Born Jessica Ellen Cornish in 1988 in suburban East London (Essex as was) the kid from the Hainault Loop was a gifted young musician and aspiring performer who joined the National Youth Music Theatre and won Best Pop Singer on the TV show Britain’s Brilliant Prodigies in 2003. Having been talent spotted she was whisked off to the BRIT School and graduated in the same year as Adele and Leona Lewis while Amy Winehouse was also on the scene. Imagine those four new diva talents in one room!
After an early contract went missing in action through no fault of her own she pitched her remarkably sophisticated songs to Miley and Alicia Keys and began getting props from Justin Timberlake, Kylie, JLS and Cyndi Lauper who invited her to be support act on the 2008 Bring Ya to the Brink tour where JJ regularly joined in the encore of “Girls Just Want to have Fun.” Building up to her debut album Jessie began to mix and match with startling results. Rock, rap, reggae tunes and a savvy blend of influences permeated the triumphant Who You Are with its therapeutic title cut lending weight to her assertion that here was six years worth of work finally coming to fruition. All thirteen tracks bear her stamp, as do the three Platinum Edition bonus cuts. The iTunes Deluxe edition offers live acoustic and music video supplementary goodies. Certified as Quadruple Platinum, Who You Are remains one of 2011’s most vital releases thanks to the disco stomping “Domino”, the high-energy bluesy big band jazz of “Mamma Knows Best” with its distinctive soaring vocal range, the slinky beats of “Price Tag” and the raw emotion of “Nobody’s Perfect”. The up close and personal “Who’s Laughing Now” is her coming of age anthem with lush piano work and authentic hip hop hooks. If you haven’t experienced the album in its entirety we recommend you do. Even at a bare four years distance it is like discovering an old friend.
2013’s Alive homed in on her pop and hip hop roots with producers Stargate, Dr. Luke, All About She and Chuck Harmony adding their considerable chops.The Alive tour that accompanied the release showcased an ever-engaging Jessie, fresh from writing spells with Rodney Jerkins and the Australian star Sia Furler, amongst many accomplices old and new. Well described as classic 21st Century pop with an innate ability to switch genres – not a bad thing in the right hands – Alive spawned favourites like “Wild”, “It’s My Party” and the in your face “Sexy Lady” – another of the divine Ms J’s stand up and be empowered belters.
With everyone from the Financial Times to Digital Spy coming on side Alive is recognised now for a more mature sound albeit it is a stonking arty disc. Jessie crashed through the writing gears and the results are well worth discovering again. As she said at the time, "It really represents where I'm at in my life right now and how I feel about my life."
Standing proud and fit to go on the cover of Sweet Talker (2014) Jessie J unveiled her most grown up disc to date. Featuring collaborations with George Clinton and De La Soul on “Seal Me with a Kiss”, 2 Chainz on the diva sassy “Burnin’ Up” (a definite favourite round here) and top American songwriter Josh Alexander on “Masterpiece” there are strings, synths and piano at the heart of the album, some of it recorded in her current residence, Los Angeles.
The standout track “Bang Bang” written by the Swedish crew headed up by dance and electro pop maestro Max Martin is another ambitious gem featuring Jessie alongside Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj. One of 2014’s catchiest hooky earworms “Bang Bang” affirmed the fact she hadn’t staged a comeback because she’d never really been away. Check out the Deluxe edition for its bonus tracks, including the amazing “Strip”, produced by in-demand guy Ammo. This is one of the year’s must hear discs.
At time of writing Jessie J has just dropped the teaser for
'Flashlight' as the lead cut to be lifted from the upcoming Pitch Perfect 2 soundtrack. A very classy ballad and a mouth-watering glimpse into where she might venture next “Flashlight” proves that Jessica Cornish is on top of her game. More masterpieces please, Jessie J.
Words: Max Bell
Though Jessie J's 2013 album Alive had several singles enter the U.K. Top 40, it did little in the U.S. J followed the rather bland, ballad-heavy set with Sweet Talker, a collection of songs tailored to regain her footing as a pop star in the States. At the very least, the album is a lot more energetic than the misleadingly named Alive: filled with cameos by American artists as well as collaborations with A-list producers, Sweet Talker is the flashy opposite of what came before it. Sometimes the too-much-is-never-enough approach actually works: "Bang Bang," the Max Martin-produced hit single that presented J, Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj as a saucy girl group for the 2010s, goes so over the top with pop fizz that it demands listeners' attention. While it's arguable that Minaj's mile-a-minute rapping and 2014's pop It Girl Grande steal the show from Jessie, "Bang Bang" did get her back on the charts and on people's minds in the U.S. The rest of Sweet Talker doesn't quite capitalize on that hit's sound or momentum; recorded in just three weeks, it finds J trying as many sounds and styles as possible in the hope that something will stick. The album's second single, "Burnin' Up," nods to rap via a cameo by 2 Chainz and to EDM with strobing synths; elsewhere, she returns to P!nk-esque pop on "Masterpiece" and "Said Too Much," a decent riff on "Blow Me (One Last Kiss)" and the brash attitude of her debut on "Ain't Been Done." Likewise, the album's ballads run the gamut from the pretty but repetitive "Personal" to the more overwrought territory of "Get Away" and "Fire," which ends up sounding more frantic than dramatic thanks to J's rushed delivery. A few moments on Sweet Talker balance the album's extremes: "Seal Me with a Kiss," which features De La Soul, channels "Bang Bang"'s sense of fun into playful retro-soul with hip-hop flair, while "Keep Us Together" opts for a more mature R&B pop sound that feels a lot less contrived than much of the album. While Sweet Talker's lack of a clear artistic voice makes it wildly uneven, it just might be loud enough to regain American listeners' attention.
Words: Heather Phares
Shedding the severe black bob, lipstick and nail polish she sported on Who You Are in favor of a stripped-bare look, Jessie J looked as different as she possibly could on the cover of Alive. Musically, however, there isn't much of a change -- or rather, there are too many: she does nearly as much style-hopping on her second album as she did on her debut. A few of Alive's songs nod to her P!nk-meets-Natasha Bedingfield hit "Domino," such as the brassy opening track "It's My Party" and "Sexy Lady," which tries for an empowering vibe but is let down by a weak chorus. For most of the album, Jessie J tries to show how wide her range is; while she's capable of writing and singing introspective and rousing songs equally well, more often than not her versatility is more of a curse than a blessing. There are some whiplash changes here: she follows the charmingly retro electro-pop of "Daydreamin'" with "Excuse My Rude," a dubstep-tinged kiss-off that takes "Do It Like a Dude"'s brassiness in an even more abrasive and aggressive direction. Similarly, Alive's emotions swing wildly between bold and vulnerable, and J's vocals on the album's more reflective songs tend toward the overwrought. This is especially true of "I Miss Her," a ballad with a tender melody that could be beautiful if it weren't for the overdone singing. Elsewhere, Alive feels oddly generic; songs like the title track seem like they could be sung by anyone, for better or worse. The album's reliance on ballads is especially frustrating when J comes, well, alive on simpler and more direct moments like "Wild"'s dance-pop and "Conquer the World," a duet with Brandy that attains the heartfelt mood so many other tracks here fail to reach. For all the effort put into Alive, it doesn't provide a clear identity for Jessie J other than that of a talented singer/songwriter who's still searching for her signature sound.
Words: Heather Phares
Who You Are is a singularly ironic title for a debut that finds Jessie J trying on discarded threads from every British pop starlet of the last half decade. She’s cheekily profane like Lily Allen, she rides old-school R&B grooves like Amy Winehouse and Duffy, she’s bratty like Kate Nash, she can be as icily brittle as Leona Lewis, she touches upon the sullen confessionals of Adele, and -- most of all -- she belts out her tunes with a full-throttle roar that recalls the brassy ballast of Natasha Bedingfield. The latter is telling because it reveals precisely how entrenched Jessie J is within the music industry. Bedingfield is the kind of star who plays the game according to the rules and Jessie J is actually one of those who used to come up with the rules behind the scene, writing songs for numerous pop singers, most notably co-writing Miley Cyrus’ best song, “Party in the USA.” Jessie J knows what goes into a hit and what it takes to sell them. The problem is, she’s desiring the hit too much on Who You Are, so she’s throwing everything at the wall here, hoping one or two of the hits will click in a couple of different formats. On a track-by-track basis she can pull it off, particularly on the pair of Dr. Luke productions (“Price Tag,” coming complete with a B.o.B cameo, and “Abracadabra”), but as a whole Jessie J comes across as too desperate to please on Who You Are, a situation not helped by a truly weird sequencing that plays like a shuffle on haywire (why else would the live acoustic “Big White Room” be placed in the middle of the record when it sounds like a bonus track tacked onto a reissue released two months after the initial release?).
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine