Critics Choice Award winner Jorja Smith has gone from Starbucks barista to Brits star in just over a year
Jorja Smith, congrats on winning the Brits Critics’ Choice award! Where were you when you found out you’d won?
‘I was in an Uber and my manager called me. It was mad – I didn’t even think I’d get nominated!’
This time last year you were working in Starbucks. Has your leap into the spotlight ever felt too fast?
‘I’m excited, but I’ve never been the sort of person to go, “Oh my god, this is happening”. I’m more about taking each day at a time. I like a new challenge.’
All three Critics’ Choice nominees [Jorja Smith, Stefflon Don and Mabel] were female. Is now a good time to be a woman in the music industry?
‘It’s hard to say. I’m not with a label, so I haven’t ever felt pressure to be a certain way. I’ve got a cool team who just love music. I’m getting to write what I want.’
What kind of music were you raised on in Birmingham?
‘Jazz, reggae, soul and neo-soul, a little bit of pop… there’d always be music playing in the house. My dad was in a band [2nd Naicha], so he’d give me ideas for songs, and at school I’d listen to garage and grime. There were loads of influences.’
How personal is your music?
‘Very and not very. Sometimes I observe stuff I haven’t been through and write about it. I used to walk my dog with these 50-year-olds and they’d tell me stories I could use. But things are becoming more personal [as I’m getting older].’
Blue Lights is about the way police treat people of colour. Was the song inspired by a specific experience?
‘It’s about two boys I used to catch the bus to school with. I found a knife in one of their bags and I was like, “Why the hell have they got this?” I wrote a story from that, and talking to other kids about their experiences with the police.’
You recently wiped your Twitter and Instagram accounts and started again. Do you think that’s going to become more common as kids who grew up on social media come of age?
‘Yeah, I mean there was nothing bad on there, but I just wanted to delete everything because I thought it’s not really a reflection of who I am now. I see with a lot of artists now, people are bringing up tweets from 2014… people love to bring up stuff from the past, but nobody’s perfect – I’m sure everyone’s made a mistake.’
You supported Drake during his UK tour. Is it true that he wandered into a Birmingham Co-op while you were buying wine gums and tampons? Because that’s an excellent story…
‘I know! Well, he brought me out at his Birmingham show, because that’s where I’m from, and then I went into my local Co-op and this boy I used to go to church with was in there and went, “Oh, hey Jorja”. Then in walks Drake behind me. The boy was like, “What the hell?!”’
Do you ever get star-struck?
‘No, I’ve never been fazed by that sort of thing. If I ever got to meet Amy Winehouse, though – which is obviously impossible – I would definitely lose it.’
Why Amy Winehouse?
‘I love her. I’ve listened to Frank so many times. She was so honest and herself. I think one of the hardest things for an artist to do is tell the truth, but that’s what Amy Winehouse did, and it’s what I want to do – if you want to write songs that connect with people, I think they really need to believe what you’re talking about.’