Words by:

The second we announced that Kehlani would be the cover star of our 61st issue, an influx of comments and online love flooded across our social networks.

Everything from, “Yassss goooooo awfffffffff”, to “baby hair on fleek”, to people asking where they could get their hands on a copy (for their collection), they jammed up the timeline with love. This is the Tsunami Mob.

For those of us who know about Kehlani’s road to success, this flood of compliments and adoration will come as no surprise. Kehlani’s loyal support, ever since her days as a DIY artist, has given her the ammunition to prove to major labels that she should only work on her own terms. As Kehlani told us over the phone, “Why try to question it if it’s working?”.

It’s not a new phenomenon – this kinds of international support network crops up all the time for superstars: Nicki has her Barbs, Gaga has her Monsters, and you’d never mess with the BeyHive. Last year even saw the Beliebers joined by a whole new regiment as the world said in unison, “Yeah, this is actually a banger”. The unique and incredible thing about Lani’s Tsunami Mob is the way in which they support her and the connection they have with her music.

As she told us in our cover story, Kehlani’s fans rush to hug her when they see her out, and their shared journey – “whether that was relationships, family problems, me getting older, or graduating high school” – has cultivated a very personal and very real relationship. Kehlani’s autobiographical lyricism and pure sincerity speaks directly to these young people – wherever, and whoever, they are. She doesn’t seem out of reach or superhuman because she isn’t. She celebrates with them, achieves her goals, and claps back when they roast her about having long toes.

*gives these to all of you* 😭 #Kehlani #TsunamiMob #TSNMI

A photo posted by Kehlani Updates (@kehlani.updates) on

Many real-life friendships have formed through the Mob, painting a positive picture of what online fandom really looks like. As Laika – co-founder of YSBHDaily, perhaps the biggest Kehlani fan site on the internet – told us over email, “Being in the Tsunami Mob is a blessing. I have met so many people and we’re really close, it’s amazing. I talk to majority of these girls everyday and we all came together and learned so much from each other just from listening to Kehlani. I am so thankful that I’ve met them and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

While they might obsess over outfit choices and photos Lani’s pet dog Leia, the Mob’s connection with Kehlani boils right down to her music and the bold, clear messages that come with them. Fellow co-founder of YSBHDaily, Ashley, credits Be Alright as a song that taught her how to stay positive regardless of the opposition, while Laika chooses Bright as one of her favourites. “Bright reminds me that I need to love myself before I love anyone else,” she explains. “To always be brave, kind, and with that, no one else is able to dim my light.”

These sentiments are ingrained in their ethos as a fanbase. They are respectful and passionate, and dedicated to supporting an artist they believe in. Often the dialogue surrounding online fandom is one of mania and threatening delirium, but there’s nothing intimidating about these young men and women. When we approached Laika and Ashley to speak to them, they thanked us for supporting Kehlani and putting her on the cover. What they are doing is purely out of love, trying to give the Mob everything they can – a work ethic they’ve learned from Kehlani herself. “What makes Kehlani so special is that she’s so passionate about what she does,” says Ashley. “Most people that want to be in the music industry just want to do it for the fame or money, but she does it because music is something she loves.”

TSNMI spotted in New York City! If you ever spot a Tsunami Sticker, take a pic!

A photo posted by Kehlani Updates (@kehlani.updates) on

It’s a relationship many would love to replicate – a genuine fan connection that heads of marketing departments spend late nights trying to calculate. But the Tsunami Mob show that this authenticity can’t be taught, it can’t be bought and it certainly can’t be faked. Ashley overheard Kehlani’s Get Away while playing Xbox, fell in love and now helps to run a global network for fans. Laika played Cloud 19 after seeing it on social networks and it grew from there. There’s no science to it, and the noticeable lack of disingenuous tactics from Kehlani and her team are what make her such a singular force and such an exciting prospect in the pop world. As Ashley puts it, “her lyrics are pure honesty! You can just feel her emotions through her music. It’s literally the best feeling.”

Just the other day, Kehlani posted one of the outtakes from our cover shoot on her Instagram. The photo shows her looking into the distance with her finger poking up her nose. Within hours someone had commented, “thank god you do the same thing, I thought I was the only one”. It’s a corny but fairly apt analogy for the joy of the Tsunami Mob, a network where honesty prevails and you aren’t granted membership if you take yourself too seriously. While the assumption seems to be that online culture has turned celebration into infatuation and all-encompassing fixation, life in the Tsunami Mob looks like the polar opposite. The curtains are open here – and it’s bright.

“What makes Kehlani so special is how true she is to not only herself, but to everyone around her. She’s so real and open. The way she bonds and connects with everyone is amazing,” Laika says, summing up this bond perfectly. “For the fans, she doesn’t make us feel like we’re just fans. I feel so close to her, like she’s a sister. Someone who is there for you when she can and someone who inspires you to be better and do better.”