Since 2016, when her breakout single “Blue Lights” dropped, Jorja Smith has been breaking hearts and lifting spirits. Just three years later, she’s firmly implanted in the world of UK pop, but she’s so much more than a pop star. A quality of timelessness pervades every project she puts out, from the hopeful romanticism of “Teenage Fantasy,” to The Great Gatsby-inspired “Beautiful Little Fools,” and the entirety of her 2018 debut album Lost & Found.
After watching her career evolve in the past few years, we finally meet mid-July backstage at Melt Festival in Ferropolis, Germany. Unsurprisingly, it’s been a busy year for Smith, between embarking on an extensive joint US tour with Kali Uchis, a collaboration with AJ Tracey, becoming the face of Dior Beauty, and a slew of European festival dates. Despite catching her smack dab in the middle of the madness, she’s serene.
Wearing a bright blue Nike x OFF-WHITE tracksuit just hours before she’s set to hit the main stage at Melt, we’re here to discuss her latest single, which at the time was very much under wraps. “It’s like everything I listen to,” she explains, “but I’ve never done a song like it.“ When asked how to compares to the rest of her catalogue, much of which is quite moody, save for the UK Garage-inflicted “On My Mind, she says, ”It’s more upbeat. When I listen to it, I just think of being out with my friends, sipping on rum. There’s like, red light or sunset and everyone is just having a good time slow-wining. It’s like that.”
Indeed, the Burna Boy-featuring “Be Honest” evokes this vibe and setting, it’s a proper summer jam, the kind of afrobeats that make you think of a tropical beach no matter where in the world you are. It’s got just the right ratio of seduction to playfulness, but most importantly, it bangs.
The video, directed by Amber Grace Johnson, who’s previously worked with Rihanna and A$AP Rocky, sees Jorja and her pals Erin and Sandra gallivanting around London beating the summer heat. Like all of the Jorja Smith videos that precede it, it’s equal in its ability to visually stun while retaining an undeniable intimacy.
In an interview with Julie Adenuga from last year, Smith expressed her desire to direct her own music videos. When the subject is brought up, she says it’ll happen “soon.” Aside from her career singing, songwriting, and performing across the world, she also expresses a desire to design her own sneakers, but declines to expand much further. “I have all the ideas and if I tell you them that means someone else can do them,” she explains. Fair point. “Just wait. Give me like seven years.”
With a global following, it seems unlikely that it would take that long for Smith to land a collab with a sneaker giant, but from our conversation, it’s clear she’s firmly planted in the moment at hand, not fussing too much about the future. In some ways, she’s more comfortable talking about things in the realm of imagination, such as what she and Amy Winehouse would do if it was possible to spend a day with the late great musician, her hero – “whatever she wants to do,” she replies instantly. “Have some tea and then whatever. Whatever. Write a song, or I could just be a fly on the wall while she wrote her song.”
Because of what she’s doing, how when revisiting her album one gets the feeling it will be listened to for years to come, it seems only natural to ask what kind of legacy she’d like to leave behind. “That’s a lot. I don’t know… Just myself. I feel like people interpret whatever you left, they word it into what your legacy was.”
From her early years playing the oboe and writing stories, to today, at 22 years, about to sing for thousands of people on a stage at one of the biggest festivals in Germany, it’s clear Jorja Smith’s legacy-building won’t be over anytime soon.
Revisit our interview with Jorja Smith from Melt Festival 2019 below.