Jessie J may be from the U.K. but she’s not just for Brits. The English singer/songwriter first developed a name for herself when she began writing pop songs for performers such as Chris Brown and Miley Cyrus.
The up and coming star has now come into her own as a writer and performer, having won the Critics Choice at the 2011 BRIT Awards and writing the huge Miley hit “Party In The U.S.A.” Her first single “Do It Like A Dude” peaked at number two and her follow-up single “Price Tag” went straight to number one.
This past month she broke through the Atlantic wall and appeared on “Saturday Night Live” as the main perfomer with B.o.B. as a guest. GlobalGrind got a chance to talk to Jessie J about some of her favorite things, how she writes hits and more. Take a look on the next page and pre-order her album “Who You Are” on iTunes now!
GG: We follow you on Twitter and saw that you lost your nose ring awhile back!
JJ: I actually found it. Can you believe it?
You probably should have seen me in my PJ’s, half asleep this morning, half awake, half dead, trying to find it. And I can’t believe I found it and then trying to put it back in…it was not good, I had vaseline on my nose to try and help it go back in.
GG: So tell me a little bit about your musical aesthetic because it’s partially pop and it’s partially R&B with an element of rock.
JJ: To be honest, I don’t ever want to put my music in a hole, in a pigeon box hole, where people feel like if I step out of it’s, “Jessie J lost her love for what she does” or “Jessie J takes a risk with something new!” I think you should get people used to the fact that I don’t always sound the same, you know, that my consistancy is in my voice and my personality. Then I think that you can’t really go wrong because realistically if it’s good music it’s good music.
I don’t think it needs to have a title or a label on it. But I am happy to call myself a pop artist, because for me Pop stands for popular because a lot of people like it so I like to think that pop is good music as opposed to bubble gum, throw away. I think Prince is pop and he’s an incredible artist. But again, I think my music is very emotional and very therapeutic and very raw.
The British kind of lyrical content is very honest and I like to think that my music brings emotions out of people, whether they cry or laugh or get angry and I like to throw people into their thoughts, into their flow, in their bad days as well as their good. It’s good to know that nobody is perfect, but it’s also nice to embrace the beat of your life.
GG: Your album, “Who You Are” is highly anticipated in the states and it’s already doing very well in the U.K. Can you tell us what American audiences can expect on the album?
JJ: Well, it’s been crazy, ’cause in the UK the whole album is in the Top 100 right now and that’s from people downloading tracks and the album went straight in at number 2 and it’s quite nice because people said to me what can we expect from the album, but basically I spent the last six years being very honest about the songs on it and just let my fans very much be kind of A and R’ing it with me. And their reaction to songs online, on YouTube, or gigs, you know, have been a big input for what’s been put on the album.
But there’s a few songs that people haven’t heard and there’s a song called “I Need This” I wrote for Chris Brown and I’ve put my own version, the original version, on the album. There’s a song called “Abracadabra” that I did with Kool Kelly and Dr. Luke. Not many people have heard it but it’s blowing up in the U.K., I think it’s at number 50. B.o.B. is the only feature on the album right now, but I think it’s just a group of really eclectic songs. I think it caters to all kinds of different moments in your life. I never wanted to cut an album that covered like 14 versions of the single. I think that’s boring and I think people have been, there done that. And I kind of wanted to be a representation of my generation which is love for good music, whether it’s funk music, or rock, or R&B, or pop, you know, if it’s good then people will listen to it.
GG: We’re very excited to hear the finished product. Tell me a little about B.o.B. in the video and with the song?
JJ: B.o.B. is so cool and has the charisma of 1000 charismatic people. He is like the funniest guy to hang out with, we did SNL together and it was our first time performing together, except in the video. So yeah, it’s going to be good. Basically when we did the track we sat down and were like, right, this song is a feature. And B.o.B. was definitely someone who was on everybody’s mind at that point.
You know, I loved what he did and everything, he was rapping about I felt like if I was a male rapper, I would rap about. And I loved how honest he was in his music. It was honest enough for anyone to listen. So we got my label to holler at his people and he listened to the song and luckily we all spoke to my manager. My manager went to – we did 5 plane journeys in 4 days, to be with him in the studio because I needed to be there. I felt like it was very important for me to feel like he knew that I cared that he was on it.
Also it was a journey, it wasn’t like, oh yeah, drop a sick flow and holler at me. It was an experience and we could both know that we met each other and then he flew into the U.K. to do the video. It was so good, it was quick and it so much fun and he’s a super cool guy to hang out with.
GG: Nice, it sounds very collaborative.
JJ: Yeah, that’s what collaboration should be. How can you collaborate with someone if you don’t meet them.
GG: We really like your song “Do It Like A Dude,” what kind of inspired you to write that and if you were a dude, what would you do?
JJ: Well, I’ve tried wee’ing standing up and it’s not as easy unless you’re a guy (Laughs). “Do It Like A Dude” for me is very much, the deeper meaning is that everyone is equal. No one should make you feel intimidated and you can go, you know what, eff you, I can be who I wanna be and stand on my own two feet and not feel like I can’t because you’re making me feel like I can’t.
But at the same time it’s a parody of the typical male that exists today and it’s kind of a tongue in cheek, a way of going, you know, this is funny. It’s not that I hate men. It’s not like we’re saying, women are better, we hate men. That’s not it at all. But you know, sometimes it’s nice to have an empowered feeling that makes everybody so equal. It was the quickest song that I’ve ever written. I wrote it in about 15 or 20 minutes. It’s very, very simple and I think that’s the beauty of it, is that everyone can sing along. And I’m glad we realeased in first in the U.K. because it didn’t give everything away. Because it definitely shook up some controversy.
GG: So we know you really made a splash in the industry by writing first and foremost, you’ve written huge hits like “Party In The U.S.A.” When you write a hit, do you realize it’s going to be huge?
JJ: I’d love to know before I go into a session if I’m going to write a hit or not, but to be honest, you have to write like 10 bad songs to get 1 good one. And I think about time and I was pumping out song after song after song and then you get 1 little gem and I think within 1 week I wrote 4 of my singles like “Party In The U.S.A” and “Nobody’s Perfect” and “Who You Are” were all happened close together.
“Party In the U.S.A,” I think my secret to songwriting is just saying what you’re thinking, I’ve never tried to make anything up, like when I wrote “Nobody’s Perfect.” Claude said we should make this into a relationship song and I said, no that’s not what it’s about, it’s about someone that I love but I wasn’t in a relationship with them, I just loved them and it got back to them and I didn’t want to make it a specific thing because everything in life is about love. “Party In the U.S.A.” is about how excited I was to come to the U.S. and how nervous I was and I had butterflies all the time.
I got in a cab outside of JFK and Jay-Z was on the radio, you know. And I have to make sure that my life is exciting because I don’t want the next album to be about sitting in a hotel or on airplanes eating sushi and salad. You know, you have to live life to write about it and I’m just making sure I enjoy every single moment that I’m having right now.
GG: Can you tell us a little bit about growing up in London and what kind of kid you were and if you knew you wanted to be in music?
JJ: I was a bit of a show off. My first words were “Jam Heart” and my sister would sing, “This is the voice and the big bad thing, this is Jaaaammm Heart” and my mom was so disappointed. But me and my sisters were in a fake girl group back then and we used to do shows for our aunts and uncles on a Saturday afternoon and that kind of tied into my love of performing. My sister would play trombone and my other sister would play piano and I would have to sing a song like Aladdin or something irritating and I went to dance school. My mom and dad are amazing too, you know, they’re the best mom and dad you could ever wish for and they’re still together which is super rare. They go on dates and are still in love and they very much set the standard for me for what treating someone good is. I think they were very important in my life. The best thing about them is that they kind of push in a pushy way.
I remember when I said I didn’t want to do performance anymore and she said, not cool. I was 14 and I told my mom and I didn’t want to do performance anymore, you know, I got tired of the girl pacts, and the favorites and the politics of it, even when I was that young. And I left art school for a little while and went to the British School when I was 16 to follow my love of musical theatre, which is where I started. When I was younger I did musicals, I did plays, I was training constantly while I was at school, which is where I think I get my discipline from. When I was 16 I got into a girl group at the British school and I think that kind of made me realize, hold on a minute, I can write songs and perform. I could be myself but also be on stage.
Then my love for performance kind of took a turn and then when I was 17 I got picked up by a record label and signed independently and I was so young, kind of, right out of childhood. I had bad health when I was younger but it never really hindered my love of life because my parents never really let it. They would be like, ok, there are people way worse off than you.
I think some people know that I have a heart problem and I had a minor stroke when I was 18 but there’s people that can’t see, that can’t hear, that don’t have legs, that have disabilities that hinder their lives everyday. And if I can be a kind of inspiration to them so they can live their dreams then that’s what I’m here to do. But my childhood was amazing, it was the best. My mom would make me fake McDonalds because she never wanted me to have it. She would make me chips and do some nice healthy chicken and put it in a box and put an M on it and I used to be fooled everytime (Laughs). But yeah, my mom used to sing me songs and they’re just so supportive and a very musical family.
GG: Would you count some of those artists as your musical inspiration?
JJ: Definitely, I mean, the best thing about growing up in a family that loves music is that you get everything from TLC to the Beatles to Michael Jackson to Tracy Chapman, you know, music is beautiful because it doesn’t all sound the same. I always say, how would you fall in love if everybody looked the same? How would music be judged if we all sounded the same? To some people I have the best voice in the world, to others I sound like a dying dolphin, so, it’s just taste. That’s the best thing about the music industry is that everyone has their own likes and dislikes.
GG: What do you think it is about British humor and culture, in a way, that Americans love?
JJ: I think because the U.K. is so small you can’t really blend in, you really have to stand out. Like there can’t be 6 of me if that makes sense. I think in the U.S. you can afford to have artists that very similar that don’t need to be very original and I think in the U.K. people can sniff someone who looks close to someone else. Where people like Tinie Tempah stand out. They’re original and there’s no one else like them.
I feel like there’s been a lot of people in the U.K. that have been too scared to stand with the Katy Perry’s and the Rihanna’s and the Gaga’s and I’m ready to do that. And I think it’s honesty, you know, it’s the rawness. Not being afraid to say, I’m really depressed today and I’m going to sing about it or I feel like shit today and I’m going to take a picture of it and put it up. I don’t believe in trying to make everything a fairy tale in life. I guess that’s what it is, the U.K. is just so much smaller and you can’t afford to be like everyone else.
GG: Now you have fans and you call them your Heart Beats, correct?
GG: What is one of the best fan stories that you’ve had since you’ve been in the industry?
JJ: Let me see. Probably, I received a letter from a girl that wrote me a few letters and then she said to me that she was going to kill herself and then she heard, “Who You Are” and she decided not to and that I’d saved her life. And I think moments like that don’t come along to every person and it’s why I do what I do. But I have fans that properly stalk me in the U.K. now and I feel awful because I always talk about food I like and they always bring me food but I made a promise that I would never eat food that a fan had given me. You never know, you know. They might put some laxatives in it or something (Laughs).
GG: Tell us a little bit about your personal style, it’s very unique, and tell me about the spikes you wear on your lips in the video “Do It Like A Dude”?
JJ: Well, for me, style is something that you just have to do for you. I love big tacky gold earings and a big shoe and cat suits. I like skirts and dresses but it’s just never really been my thing because I’m so out there, I feel uncomfortable and I can’t move. But I think I just try to be me, you know, ever since I was little I’ve always loved being someone that stands out and I do it for me, I never do it for anyone else. I do it because it’s another creative outlet for me and I’m very heavily involved in my style and like, I have someone that gets stuff for me but I put together my outfit for SNL.
It scares some people because I know some people have people putting their stuff together for them, but for me I think it should all come from you. I don’t think it should be a brand I don’t think it should be about how much money you spend on it. Right now, I’ve got tights on under these trousers but nobody knows! (Laughs) But yeah, I think it’s all about what you like and if you want to wear hoodies and track bottoms every day, that’s your style and if you want to wear flip-flops and socks, that’s not what I’m into, but that’s your style. I think style just has to be from you.