“Who You Are” is the title of Jessie J’s debut album, but it’s also what everyone’s been wondering about the English artist herself. Outside of the short black bob and that ear-wormy, gender-bending single “Do It Like a Dude,” everyone has something to say about the cute 23-year-old crooner – she’s a lesbian, she’s a man-hater, she’s a dude.
We went straight to the source for the answers, recently chatting with the singer-songwriter about her buzzed-about sexuality, the songs she’s written for Miley and Britney, and her love letter to the gay community.
Gays love you. Have you been a gay magnet your whole life?
(Laughs) I would do clubs and bars and I’d always attract those who loved the divaness of the voice. Gay fans are the most loyal. If they love you, they’ll stick by you forever. If they hate you, they let you know. I had my first turn at G-A-Y Club (in London), and it was a super fun gig. Lots of confetti and wind and explosions randomly throughout the set.
So in other words, very gay.
Everywhere you go you seem to have to address your sexuality.
It makes me laugh that it’s become such an exclusivity thing. It’s not exclusive to who I am and I’ve never hidden it. I’m very proud of who I am, and I think that night I had to talk about it just because it’s G-A-Y – you know, to see if there were any hotties in the crowd. (Laughs)
It’s been said that you don’t like labels, that you’re bisexual, that you’re lesbian. Set the record straight – or as straight as you can.
It’s not like I’m 100 percent bisexual or lesbian. I fall in love with who I fall in love with. It’s society who says that people have to fall into categories. I’ve never felt like I’ve had to say, “Hi, I’m Jessie J and I’m bisexual.”
My family and friends never made me feel like I had to put a label on it. The same goes for my music. I don’t feel like I have to say I’m pop or I’m rock or I’m hip-hop. I make music – and if people like it, they like it. And I think it gets people frustrated because they need to pigeonhole me, but I won’t allow them to, because I just think it’s about being who you are.
That explains the name of the album.
Exactly. But not just that. It’s about how you live once and if you spend your whole life apologizing for things that make you happy and always feeling like you have to explain yourself or justify what you love, then life’s no fun. I got to a point where I was like, “This is my girlfriend, and I’m going to introduce her to people. It is what it is.”
I wanted to sing about what I wanted to sing about, and not be half naked next to a rapper, like, “Hey, I’m in the club shaking my booty.” And I have to stand for what I stand for, and it’s a hard thing to do in this industry. “Who You Are” definitely sums up the journey that I’ve had and the journey that I’ve wanted to explore with other people.
This album is just being released and you’re already working on your second. Are you crazy?
You have to be prepared, and I’ve realized you spend so much time promoting your current one and then it’s kind of done and you’re like, “Shit, I haven’t done anything for the new one.” And I don’t want it to be a slice of what my life is in those six weeks that I write. I want to write it while I’m still on my journey and learning and growing as a person, and I think it’s really important to have that. It’s obviously very tiring writing on the airplane or when I get a half hour to myself, but it’s important and I think I’ll be happy I did it in the end. I’ve had six years to write this current one, and I’m not going to do the next one in six weeks.
During the G-A-Y gig, you dedicated the song “L-O-V-E” to a girl. Are you with a woman right now?
That’s a mystery! (Laughs) I need to love myself right now. (This career) doesn’t really lend itself to being in a serious relationship, but I’m very excited for – I won’t say all of my girlfriends, but anyone that I’ve had in my life that I’ve loved. There’s no drama, and I’m happy to write songs about people that I love.
But you’re going to leave us hanging?
I’m very honest about my love life in my music, and I don’t feel I need to talk about it any more than what it is in the songs. And at the end of the day, I’m the one who’s in the spotlight and it’s not fair to risk their safety to talk about it in more detail than I do in the songs. Songs last forever, so that’s the best kind of dedication you can give to love.
People are quick to write off artists who use their sexuality, and maybe fake it, to gain attention.
I know; I hate it.
Because of that, do you feel like you have something to prove regarding your sexual orientation?
I’ve never hidden it, and I’ve been in this industry for six years. I’ve had partners with me all the time. I’ve introduced them to everybody – every producer, every songwriter. I’ve never hidden it; it’s only since I’ve come into the limelight that it’s been made the media thing.
You can never prove it, and people are going to think what they want to think, but I know the truth. I know that I would never, ever do that because I wouldn’t want my sexuality to define my music and I wouldn’t want it to define me. It’s only now that I talk about it because people feel the need to hear about it. And I’m honest about it. Why should I lie?
It’s all Katy Perry’s fault for not actually kissing a girl.
(Laughs) Yeah – I should do the X-rated version of “I Kissed a Girl.”
How did “Do It Like a Dude” come about?
I was writing some songs in the studio, but I was bored with the song I was writing and there were two boys – two producers called Parker and James – and one of them wears (his) trousers ridiculously low. So I just started free styling like a dude, and it was fun. I wanted to write a song that was tongue-in-cheek and a parody of a stereotypical male. But also, I wanted the song to be empowering for girls, but not kind of an “I hate men” song – because I don’t, and I don’t say that in the song. It’s about feeling hardcore.
Please explain what it means to get your dollar licked.
So many people ask that, but it’s purely when guys flash their money at the club. A lot of people think there’s a secret meaning to it, but it’s because I was initially writing the song for Rihanna that I put the dollar thing in it. I was going to take it out because, obviously, I’m English and I would say, “You need to lick my pound,” but it doesn’t really have the same vibe. (Laughs)
“Do It Like a Dude” has a cool gender-bending element to it. Were you a tomboy? Do you have masculine tendencies?
Not at all. I wasn’t someone who played with dolls or did the typical girly things, but I was always the girl who was a bit ballsy and quite rebellious and I always had something to say. You know how some girls were all like, “Everybody looks lovely and I love everything”? Well, I was kind of like, “No. I don’t like that.” If I wanted to play football with the boys, I would. But I wasn’t a tomboy. I love being a girl, so I think it was more a personality thing. I didn’t care if I looked stupid or my nail split. I wasn’t that kind of obsessive girly Barbie doll.
Are there things you think you do better than a dude?
I don’t know. It’s funny, people say to me, “What can a guy do that a girl can’t?” We can’t wee standing up. But we can, it’s just quite messy. (Laughs) There’s not really much difference. I won’t point out the obvious. A lot of the replies (to the song) are very funny to me, because a lot of the guys’ responses are very sexual and it’s funny, because I wasn’t actually talking like that at all in “Do It Like a Dude.” It wasn’t like that at all. I think it definitely bruised some egos.
You’ve written for some big names, like Miley Cyrus and Britney Spears. Are there songs that you’ve written for people that you regret giving up?
No. I was always so emotionally attached to my songs – “oh, this is my baby” – but after a while you have to realize that you have to know what’s for you and what isn’t for you. I made sure that I kept some of the great ones for me and just gave away a few special ones to help pay my bills. Miley Cyrus took “Party in the U.S.A.” to a place that I don’t think I could’ve taken it to. It just suited her so well.
The track you wrote for Britney, “Being Britney,” didn’t make the cut for her new album, “Femme Fatale.” What will you do with that song now?
It’s a very, very Britney track, but I’m thinking about “Being RiRi,” or “Being BeBe” – for Beyonce – or… “Being Pinky.” (Laughs)
Is the song “Rainbow” a love letter to the gay community?
Definitely. Whatever your sexuality, whatever your culture, whatever your race, everybody’s the same. It’s about – not everyone being gay, because that’s not true, but everybody being from the same rainbow. We all have to share a pot of gold; we’re all on the same yellow brick road.