Jessie J Talks Growth with 'R.O.S.E.': 'I Felt I'd Lost My Flair'

It’s been three years since Jessie J’s last album, the top 10-peaking Sweet Talker. And now she’s returning—forgive the pun—with a “Bang Bang.”

Early this morning (Sept. 15), Jessie J released “Think About That”, the lead song from her fourth album, and its accompanying video. During an exclusive sit-down with Billboard at Hollywood’s Sunset Tower Hotel, the singer noted the difference between her 2011 debut and the person she is today. “I'm more sure of what I stand for now and not as afraid," she says. "I’m more fearless even though I probably seemed more fearless back then. Now I allow my inner strength to do the talking.”

Which it does on two more album tracks that Billboard has heard, the empowerment anthem “Queen” (“Even some of the strongest women will need this song at one point,” she says) and “Not My Ex,” a cautionary tale about carrying past romance issues into a new relationship. A video for the latter song is being shot this weekend.

These two songs and “Think” are among the 16 that Jessie J is winnowing down as she mulls the final track listing for R.O.S.E., due early next year. “Real Deal” is another song she wrote that was released in August and used in her partnership campaign with the beauty line Make Up For Ever. “R.O.S.E. opens with a prayer and then goes into ‘Think About That.’ I know that much,” says Jessie J with a laugh.

Jessie J’s soulful vocals, laid against pop, R&B/hip-hop and electro-fused backdrops, first drew stateside attention in 2011 with the Billboard Hot 100 top 30 hit “Price Tag” featuring B.o.B., which has garnered 77 million on-demand streams per Nielsen Music. A year later, she soared to No. 6 on the Hot 100 with “Domino” (65 million on-demand streams). With “Bang Bang” in 2014 featuring Ariana Grande & Nicki MinajJessie J spent 16 weeks in the top 10 on the chart, peaking at No. 3 (453 million on-demand streams).But it’s a franker and determined Jessie J making this return trip as evidenced by the piercing lyrics and searing vocals heard on “Think About That.”

The English singer/songwriter also revealed the itinerary for an 11-date intimate tour that kicks off Oct. 8 in Birmingham, U.K. and includes U.S. stops in New York (Oct. 24), Chicago (Oct. 25), Los Angeles (Oct. 27) and San Francisco (Oct. 28). The full list of dates can be found at her official site. Tickets will be available to the public beginning Sept. 20 at 10a.m. local venue time.

After doling out makeup tips during an online chat with fans on behalf of Make Up Forever, a kicked-back Jessie J munched on veggie chips and chatted to Billboard about her R.O.S.E. transformation.

Her hiatus between albums: It’s nothing less and nothing more than just growing as a woman from 25-30. It’s a big time. Everything that happened during those three years can be put into each of the four words in the R.O.S.E. acronym—Realizations, Obsessions, Sex and Empowerment. I was reassessing life: love, heartbreak, business decisions, had I achieved enough, was I happy where I am. In the two years that I did The Voice in Australia, I was diagnosed with some health issues that I’m not ready to talk about that I had to really face as a woman. I also lost my grandparents and didn’t have time to grieve. The hardest part about being an artist is that you have to open your wounds to heal other people’s and you don’t often get the time to heal your own.

I needed to be with my real feelings. I wasn’t enjoying the music I was making as much as I should. I wasn’t writing because I didn’t want to make music that escaped me from that. I wanted to make music that put me in the feeling. But to do that I had to be really strong; to know that I wasn’t going to be able to be pushed and fall over. That’s why it took me a long time. I don’t feel that I’ve ever learned so much about myself at any other time in my life.

What she learned: That I’m pretty normal. I like going for long walks, working out, bowling, visiting museums, cooking/eating better, meditation, laughing, watching what’s going on in the world and knowing I can give back. I learned who Jessica is again. It wasn’t me giving up. It was me actually not wanting to give up.

Collaborating with DJ Camper on “Think About That”:  We were sitting down last September working on the Make Up For Ever campaign. He put the “Think About That” beat on repeat before going outside for a break. I called him a dickhead because I still didn’t feel creative yet. I hadn’t really written a song for two years, just some poetry. But as I sat there and listened to the beat, words started to come out. I was in the booth recording with the engineer when Camper came back. “If you don’t write music,” he said, “I’ll be fucking angry. This is what you do and who you are.” For someone I hardly knew to say that to me … I don’t think he understands how much impact that moment had on me in that someone was praising something that I hadn’t been celebrated for in a long time. I was discovered through my songwriting but success takes you on different paths. I didn’t write “Bang, Bang,” “Burn It Up” or “Masterpiece.” I felt I’d lost my flair that made me special.

The message within the “Think” video: I wanted the storyline to be simple because I wanted people to hear the lyric. I wrote the treatment and edited it myself with director Erik Rojas and creative director Brian Ziff, who also did the album shoot. The video ties in with the R.O.S.E. video, which I also wrote and edited. It ends with me in the pose on my knees holding a rose and tied up. So I start the video tied up on my knees in a blank space, holding the rose and tearing it apart. The mask and fishnet I’m wearing is me living through other people that have hurt me. Then I shoot myself into myself; it’s like taking back the power. That’s my favorite part of the video.

Watch “R.O.S.E.”:

Major difference between R.O.S.E. and her previous albums: My influences have been Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill and Whitney Houston. The music I made for this album is the music I listen to. That was the biggest thing I wanted to change. I wanted to be able to put my album on at home and want to listen to it—and I do. It’s like the makeup that you love on other people might be completely opposite to what you can wear yourself. So for me I think my strength is in this type of music and that what I’m naturally good at is doing pop. But I wanted to really dig deep, which is why this was so hard. I had to push away some of the things that had become like unnatural natural go-to’s for me.

It’s funny.  When I listen to material I wrote when I was 17, it’s more like this. But it wasn’t radio friendly. So when I got signed it was like “we need it to be more pop” so I went that way.  I became this pop machine and I was like, “I’m bored now.” There’s not much music that has feeling in it anymore that’s commercial. Music has to stand the test of time and it also has to reflect the times as Nina Simone said. There are some topics on this album that I know some of my fans are going to find uncomfortable. But you shouldn’t feel safe all the time.