"All things aside, I'm not going to stop working": An interview with Rita Ora

"All things aside, I'm not going to stop working": An interview with Rita Ora

Rita Ora wields the kind of omnipresence that is both admirable and dangerous. Those in her lane do enough of everything well enough to be a zeitgeisty proposition but in spreading themselves thin, they risk the dilution of their disparate endeavours. Arriving in the pop cultural bloodline six years after its predecessor Ora, her 2018 second album, emphatically christened Phoenix is the kind of stop-you-in-your-tracks reminder that she’s more poignantly invested in music than ever.

The 16-tracker is a genre-blasting, pop-as-spectacle manifesto where tried and tested hitmakers – Avicii, Stargate, John Ryan – and wild cards – Cashmere Cat, Rudimental – converge for a spellbinding palette sounds that capture moods both hushed and poignant and powerfully kinetic and celebratory. 

What follows is an open-hearted chat where one of the biggest pop stars of the moment – Ora has 11 consecutive Top 10 songs – takes us through her busy world.

How has Singapore been treating you?

It's been great and a bit of a whirlwind, too. I’ve been trying to do as many interviews with as many publications as I can because I don't get to come here a lot. All in all, I was surprised about the turnout at my pop-up show last night. I've never performed here before so being able to see that fans want me to be here made me feel great. It made me want to come back and do a full concert; to show people the musical element that is missing when they're on the Internet: Being able to do versions of my songs that only you can hear when you come to my show. 

To date, you are the first female British artist to ever have 11 Top 10s in a row. What does that milestone mean to you?

It's crazy. Look: I never get bored of hearing it because it's such a crazy and incredible achievement. I'm so proud. There's so many incredible British musicians and to be able to have that in my back pocket, for now, is truly an honour. I'm so happy that my fans like my music. Without them, I won't be able to do anything. 

Let's talk about Phoenix. What would you say, from an emotional standpoint, was different about making that record from Ora?

A few key things made this whole experience different: I was growing up quickly in the industry and the way my career took off was crazy. It became really big really quick. I realised that I was in a bit of a pickle with my music, politically, which I didn't want to get into. All things aside, I'm not going to stop working. Which is why I ventured into movies and fashion and TV. Some of my music fans wondered if I forgot about music. No –  I never forgot about music. I did features and a bunch of music in between. I just didn't put out my own album.

In Phoenix, there's a lot of frustration and anger and patience and sorrow but love and relief and release, as well. As you can imagine, the songs on this album are old to me, now, but I love them so much because I remembered that the people haven't heard them. It was a confusing juxtaposition when recording. It was difficult but it was a learning curve. I learned about myself a lot. All my heart and soul is in Phoenix.

I didn't want to crash this album with the best in the world. Of course, I tried to work with everybody and I wanted this album to be empowering for women and myself. That’s why I left the door open to whoever wanted to work on this album.

The lead single 'Your Song' is one of the album’s highlights. Which comes more naturally to you, writing upbeat songs like that one or the opposite?

In Phoenix, they were the things that hurt and affected me but ultimately, made me a better songwriter. My first album Ora was a party album. There were so many vibes to it. Don't get me wrong. There are a few party tracks in Phoenix, too, but there's way more depth in my lyrics.

'Your Song' was both mine and Ed's (Sheeran) energy. It was so easy to write with him, so it was natural.

How did you link up with Rudimental for 'Summer Love'?

I started off doing drum and bass. 'Hot Right Now' was the first drum and bass song to go number one in the UK and that was a big achievement for me. Over the years, I've been jumping on DJ beats and that's when I got involved with Major Lazer and Diplo. It was sort of in my blood to work with someone like Rudimental. They make great music to rave to but they also make incredibly emotional music for festivals. It was almost a given. It helped that they're on my label too. 

'Only Want You feat. 6LACK' is an amazing rework. What did he bring to the table?

I became a 6LACK fan just before the song came out. I appreciated his tone. I like his lyrics. I love that, compared to trap, his rap is the kind that I listen to. I think that 6LACK's got a lot to say and I think he's a very important artist  so I wanted him involved.

In your interview with British Vogue, you spoke about being “micro-analysed” on social media. Do you think that something is lost in the constant feedback loop that is the Internet, as opposed to how things were pre-social media?

I used to always want to be somewhere. I would be upset when I missed a party. What I think is lost is curiosity. No one's wondering because you know almost everything. You see people record everything. Back in the day, you'd get a newspaper report about a concert or a show and if you were there, you saw it and if it weren't, you missed it. I don't think people are curious anymore. That's sad because creative people want to bask in the moment of seeing joy on people's faces they’ve touched.

You used to work at Size? so you most definitely know your kicks. What is your all-time favourite silhouette?

Oh gosh. There's a lot of kicks. I used to like classics like Jordan Fives but I love the Nines too. Jordans were my first eye-opener to being obsessed with kicks. Then I started to do all the Shell Toes and the Sambas and the Gazelles. I became obsessed with the Stan Smiths and the classic Reeboks. I just never ever thought I would be so obsessed.

I have a funny story: I was playing a festival and Macklemore was on the lineup and he's also a big sneakerhead. He told me that the first time he heard about me was on Hypebeast. “They posted about you about being a sneakerhead girl”, he said. And I was, "Not about my music. Cool". (laughs) It was a compliment because any sneakerhead would be able to spot each other in the crowd. 

And what are your hopes for the rest of the year?

Finishing this tour. Hopefully putting out another album. Now that I've opened this door again, I don't want to have that big gap anymore. My goal is to put out as much music and do as many movies as I can.