Raw. Soulful. Organic. They’re words that the British pop sensation Jess Glynne used to describe a fellow star – but they are also easily applied to her. With her mop of fantastic, ginger hair, her sparkling blue eyes, an earthen purity of emotion to her voice and a purpose that transcends the ordinary, much less expected, it’s perhaps not a surprise that the 29-year-old North Londoner has managed to clinch more number-one hits than any female artist in the UK…ever. (That would be seven.) She’s also, remarkably, the only female to achieve a number-one album in her home country.
As far as rises to fame go, there are ones that are meteoric…and then there is Glynne’s – which could be said to be from another universe entirely. Her debut album, 2015’s I Cry When I Laugh, not only topped the charts and went triple platinum, but “Rather Be” also won her a Grammy for Best Dance Recording of the Year. Her collaborators have spanned from Rudimental and Ed Sheeran to Tinie Tempah and Macklemore, but Glynne in the middle always rings true.
She’s a girl, like any other, trying to find her way through life, romance, friendship and confusion. Never a victim and always a step ahead of herself, she strives to come out empowered. Her lyrics are both supportive and moving, and she never shies from sharing her vulnerabilities with what has become nearly the entire world. She certainly thrives where the average angel often fears to tread.
To her, it’s never been easy being a woman, much less in music; but it’s through the difficulties and often wild emotions that this shimmering diamond was cut.
In her own words: “I think I speak very openly and honestly and I’m not afraid to try anything.”
Glynne has just released her sophomore album, Always in Between, and is not only slaying the charts once more, but is also revving up to embark on a pair of very high-profile 2019 tours. The first will bring her stateside, sharing a stage with Leon Bridges; the second will see her on the bill with the one and only Spice Girls. It’s hard to say how to top the British pops more than she has, but give her time – there is certainly much more story still to tell.
We caught up with her as she prepped for that tour of America next month, to chat about insecurities, riding on horses with girls, and what we all have to learn about life through music.
You shell out number-one hits the way one may pistachios. Are you sometimes surprised by how it’s turning out?
I don’t think surprised is the word. I feel like I’ve worked hard for a long time and that’s why people succeed. If you put the work in, at some point you’ll find success. I’m very grateful for it and I’m very blessed that it’s worked out the way it has.
Would the nine-year-old Jess have ever guessed she’d one day go on tour with the Spice Girls?
If you had told her that she would be standing onstage with the Spice Girls, she would have laughed in your face and said, “good one!” But if you told me it was true, I would have been running around the house screaming and telling all my friends!
How does the Jess Glynne of today feel on stage, compared to the one from 2015?
I know myself a lot better and trust myself more. I’ve grown. I’m a stronger performer. I’ve learned how to be onstage and really love it.
As a woman in music, how has the process been for you as you rose to success?
It’s not been easy at all. There are so many turns and so many put downs along the way. It’s genuinely harder as a female to connect and get people to believe in you. But you know what? I’ve enjoyed every minute of it because it’s been so amazing. It’s just given me determination and made me work harder. Every inch of success I’ve gotten along the way seems even better just knowing that nobody can stop me from doing what [I’ve done].
Many of your songs are a breath of honest, fresh air, with messages of self-empowerment. And everything from your body image to sexuality gets bravely explored in your music. Is it a genuine reflection of who you really are?
You’re absolutely right. The writing and creating process are about self-reflection for me. I reflect upon what I’ve been through – the highs and lows and what is in the current moment. It’s also to teach myself a lesson and remind myself of the things I forget constantly.
Do you hope that your listeners will perhaps take a cue and be more open in their self-discovery too?
Yes, once I create those songs, it’s a really nice feeling to know that I can release [them] into the world and potentially help people. I always hope that when people do listen to my music that they listen to it from their own point of view. I want people to relate to the lyrics and let that make sense of their own lives. That’s what I do, I listen to artists who inspire me, and I listen to what they have to say and relate that back to myself. And that’s what’s so amazing about music – you can’t buy those feelings and you can’t buy those moments.
Your lyrics point back to insecurities…not wanting to have them, not wanting to admit that you do. Where are you today in relation to some of the feelings that were exposed on your last album?
Everyone has insecurities, it’s a part of life and growth. At the moment I feel like I’m in an okay place. I’ve had a lot of lows, but my insecurities have to be my friends at times. You have to learn to live with them, look at them as positively as you can, and learn to deal with them rather than push them under the carpet. That’s what the song “Thursday” represents.
What inspirations and experiences have gone into Always in Between? And what does that phrase mean to you?
It’s a story of emotions and a journey of everything I’ve been through over the past few years. My life has been in between for that long, through relationships, through work, through traveling, my friends, my family. Everything has been so in between in my life that I began to look at it in a negative way. I felt like I could never really find a balance. But I eventually came to realize that it’s not always about being one way, or being balanced. This is just where I am. I have my personal life and my friends and family and the people who really know me from that little girl growing up; and I have the people who know me through my music and my fame. And that essentially is my life, I had to come to a point where I accepted that.
Who are the girls you are riding horses with in the “I’ll Be There” video? Why are you riding with them?
The [Excaramuza] Charras girls. It’s a sport in Mexico. They all ride and do crazy things on horses. The reason I chose them for the video is that riding is a really empowering sport. I horse rode from a really young age, it was my lifetime hobby. It can come across as something quite masculine, but it can be truly empowering to see females on horses in control.
You’re touring with Leon Bridges, who BlackBook interviewed recently. How do you feel that your music intersects with his? What do you admire most about him?
I love that he’s a raw, organic artist and that he has such soulful roots. He’s a really cool guy and a great performer, very inspired by culture and fashion – he does what he knows best works for him. He doesn’t follow trends, and I find that really inspiring. I’m very excited to go on tour with him!