know her.
In the midst of the year-end holiday season, Wilson joined the Vogue Philippines team for her second trip to the country as an adult. She went to Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija—her mother’s birthplace—for a shoot that celebrates both her individuality and her heritage.
Her first time back was in 2019. Though short, being able to connect with her Filipino family left such an impact that she vowed to return as often as she could. This year, Wilson made sure she had enough time to treat her family to a luxury vacation in Palawan before the cover shoot.
Three days after Christmas, Wilson and her team made the four-hour transit to her matriarchal hometown in the middle of the night. Though the whole team had to contend with a short night’s rest, everyone arrived on location with high spirits.
Wilson got to Cabanatuan’s solar farm before sunrise to prepare. After warmly greeting the team, she made her way to the breakfast table prepared for everyone by the local government. The spread consisted of staple food any Filipino would recognize; fried rice, egg, sausages, tapa, dried fish, lugaw, and sliced fruit. “My favorite!” Wilson exclaimed.
She said the same thing later in the day upon spotting boxes of polvoron and Choc Nut, before proceeding to snack on them in between shots in full couture. Being all glammed up in her family’s hometown turned out to be a poignant full-circle moment for the artist, who started her stardom in hoodies and basketball shoes.
Though Wilson has worked with some of the biggest names in the international music scene and is just two awards away from a full EGOT, she approaches everything she does with humility. She braved the muddy fields without a complaint, as well as the glaring sun, nodding to tracks like “I’m Every Woman”. Thankfully, by sheer luck, the weather remained cool and clear the entire shoot—something we were told is unusual, as the city is known for being one of the hottest in the country.
What stood out immediately to everyone present was how connected the musician stayed to her roots. She complimented and joked around with the team in Tagalog with an impressive accent, even asking us to translate certain words so that she could learn.
Despite the busy shoot schedule, Wilson made sure to make time to introduce her close-knit team to her favorite Filipino eats, and take her mother, Agnes, to visit her childhood home. She says she hadn’t seen it in nearly three decades.
Agnes told me over lunch how important it was to her that Gabi learned about her Filipino side. Having grown up with her family all living on the same block and seeing each other all the time, she took it upon herself to teach her daughter to speak Tagalog and made sure that Pinoy sense of family and community was never lost.
That value rang clear throughout the entire shoot. Though the day was long, it was nothing short of joyful and left everyone with a renewed sense of pride.
Photographs By Shaira Luna. Fashion Director Pam Quiñones. Styling By Daryl Chang and Wouri Vice. Makeup: Marissa Vossen. Hair: Nina Mercado. Nails: Extraordinail. Art Director: Jann Pascua. Beauty Editor: Joyce Oreña. Producer: Anz Hizon. Production Design: Justine Arcega-Bumanlag. Production Assistant: Bianca Zaragoza, Adam Pereyra, and Celine Mallari. Photographer’s Assistant: Lance Luna, Albert Calaguasn and Kiko Calaguas. Stylist’s Assistant: Renee De Guzman, Ticia Almazan, DeAndre DaCosta, Isabella Conti, and Nicholas Carlo. Production Design Assistants: Jan Abal, John Amon, Mario Taipen, Olderico Bondoc, Geber Cunanan, Nick Narte, and Cesar Grande. Video Team: Andy Tan, Ashley Yee, Ken Tan, and Garren Bustarde of Chapters PH. Shot on location at Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija. Special thanks to Dr. Jean Cruz, Mayor Myca Vergara, Cong. Ria Vergara of the Local Government of Cabanatuan City, Aldrin Cerrado of ABS-CBN Global, Ray Brown, and Amal Mokhtar.
- February 2023