Singer Jessie J has a problem with all the media portrayals of female pop stars that cast them in a perpetual catfight.
“It’s always seen as a competition,” she says. “I don’t see it that way. To me, it’s a party: the more the better.”
If that sounds too pat, there’s evidence that Ms. J has put this attitude into practice.
She gave the first song she co-wrote that became a hit to another woman — specifically, Miley Cyrus, who made “Party in the U.S.A,” a smash.
Then, she tried to give away the second hit she co-wrote: “Do It Like a Dude,” to Rihanna. Her record company nixed that move. “They said, ‘That is your first hit,’” J says.
And so it was — at least in her home country of the U.K., where it shot to No. 2.
Even the single that’s become J’s biggest U.S. hit, “Bang Bang” — which went Top 10 over the summer — splits the credit with two other top female stars, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj.
Melody is the most important thing. You don’t hum a lyric. You sing the tune.
The song will be included on J’s roof-raising new album, “Sweet Talker,” out Tuesday.
The role model for the star pile-on for “Bang Bang” was the 2001 re-do of “Lady Marmalade” that featured Pink, Christina Aguilera, Mya and Lil Kim. “I wanted to have even more singers on there,” J says. “Maybe we can remix it with 20 next time.”
Even if they did, Jessie would have no trouble standing out. She has a riveting vibrato, with a ringing character. She also has uncommon lung-power, belting notes to the sky with aerobic ease. “I like listening to big singers,” she says. “Loud is my thing. If you’re in a chill mood, I’m not the one you want to play.”
She’s been just as determined in her career. The 26-year-old, born Jessica Ellen Cornish in London, was only 11 when she first appeared on a major West End theater stage in “Whistle Down the Wind.” Throughout her teens, she excelled at musical theater, both professionally and academically. J attended the famed BRIT music school, graduating in the same class as Adele.
“We used to sing together,” she says. “The school celebrated the individual. They brought out who you really are. And they don’t let in anyone who’s flaky. Everyone there really wants it and they push each other.”
J may have pushed herself a bit too hard back then. Before graduation, she suffered a stroke, a result of Wolff—Parkinson-White Syndrome (a disorder of the conduction system of the heart). “I got pins and needles in my arm and face,” she says. “I was out of school for three months. It was hard, but I learned from it. Life can be taken away as quickly as its given.”
The singer says she tries to stave off future health problems by being calm and living clean — not easy when you have a hard-driving pop career.
A clear type-A personality, J got signed to a publishing deal straight out of high school. She said she decided not to record her early song “Party in the U.S.A.” “because I didn’t think it was cool enough for me.”
By contrast, her own first single, “Do It Like a Dude,” struck an appropriately bold pose. “It was a fun ‘taking the p–s’ song,” she says. “It wasn’t me saying, ‘I hate men.’ It was me saying, ‘We can do it like you guys do.’”
The song became one of six Top 10 British hits from J’s debut album, “Who You Are,” a record for a solo woman in her country. J’s debut also spawned her first U.S. Top 10 hit, the elaborately melodic “Domino.” The song sounded more like a ’60s hit than a modern one. “Melody is the most important thing,” she says. “You don’t hum a lyric. You sing the tune.”
Despite the success of her debut in the States, J’s record company decided not to release its follow-up, 2013’s “Alive,” thinking it sounded too British. “It was really frustrating,” J says. “I had to bite my tongue.”
For the new album, the singer added American guest stars like 2 Chainz and De La Soul, along with big names Grande and Minaj. So far, J has had an easier glide to the top in her native U.K. Now she seems ready to battle her way to the top here.
She credits her strength to her dad, a retired therapist. “He taught me how to be thick-skinned and confident,” she says. “As a woman, it’s important.”