Massive congratulations on becoming the BBC sound of 2011, and for your Brit award – how does this all this success feel so early on in your career?
It is surreal. You spend years preparing for it and when it finally happens you go “errr! This is really hard!” But it’s been really fun to have the support that I’ve had from everybody. I like a bit of pressure, me. I like the expectation and people going is she as good live? I have to work hard, but the success is only something you can dream for as an artist. There are a lot of people that try and try and try and never get where they want to be, and I’m flying to where I want to go so quick. I’m just trying to enjoy it all.
How have you taken all the media attention?
Pretty cool. I’ve never really been a fan of people knowing who I am, in a weird way. I wish I could do what I do without the fame, or the people knowing my face when I go out down the street. But it’s all been really positive which is nice because I know it can be the opposite. I think I’ve just got to take it in my stride and it comes along with the game, as they say.
What part of your success to date has been the highlight?
Probably winning the Brit award you know? It was one of those things that I have been chasing since I was a kid, always saying I want a Brit award. Ever since that award (the BRIT critic’s choice award that Jessie was awarded in December) has become available, I was like “I wanna win that!” So to win it before I’ve even released anything has given me the belief in myself that dreams can come true.
I would say your music is pretty diverse with contrasting sounds in “Do It Like A Dude”
and “Price Tag”. For any IDOL readers that haven’t heard you, how would you describe you sound?
I always describe it as emotional therapeutic pop music. It doesn’t have any limits or boundaries. I think people forget that pop music means popular, and isn’t just bubblegum or singing about being in a club. I really want my music to have substance and to have a global appeal. I want the whole world to be able to love and share it. My album bleeds into rock, into pop, into RnB, into reggae, it’s really diverse.
How did the label take that, because normally they want a very definitive sound for their artists?
That’s why its taken me five years. I wasn’t gonna stand down, or back off from what I wanted to do. I could never box myself or pigeon-hole myself to one sound. I look up to artists like Prince, Beyonce, D-Train, and Rihanna – look at Rihanna from ‘Pon de replay’ to now, totally different but all her songs are amazing so people just don’t care. If it’s good music, it’s good music. It’s meant I’ve had a lot more pressure because trying to do that on your first album isn’t very easy. The online thing helped me so much to really help me get an honest reaction from people. There have been songs where I’ve been like, ok I don’t think people are really feeling this as much as this song. But I’m a risk taker. I don’t get up every day and put on the same clothes and listen to the same album on repeat, and eat the same food. Everyone wants a little bit of a difference, and that’s what I stand for. I get bored otherwise. I think it’s important to have an album that you can put on when you’re feeling sad, happy, when you want to go out – it gives you a little bit of everything.
You are releasing the album here and over in the States simultaneously – what made you decide to take that step?
We’re doing a global release. There will be slightly different tracks on the different albums, which will mean people can get more songs, which I think is even better.
Your persona in the “Do It Like A Dude” video is a hard and powerful character – is that the real you?
Not at all! That is the Jessie J that is taking the mickey out of herself. I was laughing at myself every time the camera turned off! It’s really weird that people think I’m that character in real life, when I’m the least scary person you’ll ever meet in your life.
Why did you choose to be like that in the video then?
Because I can. I act as well as I sing. I think it’s important to be diverse. I think if you want to be an artist you have to be able to create art. I don’t want to roll around in the grass – maybe I will one day, but it’s my first video so I wanted to do something that is going to get people talking. I think that if I’d just done your average love song on a piano, walking around a hill in America, no one would have paid any attention. I want to be controversial without being offensive. I want to be a UK pop icon. That video made people go, who the hell is this girl, whether they loved it or hated it.
Do you have a lot of creative control then?
Yes. Everything – videos, styling, makeup. I mean I have a makeup artist for videos and photo-shoots and that’s it. I style myself every day, do my hair and makeup. “Dare Jessie J” was my idea. I’m creating my own website called ‘Be true to who you are’, a massive online campaign to make people feel like they belong. I don’t want to be a dummy, I don’t want to be a clothes horse. I want young people to know that if you put your mind to it you can do whatever you want and I want to be a role model and I think that if I had someone dressing me, writing my songs, having all the creative input then what am I doing – I’m cashing in at the end of the day and going to all the parties, and that’s not really what I’m about.
I think that is so admirable, and also what IDOL is really about…
Yeah it’s not easy. I’ve been doing this for seven years now and I’ve been signed for six years. People say “oh she’s only been around for five minutes”, but it’s like, get to know before you judge. It’s important for young people to know that I don’t take myself too seriously. As soon they see the ‘Price tag’ video they’ll understand that the ‘Do it like a dude’ video was me just taking the piss out of myself!
So as someone who has followed your career from the offset, I’d say the launch of your solo career has been a long time coming. I know you’ve had some serious health issues, and Gut records obviously bust as well, so have there been times when you thought about packing it all in?
Yeah there have been times. Not because I don’t believe in myself, but because I wasn’t happy. One thing that my mum and dad have always raised me on is however much you love what you do sometimes it doesn’t make you happy, and there was very much a point in my life where everyone I was surrounded by was trying to take things from me instead of helping me get to where I needed to be. When you’re young and naïve and you don’t know much about the industry, people steal money from you, and this and that, it’s not easy. It shouldn’t be easy and I never want it to be easy, but obviously at the time it’s like, my life’s awful! I can’t do this! But I soldiered through it and I said, you know what, (and my mum and dad can quote this, my sister, friends) I only carried on for my fans. At some points I was like, I’m not doing this for the record label, I’m not doing this for myself, I’m doing it for my fans. I’m doing it for the young people that need me. That’s what kept me going.
That was your turning point?
It was a realisation that when I get messages on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, saying, “I was going to take my life last week and then I heard who you are”. You can’t at 22 years old read something like that and walk away from this. It’s not fair and not just. Obviously I have to think about myself too, I’ve had a few points where I’ve felt so fed up of proving myself, and having to explain myself and argue about what songs I’m going to do, and I don’t want to wear a bikini so it’s difficult a lot of the time. People don’t see behind the scenes. But I soldiered through and I’m glad I did because it just shows that hard work and determination can get you where you need to be.
Do you have a fashion icon?
Rihanna. Everything she puts on I’m like, I want that! I’m getting better with my fashion knowledge. I’m very honest and open about the fact that I’ve never studied it, I’ve never really been that interested in it. I love fashion but I’ve never had the time to sit and learn about it all. I’m getting there now – I’ve got the designers that I love. I love Moschino, Roberto Cavalli, Vivienne Westwood, my Louboutins. I’m loving Topshop and your high street shops too.
Is it true that you are writing Britney’s next single?
No it’s not true. I never said it. I met the guy that said that I said it, and I was like “why did you lie!” and he was like “you kind of said it” – no I didn’t! I was sent the beat, and was told to put a top-line melody on it, and that beat may be Britney’s next single, but not what I wrote to it. I haven’t written anything or put forward any ideas. If it does happen, wonderful, if it doesn’t I’ll just write another hit for myself. I’m not putting pressure on myself. I’ve got Britney fans hating me down on twitter! So I’ve got a nice journalist to thank for that. At least now I know where he’s from… !!
I’m sure you get sick of being asked this but how did you get the opportunity to write “Party In The USA”, and get that in Miley Cyrus’ hands?
I literally had just signed to my record label after feeling like my world had collapsed and no one had wanted to sign me in the UK. I flew to the US to do some writing, and did a few showcases, and got spotted by every label that existed in the US. I spent about four weeks meeting Clive Davis, and LA Reid (industry legends). I decided to sign to Republic. I flew back again (this was about two years ago). I passed my driving test, which was very important! And I decided to make some changes to my career and really go for it. I got a new lawyer, a new manager and I flew to the US on the 6th January. I literally stayed out in Hollywood for three months.
They threw me into the writing for the album. Obviously, I’d been writing the album for years – songs like Mama knows best – they’d all been kept from seven years ago. But I went into the studio with loads of people, and one day I went in with Dr Luke and Claude Kelly and we wrote ‘Party in the USA’ and it was about me, and about my journey coming to America, and about being nervous and having the pressure on my shoulders, and creating a party in the USA. The label heard it and thought that this could be a single, but they just didn’t think it was edgy enough for me. Dr Luke knew Miley was looking for a single, it was sent to her and she completely loved it. She recorded it and I flew home. I’ve never met her. And within 3 weeks it went to number one. And in six countries.
What is your next single?
Price Tag. I’ve just been sent the video – I’m very excited. It’s so different! There’s a line in the video, “low blows and videos hos” – and the ho in the video is me. It just shows people I was taking the mickey in the “Do it like a dude” video and I don’t grab my crotch that often in real life!
You’ve spent a lot of time in the USA – which music scene do you prefer?
UK. The UK always feel like they’re fighting to be noticed in the US scene. There are bits of each that I love though. I love the UK scene for its rawness, honesty and griminess. But I love that the Americans are very polished. Every time I get on a plane I feel like I’m taking the whole of Britain with me – I’m like, come on guys, we can do this! I’m looking forward to conquering America as a female UK artist.
And you’ve got some big fans there already. I read that Justin Timberlake said you have the best voice in the world right now…
Yeah, pressure! How would you feel if he said that to you! He was lovely. We spent 2 weeks in the studio and did loads of tracks together. He gave me some great advice. He’s been around in the game for years and for someone like him to take the time out to really mentor me for a few weeks and be so nice about me, it was an honour. There have been a lot of people in the US who have really taken the time out, like Kelly Rowland came to my gig and talked to me afterwards. It’s just lovely – it makes me want to succeed even more for the UK.
I also read a few days ago that Tinchy Stryder said in an interview that he’d like to collab with you…
Oh God… I think Tinchy’s really cool. We’re on the same label so you never know (sounds unlikely, somehow!) I was just in the studio yesterday with Devlin, he’s from Essex too so we were like yeeeaaah. And he’s put a nice little surprise on one of the tracks that’s gonna be on the radio very soon.
So I guess you have all these tracks, with all these amazing artists and producers – are you trying to narrow them down now for the album?
Yeah I mean I wrote 600 tracks for the album, and the album is going to be 12. (600???) – Yeah, I’ve been writing it for 7 years so I should have written a few! Some of them were crappy, but some I’m kinda gutted that they haven’t made it. However there will be a time when I can bring out a CD where I can have what I want on there. I’m really happy with this first album. I think it really reflects me.
Where do you see yourself in 3 years time?
I’d love to have a number one album. I’d love to start a charity. I really want to open youth centres across the UK. Take my campaign ‘Be true to who you are’ around schools and work places, make it a bigger campaign than it is now. I want to be working with Prince, Beyonce, Jay-Z, Ellie Goulding, Tinie Tempah. I want to be making great music, but ultimately I want to be happy. I want my life not to be all over the tabloids, that’s not the chick I want to be.
How do you feel about the perception that you are so clean-living?
Because I don’t drink and I don’t smoke – it is frustrating. Yes, I did have a minor stroke 4 years ago and I do have a heart condition, but it doesn’t affect me every day and can we talk about my music now. I think it’s important for people to know that I’ve had a struggle. However, there are people worse off than me, without legs and fighting cancer. I do get bored of talking about my health. I feel like people have to feel like they have a story about me. It’s all they got right now. But I do need my sleep, and could never physically smoke or take drugs, but I will have a drink sometimes, the odd glass of mulled wine or Pimms.
When I read that, I found it inspirational at the same time. Young people don’t have to smoke or get drunk every night. You’re a good role model.
The only thing that worries me is that I’ve never said that I’ll never drink, so I’m scared that if I have a glass of wine and got snapped, it will say “Jessie J said she’d never drink”. All my friends that know me know that if I have a shandy I’ll be in bed because I’ll be so drunk! It’s just how I am. I have to go on stage pure – I can’t be intoxicated with a spliff, or a double G&T. I come from a family of people who are just happy being them. You can be cool by just being you.
Finally, as we are IDOL magazine we have to ask who are your IDOL’s?
My mum and dad. My family are my best friends. My mum and dad are two of the most amazing people in the world. Dad’s a social worker and has dedicated his life to saving other people’s. Those are the footsteps I want to follow on with my music. And my mum is the most caring person you’ll ever meet. They’ve been married 30 years, have set such a good example. They’re totally in love with each other, they go on dates, they are so positive and they live life to the fullest. So inspirational. My musical idol was Whitney. She made me want to sing. But now I aspire to Beyonce. There’s nothing she can’t do.