. and what?
Chipmunk, Tinchy Stryder, Tinie Tempah and Lethal Bizzle (a touchy subject in N-Dubz headquarters since he accused the group of stealing one of his song ideas).
“Our fans see themselves when they look at us, because a lot of them aren’t necessarily from an upper-class background, and that kind of makes them relate to us,” she says when I ask her what it is that makes N-Dubz so revered. “We’re just pretty much normal 21-, 22-year-olds, and they can relate to that. From our personalities, to the music, to what the music’s about – they just connect with us as a band. It’s an overall package.”
It hasn’t all been plain sailing, though. Indeed, choppy waters are something of a requirement if you’re a member of N-Dubz. The group’s non-musical exploits have kept tabloid hacks in ink over the past few years, whether it’s reports of Dappy’s cannabis use in an Alton Towers hotel, Dappy’s assault charges, Dappy’s text message threats to a radio-show caller who dared to criticise him, or, er, Dappy’s incident with a paintball gun and an unsuspecting fan. It would suggest that the band – or Dappy, more accurately – aren’t completely comfortable with their positions as role models.
“We do take it seriously, but at the same time, we didn’t come into this industry to be role models – we came into it to make music, and if we can inspire people while we’re at it that’s great,” says Tulisa. “People need to remember we’re still young people and we make mistakes. We’re obviously having fun, and we’re in this wild industry, so things are gonna happen. But a lot of times, the media make up things and exag
gerate things. Like, the paintball thing, for instance – that never actually happened. They said we paintballed a crowd of fans, but that wasn’t the case at all. Dappy paintballed one girl on the bum from a distance.”
We stand corrected. Why does the singer think the press gives them such a hard time, in that case? “They love drama, basically, and they know we’re full of drama,” she says with a resigned sigh. “They wanna sell papers, we’re three young, wild, rebellious kids and they know we’re gonna play up to our reputation as troublemakers, so they just have fun with it. But we don’t really care – and realistically, it’s all good for us, because all press is good press, and our fans don’t stop buying our music. They just seem to like us even more. It makes us feel like we’re part of a big family, and everyone’s against us, so it just works out even better.”
Although she claims she and Dappy have made a pact not to argue since arriving in Los Angeles (“It’s been what, a week and a half? Everyone is freaking out about it!”), Tulisa is also aware that the comic strife between her and her cousin is one of the things that made the first series of their recent Channel 4 reality TV show, Being N-Dubz, so eminently entertaining. Narrated by Linda Bellingham in “bemused parent” mode, the six-part series followed the trio as they recorded, went on holidays and partook in book signings, played Glastonbury, house-hunted and got up to all sorts of mischief earlier this summer. Things we learned from watching Being N-Dubz: punctuality is not Tulisa’s forte. Their manager is the sort of guy who wears white suits. The words “pancake” and “doughnut” are acceptable (semi-affectionate) terms of abuse, and the word “bruv” is not genderspecific.
The TV show is only the tip of the iceberg. To call N-Dubz a band with a plan is an understatement. They’ve made a stream of canny business decisions thus far, including insisting on producing their own material, and Tulisa is surprisingly upfront about their status as product rather than band.
“There’s definitely a plan,” she says. “We’re not one of those wham-bam-thankyou-ma’am groups that come on the scene. We see ourselves as a brand, if anything. When people like N-Dubz, it tends to be not just because they like the music, they tend to buy into the brand as well. Remember when you had the Spice Girls? People bought into the brand, and everyone had their favourite, and there was character, and lyrical content, and then there was the music. That’s what it’s like with N-Dubz – we’re one big brand, and everyone buys into every aspect of us.
“And now there’s the American journey, the next level for us, so we’re very excited about the next album. To have a company like Def Jam behind you, with such a massive reputation, it definitely helps with other aspects of your career.”
She’s also adamant that the label won’t interfere in the group’s creative process, or that the N-Dubz ethos won’t be compromised. “We’ll always do what we wanna do. We have been working with other producers and we’re open to that, but we told them if they wanna involve writers and producers, we wanna sit down together as a team and start from scratch. We’re involved in every aspect of our music. If something gets done for us, it’s not N-Dubz any more.”
Yet it’s an inevitability, I suggest, that as both the group and their fan base grow older, their music will have to change to reflect their experience. “It’s definitely growing,” she says. “Even the sound we’ve got going out here sounds like a whole new level, we’re stepping it up. Every track, every album develops and gets bigger and better. I don’t think it’s a case of changing.
“We’re not changing – we’re growing and getting better. So if we come back to the UK and have a slightly different sound, it doesn’t mean we’ve been Americanised – it means we’re developing and being the best we can be. And to be that, we have to be open to change, and taking on new styles and ideas.”
In the meantime, N-Dubz will return to Dublin later this month – less than a year and a half after making their Irish debut in a tiny nightclub on Wicklow Street – as headliners for teen-oriented bash The Summer Blow Out at Donnybrook Stadium.
“The difference between N-Dubz and other acts is that we’re spontaneous. We don’t really have sets. We might break out on the night and do something completely different to what was planned. Our whole show is about interacting, that’s what makes it different, it’s not just music, music, music. Between every song we’re having conversations with the fans, and they love that. We do things differently. It’s like one big party.”
We dread to imagine the clean-up, but she has a point. You don’t have to like their music, you don’t have to like their TV show, you don’t even have to like them. But there’s something about N-Dubz that’s hard not to admire.