Hot off her platinum single ‘Bang Bang’ that went straight to the top of the iTunes charts which she performed as the opening act at the recent MTV VMAs, the inimitable Jessie J chatted to BOOM about her upcoming album, Sweet Talker, the difficulties of the music industry and how she ended up collaborating with Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj.
How’s Sweet Talker different to your previous albums?
The most obvious difference is that the first album I first started writing 10 years ago, so the most obvious difference is what the songs are about. It’s where I am right now, I’m nearly 27, I’m definitely more confident to sing about and live about things that a 26, 27 year old woman lives. I think the first and second albums, when you’re that young, everything needs a happy ending, everything needs reassurance. So a song that’s about heartbreak, you need a happy ending. Whereas this album, there’s a little bit of heartbreak and there aren’t happy endings. You need that, you need to cry and be sad and you need to have fun and party. And I feel this album represents that.
Would you say it’s more dramatic?
I think every topic that I speak about is more of an extreme. If it’s a sad song, it’s really sad and it’s not like towards the end I’m like [sings] ‘but I’m gonna be OK…’, it’s just like I’m sad, it’s sad and that’s it. But there are songs on there that are different like ‘Bang Bang’ and ‘Sweet Talker’. There are so many different types of songs, there are songs on there that are just me and piano, me and guitar. There’s a feature with De La Soul with an 80s soul/funk sample. Kind of plays for everyone.
What was the hardest thing about making the album?
Probably not having that much time. I recorded the album in six weeks over January to July. So we had a week in LA, a week in New York and a few weeks in London. But we did it with the same vocal producer which made it so much easier. The consistency of the mic and how we worked, every vocal person that you work with does something differently and sometimes that means the album doesn’t feel cohesive, which I really enjoyed having. My voice can do so many different things, and it’s like a blessing and a curse. So the hardest thing was making sure that I got the songs out of my body well, and with a very busy diary.
How can your voice be a curse?
Because you can sound like 15 different people. I’m a singer’s singer and I was trained in musical theatre, so I can sing jazz and blues and RnB and soul and pop, cos I’ve trained myself to be able to do that. But I’ve got to be careful that I don’t do so much that I don’t have a sound.
Is it easy to forget about that when you’re singing?
Yes 100%. It’s more about having some kind of consistency that people can recognise. You know, like in the US, I’m signed in the US, I never got signed in the UK, so my launch, the base of it is the US and that’s my least known territory believe it or not. Everybody’s like you’ve made it in America, and I’m like no, that’s like my least well-known place, so I need to make sure. I’m almost starting again there. I kind of wanted to have people go, oh that’s the girl who sang ‘Bang Bang’ and not who the hell’s that?
How is the audience different between the UK and the US?
The culture’s very different. The fans are all the same, the love comes from the same place. With regard to fans around the world, they just want you to do well. They want you to succeed, so that feeling’s the same. But obviously the biggest difference between the UK and the US is the sheer size of the US. In the UK, you have Radio 1 that plays everything, but in the US it’s very categorised. You kind of have to slip into a certain sound, that’s the hardest thing to obtain.
Would it have been different if you had been signed in the UK?
Probably, but I’ll never know. You have a 360 deal and I tried to get signed in the UK when my first label went bankrupt and no-one wanted to sign me. It was about money, which is why I wrote ‘Price Tag’. It was ‘we’ve got this person, we’ve got Adele and Cheryl and Amy, it was like a massive influx of women and we’ve spent all this money and we don’t want another one’, so I was like ‘cool, well I’m going to America’. I needed to get signed otherwise my songs would have been bought out from my first record label if I wasn’t signed within 6 weeks. The music business is a motherf*cker. Sorry, but it is. So I was stuck. So I went to the US and within 2 weeks of being there, I had 9 offers on the table. I said to myself I’m not going to let this slip by me. So the first album was pushed out of the UK as a marketing plan cos I am British, the second was supposed to be more US based, but because of my foot injury and they felt it didn’t work in the US, that album was released everywhere but the US. So the US has had the least of me, believe it or not. Even though I’ve been there recording, I’ve got my first show in 2 weeks in LA and New York. I’ve never done a show there that isn’t attached to a brand or to an event.
But you’ve had massive exposure with Bang Bang, singing with Nicki Minaj.
Yes and with Ariana Grande. Both of them are huge in the US and opening the VMAs was a huge moment. It’s like they’ve gone ‘come on’ and we’re holding hands, like I’m the new kid in the school. And they’ve held my hand and taken me to the cool kids and I will feel forever grateful for that. All of us are on the same record label and they didn’t need to say yes to doing the song and all three of us want it to do so well. I mean it’s still sitting at No 3 on iTunes 6 weeks after release, so lots of prayers and working hard.
How did that collaboration come about?
Max Martin sent me the song and told me I had to sing this. That’s a frickin’ honour in itself to be asked by someone like Max Martin to sing a song. So I went in the studio, put my vocals down, changed some of the lyrics, made it my own. Then he was like Ariana [Grande] wants to jump on it and I was like yes, I mean she’s an amazing singer. There’s a few people I would have said no to, but she’s definitely a yes. I was like ‘yes this is a moment’. Then he’s like ‘Nicki [Minaj] wants to jump on it too, I played it to her in the studio’ and I was like ‘YEAH’ and when I got it back and she said my name, I was like ‘yeah, I’m cool!’. And the first time we met, it was no 1 on iTunes and we were doing the video shoot. So it was a whirlwind, and then we were doing the VMAs and all of sudden, it’s just gone platinum, it’s sold over a million copies in the US. So, it’s just kicking off, I’m just trying to soak it all up and enjoy it. And try and get to the gym more.
What did you learn mentoring The Voice?
You know, there are those qualities that are on the negative side. I’m a control freak. F*ck, you’re going to make that a quote. [Laughs]. But I am somebody that cares to a point that I almost care too much, and I have to tell myself that I have to take a step back and just enjoy it. Being on the Voice, it made me realise there are very few people that work… What I mean is, it’s a big sacrifice to do what artists do, and I think until you live it you don’t truly understand. And doing The Voice was one of the most eye-opening experiences for me as an artist, because I wasn’t being an artist, I was being a mentor. An artist on my day off as it were, and I was teaching people how to be an artist, but I was thinking ‘but you don’t give yourself that advice’. I was going ‘enjoy it, relax, take photos, have fun!’, so I think it made me chill out a bit.
You got your head shaved for Comic Relief and you’re a role model, what message of empowerment do you have for your female fans?
Yeah, I can’t believe that was just last year! Yeah, I’ve always been someone that’s been very aware that being in this industry, you’re going to contradict yourself, you’re going to say things you’ll never do and then you do them. I’ve always said from a young age, I really want to be a role model and now I’ve lived somewhat that kind of thing, being famous whatever that is. Being a role model has almost become people wanting you to live the way they want you to live. And that’s unhealthy, so I want to be an inspiration. I can’t live for everyone, because everybody lives differently, but I think the biggest thing for me is that people know that I lived by a good heart and as honest as I could. Even when I’ve messed up or done stuff or said things that I wish I hadn’t, I’m someone that will always live with my heart on my sleeve. But also doing it with a bit of class. You know, taking the mick out of myself and not always having to wear makeup. Just having fun. You know I’m building my life as an artist, but also as a mum-to-be one day and a good wife. I mean, I cook and I learned how to sew and I’m doing a massage course so that when my man comes home from work, I can [laughs]. You know I think all those things are important, and I think it’s important to teach young women that’s it’s about self-growth. You can’t look to someone to become yourself, you have to be yourself, and that’s something that I think is really important for me to make sure my fans, and especially my young female fans, understand.