It’s not every day that a UK talent gets noticed by Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, but TLC and Gwen Stefani-channelling Rita Ora did, and for good reasons to boot. Whereas most indie and pop acts are still stuck trying to revive the ‘80s, Rita sidestepped that cliché and appropriated Biggie’s ‘Party & Bullsh!t’ as the chorus to her star-making tune ‘How We Do (Party)’. Last March, this lass caused quite the partying and bullsh!tting at Future Music Festival Asia ’13, but before that JUICE managed to sit down with the effervescent pop star and got her talking like a teen.
You’ve been touring Future Music Festival extensively, from Oz to here. That’s gotta be tiring, yeah?
It was incredible. It was so hot, it was liberating. It was really nice to be part of the festival, it was like a family where everybody knew and travel with each other. It was a great tour.
What do you do when you get time off during tours?
I don’t really have a time off because we would fly to the next city and then we would get there late and then we would sleep. I was a bit ill from the start; I was sleeping all day and resting. When I’m well, sometimes I’ll go running, it’s really nice to run.
You grew up with ‘90s hip hop – Biggie, TLC, and all that – and it obviously affected your image. Can you tell us how that influences your music now?
Well, ‘90s have made a mark in music forever. I love it transitioned from hip hop into pop. Even pop music in the ‘90s was very different, in the ‘80s you had Blondie and the great iconic females. I think English music in the ‘90s really helped, even in hip hop, so I kind of love that [era] but the fashion was terrible (laughs). But it influenced me fashion-wise and I was trying to figure out how to transition from ‘90s to now. And being a singer and loving Biggie – I’m not exactly going to rap. So I thought [‘Party & Bullsh!t’] was a great kind of a tribute.
You are often dubbed by the media as the next Beyonce, does it feel like it gave you an additional pressure?
Oh no, it’s not pressure at all. It’s actually kind of exciting to be compared to such great artiste. I mean, obviously I look at these artistes, I’m so particular of my music, sometimes I get very pissed off when you compare me to people I don’t like. But the people I do like? I’m really happy about it (laughs).
We read that Gwen Stefani is something of a style icon to you too.
I love her even right down to her hairstyles. Look at my hair right now. I love her vibe, I’ll openly admit, I don’t pretend like I created [my fashion sense].
With so much going on, do you ever get to record something new?
I’m actually in the middle of doing a new album. Because I’ve been on the road since February, I’m kind of like doing it wherever I can. I was in New Zealand before I came here and I was in the studio there and I’ve booked a studio in Japan, I’m flying there tomorrow morning. I book studios wherever I am and the reason is I don’t want there to be a gap [in my music making] because I’ve grown so much within the 3 years. The new album’s got a lot of influences from the people I loved and I love what Mark Ronson is doing at the moment. It’s almost like Mark Ronson meets… weird person (laughs).
You’re quite a style icon, you experiment fashion and take risks. From all the media attention, do you ever feel that you need to play safe with your fashion choices?
Oh hell no. I think I need to go even worse. I love the fact – confused even – that people are very interested in the way I dress which confuses me too because I’ve been dressing like this since I can remember. But I admire the fact that people find it very interesting. I think it’s flattering because I do spend a lot of time on my clothes.
Looking back at your style, we can’t exactly pinpoint what it is…
That’s good because I can’t tell either (laughs). I’m definitely a tomboy; I would always pick trainers over heels any day but I do like to be a woman as well. I think it’s all about being comfortable with my skin, I wouldn’t mind having a sports bra on and taking my top off. I’m very comfortable with my skin I think that’s why people are interested because they could tell I’m really who what you see.
How did you come to Jay-Z’s attention?
I was 18 and I was writing songs for other artistes and I was doing an open mic night at these random places. And one night, I stayed very consistent, like I would perform at the same club for 6 months straight. And gradually, I’m not exaggerating, the audience started to expand. I started to get a lot of audience – over 600 people. I was doing covers, talking to the crowd, being cheeky and I guessed they liked that and gradually, A&Rs started coming to the show. An A&R from Roc Nation came and they were the first people to not bullsh!t around and straight away they said “we’d love to sign you” and I said “yeah!”
Obviously you’re a big fan of Biggie Smalls, if there were one other, rapper alive or dead, that you could pay tribute to. Who would it be and why?
There are so many rappers. I love A Tribe Called Quest, Mos Def – I love very poetic lyricists. That’s what interests me in rap music. I’m not a rapper at all but I just love the fact that I could listen to their stories, you know? I love Common as well… Tupac, Method Man, I can’t decide really.
So you were recently in Thailand with Snoop Dogg – or is it Lion now? – filming a music video. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
I was at this great resort called Sri Panwa, it was incredibly beautiful. And Snoop is the coolest person I’ve ever been in front of… when I said cool, I’m talking about, like, cool. It’s like he walks on water, I love that about him because he is literally what he says in his music and he’s a great representation of hip hop that never died.
What’s it like when you’re touring with so many different acts. Any beefs or some sort of code of honour among y’all?
I mean some people don’t talk to some people, I mean I did. I respect everybody. I like the fact that I’m surrounded by talent, it gets me excited, so I’d go out and ask people about stuff. Steve Aoki and I actually met on this tour in Australia and we ended up collaborating with 2 great tracks. I’m really excited about that and you never know what happens. I’m just from a place where I appreciate great musicians and I like telling everybody that they’re great unless they piss me off then I’m not going to talk.
What advice would you give to young singer-songwriters like you who are trying to get out?
I think it’s really important to be respectful towards other musicians, and appreciate that it’s an industry where you know that you’re not always going to be loved. So you have to prepare yourself for the haters as much as the love. In my eyes, I think if you’re true to yourself and you sing what you want to do and perform what you want to perform, you love the band members that you’re playing with and you got the vibe. I think that’s all that matters, I feel like music is such a free spirit thing. If you love then you’ll love it.
We partied and bullsh!t with Rita Ora at Future Music Festival Asia ’13 on Saturday 16 March ’13.