The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.
“A lot of my music comes from pain. I don’t really get motivated to write about good love because I’m good with the feeling,” Jessie Reyez told REVOLT TV following her Governors Ball performance.
Twenty-seven-year-old R&B exploding star Jessie Reyez has molded pain that would crumble people twice her age into the foundation of a career. It’s no wonder she told us after her show that Amy Winehouse, a sorcerer of sorrow, is one of her two biggest inspirations. It’s also no wonder that when asked which artist the prolific songwriter would love to work with, she chose the perpetually peaceful Bob Marley.
“Even the songs that are woke and are talking about rebellion, they inspire and elicit this happiness. I respect that so much because it’s just a little capsule of happiness that you can have in your life even if you’re in the dark. So, I would write with him, to observe how he does it...” the artist said.
Songwriting is the catalyst to Reyez’s rise because, before she had a hit of her own, she helped write one for someone else. Among a myriad of other songs, the star penned the Dua Lipa and Calvin Harris dance banger of a collaboration, “One Kiss,” which peaked at #1 on the Billboard Dance Club Song chart. Less than a year later, she received her first gold plaque for her own song, the 2016 single “Figures,” and the rest is history.
“Writing ‘Body Count,’ I was drinking. ‘Apple Juice,’ I was drinking. A lot of them I was drinking,” Reyez said with a laugh when asked about her writing. “Not on all of them. But, a lot of them. ‘Body Count’ was the last one. I think I was drinking whiskey.’”
Undoubtedly, the song she penned that has been the most shocking of her career, so far, has been the revelatory “Gatekeeper.” In the brooding track, Reyez sings about people who use their influence in the entertainment industry to coerce aspiring artists into having sex with them in exchange for stardom. She says the song wasn’t premeditated as an indictment on the industry. It simply resulted from her telling her own personal story to the song’s producer, William Larsen. Since its release in 2017, Surviving R. Kelly premiered, the #MeToo movement has taken over the nation, and according to Reyez, the people she described in the song are starting to be held accountable.
“Luckily, I haven’t seen any backlash to my face, which is dope,” she said. “I think that maybe because more people are realizing that’s a shitty way to behave, it’s become less of a social norm and there’s more social pressure to abide by a higher way of being. A more equal way of being.”
Reyez says "it was fun as hell” performing at Governors Ball, and if you’ve ever seen her perform live, you know her shows are imbued with a constant tug and pull between darkness and light. For her exorcism of a performance for her song “Shutter Island,” you’ll see her aggressively stomp around the stage, eyes closed, as she sings about her straight jacket being custom made. Then, in a moment’s notice, her face will be calm and she’ll softly sing the verses. Both images make up the whole picture of Jessie Reyez.
“It’s this weird thing. It’s like the devil and God. A lot of these songs are dark. But, I open my eyes and I see life, and I see happiness. It’s very juxtaposed,” she stated.
The confidence exhibited at the Governors Ball took a while to develop. “I don’t walk in with doubt. I make sure the energy I have is, ‘I want to do this.’ It’s not, ‘I don’t know if I can do this,’" she explained. "It’s never that anymore. Sometimes it used to be that. Now, it’s always, ‘I’m going to murk this.’ It’s just a matter of fact."
Now, Reyez is growing into a seasoned star onstage and able to discern nuances in the crowd to help future shows. She's even comfortable enough to stretch her skills to places she never knew they could go.
"There's shows where I've hit notes I didn’t know I could hit. So, it’s like, ‘Oh sick, I have this range,’" she said. "There’s moments where I see people crying [from songs] that I didn't know gripped people that way. So, I make sure to keep it more intimate and more subdued."
It's been a little under eight months since Reyez released her last project, Being Human In Public. She says she's working on her debut album now, and she was actually in the studio during game 1 of the first NBA Finals her hometown Toronto Raptors, while her music team was at a bar watching it. But, for someone who says wearing her Raptors jersey during her Governors Ball performance is equivalent to breathing, there was no way she was going to miss the entire game. "Made it for the last two minutes of the game, turned up in the bar for a little bit, and I had to go back in the studio to finish," she explained.
More from Keith Nelson Jr.