photographer / Kareem Black
writer / Ariel Gearhart
stylist / Rose Garcia
hair + makeup / Joanna Simkin
stylist assistant / Savannah White
With a sexy new single of an undefined genre and a much anticipated album to look forward to, UK singer/song writer Estelle celebrates personal renewal, redefines what raw beauty is, and how love lost has shaped her and taken her outside of the box. We caught up with the singer to discuss the soulfully sassy single “Make Her Say (Beat It Up)”, learn secrets about new album True Romance, and how a break up inspired her rather than destroyed her.
I want to start with your single, “Maker Her Say (Beat It Up)”. It comes following a break up and from a place of raw emotion, celebrating female sexual empowerment, and getting back to being YOU. Tell me a little bit about the story behind it?
After you break up with somebody I don’t think that you go and dance down the yellow brick road and sing about flowers. I think what you go and do is have some awesome sex and figure out who the hell you are again. Either through the sex or just generally regaining ownership within yourself again as a woman. I mean I did it and I don’t know who hasn’t or doesn’t. So this record was me writing all my thoughts and feelings and about the more emotional mental state that you’re in when you’re working on getting into a real relationship. I decided to call together four themes: passion, courage, true romance, and bullshit. Out of all of those that record kind of stood out as the first moment was the beginning of the story and a me getting back to myself kind of thing. And then it was about ownership like I said. I didn’t want to go back out and be confident in the person I was, I wanted to try new things and try different kinds of men and just be open and flirt a little rather than be so gotten on who I was supposed to be at that point based on my last relationship. “Make Her say” was one of those records where it’s like yeah, everyone’s been there everyone’s gone through it whether they want to admit it or not or will do it.
Would you consider it a contemporary R&B song?
I have no idea what category it is other than good music!
Right! It’s a bit different sounding.
It’s different right? You know, I don’t know where it fits. It’s like “Bad Romance” slash the Ying Yang Twins “The Whisper Song” or like any Nicki Minaj or YG record. That’s what it feels like to me. It doesn’t fit in any category. My whole thing was in my career I don’t really make easily identifiable records. You never quite know where to put them you just like them. It makes it slightly difficult but it is what it is.
The video, like the song, tells a story of owning it and the beauty behind an organic perfect imperfection. Can you tell me how you portrayed that in the music video?
Yeah, nobody was airbrushed. Its like getting into our selfies and having those moments when you’re feeling like I need the most perfect picture image, especially in the age Instagram, we always want to look our most perfect and most awesome for every single shot. This is a video that has overweight people, overly hairy people, women to be otherwise deemed as video models with all their cellulite showing and no one cares. And just looking normal. This is what we look like as humans. We don’t all look like dolls. We don’t look like Barbie, we don’t look like Ken. We are real humans with different shapes and it doesn’t mean its abnormal or anything to point out, but its definitely just who we are. So I wanted to make sure the video kept that. The other thing is the show, “Real Sex”, it was a series in the early 90’s and 2000’s, that was kind of the basis of this. I wanted to do something that was a bit more topical, a bit more lifestyle. And everyone that was in the video came and some of them I met that day, so I was like go ahead “Bravo!”. I met my lead guy ten seconds before he crawled on top of me. It was very on the point and in the moment and that’s kind of what it is a lot of the time when you’re having sex with someone for the first time. Or some people do role-play, so you always feel like its different person but its real life, it wasn’t staged. We weren’t like let’s airbrush, lets let it be. This is what we look like. And to me, arguably, I think the most beautiful people was everybody else but me. I had a professional team working on me.
What kind of reaction do you hope to see from the viewers of the video?
Exactly that. I want people to be like “Wait what!” without even watching the video or hearing the song. And be like “she has crossed over, her titties are out!” I’m like my titties have been out in all of my music videos so stop. I think people need to watch it in the context of the song. I think the majority of people have been nice and are like “thank you, I saw a little bit of myself in that. I get what you’re talking about with regular people and I appreciate that,” . Because everyone has these standards of what you’re supposed to look like in a video, especially in an R&B music video. Even though it’s not really R&B, but everyone is super airbrushed and this was a video of people of all different races in it, all having fun, not airbrushed. So I think the perception of me as an R&B artist, I think I did the honor proud. We did it in a classy tasteful way where it doesn’t look crazy.
Tell me a little about “True Romance” and the four themes you tied the album together with.
The whole album is called, “True Romance” and that is one of the main themes. The idea was to talk about something that was real. It’s been a few years, so I’m completely over it, but when you’re going through a break up and you’re dealing with stuff and you’re doing what everyone expects you to do. Especially with being an artist people expect you to come out with an album that is so full of light and so thankful that’s over and not to say I’m not thankful for that, but I couldn’t land in the space of Mary Poppins land. I landed in the I don’t know what shoes I like, I’m not sure how I should where my hair today. I was growing with this person in the stage where I was invested in what we were becoming verses me. So I had to redefine myself again. So I started writing the album while I was investigating all these things that I liked. What color hair, how short it was. I went from red hair to short red hair to an orangey red bronzy bob to long brown weave and then sometimes natural. Today is asymmetrical but still blonde. You just don’t quite know! Then I figured out that I liked my hair in different styles. That’s who I am and that’s who I’ve become. My shoes are what they are; my clothes are what they are. You rediscover your physical self and imagine rediscovering your emotional self. That is the stuff I figured I was doing so wrong or that I was doing right but he didn’t deserve enough and the bullshit I was putting myself thru while fit enough to date someone else, and just let myself breathe a little bit. Just be able to have fun and be able to chill. And not be under the pressure I felt my life was when I was with him. I was writing during that entire period. All the things in “True Romance” is what the guy I hope to end up with will have to deal with. The bullshit, the courage, the passion, you know all these things that will create a real romance, a real love story. I believe that. I’m not here for the love in terms of what everyone thinks. I’m here for the realistic man. There are days where I don’t feel like being on everyone’s yellow brick road and smiling. And I don’t want to break up with you, I just have some shit to figure out and if you can help me out, I will get right back to you, just hold tight. And that’s human, that’s normal. I wanted to embrace that.
Is each song categorized by one of the four themes, or is it all sort of mixed throughout the album?
I recorded it first and then I put themes. I thought how will I get these to help to understand what I’m doing. This isn’t the album you typically come up with after you break up with someone. This is some weird shit. I’m not sure people will get where I’m going here. Me and my team sat down and were like, you could put these into four different themes because you’re going over the 4 themed subject here. And a lot of my friends, since breaking up, have been calling me asking me for advice, almost therapy advice, to the point where its like about marriage and things like that and I was like, “Well, you’re good at something! This break up was worth something, I give really great advice,”. I was like this song sounds like the passion, this song sounds like a bunch of bullshit and some of them intermingle. You might get some passion with the bullshit, you might get courage with the bullshit, passion with courage. They all intermingle but they all equal true romance and being your realest self.
Since through the process you were putting your emotions out there with complete and utter honesty, would you say that was the ultimate form of healing and therapy for you?
Absolutely. That and some Jack Daniels. And whiskey and cigars. I just found out I like to smoke cigars. Not to promote smoking, I don’t smoke weed or drink while I’m on the road and I’m 34 and I’ve never smoked in my life until I hit like 32 but I smoked a cigar and I was like, “this isn’t so bad!”. I’ll say it’s very occasional, it’s not something I do every week but you know, its discovery. I think you have to get out of your own head sometimes. And somebody’s cigar can be reading a book, somebody’s cigar can be going to a bar, somebody’s cigar can be whatever’s teaching them random shit. And I do those things as well, sometimes ill read a book, sometimes ill go to a reggae club and put my head down and be in a corner two stepping my life away. But those things help.
Would you say getting back into the groove of you was the main message?
Absolutely. And getting back into the groove of who you are in order to be in a relationship if you want to be in one. You can’t be in one and base it off of who you were before. That’s not fair to you and not fair to the person you are with. Its like give it a chance. Try something different, try something new. And there are people who enjoy being in relationships and they may break up with one and be in another and just people that don’t want to be in a relationship for awhile and give themselves that space, that’s fine just as long whatever you are doing during that time in between, be free. Don’t limit yourself. Don’t put yourself in any boxes. Try some shit. You’re alive, its life. There are no jurisdictions on how you should live your life. Just don’t get yourself locked up or anything crazy. But just live it, there’s nothing to stop you! In my experience its like trying to reset and get back into a situation where I want my life to be a certain way and this is my experience. Before “Make Her Say” came out, we had a song called “Drunk and High” that I wrote when I was very tipsy in a hotel in Atlanta where I had to do a club walk through and I wrote it that night and I’m in the room like singing along with the music and my people were like put that shit down, out it on the record and I was like okay! Be real, be authentic, be in your moment.
Lastly, what does love mean to you? How do you define it?
Love is freedom to be yourself and freedom to grow with somebody. Being loved is somebody taking you at your worst and your best and taking you at any given mood of the day and still not running away from you. I think parents, especially, when that gene kicks in and they are able to love your kid through anything. People do crazy things and their parents still love them and look after them. That to me is real, true love. And spiritually I look at it the way God loves us. That’s a whole other level. Where you consistently mess up, where you do stuff that isn’t quite the way you should be going according to everybody else but you are okay and living your life and its going to be alright in the end. And that parent, or that person, or that spirit is still around you, that’s true love. Unconditional.
credits:First image; Black Leather top, Rebecca Vallance. Skirt, Leka. Under skirt, Franziska Fox. Shoes, Nicholas Kirkwood. Bracelet and Rings, Megan Issacs. Sunglasses, A-morir.
Second Image:Top, Rebecca Vallance.Scarf, Swaray. Necklace, Erickson Beamon. Skirt, Franziska Fox.