“People tend to feel intimidated by a woman that’s comfortable in her own skin”, Rita Ora is sitting opposite me at the Sanderson Hotel in London, discussing the resurgence of women on top in music. “And that comes to my whole point of supporting feminism; I’m a real believer in Pussy Power. I love my girls, like Charli XCX and Iggy, I love what Arianna did with her open letter, I love Miley and Katy Perry, and B is always on the next fucking level. Women are finally sticking up for each other. It’s been a long time coming.”
Rita is gearing up to release her second album later this month, and that too has been a long time coming. Her debut, ORA, hit the shelves way back in 2012 and landed her at number one. Three number one singles and a slew of award nominations later, Rita’s reputation as one of the UK’s biggest female music stars was cemented. A fourth number one came in the form of the Calvin Harris penned “I Will Never Let You Down”, but then, following a very public breakup with Harris, news of Rita’s impending second album went a little quiet.
“Obviously my personal life distracted me a bit, I wasn’t prepared to go in and finish off a record because I wasn’t myself, I was in a bad place”, Rita says, assuring me that now it’s time to move on, and that she’s ready to concentrate fully on the release of her sophomore album. “I think that our experience was amazing at that time, but it’s time to move on now”, she says. “I think that we’ve both shown that we’ve done that, not just in our personal lives, but in our musical lives too. I still love performing “I Will Never Let You Down” – it’s one of my favourites. People are like, “do you feel a bit weird?”, and I say no – because music speaks for itself, it’s a great song.”
So what can we expect from Rita Ora, chapter two? “I’ve grown up. I think I’ve got more to say because I’m older, but I haven’t changed personally”, she says. “I think humans change always, but I don’t think we completely forget. I don’t forget where I’m from, or what I’ve done. I’m still the same daughter I was to my mother, but I’m an evolved artist and that shows. This album shows my improvement as a storyteller”
And our first taster of Rita’s evolved sound is her new single, “Poison”, released this week. It’s a modern take on a pop power ballad, big chorus and catchy as hell, but also holds a lot of meaning for Rita. “It came from my experience in poisonous relationships”, she explains. “I’m not pointing fingers at anybody – it’s basically about all my exes combined. I just thought that I’ve put enough songs out that are party tunes – that I’m so happy that people like, of course – but I wanted to put something out that was like, “you know what, this is what’s getting on my nerves right now”, she continues. “That storyline was also the inspiration for the video – of how this girl comes into a new world, and she meets this guy, and he transforms her and her life, and she gets addicted to all the bad things. The inspiration comes from the film Factory Girl but it’s sort of a reflection on my life also, and a possessive relationship that I’ve been in. It’s all that mix. I wanted it to be as honest and as immediate as possible, which is the direction of this record as a whole. It’s a very specific.”
“The inspiration for the album started off with my love life, then it moved on to my love for partying – because I do love it – and then onto my love for fashion. It’s about the things that people know of me, or at least that you think you know of me, and then there’s the side that no one’s really sure of”, says Rita.
Love her or hate her, Rita has never been shy about who she is or what she stands for, something that is admirable, and refreshing, in an industry where media training and always saying the right thing is paramount. Getting a straight answer from a celebrity can sometimes feel a bit like pulling teeth, but that’s not the case with Rita – she’s open, and unapologetic, something that she says has gone against her in the past. “Some of my relationships have ended because they’ve been intimidated by me”, she says. “But if you can’t love me, leave me!”
Soured relationships aside, Rita is a force to be reckoned with in the industry. She’s sold over 8 million records, designed collections for Adidas, starred in films, last year was a judge on The Voice, and has just switched her allegiance to ITV to spice up The X-Factor’s waning panel. Triple threat and then some, we’d say. But does the 24-year-old, who recently admitted that last year was her hardest so far, ever worry that she’s spreading herself too thin?
“I don’t think I do”, she says. “I think that I just jam pack too many things into one day! There’s been the pressure of a second album and the media blowing things out or proportion. I’ve never really had that kind of intensity before on things that I didn’t think mattered.”
“Last year was a wake up call, and I was just trying to focus on my album. Doing The Voice really pushed me to a bigger audience, and it meant that I had to work longer hours – this past year has just been a very different way of living. And it’s not like I’m complaining about it, it was just really something to get used to. I was also going OCD on my music because I really wanted this second album to be perfect. All of that mixed with wanting to please people can get a bit draining sometimes.”
While Rita admits that she’s had a tough time, it hasn’t affected her main priority, her music, and “Poison” looks on track to be her fifth number one, proving that any drama that has been blown up in the press hasn’t affected her fans either. And she’s keen to reiterate this, stating that, “Everyone has their opinions on me as an artist, or me being a 360 person, and doing all these different things, but that doesn’t affect my music and that’s what I think people need to understand. It’s two separate things, if you can do them – and do them properly – then you’re fine.”
“This is all about my records. My focus is on my album and my single, and the message coming across. That’s it,” she says. And for those times when she just needs to get away from it all? “My friends, an Indian and a glass of wine.” Amen to that.