Jess Glynne looks back: ‘Fame is complex. I love what it’s given me, but I hate it too’


Born in London in 1989, Jess Glynne is a singer and songwriter. She shot to fame in 2014, when she featured on two UK No 1 hits, Clean Bandit’s Rather Be, for which she won a Grammy, and My Love by Route 94. She has since released two No 1 albums, and became the first British female solo artist to have seven No 1 singles, including the omnipresent Hold My Hand. She releases Jess, her first album in six years, on 26 April.

I was three and in my house in Muswell Hill when this photograph was taken. I was an opinionated child, so I would have picked this outfit myself, including the shorts. It looks like I’m posing mid-spin; I’d always be singing and dancing around the place. I loved attention and was a real loudmouth. Still am. Mum would be like: “Jess! Would you shut the fuck up?” I was the youngest of a fun, wild, big family. Cheeky and annoying and always winding my sister up. There was no telling me what to do.

I knew from a young age that I was a performer. I expressed myself all the time, and I did it without self-consciousness – anything was possible. I was just free. But as I got older, I went into myself and retracted from performing. I loved school for social reasons, and always tried my best, but while some people are born with academic gifts, I had to work extra hard. I wasn’t diagnosed back then, but I had dyslexia, and struggled more than other kids. I got by, I had a great time, teachers loved me, but they also hated me for being chatty. I was always getting shouted at: “Jess! Stop talking!”

My school had an incredible music department, but they only supported the kids that they wanted to support. It was a cliquey environment, and unfortunately I didn’t get a look in. When I was nine I even put together a performance to show the other students, but the teachers didn’t want to do it. I withdrew completely. It kicked my confidence and I felt uninspired by music, which was sad as I really could sing.

There’s a rumour out there that I applied for The X Factor in my teens, but that’s not what happened. A producer wanted to meet me when I was 15. All my friends thought I should do it, they thought I’d win. So I entertained the conversation, but ultimately thought: “Hell-freaking-no do I want to be part of that.” Growing up, the show was huge, and it helped lots of people, but I wanted to do it my own way, and even back then I had that determination to say no. That sums me up as a person. I always want to strive to do what fits and feels right in my gut.

I realised I should put my happiness and creativity first. I didn’t want to play everyone’s game. That’s not how icons and greats are made

Once I left school, I didn’t want to go to university to waste thousands of pounds and get into debt. I applied for a job as an intern assisting music managers. During that time, I came across an artist who taught me everything I needed to know about how not to do it. They had been given a huge opportunity to live their dream, and were taking advantage of it. All they cared about was fame and girls. I thought: “These people are spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on your career and you’re just wasting it. I would do anything to be in your position.” Witnessing such a lack of ambition made me realise how much I wanted to do it differently.

I was 21, working three jobs and doing an artist development course when I met Jin Jin, who I went on to write a lot of my songs with. That relationship spurred everything on. At the start I didn’t know exactly what art I wanted to make, or who I was, but I met with Max Lousada at Atlantic Records, who said: “I love what you are and I love your songs.” We chatted for six hours. I had other labels wanting to meet too, but I knew the game. I said to my manager: “OK, I’ll sign if he gives me what I want, and does what I want to do. I don’t want to be manipulated, or get a big advance that I’ll have to pay off.” He got it – and I signed to Atlantic.

When one of my A&Rs gave me Rather Be from Clean Bandit, I initially said no. It wasn’t that I hated it, it’s just it didn’t feel natural to sing someone else’s song. I said no twice, then the label told me I should give it another try. A good vocal is all about sentiment and purpose, so I sang it with conviction and made that song my own. Then my career took off.

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From when I was young, my family would always wind me up by claiming that I wanted to be famous. I would say: “No! I just want to sing.” When fame happened, my life changed completely. I was struggling with everyone knowing who I was. I’ll never forget having a meltdown at my mum’s and her saying: “Jess, you didn’t lie! You didn’t want to be famous.” At the same time, this job is the most beautiful thing. I worked so freaking hard to get to perform for a living – none of it was luck. I love that I get to sing in front of thousands of people. Fame is complex. I love what it’s given me, but I hate it too.

I’ve had to overcome a lot of challenges in the last 10 years. In 2015, I ended up in hospital and having an operation on my voice because I’d worked it too hard, which was terrifying. Then I got to 2019 and finished a tour. Covid hit and I was so grateful to have a reason to do nothing – to cook and be a human. I didn’t want to see a microphone. Then my world got turned upside down. I had the tragic loss of a friend. And then I had to deal with the fallout from the podcast [Glynne received death threats online after using a transphobic slur on Mo Gilligan’s podcast, and has since apologised]. I made a mistake, and that’s how people learn, but the lack of support I received pushed me into such a dark hole. The industry loves you on the way up, but not on the way down. At the time, I thought: just take it all away from me. I’d rather just live away from the spotlight.

The last few years have been hard, and I hate a lot of the things that have happened. But it’s been positive too. I found an incredible therapist and I’ve amicably parted ways with my label. I’ve had so many hit records and so much success – so when I was still faced with guys at the top trying to dictate where I should go next, I realised I should put my happiness and creativity first. I didn’t want to abide by the rules and play everyone’s game. At the end of the day, that’s not how icons and greats are made.

Now I feel like I’m in the strongest place I’ve ever been mentally, physically and artistically. I’m not giving up. The defiant one is still going. This is a perfect image to represent all of that. I love that I’ve got a fierce face and a strong stance. I’m not smiling. It’s as if I’m saying: “I’m here, and I’m not going to be messed with.”

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