JESSIE J: London Calling

Chatting with 22 year old, UK singer, Jessie J is like hanging out with your best girlfriend, and why not? That’s exactly who she could be.

Words & Interview: Kathy Iandoli
Images: Tomodo

The 22-year-old UK siren currently resides at the top of the charts with awards already under her belt. But her humility is as big as her chops. Speaking freely in her flat in London, Jessie is waiting for her outfit for the BRIT Awards Nomination Launch to arrive. It’s her first time walking the red carpet and she’s incredibly nervous. Having already won the BRIT’s Critic’s Choice Award along with the BBC Sound of 2011, Jessie can walk in confidence, but cocky’s not her style.

Her outfit arrives. “Here it is…with shoes, random shoes. A day in the life,” she jokes. Jessie J has been working toward this moment since she was 16, and it’s finally happened. Her single “Do It Like a Dude” became an instant hit in the UK and then made its way Stateside, along with “Price Tag” featuring B.o.B. Now as Jessie gears for her summer tour, she joins the league of British women who have jumped across the pond and made the coveted American impact… and she didn’t even have to do it like a dude.

Where did you get your soul from?

You know, it’s weird. I think it was just the music I was listening to growing up. My dad’s a massive soul/funk fan. There were a lot of deep singers being played when I was younger. I think when you’re in musical theater as well… I was always that person that was drawn to people with big voices. I think that teamed with the fact that I was obsessed with Whitney, Mariah and Lauryn… it just happened.

When did you realize you had that voice, beyond admiring other people’s?

When I was like 14 or 15, I realized I wasn’t just louder than everyone else. There was something special where people really wanted to listen to me when I sang. That was when I really wanted to take it seriously.

How did you get started?

When I was 16 I went to the BRIT School, which is like a musically oriented school here in the UK. Then I auditioned for a girl group [Soul Deep], and it was the first thing I decided to do. I did a campaign called Mothers Against Guns; it was an anti-gun and knife campaign. There’s a video people are starting to discover now when I was in a girl group, and the song is called “Why.” People are like, “Oh my God I can’t believe it’s you!” because I look older there than I do now, and I was like 16. I think it was then that I was like, ‘Wow I can really make a difference. I can use my voice to help people and bring happiness and fun.’ It’s something I just love to do. I love being on stage and bringing that theatrical, emotional buzz you get.

The UK, for years now, has been bringing female artists to the US who have made an impact. There was Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen, Adele, Florence and the Machine, Ellie Goulding and now in 2011, it’s you. How does that feel?

You know what? It’s so funny, you spend years and years preparing and thinking “It’s gonna happen,” but, you don’t really imagine it happening with real people. It sounds silly. Then when it actually happens and you win awards and no. 2 on the charts, it’s like “Oh my God this is actually real.” Now I’m in that caliber of artists in the UK that have kinda blown up. I feel like the standard has been set for female artists in the UK, like as you said, all these girls that have come through hard, I’m so glad I have been given the opportunity to carry on the standard that’s set. It’s an honor to feel like I’m the next one in line. There’s pressure, but it’s a good pressure. I hope I can hold that standard for whoever comes through next year.

I enjoy that expectation of me. But sometimes I feel like, “Give me a break I want a day off! I’m 22, can we go on some theme park rides?” The other half of me is like, “Bring it on, I can do this.”

What was the concept behind your YouTube series?

I wanted to let people in. The YouTube videos for me were a way to do a gig when I wasn’t allowed to do many without an audience. It was the closest thing to getting that buzz from performing. It wasn’t a gig, but it kinda was, with an invisible audience. The way it started to blow up with people promoting me, I was like “Wow this is global.” The thing that had me addicted to it was that it wasn’t just the UK, it was the whole world. I was making fans from Japan, Holland, Hawaii. I was like ‘Wow this is crazy.’ That’s why I did the Big White Room competition. It’s really important for me to really let the fans know I could do what I’m doing everyday, because without them I wouldn’t be able to. I could sing to an invisible room, but it wouldn’t do much. They’re the ones who seek out my gigs and put me at no. 2 with no promo and no physical release. It’s so humbling. You work so hard, and to get that amount of love back… it’s crazy.

What are some of the differences you’ve experienced in transitioning from the UK to the US?

You know what? The beauty of it is that I haven’t really had to. Obviously the US is so much bigger. In the beginning, I will be very open and honest with the fact that I felt like I was two different artists. When I was here (UK) I was one artist, when I was there (US) I had to be a different artist. I’d say I would have to be more girly when I was in the US. There’re certain things I know not to wear when I’m doing the US promo, like a shirt buttoned up to the top is cool here, but it’s not cool there. For me, I just want to make sure I’m consistent, and what makes me, is me being me. At the end of the day, the business side of it is that there are songs that will work here that won’t work there. I actually think the reaction to “Do It Like a Dude” was great in America, and I don’t even think my American label expected it.

Speaking of Americans, how did your track with B.o.B. (“Price Tag”) come about?

B.o.B. blew up here and I was watching. Also, I’ve said, I didn’t want too many features on the album. I wanted people to kind of judge my album on me. Sometimes I feel like new artists hide behind “This album’s really about me,” and it’s not when every track has a feature from a platinum rapper or another artist. I wanted to put a challenge on myself to say, “This is mostly about me,” in a nice and a putting-myself-out-there kind of way. I said if I had any features I’d want it to be people I really respected and genuinely listened to as a 22-year-old Jessica Cornish at home listening my iPod. B.o.B. was doing something that if I was rapper, I’d do it. Like what he was rapping about and how he was doing it. He’s 21 and we’re similar in age, so I genuinely like his stuff. I just thought he could bring an amazing extra something to the song. So I said, “Can we holler at him?” Then I followed him around the US. We did five plane journeys in four days to get him on the track. I literally was like, “Hi, it’s me again!” I went to Buffalo and like random places for 24 hours. He was madd cool and he’s in the video too. “Price Tag” is more me as an artist. “Do It Like a Dude” was just so much fun and more me taking the mickey on the industry. People were like, “Why are you trying to be like Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj?” and I’m like, “I’m really not. I’m just having fun.”

You and Nicki Minaj should do a track on a battle for the best bangs.

Oh I’d love to! Although I can’t take mine off and that’s not fair, so I feel like she’d win.

Images by Tomodo.

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