Singer Jessie J talks music, personal growth and giving back.
By Jesse Mintz
Standing alone in a spotlight, backed only by a gentle piano, Jessie J let it all out.
“When you put your power into a moment, it can stand the test of time,” she told a captivated WE Day UK audience. To the individuals in the crowd, she was speaking directly to them; to those who know the artist, she might have been reminding herself of a personal mantra. “I’m someone that likes to be present in the world,” she shares during her interview with WE. “There are so many issues that need light shed on them.”
For the artist, music is a source of illumination. Take singles from the Billboard Award-winning singer’s upcoming album R.O.S.E., her fourth record. Its songs signal a new stage in the performer’s life. At times anthemic, at times darkly melodic, tracks are unlike anything she’s done before. And that’s the point. It’s fearless Jessie J—complete with affirmations and explorations. There’s signs of personal growth and open admissions of failure. There’s empowerment coupled with doubt. And, there’s a journey to acceptance.
The singer is quick to admit that she couldn’t have made this music years ago. She wasn’t ready for it. A reflection of the journey she’s been in since she was a little girl, R.O.S.E. is a long time coming.
As a teen, Jessie J was in and out of the hospital due to a heart condition. The medication prescribed to her gave her skin a green tint. This condition made her the target of relentless bullying. Then, at 17, she had a stroke.
Flash forward and it’s clear the perseverance that once saw her through those challenges today spurs her creativity. (For proof, see her chart-topping hits and Grammy nomination.) Her newest songs dig even deeper. They send a critical message—one she believes people need to hear. “Everything you’re doing,” she told the WE Day audience, “is standing the test of time. If anyone here needs this song [“Who You Are”] right now, or has ever needed this song, I want you to take a moment and be proud of yourself.”
From backstage at WE Day, Jessie J talks her new album, the causes that get her out of bed in the morning and what she’s learned on her whirlwind journey to stardom.
Thanks for speaking with us before getting on stage. Let’s start with the basics: what’s the issue that energizes you most?
It changes on a daily basis. I’m someone that likes to be present in the world and there are so many issues that need light shed on them. There are ones that I’m personally attached to because I’ve gone through them. Everything from body shaming to bullying to poverty [to] discrimination [to] racism [to] sexism. There are so many issues, but the core thing for me is care. You have to care for yourself [and for] others.
You said there are issues you’ve experienced yourself. What have you gone through in life that makes you want to give back?
When I was younger, I had … well, I still have … a heart disease. I was in and out of hospital my whole childhood. I was on these really strong beta blockers [that caused my skin to go] green. I used to get bullied really bad at school. I was always very sick, and then I had a stroke when I was 17. It had a massive impact on how I saw my life. Being bullied, being treated differently, always being made to feel like I couldn’t achieve my dreams, but still wanting to sing, wanting to push through the health issues, that’s made me relate to people who are being discriminated against or being made to feel like they can’t achieve.
What’s happened this year that’s inspired you and your work?
Nina Simone said your music has to reflect the times. That always stuck with me. I’ve put out albums in the past that I’ve been proud of, but I haven’t had my soul imprinted in them. Everything that’s going on with racism, terrorism, war—you turn the news on and it’s one thing after another. It’s all reflected in what I’m writing. Right now, I feel like I’ve changed so much, but the world hasn’t heard what I’m working on … talking about it all, I want to play it for you!
I’d love that! Tell me about the record.
I’ve written everything by myself. I’ve had one producer. It’s almost like a therapy session with a melody. I’m excited. That for me is my biggest impact. I know that today, I’ve been invited [to WE Day] because I wrote a song when I was 17 [about bullying] that I’m still being asked to sing. I don’t want to put out songs that don’t mean anything.
WE Day is about building bridges between people. If you could have young people take action to create more unity, what would you like to see them do?
Be nicer to each other. It sounds cliché, but so many people in the world think about what they want from other people before they think about what that person is going through. Sensitivity and care and being nice is something that I think everyone can act on a little more.