Estelle Interview: Singer Talks ‘True Romance’ + How the Music Industry Has Changed [EXCLUSIVE]
UK songstress Estelle first made a splash on U.S. soil back in 2008 when her sophomore album's lead single, "American Boy" featuring Kanye West, blew up on the radio. Rather than phoning things in by coasting off the success of "American Boy," Estelle continued to release music on her own terms, refusing to get stuck in any one genre or style. Her latest effort, True Romance, dropped on Tuesday (Feb. 17) and is a cohesive blend of sounds, lyrics and style with an interesting, thematic premise that ties it all together.
We had the chance to speak with Estelle about her latest album, how the music industry has changed over the years and how it felt to perform with one of her idols, Gladys Knight.
Check out our full interview with Estelle below!
After listening to True Romance, it seems like it's about the different facets that come from the ending of a relationship. Was that your intention?
It was more to explore what happens when you’re single, after the relationship ends and you’re just kind of there trying to figure out what’s next before jumping into another one. I think it’s important for me not to have done an album thats like, “I’m happy, I’m in love, I’m in love” when I wasn’t, you know? When I was like, not unhappy at all, thanking God I escaped the last relationship I was in, that I managed to leave with my dignity and my pride intact and not take such a public beating for it, so you know, I felt good. I felt like "What do I write about? Well, this part right here.” Some people think it’s about the end of a relationship and some people think it’s about the beginning of a relationship, some people said it’s what happens when you’re in it. And I’m like, "It’s all of those things!" You know? It’s every one of those things. So I’m excited.
I read that you decided to divide the album up into four different themes. Can you expand on that?
I’m very eclectic, as far as music goes. So when people ask me, "What do you do, what genre are you?” And I’m always like, “All of them?” So this is my way of giving it to people, paint-by-numbers. Consistent as in story, consistent in words and consistent in music. Other than the music being consistently good, that wasn’t my thing to do music in a certain style. But I thought it would be a great idea to do it all leaning toward these four categories: passion, courage, the bullshi— and true romance, so that was it. Sometimes you could be passionate or courageous, or couragous about the bullshi— you know? The main theme is trying to find true romance in all of it.
Your first single, "Conqueror," is anthemic and emotive, and it resonates with so many people. Why do you think that is?
It really was one of those moments for me where, when I first heard it -- I asked for this kind of record, I was having a hard time thinking of it but I wanted this kind of record -- and when I heard it I thought, "Well that’ll be the one." It definitely became a whole feeling to me, because in my life, I very much want to be worthy of the blessings that I’m given. But with that comes a lot of naysayers, and people saying, "You’re not who you think you are. You don’t deserve what you’ve worked for.” And my thing is like, “Well I’ll go out and stand on my two feet before I take someone telling me that I’m less than and I’m not worthy because that’s what they think.” And I think a lot of relationships are the same way. After you’ve been beaten down and you’ve put so much into a relationship you feel beat down at the end of a break up and it’s like, “Well, what was all that for?” And the idea is “Well, that’s over. Keep moving.”
What was the inspiration behind the music video for "Conqueror"?
I wanted to do something different, you know? Not what people would expect. Let’s make it about movement and the ballet dancers were a whole other revolution and wonderful and, just, wow.
You have an insanely inspirational, beautiful song like "Conqueror" on your album and then you have a sexually charged song like "Make Her Say (Beat It Up)" which is totally switching gears.
I’m always coming from a place of reality. I’ll have a really inspirational song like "Conqueror," but then I think, "Well, what did I do when I left that relationship?" I went and had some great sex. I had one or two one night stands, I just went and had fun and it felt like the most empowering period of my life at that point. I don’t see anything bad about it, but I look at it like what doesn’t kill you makes you awesome. It made me awesome! And people are hearing it and relate to it. I know people say that women can’t sing about sex in that way. I, at this point in my life, don’t give a sh---. I can do what I want. I’m grown as hell. If I want to sing about that, I’m gonna sing about that.
I know people say that women can’t sing about sex in that way. I, at this point in my life, don’t give a sh---. I can do what I want. I’m grown as hell. If I want to sing about that, I’m gonna sing about that.
I know you’ve been in the music industry for a while now. Have you seen a huge shift in the way things are done now as opposed to 10 years ago?
Absolutely. It’s a lot more freedom, but with the freedom definitely comes a lot of rubbish, and also a lot of magic happens. So it’s an interesting turnaround, especially within the past five, 10 years. For me, it’s like watching things go around in a circle but just making sure that I maintain quality. Music is music is music, but I maintain my quality.
What music are you currently listening to? Anything super contemporary?
Oh yeah! This one song has been growing on me for a while, Ed Sheeran’s "Thinking Out Loud." I love that song! I love that record. That song’s beautiful! And then I play my old records: Marvin Gaye, old reggae, old R&B, I like the music I like. But “Thinking Out Loud” is my favorite.
So, you already have an insanely busy music career, you do voice acting, have a cameo on the show "Empire" coming up, are involved in fashion and even have your own foundation, All of Me. You have so many different projects going on at one time, how do you manage to do all of it?
I have a lot of help! My team is wonderful. As much as we’ve been given, we can give back to help out. I feel responsible when young girls come up to me and they’re smiling and they really look at me like, “You are awesome,” you know? Or young guys come up to me and look at me like, “I wish we were related,” you know, that kind of feeling? I love it. With the mentoring it’s kind of just being able to put a good word in their ear or support them where they haven’t had the help. We managed to take two of the kids and support them through college. We get to really help them — we check their grades, get in touch with their teachers, we’re very involved. It’s about making sure they really get the help they need and not just for the fluff of it.
I have to know -- how was it performing with Gladys Knight?
Oh, my God. Wow. Exactly how you think? Exactly that. She was singing 30 years before I was born, and she’s still singing! And sounding like magic! And then we had Martina McBride and she’s just a legend in the country genre. And she said such wonderful things about me, and it’s amazing to hear that from people who you regard as legendary. Whatever, I’m good. Incredible! It was a moment.