Jessie J – the J stands for ‘whatever you want it to’ – strides into the room, looking a billion dollars. After you’ve got past all 5’9” of her cut-glass beauty (‘I love being a giant’), her figure hugging catsuit (‘I was front of the queue for legs, back for boobs and bum’), the 36-hole Dr Martens boots and the huge gold hoop earrings with Bambi encircled in them (‘it’s Disney Chic, innit?’), Jessie’s superb pop star hair hits you. A poker straight, ink black bob with a perfect fringe slashed above the eyes, it begs immediate questions. Is it inspired by historic film icon Louise Brooks? ...
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Jessie J – the J stands for ‘whatever you want it to’ – strides into the room, looking a billion dollars. After you’ve got past all 5’9” of her cut-glass beauty (‘I love being a giant’), her figure hugging catsuit (‘I was front of the queue for legs, back for boobs and bum’), the 36-hole Dr Martens boots and the huge gold hoop earrings with Bambi encircled in them (‘it’s Disney Chic, innit?’), Jessie’s superb pop star hair hits you.
A poker straight, ink black bob with a perfect fringe slashed above the eyes, it begs immediate questions. Is it inspired by historic film icon Louise Brooks? Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction? Jessie J is pure ghetto-pop fabulosity. Her hair might just be one component part of this emerging 21st century superstar, but it’s a key one. ‘To be honest, I always think of it as being a bit Mystic Meg,’ chips in Jessie herself, referring to the kitsch Sunday newspaper Psychic. ‘People are always coming up to me on the street and asking me if it’s a wig. I say ‘yeah, yeah, you can buy it down Hamley’s’’. Jessie J is also pure ghetto-pop humour.
Impossible to pin down in a world of female pop homogeneity, at 22 years of age, the future star born Jessica Cornish carries herself with the confidence of one twice her years. On the eve of her pop breakthrough, she has achieved everything herself, and on her own terms. Singer, songwriter and show-pony, she has the enviable ability to excel at it all.
She’s had to. ‘Look,’ she says, straight off the bat, ‘I had a minor stroke three years ago. I’ve got heart problems. I’ve looked at the big stuff straight in the eye, had people sitting on the end of a hospital bed wondering what’s going to happen next and genuinely not knowing. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I can’t touch drugs. I can’t even have caffeine. I have to be confident. Because I can’t intoxicate myself with those props ordinary young people have to give them confidence.’ Amidst problems most teenagers haven’t yet to even consider, music was Jessie’s saviour. ‘When I’m in the studio sometimes, I think no, I don’t need a therapist. I just need to write a great song.’ That’s when she does it.
Alicia Keys seems to agree. A self-starting, perfectly driven songwriter, Jessie has penned for Ms Keys. Her international credentials are exhaustive for one so young. When she supported Cyndi Lauper, at the personal request of the irrepressible talent herself, she invited Jessie up on stage to duet on Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. This year’s breakout hip-hop star with the midas touch BoB appears on future smash ‘Price Tag’, already the subject of Tweeting praise from Kylie Minogue and Paloma Faith.
What is it about Jessie that attracts this blue-chip pop attention? Jessie J is simply not built as other pop-stars. Quite literally, she stands head and shoulders above her peers. When you hear an echo of Lily Allen’s street slang in her lyrics, you remember this one’s the real-deal, brought up in the inglorious backwaters of Essex and learning her street-smarts on the hop. When you hear a chorus as pop-it-like-it’s-hot addictive as one of Beyonce’s you recall the fact she can’t rely on a hard-fought party-girl lifestyle to support the myth-making. When you hear the pure, flame-grilled sass of her attitude grooving through every beat of her debut album, Who You Are, you might think of Pink for a second; then check the record sleeve and remind yourself this one is cool, too.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is Jessie J. She is her own special creation.
‘I am so, like, the uncoolest person ever,’ counteracts Jessie, admitting that her first ambition in life was to star in musical theatre. ‘My dad’s cooler than me. He was the one playing D Train and Funkadelic in the house. I will not lie.’ At 11, she auditioned for Whistle Down The Wind and landed a precocious two year West End residency. ‘That was when it all started,’ she says, rolling her eyes, ‘You can get paid for this? Bring it on! They all used to call me Brat Pitt because I fell off the stage one night. I think Andrew Lloyd Weber thought I was going to sue him. He really cosied up after that.’
Jessie was then signed to Gut records, but the label promptly went bust. ‘Someone told me on the telephone. They’ve gone into liquidation. I didn’t even know what it meant. Liquidisation? What, they’ve been turned into a soup?’
This girl isn’t afraid of pulling herself up by her boot straps and starting all over. ‘I like the hustle. I like the grind. I just want to get out there.’ Packing herself a small kit back she fled to America under her then agent’s at William Morris Agency and had three weeks in New York, three in LA to try the trans-Atlantic option. ‘I landed off the plane in LA, did a showcase at the Viper Rooms and two days later I’m sat with LA Reid and there are 8 offers on the table. LA said to me he couldn’t believe that British labels had passed up on me.’ Obviously a major talent spots a major talent.
These things happen to Jessie. Label-less, she was picked up as a support act for Chris Brown’s European tour after his manager caught her on Youtube. ‘I’m glad I had to learn how to be amazing on stage like that, how to fill somewhere the size of Wembley Arena with no press, no features, no record, no band behind me. It toughens you up. Being on stage is my home. Even if it’s 20 minutes I’ll take control of it because that is my time. It’s when I come to life. It’s just me, my heels and my mic.’
Jessie has ridden the internet age as if it were a pair of roller-skates with jet-packs attached. A true online sensation, she’s sold out gigs and built a huge fanbase online. A new Myspace portal specifically designed for her, her very own online TV show, Dare Jessie, is about to launch. Fans can issue a series of challenges her way. Already those setting her tasks have included high profile fans Perez Hilton and Justin Timberlake. ‘Which is cool, of course it is, but I want everyone to get involved.’ Jessie has a democratic approach to her fans. ‘Just because someone’s famous don’t make them more important.’ The resulting TV show indicates just how fearless this incredible DIY pop star can be.
On the last day of a writing session in Hollywood, a song that Jessie scripted with hit-master du jour, Dr Luke, Party in the USA, was optioned by teen-scream heroine Miley Cyrus. ‘To be honest, it was better for her, its way too straight pop for me. The version I wrote and demoed on that day was well ironic.’
First scripted US number one hit under her belt and with Alicia’s looking likely to follow suit, Jessie J found herself hot property back on home turf. ‘And because I’d been in and out of deals since I was 16, I had the perfect album, exactly as I wanted it to be, ready to go.’
The title track of Who You Are was written in the same week as Party In The USA. As hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck power ballads and vocal showcases go, they don’t get much better. ‘I was phoning my mum and talking about all these crazy women I’d met in LA who were so different from me. I opened myself right out on that song. I was really down on that day. I was trying to remember who I was before I went out and was surrounded by all these women who looked so Hollywood perfect on the outside. The day I walked into the studio to write it I would’ve rather been in Essex eating pie and mash and watching an old episode of One Foot in The Grave. The words just fell out of me. It was exactly what I wanted to say about myself when I was that lost.’
Debut UK single ‘Do It Like A Dude’ which features a monster of a remix from ‘Labrinth’ is a straight out of the box party smash. Slinking around a middle of the dancefloor groove and making haste to skip to its addictive chorus, this is the most urban Jessie gets. It’s almost a curveball for the young artist, though she’s secretly reveling in the thrill of getting to release and putting herself out there at last. It’s where she deserves to be. ‘I don’t fit a template. When I did the video for Do It Like A Dude I wanted it to be what it is. I concepted it as ghetto chic. Girls grabbing their dicks? What’s wrong with that? It’s gully. But it’s pop enough to go both ways. It felt like my wedding day. The next morning I was on a plane to New York to work with BoB, thinking did that really happen yesterday? All that build up and it was over in 19 hours.’
The rest of Who You Are is shaping up to be the pop release that everyone will need for the first half of 2011. Mama Knows Best is a 21st century slice of big-band doo-wop. You can quite imagine Jessie slinking down a pole to perform it as righteous urban burlesque. And in the immediate standout Nobody’s Perfect Jessie just about nails her own character. ‘Sometimes I just can’t shut the hell up’ she intones in the first seconds of the song. ‘Ahem. Yep, that’s me!’
Outspoken, righteous, cool and fun. There hasn’t been a pop star like Jessie J before. You’re unlikely to find one in the future either. They broke the mould with this one. Is she ready for it all? ‘People sometimes ask me who styled you? Who wrote your songs? I’m like, I did! I’ve got a personality. That’s why I started writing music in the first place. Every single song on the album is a story of my life. I feel ready. Of course I do. I said it on my Twitter this morning. I feel ready, now steady and go are catching up with me.’