Jess Glynne is revelling in her role as one of the most exciting new voices in pop, writes Ed Power.
JESS GLYNNE’S rise to stardom began to look preordained early last year when she lent her powerhouse vocals to the Clean Bandit smash ‘Rather Be’. Since then the Londoner — from the same part of the British capital as Amy Winehouse — has burnished her reputation as the most exciting up-and-comer in British pop, with a flurry of solo hits and and a chart-topping LP, I Cry When I Laugh. She’s a young woman in a hurry.
“I’m determined that the record will have a live feel and that it will be upbeat,” she told me before the project’s completion. “I want it to give a sense of what I’m about. There’s a lot of emotion. Some of it is introspective. But a lot of it is positive too.”
At the time of our conversation it was not widely known that I Cry When I Laugh was inspired by a break-up. Glynne would subsequently confirm that the individual who shattered her heart was a woman – a fact about which she feels it is important to be upfront. She’s not a person to run away from the truth.
“I would never lie about a situation I’ve been in. I feel like with the album I’m putting my cards out on the table,” she said last week. “I wouldn’t want it to be misconstrued and the fact of the matter is those songs are about a girl. I was heartbroken about a girl, it wasn’t a guy.”
Glynne (26) has a strong personality and does not take kindly to being condescended to. As a woman in pop, these are crucial qualities. Behind the scenes the industry remains thoroughly male-dominated — producers and songwriters are invariably men in their 30s and 40s. As a 20-something new to the business, Glynne had to learn early on to stand up for what she felt is right for her.
“In the studio I have a clear idea what I want,” she says. “I enjoy collaborating. However, at the end of the day it’s my record. Fortunately, the people I enjoy working with are very supportive of my vision. Making the album has been very positive for me.”
In this writer’s experience pop hopefuls are a cagey lot, especially when there’s a lot of money behind them. Often they appear dumbstruck with terror in front of journalists - understanding an ill-judged comment could set Twitter ablaze and sink their career. Glynne, however, is different. Not that she is provocative or mouthy. On the other hand, she is plainspoken and is clearly stating whatever is on her mind — from the outset it is obvious you are talking to a confident woman in control of her destiny. Not a Simon Cowell sock puppet afraid of doing or saying something mildly interesting.
She could have been famous a decade earlier. Aged 15, it was suggested she audition for X Factor. She blanched. Singing to someone else’s tune wasn’t her style. She would rather fail on her own than achieve success on someone else’s coat-tails. That’s simply how she is wired.
“I just wasn’t really feeling it,” she said recently. “It wasn’t me. It was a great thing to see but also a great thing to walk away from. I was quite an opinionated girl, I still am, and I know what I want so I don’t think it would have been the right thing for me. Some people do need that platform, and for some people it’s perfect because not everyone enjoys the creative part, the writing and making the music. But that’s my favourite part.”
The Winehouse comparisons understandably fill her with unease. Nonetheless, there are undeniable parallels. As with the Rehab singer, Glynne was born into a Jewish family and grew up in the Muswell Hill district of north London. Music filled the household through her childhood, she recalls.
“I take such inspiration from the artists I listened to as a kid,” she says. “People like Aretha Franklin and Mariah Carey. But I was also into hip-hop and r’n b. I have a lot of influences and they informed me in all sorts of way.”
Glynne’s success has been tinged with struggle. Over the summer, she was required to step back from touring following vocal chord surgery. Sam Smith and Adele went under the knife for the same condition — the difference, however, is that they were already established, with a loyal fan-base. Whereas Glynne was starting out and had genuine cause to fear that the recovery period could sap her momentum at the time she needed it most.
As it turned out, her worries were unfounded. She took three weeks out, during which she was forbidden from speaking (much less singing). Even then, she had to tiptoe her was back, with a much reduced touring schedule. It’s been difficult — almost like learning to perform again.
She didn’t know Clean Bandit when it was suggested they collaborate (the idea originated with their managers). Going into the studio with strangers can be hit and miss. If the chemistry isn’t right, you’re stuck there thumb-twiddling. In the case of Clean Bandit, however, she sensed a connection immediately — and was inspired to be with people whose working methods differed from hers.
“It’s been the most amazing number of years. I’m ambitious but having success is definitely something you don’t necessarily take for granted. I’ve had to work really hard and there’s a lot of expectation on you. “
That said, Glynne is immensely grateful that, six months after ‘Rather Be’, she achieved a stand-alone hit, in the shape of ‘Right Here’ (produced by dance pop band Gorgon City).
“I was going for something that is quite different from ‘Rather Be’. I have more of an r’n’b thing going on, whereas ‘Rather Be’ has a pop and dance vibe. It was great that Right Here did well — it showed that my music could speak for itself. I took a lot of satisfaction from that.”
I Cry When I Laugh is out now
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