Rita Ora is a woman in a hurry. In November, she finally released her second album, Phoenix, six years after Ora. Now she’s making up for lost time. Ora powers through interviews.
Rita Sahatçiu Ora was born in Pristina, Kosovo. She was an infant when her Kosovar Albanian family fled the ethnic repressions defining post-Communist South Eastern Europe for the UK. An aspiring pop star, Ora was given an early break by Craig David, providing backing vocals to the track ‘Awkward’ on his 2007 album Trust Me. She auditioned to represent the UK in 2009’s Eurovision Song Contest, but withdrew on strategic industry advice.
Soon after, Ora signed to JAY-Z’s Roc Nation in a major coup. In 2012 she celebrated her inaugural UK #1 as the guest vocalist on DJ Fresh’s drum ‘n’ bass banger ‘Hot Right Now’. That same year, the divette presented her debut, Ora, on the back of the hits ‘How We Do (Party)’ and ‘RIP’ (co-penned by Drake and featuring Tinie Tempah). But, though she blew up in the UK, Europe and Australia, Ora failed to fully crack the US.
Ora continued to air singles like ‘I Will Never Let You Down’, which her ex-boyf, Calvin Harris helmed. In 2015 she performed ‘Grateful’, from the Beyond The Lights soundtrack, at the Academy Awards where it was nominated for ‘Best Original Song’. Yet she then sued Roc Nation for contractual release, claiming to have been sidelined.
Reets would be anything but idle. She maintained her profile by diversifying. Ora portrayed Mia Grey in the Fifty Shades Of Grey movie franchise (she also duetted with One Direction’s Liam Payne on ‘For You (Fifty Shades Freed)’). She accepted television roles, recently hosting America’s Next Top Model. Ora herself appeared in fashion campaigns. Indeed, she became the Queen of Endorsements, working with brands like Rimmel. Alas, haters dismissed Ora as less a music identity than a celebrity – even as she used her influence to advocate for refugees. Regardless, Ora has consistently collaborated. She led Prince’s ‘Ain’t About 2 Stop’ (from his album Hit n Run Phase One), Avicii’s last single ‘Lonely Together’, and Rudimental’s neglected ‘Summer Love’.
Happily, Ora re-signed to Atlantic Records, officially relaunching her music career with 2017’s mega ‘Your Song’ – an Ed Sheeran co-write. There have been setbacks. Reets teamed with Cardi B, Bebe Rexha and Charli XCX for the posse-cut ‘Girls’, revealing her bisexuality. She was criticised by some within the LGBTQIA community over her problematic rep – only for others to then question the backlash.
Music Feeds caught up with Ora as she wrapped the first leg of her Phoenix World Tour in Australia (the singer initially toured here with 2013’s Future Music Festival). And, Ritabots behold, Ora is already planning her return. “I’m having a good time,” she says in her husky London accent. “I’m gonna come back hopefully again and do another show – a bigger show.” Meanwhile, Ora is promoting another single, ‘Only Want You’ – a remix of the Phoenix album track with vocals from Atlantan R&B phenom 6LACK. Plus it has a viral video, being a fond homage to Britney Spears’ ‘Everytime’.
Music Feeds: Phoenix finally materialised late last year. I wonder how you feel about it now that you’ve got some perspective?
Rita Ora: I feel great. You know, I feel like I’m really starting a new chapter in my life and in my career. When I perform these songs live for the first time, it’s so awesome.
MF: While you’ve been in Australia you’ve dropped your new song with 6LACK, ‘Only Want You’. What you can tell us about it?
RO: Sonically, I don’t think my fans have heard this side of me. It’s very live instrumentation – live drums, live guitar – and the vocal is extremely bare. I wanted it to feel really musical and really kind of vulnerable. And so I think that’s me – it’s definitely something I haven’t done before…
MF: One of the incredible things you did, which some people still don’t know, was to work with Prince. What happened to the song you recorded with him, ‘The Single Most Amazing’ ? Will we ever hear that?
RO: Yeah, yeah, well, you know, it’s out of my hands, really. It’s under the family of Prince. I guess they decide what happens with it.
MF: I hope we hear it!
RO: Yeah, me too. It’s great.
MF: Prince had a legacy of supporting female artists. What did you learn from your exchanges with him?
RO: They were really all about just being very open with your music instinct and being really comfortable in your own skin and being able to express yourself musically without having doubt. Everything was just extremely creative and so I learnt a lot.
MF: Bebe Rexha recently started speculation on Twitter about a super Albanian girl power song with you, Dua Lipa and Ava Max. Is there any chance of that happening?
RO: Well, of course – you know, I never turn down a girl-empowering movement (laughs). So, of course. I haven’t heard of anything actually happening but, if it does, I’ll be right there.
MF: A lot of kids in the Albanian diaspora are really proud of what you’ve achieved. But, in the wider world, people don’t really know Eastern European history and maybe they don’t know quite what to make of you and the cultural space you come from. Do you feel like you’re representing a certain set of experiences?
RO: Yeah, well, I’ve been very vocal about where I’m from. I don’t think I’ve ever shied away from it. I think that it’s just a way of life. All the entertainers in the industry now aren’t from where they kind of grow up – we’re all from somewhere, do you know what I mean? So I think I like to be an example of someone who migrated from a country and actually is living their dream. I always try to look at the positive and try and inspire people that have sort of got the same upbringing as me. I immigrated from Kosovo; we weren’t like the richest family in the world, and we figured it out. So it’s all the more about the environment and being able to find, I guess, education and things like that.
MF: You’ve also had this turn in the fashion industry – you’ve lately been named a brand ambassador for Escada. Would you actually like to do your own fully-fledged label? What are your aspirations in that area?
RO: Yeah, one day. I’d love to do music and fashion together at the same time; it’s like my dream. I love fashion, but music is my first love. So I guess maybe after this tour or after this album – I’m already recording another album, so I haven’t thought about it right now.
MF: Another album! How deep are you into that?
RO: I just started it, so… (laughs)
MF: You have worked with notable producers, including the late Avicii. Is there someone you’d really like to record with?
RO: Yeah, well, I’ve been trying – you know, all my collabs I’ve had so far I’m really grateful for… I don’t know yet. I definitely have a few I wanna try and get in before I tell you guys so I can see if it becomes a reality!
MF: On top of everything else, you’ve had a successful acting career – playing Mia Grey in the Fifty Shades Of Grey series. What did you take away from that experience?
RO: It was the first time I was a part of such a big franchise – I mean, the fanbase was just great. I learnt so much. I got to really learn how it is to be on such a big franchise movie [set] and adapt to the character. No matter how big or small my role was, I really took it as a learning curve. I think a lot of people liked the movie [series]. I think the proof is in the numbers. I’m very, very happy to be a part of a successful movie.
MF: Is there anything you can’t do?
RO: Well, I don’t know yet – I haven’t tried… I can’t do a backflip!
Rita Ora just wrapped up the Australian leg of her Phoenix World Tour. Her latest album Phoenix, is out now.