Jessie J on Digging Deep for Her New Album: ‘I’m Not Afraid of the Pain’

Jessie J, 2014
Rebecca Miller

Jessie J photographed on September 27, 2014 in London.

Jessie J is trying something new: not oversharing.

On the phone from Hong Kong, where she recently wrapped a series of shows, the singer is expressing regrets about comments she made earlier this year to The Mirror about her bisexuality. ("It was a phase," she said then.) "I'm a talker; I wear my heart on my sleeve. But sometimes I just have to know when to shut up," she says now, declining to talk further about her sexuality.

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The sentiment is in line with two songs on the 26-year-old Brit's new album, Sweet Talker (due Oct. 13 on Republic), "Said Too Much" and "Personal," which criticize her past tendencies toward TMI. She says the LP helped her cope with a recent, unspecified breakup; she had been linked to rapper Tinie Tempah in the press. But the singer, born Jessie Ellen Cornish, hopes the album can help her in other ways as well.

Jessie J is a star at home, but in the United States, most of her successes have come with disclaimers. Her current hit, "Bang Bang" (No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 dated Oct. 18 after a No. 3 peak), achieved her highest chart position as a recording artist, thanks in part to Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj, who share equal billing on the song. Her biggest hit overall was a co-writing credit on Miley Cyrus' "Party in the USA," which reached No. 2. Jessie J solo hits "Domino" and "Price Tag" climbed to Nos. 6 and 23, respectively, but parent LP Who You Are failed to finish among 2011's top 200 sellers (after an April release). And the biggest disclaimer of all? Sweet Talker is actually Jessie J's third album. Her second, Alive -- which featured midtempo, muted R&B instead of the high-octane pop she arrived with -- was restricted to a U.K. release, delaying her hopes of blowing up stateside. "I think I censored myself," she says of the low-key music on the LP.

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But the singer returns to her roots on Sweet Talker, a vocally raw pop album with big beats from Diplo, Max Martin, The Dream and Tricky Stewart. "I allowed other people to come in and push my control and make me uncomfortable," she says. "After my second album, I'm not afraid of the pain."

And Jessie J is familiar with pain. Raised as the youngest of three sisters to parents Rose and Stephen Cornish in London, she was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome as a child, which causes heart problems, and led to her having a minor stroke at the age of 18. But she persevered in the world of theater, appearing in a West End production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Whistle Down the Wind at age 11 and later graduating from the famed BRIT Performing Arts School, where Adele and Leona Lewis were classmates. "I loved that world. It's very disciplined," says Jessie J. "There's hundreds of people auditioning for the same part as you, so that mentality is always in my mind."

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Between that discipline and her health, you won't catch Jessie J partying with her pop peers, even if Sweet Talker finally makes her a stand-alone star in the States. "Do you see David Beckham pounding shots before a game?" she asks. "My voice is two thin pieces of muscle that hit together and influence everything in my life. It enables me to care for my parents and sisters. I've got a job to do."

This story originally appeared in the Oct. 18 issue of Billboard.