rita ora

“MY FRIENDS TOLDME THEY DIDN’T REC­OG­NIZE ME ANY­MORE”

Elle (Canada) - - Front Page - By Aliyah Shamsher Pho­to­graphs by Max Abadian

On a late Septem­ber af­ter­noon, Rita Ora ar­rives for lunch at Toronto’s Co­lette Grand Café. Sun­glasses on, she is ush­ered to the ta­ble by a sea of peo­ple (all with cell­phones in hand). For­mal greet­ings are ex­changed be­fore ev­ery­one dis­perses and the pop star is free to slump down in her chair, re­move her sun­glasses, tousle her newly chopped hair and give an au­di­ble sigh. “I’m not really eat­ing,” she says, as if we are al­ready mid­con­ver­sa­tion. “Why not?” I in­quire. “Be­cause you’re not eat­ing!” We both start laugh­ing, and I as­sure her I’m plan­ning to eat, and, even though I’ve never spent more than a couple of min­utes with Ora, I feel the need to tell her she has a long day ahead and should eat lunch. “OH, GOD, I know! Okay, let’s eat some­thing,” she says warmly.

It’s the type of ex­change I can see my­self hav­ing with a good friend. And that’s the thing about Ora: She in­stantly makes you feel like you’ve known her for­ever. For our live cover shoot the day be­fore, Ora sim­i­larly ar­rived amid a flurry of peo­ple but quickly emerged from be­hind her keep­ers in or­der to shake hands with ev­ery­one on-set. And I mean ev­ery­one—from the pho­tog­ra­pher and the makeup artist to the caterer and even the light­ing tech­ni­cian (who was more than a lit­tle taken aback by such a direct and friendly greet­ing). And in the first five min­utes af­ter ar­riv­ing for lunch, Ora de­scribes the type of English coun­try house she’d like (a cot­tage in the mid­dle of nowhere, prefer­ably with a laven­der field) and con­fesses con­cern about her new hair­cut be­cause tomorrow she’s meet­ing some­one she “really fan­cies” and can’t de­cide if she should have short hair or long hair. (She’s wor­ried that she won’t feel fem­i­nine enough with short hair.)

Con­nect­ing with just about any­one, any­where, is part of the rea­son the 25-year-old Al­ba­nian-born Brit, even with­out ever hav­ing re­leased an al­bum in North Amer­ica, is known—and adored—by le­gions of fans world­wide. (They call them­selves “Ritabots.”) And while many songs, like “R.I.P.” and “How We Do (Party),” from her de­but al­bum, Ora (2012), soared in the U.K. charts and racked up al­most 100 mil­lion views on YouTube, the singer still con­sid­ers her new­est al­bum (yet to be named and out h

“It’s so ex­cit­ing that the whole al­bum is fi­nally com­ing to­gether. It’s taken, like, seven years—and it’s been a long seven years, I can tell you that!”

this spring) her real de­but. “It’s so ex­cit­ing that the whole al­bum is fi­nally com­ing to­gether. It’s taken, like, seven years—and it’s been a long seven years, I can tell you that!”

To understand Ora’s mix of ex­cite­ment, ex­haus­tion and frus­tra­tion, you have to go back to the be­gin­ning. She left school at 16 to pursue mu­sic and spent a couple of years per­form­ing on the open-mic cir­cuit around Lon­don. At 18, she au­di­tioned for the Euro­vi­sion Song Con­test 2009, where she met her now man­ager, who urged her to drop out. She then flew Ora to New York to au­di­tion in front of Jay Z—who signed her on the spot to his la­bel Roc Na­tion. Ora al­ready had a de­but al­bum in the works, but she was asked to scrap many of the songs and ex­plore a new sound. The re­sult was Ora, a bright, shiny pop al­bum that cat­a­pulted the artist to fame across Europe. “Ora was to just see how it goes, and then it kind of ex­ploded,” she says. “It was too late to release the al­bum again be­cause it found its way over­seas via the In­ter­net.”

Af­ter this, Ora worked tire­lessly on cre­at­ing a brand that cen­tres on—you guessed it—con­nec­tion. “It has al­ways been a dream of mine to cre­ate this cult,” she says. “Back in the day, when punk was a life­style, peo­ple used to gather in un­der­ground raves and punk out. I know it’s dif­fer­ent now be­cause ev­ery­thing is so much more ex­posed. But even if it’s only 10 peo­ple, it’s my move­ment.” On so­cial me­dia, Ora is known to an­swer fans di­rectly, and at her shows she holds “coun­sel ses­sions.” “Be­fore I start singing, I ask peo­ple things like ‘How did this song make you feel? What did you go through?’ We start hav­ing th­ese chats. Then peo­ple are like, ‘Can you sing now?!’”

Over the past five years, la­bels like DKNY, Calvin Klein and Adi­das have all sought Ora out, try­ing to tap into her fan base. And as a Rim­mel Lon­don col­lab­o­ra­tor, she launched her sec­ond nail col­lec­tion with the brand this past fall. She has also dab­bled in TV and movies: Last year, she was a judge on The X Fac­tor, and she played Chris­tian Grey’s lit­tle sis­ter, Mia, in Fifty Shades of Grey.

When asked how she has changed the most since be­ing signed by Jay Z and re­leas­ing that first al­bum, the con­ver­sa­tion quickly turns to fame. “I won­der what makes ev­ery­one so in­ter­ested in me,” pon­ders Ora. “It has made me really think about ev­ery move I make; it has made me more self-con­scious. I al­ways wanted the at­ten­tion, but then when I started to get it, it made me sec­ond-guess ev­ery­thing.”

I’m im­me­di­ately re­minded of one of Ora’s new songs, “Poi­son,” which was re­leased in early 2015. The video de­picts her be­ing “dis­cov­ered” while hang­ing out with friends, only to lose her­self in a glam­orous new world, and fol­lows her at­tempt at find­ing her way home. “I had this idea of a pho­tog­ra­pher who made me his girl, dress­ing me up, and how it was all so poi­sonous be­cause I thought it was a world that I needed to be a part of,” she says. “I also made the video be­cause I wanted ev­ery­one to know that even though I’m in­volved in other worlds, like fash­ion and movies, I still know who I am.”

Ora also al­ludes to the fact that “Poi­son” is a breakup song. “There was a time when my friends were ac­tu­ally like ‘We don’t rec­og­nize you any­more,’” says Ora, who, back in 2014, went through a messy pub­lic breakup with DJ and pro­ducer Calvin Har­ris. (He’s now dat­ing Tay­lor Swift.) “I was con­stantly wor­ried about this guy; even while on the road, I would think ‘Oh, my God, what is he do­ing? Let me fly him out.’ So, for me, ‘Poi­son’ is a really rel­e­vant video be­cause it shows a form of hon­esty.” In her own life, she cred­its her close-knit fam­ily and child­hood best friends with help­ing her find her way back. “For a while, I was making mu­sic that was just not me,” she says. “Even my mom was ask­ing ‘Are you okay?’” Since 2012, Ora’s fol­low-up al­bum has been im­mi­nent, but it was held up for un­known rea­sons. “I just haven’t been pre­pared to put it out, and that’s the truth. But I’m happy that I de­layed the al­bum be­cause oth­er­wise I don’t think the peo­ple who haven’t heard my mu­sic would have the right im­pres­sion of me be­cause that isn’t who I am.”

It’s clear from “Poi­son” and her new­est release, “Body on Me” (fea­tur­ing Chris Brown), that she has definitely left the sugar-sweet vo­cals and catchy pop cho­ruses of her past be­hind, un­veil­ing a more com­plex and ma­ture sound—and the per­sona to go with it. Af­ter seven years, Ora fi­nally seems com­fort­able with her voice. When asked how she has man­aged to stay so open and real with ev­ery­one, Ora im­me­di­ately talks of go­ing home to Al­ba­nia for a friend’s wed­ding. And while she’s ex­cited for the al­bum release, she’s even more ex­cited to be home with fam­ily. “I’m telling you, man, it’s all about the peo­ple you have around you,” she says. “If peo­ple give you yeses and yeses and yeses, then you’re al­ready screwed, in my opin­ion. You need them to con­stantly say ‘What are you do­ing?’ Those are the peo­ple I keep close.” n

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