Jessie J and the cost of popular success

Jessie J’s ‘Price Tag’ has made her a target, says Ed Power.

IF you want to be famous, pop star Jessie J will put you off. She says it’s exhausting, boring and frustrating. She earned €5 million last year, but she can’t walk down the street without being accosted. Her throwaway comments risk being distorted. The scrutiny, the gossip never ends. “I was unknown when I made my first album, that was the big difference,” says the ‘Do It Like A Dude’ singer and The Voice judge. “I could go out and nobody would recognise me. It was very normal. I’m still normal. It’s just that people are interested in what I am doing.”

Jessie J became a household face quickly. In December, 2010, she released ‘Do It Like A Dude’, her debut single. She wrote it with Rihanna in mind, but Jessie J’s record label insisted she record it herself. It reached number two in the UK. Six weeks later, her second single, ‘Price Tag’, topped the British charts (as it did in Ireland). Suddenly, she was famous in Britain. Bat there was a downside.

“I try to be positive and honest. I’m an ordinary person, trying to live the same as everyone else. However, fame is a very unnatural thing. It certainly feels unnatural to me. That is why I now very much respect my privacy. I have learned my lesson.”

Jessie J has discovered the hard way that there is such a thing as oversharing. Early on, she talked about her bisexuality. Now, the shutters come down.

It isn’t the only topic of which she is wary. She is uncomfortable about the tweet she sent after headlining Dublin’s Trinity Ball in 2011, in which she expressed horror at the boozed-up attendees. “To see so many people so drunk, they couldn’t even stand,” she wrote. “Girls unconscious and (students were) literally trampling on each other. It wasn’t easy.” She thought her remarks were innocent, unaware of the sensitivity of a British person criticising the Irish for drinking too much. The backlash was furious. “I know where I am coming from,” she says. “The media twist things. I am so excited about coming to Cork, and performing in Ireland. What I said [in the Tweet] was distorted. I am aware that the media can twist what you say. I’m all for having a good time.”

Jessie J hopes she is getting better at dealing with criticism. She is 25 and feels more mature than when she broke into the charts. She is no longer wide-eyed and naive. “I was very young and nobody was guarding me, as such. Times have changed. I’m grown-up. I’ve learned my lessons, in terms of what people should know about me and what they shouldn’t.”

Jessie J was born Jessica Cornish, and grew up in Chadwell Heath, near Dagenham, in London. From childhood, she wanted to be on stage. Having attended a performing arts college, at 11 she was cast in a West End production of Whistle Down The Wind, and, aged 15, won the TV show Best Pop Singer. She attended the famed Brit School, in London, graduating in the same class as Adele and Leona Lewis.

For all her success, life has not been easy. Ill-health has dogged her. She was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat, aged seven, and had a stroke at the age of 18. In 2011, she ruptured tendons in her leg during rehearsals and had to perform her tour seated. She says she is not too delicate for the pop industry. “I’m not a frail person,” she says. “I’d like to see the people who say those things trying to live my life. You can’t live my life if you are frail. I work extremely hard. I couldn’t do that if I wasn’t in good shape.”

In 2012, her profile stepped up as she was unveiled as a judge on the UK edition of The Voice. There was speculation that, after two seasons, she might quit. She pours cold water on this. Had The Voice been too much, she wouldn’t have signed up.

“I make sure I give 100% to whatever I am doing,” she says. “The Voice is a fantastic series. It’s great fun and you see some fantastic talent. The judges have a special bond. I’ve also managed to write a book and do an arena tour. This life isn’t for the faint-hearted, you know.”

She performs in Cork this Sunday, and supports Justin Timberlake at Phoenix Park, Dublin, on Wednesday. She will use the shows to road-test material from her next album. Co-produced with Claude Kelly, the record has been a long time coming. Jessie J is confident it will be worth the wait. “I’ve wrapped up the vocals. We are just finishing the production, the mixing, and so forth. I wanted to take time out to do the album, to ensure it wasn’t rushed. I’m enjoying being a woman and living my life and having all these new experiences to write about. I can’t wait for fans to hear it,” she says.

Jessie J plays Live at the Marquee, Cork, on Sunday.


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