Slightly more than two years ago Emeli Sandé was nearing the end of an intensive six-year degree program in medicine at Scotland's Glasgow University, specializing in clinical neuroscience. Now the Scottish-born singer is lighting up the U.K. charts and being tweeted about by Alicia Keys, who endearingly called her a "BAAADDDD girl!!"
"It would have been a great job to be a doctor, but my first love was always music," says 24-year-old Sandé, who relocated to London in 2010 after landing an artist deal with Virgin Records/EMI. "I made the decision to walk away from a really stable career that I loved doing. So when I came to London I thought, 'I can't muck around. This isn't a game. This is my whole life that I have gambled.' There was a lot of pressure to work really hard and make it happen."
The hard work has undoubtedly paid off. Backed by strong industry buzz and fawning press coverage, Sandé's debut single, "Heaven," entered the U.K. singles chart at No. 2 with first-week sales of 64,000, according to the Official Charts Co. The soulful dance track, which pays homage to the early-'90s British trip-hop sound, was narrowly beaten to No. 1 by "Don't Go" (Levels/Ministry of Sound) by U.K. grime/rap star Wretch 32. "Don't Go," featuring Josh Kumra, moved 76,000 units, according to the OCC.
"For my first single to do that well . . . I'm over the moon," says Sandé, whose striking appearance-she wears a towering, peroxided mohawk and sports a large tattoo of artist Frida Kahlo on her right forearm-matches her powerful, blues-infused vocals. Prior to scoring a hit with "Heaven," Sandé was featured on the U.K. top 10 hits "Diamond Rings" by Chipmunk (2009) and "Never Be Your Woman" by Wiley (2010). Working in collaboration with her songwriting partner/producer Shahid "Naughty Boy" Khan, Sandé has also landed writing credits on albums by Tinie Tempah and Susan Boyle. She is published by Stellar Songs/EMI Music Publishing.
"There is a real appetite out there at the moment for artists that deliver emotive songs that connect lyrically, and Emeli absolutely delivers," Parlophone & Virgin A&R Labels president Miles Leonard says. He adds that Sandé's breakthrough as a solo artist is "not about gimmicks or marketing" but due to "a great song, a great voice and great imagery."
The support of national top 40 station BBC Radio 1, along with commercial radio networks Kiss and Capital, was, nonetheless, a key sales driver for "Heaven," Virgin Records A&R director Glyn Aikins says. Sandé-who Aikins calls "one of the best lyricists of her generation"-also performed a live session for BBC digital urban station 1Xtra during release week.
To further build on the success of "Heaven," Sandé will be featured on the forthcoming Professor Green single "Read All About It," due for U.K. release in October. Her second single, titled "Daddy," will drop in November with an official street date to be confirmed. To promote the release, the singer will embark on a headlining U.K. tour, booked by London-based Coda Agency. The tour will commence Nov. 1 at Glasgow Oran Mor. Several big-name support acts are also lined up, Leonard says, although he declines to reveal details.
Sandé's debut studio album, Our Version of Events, is nearing completion for its January U.K. bow. An international rollout will follow in 2012, according to Leonard, who says the artist has already generated an "enormous" response from EMI's international departments. "This is very much a priority for EMI on a global campaign basis," he adds, identifying Sandé as a singer with "the ability to become a huge album-selling artist."
"I'd love to take the music as far as I can," Sandé says when asked about her long-term ambitions. "I'd love to get out in Europe and America, so I can hopefully raise the British flag with good, honest music."••••