It can be hard to live up to universal acclaim — but not
if you’re the super-talented Jessie Ware. Meet the singer with the world at her feet.
Harper's BAZAAR Australia, April 2013
Wednesday night in one of Sydney’s live music venues. It’s steamy; the single bar is five deep and it’s packed. The general vibe? Agitation. The act? One of the most talked-about soul singers to emerge in 2012. Some of the punters are genuine fans, some hangers-on and some are just here to see “if she’s worth the hype”.
The lights dim and an Elizabeth Tayloresque silhouette materialises and begins vocally bridging the gap between Chaka Khan, Janet Jackson (circa Janet) and Adele. The audience stops fidgeting. “Thanks for coming,” the silhouette gushes in an adorable South London accent. The lights come up and one cheeky smirk later, the crowd is beaming, forgetting all their sweaty frustration — Jessie Ware, 28, has them in the palm of her hand, and she’s only one song in. It’s hard to believe that a little over a year ago this luminous creature had never performed a solo show.
On the set of our shoot, we’re quick to realise this charm is not an act. She’s chatty, quizzing us on the best places to eat (she’s a huge foodie) and our favourite beauty products, up for anything (including riskily climbing a rusty roof in a pair of Louboutins) and possesses a gorgeous down-to-earth humour. She may be acutely aware of her personal style, but she is not the diva her polished sound and fragrance ad-channelling videos would have you think.
Singing was never Ware’s long-term plan. “I was always going to be a journalist,” she says, referring to her stint at London newspaper The Jewish Chronicle followed by a TV production company (where Fifty Shades of Grey’s E.L. James was a colleague), “but I never felt comfortable.” But after Ware sang back-up for friend, the indie musician Jack Peñate, and collaborated with electronica artists SBTRKT, Joker and Sampha, she eventually attracted attention in the London club scene and landed herself a record deal.
Ware learnt by observation, but admits that branching out wasn’t easy. “It was nice being a backing singer, but it was very different going from that to, ‘I’m an artist, my name is Jessie Ware and this is my music.’” She says of her nerves: “I just thought I had nothing new to say and everyone would be like, ‘Who are you? Go home!’” Her
secret? “Lots and lots of shit demos!” Quick to credit her producer David Okumu for nurturing her creativity, she says it was all about working with the right people and “trying to make it tasteful”.
Marinated in Ware’s smooth ’80s R’n’B/soul influences such as Sade, Whitney Houston and Annie Lennox, and littered with nods to her club roots, Devotion is a truly sophisticated record and has earned Ware nominations for the coveted Mercury Prize and two Brit Awards, and propelled her into an overnight success. “I never expected it to go like this,” she says with a shrug. “If it all finished tomorrow, I would have had quite a good innings.” Does she feel the pressure? “Not at all. You just never know if people are going to like your next thing. As long as you do — you’re the one who lives with it. It feels good right now but who knows what will happen? We’ll just have to wait and see.” And as one of the converted sceptics at her show put it: “She is so worth it.” Jessie Ware’s album Devotion is out now.
Jessie Ware wears Chanel top and dress (worn as skirt), Jan Logan earrings and ring.
Photographed by Holly Blake and styled by Karla Clarke. Hair by Barney Martin; makeup by Naomi McFadden.