None of these send-ups were career-killers for Ora; even Who? Weekly’s regularly scheduled updates are little more than a light ribbing of the singer they call the “Who Queen.” But Ora, a bonafide pop star in her native country, understands how she is viewed in the U.S., and can’t wait to change her image. “I think people… know that I work, a lot,” she says carefully when asked about her public image in the States. “The perception of me is different in different regions. I’ve released an album overseas, done festivals, played the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury — which for me is an iconic stage to be on. And over here, I’ve kind of… dipped into the pies? As in like, features, TV. And I’ve only done that because those were the only pies that I could reach at that point.”
That will change, Ora says, now that her U.S. reach can extend into the pop world. “Music can never wait,” she declares. “I want to dominate everything… I work really hard, to make sure I don’t get masked for something that I’m not.”
Like “Your Song” and her excellent 2014 overseas hit “I Will Never Let You Down,” the tracks that will make up Ora’s forthcoming U.S. debut hum along like well-oiled machines, with the singer’s vocal delivery showing refinement without ever overreaching as it slinks over various uptempo productions. “Falling To Pieces” shimmers with a trumpet hook, while “Summer Love” sprawls out before a drum-and-bass chorus crashes in with an immediacy Ora has rarely approached. For the candy-colored “Girls,” Ora says she worked with Charli XCX and Mø; the refrain goes “Sometimes, I just wanna kiss girls,” over a blinking beat. The songs successfully capture Ora’s current state, a self-described “party animal” with an eye on adulthood. If they aren’t sure things to impact pop radio in the U.S., they’re at least good bets.
Watt says that Ora flew he and his writing partner Ali Tamposi (Kelly Clarkson, Lea Michele) out to London to work on the album last year, and that the singer would often bring her seven best friends and family members into the studio to hear new music and give feedback. “One night, I put together this song for her, and we needed a live drummer,” Watt recalls. “Everyone was like, ‘Let’s get Adele’s drummer,’ and I was like, ‘No, we’re in London. We’re going to get David Bowie’s drummer.’ And they’re like, ‘Is this guy still alive?’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t know, but I’ll hunt him down and find out!’”
Sure enough, Ora and co. brought in 66-year-old Mick “Woody” Woodmansey, the last surviving member of Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust lineup, to drum on a track. “He played on it and did the thing,” Watt gushes, “and then everyone went out that night, and I think we were probably up until seven in the morning.”
Looking back, Ora describes the recording process as “effortless” once her label situation had been clarified. After recording half of the album in London, she headed to L.A. with the intent of staying for a week, and ended up recording for months with various writers. “Every day we’d go to the studio, make some songs, then go and get drunk, and listen to the songs back and say ‘This is great!’ or ‘This isn’t working,’” Ora recalls. “And the next day, we’d go in and perfect it or work on something new.”