Marie Claire (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - @Ri­taOra ri­taora Words KARL TARO GREEN­FELD Pho­to­graphs BEAU GRE­ALY

RITA ORA HAS A PLAN. The mag­a­zine cov­ers, fash­ion (Roberto Cavalli) and beauty (Rim­mel Lon­don) en­dorse­ments, design col­lab­o­ra­tions with Adi­das Orig­i­nals, cam­paign with Coca-Cola, even per­form­ing a nom­i­nated song (‘Grate­ful’) at this year’s Os­cars, are all tes­ti­mony that the plan is work­ing. ‘Oh, it is in full ef­fect. We’re these con­niv­ing Koso­van hun­gry bitches,’ Rita says of her­self and her older sis­ter, Elena Sa­hatçiu, who is also her man­ager. ‘I knew that one way or another, I was go­ing to do things my way.’

The Lon­don-based 24-year-old in­sists the plan is a se­cret but that it has been nearly 10 years in the mak­ing. There was ad­mis­sion to the pres­ti­gious Sylvia Young The­atre School in Lon­don as an 11-year-old. There was singing in her fa­ther’s pub when she was 14. There was record­ing her first song at the lo­cal youth cen­tre. There was sneak­ing out to ware­house raves in East Lon­don, play­ing the house diva be­hind the turnta­bles while her par­ents thought she was go­ing to a sleep­over. ‘Me and my friends, we were re­ally, like, rebel-y. I feel like I lived a lot when I shouldn’t have.’ She found her voice in those clubs and at her dad’s pub; the soul­ful alto, the easy glis­sando that makes auto-tun­ing su­per­flu­ous.

She and her sis­ter shared a room, with Deb­bie Harry, Ste­vie Nicks and Wi­nona Ry­der posters on the wall. Rita’s side was so messy that Elena, two years older, vac­u­umed only up to the imag­i­nary line down the mid­dle of the room. Rita used to cut out pho­tos from mag­a­zines. ‘All these women would make me want to go out and make an ef­fort to get dressed, and be orig­i­nal, be my­self, be dif­fer­ent, be a mis­fit.’ Be­cause she couldn’t af­ford the high fash­ion taped to her walls, she would buy vin­tage pieces from Por­to­bello Road and have her mother sew them ac­cord­ing to Rita’s sketches. ‘Peo­ple would be like, “Where did you get that?” It made me feel good be­cause they couldn’t get it be­cause I made it on my own.’

The sis­ters get their looks from their mother, Vera Sa­hatçiu, who has told her daugh­ters, ‘I was hot­ter than both of you put to­gether,’ back when she was ‘the first woman in Al­ba­nia to wear red lip­stick and hair gel.’ And that was enough, ap­par­ently, to lure their Mus­lim fa­ther, Bes­nik (Vera is Catholic). The two fled con­flict-torn Kosovo in 1991, when Rita was a year old, and set­tled in Lon­don. Her fa­ther, who had stud­ied economics, opened his pub – he’s not a de­vout Mus­lim – and her mother be­came a psy­chi­a­trist. She had Rita’s younger brother, Don, in 1998.

What­ever her plan is, it now in­cludes act­ing, and she is be­ing strate­gic about tak­ing small, high-pro­file roles in buzzy films. She ap­peared as a race starter in 2013’s Fast & Fu­ri­ous 6 and played Chris­tian Grey’s (Jamie Dor­nan) sis­ter, Mia, in Fe­bru­ary’s Fifty Shades of Grey. (Her char­ac­ter’s role will ex­pand in the next two Fifty Shades movies.) ‘I’m not an ego­tis­ti­cal per­son. I don’t care what role it is,’ she says. ‘I just want to learn and get in the en­vi­ron­ment.’ In the film drama South­paw, out in Septem­ber, she plays a drug ad­dict who at­tempts to se­duce a boxer played by Jake Gyl­len­haal. ‘I ar­rived on the set, and the make-up artist said, “You’re kind of ready to go on­stage,”’ Rita says. ‘I’m like, “You know I’m play­ing a crack whore?” Which shows: Don’t look at me when I’m wak­ing up.’

Jok­ing aside, her beauty is pro­duced as much by her force of per­son­al­ity as the sym­me­try of her fea­tures. In her manic en­ergy and self­dep­re­cat­ing com­ments, she is a fash­ion icon who man­ages to be both ap­proach­able and di­va­like. She’s stolen red car­pet events and been the fea­tured singer on hit sin­gles like Iggy Aza­lea’s ‘Black Widow’. But, even so, she’s still mak­ing a mark for her­self in America. Her first al­bum,

Ora, which pro­duced three num­ber-one sin­gles in the UK, was never re­leased state­side. That 2012 al­bum, and her stint as a judge on

The Voice UK, has made her a house­hold name in the UK but it will be her sec­ond al­bum, set to be re­leased in the US in Septem­ber, that will cat­a­pult her to new heights. What has de­railed the plan is just how long the al­bum is tak­ing. Since she was signed to Jay Z’s Roc Na­tion at 18, moved to Brooklyn, New York, and be­gan record­ing, the plan was al­ways to put mu­sic first, but in the en­su­ing six years, it seems that ev­ery­thing else has got­ten in the way, in­clud­ing high-pro­file boyfriends like Bruno Mars, Rob Kar­dashian, Calvin Har­ris and now Ricky Hil­figer, Tommy Hil­figer’s son, whose house she stays in when she’s in Los An­ge­les. ‘I’m afraid of be­ing alone,’ Rita says. ‘I’m not afraid to ad­mit that, you know. Some­times love just makes you feel crazy.’

She dis­misses the at­ten­tion her ro­mances gen­er­ate. ‘If I weren’t fa­mous, no one would give a shit. I’ve al­ways just picked peo­ple who are known. You can’t help who you like.’

Singer, ac­tor, fash­ion icon and all-round badass Rita Ora has con­quered the lime­light (see her in this month’s South­paw), but it will be the re­lease of her

sec­ond al­bum that lets us see who she re­ally is


It was the highly pub­li­cised breakup with pro­ducer and DJ (and Tay­lor’s Swift’s new beau) Calvin Har­ris last year that both stalled her sec­ond al­bum and, she be­lieves, made it pos­si­ble for her to re­fo­cus on her mu­sic. ‘I Will Never Let You Down’, re­leased in March 2014, ini­tially set to be the first sin­gle from her sec­ond al­bum, was Rita’s first solo Hot 100 hit in the USA. With its catchy hook and Rita’s most vir­tu­osic vo­cal per­for­mance yet, it looked like it was catch­ing on, un­til Calvin, pro­ducer and writer of the song, re­fused to al­low her to per­form it at the Teen Choice Awards, ac­cord­ing to Rita. ‘I did that with Calvin, and then we split, and it was hard for me to pro­mote some­thing be­cause it kept get­ting blocked.’ She’s be­come more philo­soph­i­cal about the breakup, both cre­ative and ro­man­tic. ‘There was a rea­son I split up with him. And there was a rea­son I’m at this point in my life where I feel like I have so much mu­si­cal free­dom, and I don’t have to ex­plain my­self to any­body.’ Work­ing with the Grammy Award-win­ning Calvin had made Rita a lit­tle bit pas­sive in terms of the mu­si­cal di­rec­tion she was tak­ing. ‘I was at that point in my re­la­tion­ship where I felt he could do no wrong. But then “I Will Never Let You Down” came out, and ev­ery­thing started to go a bit weird. I don’t know if it was be­cause busi­ness was mixed with per­sonal or what.’ It was, she says, ‘a mu­si­cal wake-up call. In­stead of re­ly­ing on men, I’m putting all that into sto­ry­telling and my song­writ­ing.’ The al­bum’s first sin­gle, ‘Poi­son’, is a synth-heavy pop track, but she’s also tap­ping into house mu­sic and folk mu­sic, em­brac­ing a wide range of mu­si­cal in­flu­ences. ‘How the hell do you ex­pect to put these on one al­bum?’ Elena has asked her. ‘I started hav­ing heated de­bates with the la­bel, say­ing I want to do this, and I want to do that,’ Rita says. Among the bat­tles: per­suad­ing the la­bel to in­clude songs writ­ten by Ed Sheeran or that she’s recorded with Prince on the new al­bum. ‘He came to Lon­don about a year ago and his man­ager con­tacted my man­age­ment, and he said, “Hey, Prince is in town.” I was like, “What prince? Like the royal fam­ily prince? I wouldn’t care about that prince. I care more about ac­tual Prince Prince.” And he was like, “Ac­tual Prince.”’ The two hit it off and recorded three songs. In the end, she says, ‘I had to get back in tune with my in­stincts, which is what got me into this in­dus­try in the first place.’

The whole plan, from when she first en­tered the mu­sic in­dus­try, Rita grad­u­ally di­vulges, was to be­come fa­mous, and then use that fame to re­lease the mu­sic she re­ally cares about. ‘Don’t get me wrong – I love pop mu­sic. I’ve loved ev­ery song I’ve re­leased,’ she says. But she’s only now find­ing her voice, and this al­bum will be when we fi­nally meet the real Rita. ‘I’ve had to have a lot of pa­tience. Be­cause there have been times at night when I wanted to pull my hair out and just put my mu­sic out for free on the in­ter­net. But then I have this con­science say­ing no, be smart, be strate­gic. There are ways of do­ing things and still get­ting your way. If I’m go­ing to do Rita Ora, it’s go­ing to be Rita fuck­ing Ora. It’s not about who is on my al­bum or who’s fea­tured or the names. It’s about a solid body of work that I can call my own.’

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