. and what?

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Cover Story -

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.

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