Jessie J interview: ‘I've had death threats for cancelling shows’
Over the past three years, Jessica Cornish has shifted 11 million singles and 2.5 million albums worldwide. But, as we find out, it’s not always been easy…
Fri Oct 18 2013
‘I’ll be sitting around in my pants, playing PS3 and scratching my balls.’ Those are the words that really stuck in my mind from the last time we interviewed Jessie J. But what did we expect? Then, having released only one single – and yet to be propelled to stardom by winning the Brit Awards’ Critics’ Choice statuette – she was a charismatic motormouth yet to develop a pop veteran’s instinctive self-censorship. So, when we asked what she meant by the title of debut single ‘Do It Like a Dude’, that was her response.
Two years later, Jessie’s a changed woman. As she sits on a white, leather sofa in her PR team’s office, ahead of the release of second album, ‘Alive’, she’s still chipper, still borderline gushy in her gratitude for her success and still nigh-on evangelical in her determination to find the upside to any situation. But this time she’s slower to answer. Tricky questions are met with a pause for thought. And when the issue of the media portrayal of her sexuality is brought up – she defines herself as bisexual, but has been ‘outed’ as a lesbian by an unofficial tell-all biog – she politely declines to comment. This, you suspect, is a woman who’s spent the last couple of years learning about of fame’s trickier side.
Last time we met, you said, ‘I just want to see where my career goes and try to enjoy myself.’ Have you enjoyed it?
‘Yeah, I have. Although there have been moments that have tested my morals.’
‘I might be half way through a meet-and-greet with really sick kids and someone’ll start trying to pull me away to do an interview to promote a show. You want to hang out with the kids but you get told, “Then you can’t do the show.” I get threats like that, and it’s hard.’
You did the Concert for Stephen Lawrence at the O2. Is that a cause close to your heart?
‘Definitely. I feel a duty to try to combat gun and knife crime and racial attacks, because they happened at my school. I went to Mayfield in Dagenham, and there was a lot of gang crime. I don’t want to talk about gangs who may know where I am, but the things I witnessed at a young age were horrific.’
What are we talking? Stabbings?
‘I’ve never seen anyone get stabbed, but… [tails off]. I don’t want to talk about it.’
There was a stabbing at a BlackBerry gig you did in April 2012. Must have been awful.
‘I’ve never actually spoken about this. You never expect to have someone lose their life at your show. I was heartbroken. I’d left the building when it happened, but the thought that the last thing he saw was me singing live? That stuck with me for a long time.’
You seemed to be very unlucky around that time. Particularly with your health…
‘Yeah, I got CMV – basically glandular fever. I had it for eight months, so I had to perform at festivals with a temperature of 38. I used to have hot sweats, a rash… it was awful. But no one even knew. If you said to a fan, “Which gig was Jessie ill at?” they wouldn’t know. I’ve been sick on the side of the stage and carried on. No one needs to know.’
‘No one’s ever heard me sing “I’m gonna give up.” I’m not that girl’
Do you ever worry that you might push yourself so hard you’ll die?
‘God no. It’s hard, though. I still have a heart deficiency and have days where I struggle. The fans don’t get that sometimes. The abuse that you get if you have to cancel a show… it’s scary.’
Have you had a lot of abuse?
‘Oh yeah! I’ve had death threats for cancelling shows! With social media, young people use words of hatred so flippantly now. It’s either “I LOVE YOU!” or “I HATE YOU AND I WANT YOU TO DIE.” There’s no middle ground. Everything’s an extreme, because people want to be noticed.’
How do you deal with death threats?
‘Well, I used to comment back, but I’ve learned not to do that. I’ve had fans go “I didn’t mean it. I just wanted to get your attention.” I tend not to read my social media timeline as much as I used to, because I try to lead a very positive life and Twitter can be quite dark sometimes.’
Why is leading a very positive life so important to you?
‘I think it’s from being so ill when I was younger. It felt like there was a lot of dark in my life, but my mum and dad always pulled me out of it. When I was 11 years old, I had an operation called an ablation, where two wires in my groin and two wires in my shoulders were put into my heart and zapped. I remember coming round and saying to my dad, “Is it all okay?” – and him joking, “Nah, they found nothing. Waste of time.” So today, if I’ve ever been through a horrific break-up or there’s a death close to me, I try to find the light in it. I don’t like being in a dark place.’
Well, who does?
‘A lot of artists do. Especially females. They love to play the victim. No one’s ever heard me sing “He broke my heart” or “I’m fed up and I’m gonna give up.” I’m not that girl. I never was and I never will be. I always try to switch it around like “Okay. If you want to cheat on me, I’ll see you later.”'
‘I think everyone has seen Miley Cyrus twerking’
You wrote Miley Cyrus’s first Top Three single, ‘Party in the USA’. Did you see her twerking?
‘I think everyone has seen her twerking. Some of the things she’s doing are a little crazy, but she’s probably trying really hard to get away from the Hannah Montana thing. Doing that in the public eye isn’t easy. I’ve done or worn things in the past that looking back I’m like “Whoa!” But you have to do it to learn never to do it again. So let’s just hope she never does it again.’
Do you ever struggle with fame?
‘Sometimes. In summer of 2011, I broke my foot while filming an advert. I got rushed to A&E, and as I was being pushed to a room, people were filming and taking photos. That’s the bit I hate. That’s the bit I… [sighs] those are the moments when I lose faith in the public. At the time I was just thinking: You’ve not bought a ticket to come and see me right now, please understand that this is a very personal moment. Even a doctor asked for my autograph. They told me I’d sprained my foot. The sock that I wore for the Wembley gig I did afterwards – people to this day think that it was a cast. It wasn’t. It was from Claire’s Accessories.’
I’m guessing you were in pain…
‘I was in agony. I flew to America, wrote “Domino”, and thought: This isn’t a sprain, so I got it checked, and I had four breaks. Had I not put my good foot down, the broken one could have healed so I’d never walk again.’
If you could replay that, how would you choose to change it?
‘Beyoncé once said that sometimes being polite isn’t fair. So now there are moments when I’m not rude but I am fair to myself. If I find myself in a situation where it’s not appropriate for me to sign autographs and I’m just there to be myself, I will remind people of that. Some people think you’re on show and that you’re owned by them 24/7. You’re not. No one is.’
Watch Jessie J's 'It's My Party' video
Listen to Jessie J on Spotify
London’s most shambolic band are back with a new album and sense of purpose. We went to shoot the breeze with Pete ’n’ Carl
Time Out catches up with the Australian twenty-something who’s conquering the indie world one song at a time
London’s hottest new hip hop hope is 18-year-old Novelist from Lewisham. Time Out meets the self-professed ‘child of grime’
Get ready for ‘Straight Outta Compton’ with the five greatest hip hop films ever made
Two young singers. Two hyped debut albums. Two huge hair-dos. We tally the scores