One of the most successful female artists in British pop history is a down-to-earth north-London girl who likes drinking G&Ts from a can. Jess Glynne talks bisexuality, music and body image with Alix O’Neill
Does any singer have a better knack for an earworm than Jess Glynne? It’s taken just three years – and one album – for the 28-year-old to hit the number-one spot more times than any other female British solo artist, trumping even the mighty Adele.
Her voice, at once smoky and powerful, first ripped through the pop landscape in 2014 on Clean Bandit’s Rather Be, and now has a share in virtually every nightclub dance floor, upbeat car-journey playlist and video montage going (she became a victim of her own success this year when customers of the airline Jet2 complained about Hold My Hand being played on a loop – Glynne apologised, despite having no personal control over the company’s sound system).
Now she’s back with album number two, Always In Between, a triumphant medley of confessional, upbeat tracks, including the hotly tipped Thursday, co-written with Ed Sheeran.
When I call her she’s in the back of a car going to the airport, en route to China to perform at an awards ceremony. Glynne may be a global pop sensation, but she’s also a hard-working north-London girl with a throaty laugh and frank take on everything from body image to bisexuality (she wrote her first album after a painful break-up with a girlfriend). The lyric from her Ed Sheeran track, ‘I don’t wear make-up on Thursdays, I drink gin from a tin’, says it all.
Tell us about your new album. Was it tough to write given the huge success of I Cry When I Laugh?
‘It took a while. Initially, I felt I was ready to write again but went in prematurely. Then, towards the end of 2017, I was like, “Right, I’m ready”, and asked if we could get a bit of space in the middle of nowhere. So they found this house for me in Sussex. We went away for a week. It was one of the best weeks of my life. I was with people I knew and people I hadn’t met before, we became like a family. I walked out with a complete album.’
Do you put pressure on yourself to succeed? I heard you originally wrote 100 songs to find your sound…
‘I’m a big fat perfectionist and have real issues with control. When it comes to a song, the production, the video, the styling, I find it hard to hand things over [but] you have to trust people. I’m hard on myself and that’s not always a good thing, but I think it’s one of the reasons I’ve got to where I am.’
Is the title of your new album a comment on your sexuality?
‘It comes from the fact that my life has been in between for the last four years. I’ve been here, there and everywhere in work, my personal life and relationships – be it with a man or a woman. The reason I chose that title is because I’ve accepted that it’s OK to not be one way or the other. I wanted to say you’re not lost by being in the middle. The sexuality thing does come into it, but that’s not only what it’s about.
You’ve previously talked about being in toxic relationships and having your heart broken. Has that made you more cautious in love?
‘Yeah, I think it would for anyone. Love is tricky. I couldn’t live without it, but it’s not something I necessarily find easy. I’ve been in relationships for years and this is the first time I’ve been single for a little minute. It’s quite nice to have a moment to yourself. If something was to come along, I’m never going to turn it away if it feels right, but just now, I’m content.’
You talk about insecurities in the song Thursday. Have you reached self-acceptance?
‘I think, entering this world, your life is kind of ripped from you, and it takes a lot of getting used to. For me, there’s a pressure to look amazing and happy all of the time. There are times when you’re tired and you’re not in the best mood and have spots on your face.’
Do you think there’s a lot of pressure on female artists to be sexual?
‘I think girls feel the need to present themselves in a sexual way. But I also feel it’s nice to make yourself feel good. Girls are sexy human beings, so why not accentuate that? You can do it in a classy way, where you’re not overdoing it. But yes, there is definitely a pressure, which I don’t think is OK. If you don’t want to present yourself as a sex symbol, you shouldn’t have to.’
You turned down the chance to audition for The X Factor when you were 15. Do you think there’s still a place for shows like that given the new conversations around mental health?
‘Shows like The X Factor create opportunities that people wouldn’t necessarily have, but if you put yourself in front of an audience you risk getting slated. You have to be prepared for both. I would never have done anything like that because I don’t think I could deal with people judging me. I didn’t want music to be a competition. But yes, I think those shows can mess with you mentally. We’re recognising now that people need to speak about their anxieties. For much of my life, I didn’t do that because I thought I’d be looked down on.’
How do you feel about social media? Do you like to take a break every so often?
‘In 2017, I deleted Instagram for quite a while. It was really nice to just have a break from looking at other peoples’ lives and worrying about whether my life was good or not. I think it’s one of the most amazing things to be able to connect with your fans and show your work, but it can have a negative effect on the way you look at yourself. [It’s important to remember] the perfection you see on screen is not the truth.’
Jess Glynne’s second album, Always In Between, is out 12 October on Atlantic
Photographs by Stephanie Sian Smith, styling by Grace Wright