V caught up with the Scottish singer-songwriter for an exclusive interview.
V caught up with the Scottish singer-songwriter for an exclusive interview.
Text: Erica Russell
From the unapologetic self-assurance of Aaliyah in “More Than a Woman” to the powerful authenticity of TLC in “Unpretty,” there’s something timelessly empowering about the tinkling R&B-pop of the late ‘90s and early 2000s. Those and similar iconic releases marked a musical epoch of unabashed girl power that influenced, whether overtly or subconsciously, many of today’s female musicians, Scottish singer-songwriter Nina Nesbitt included. This is, perhaps, why a string of songs on her glistening new album, The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change, take a few sonic cues from the era of glossy midriff pop.
In August 2018, Nesbitt surprised fans when she released “Loyal to Me,” a bold, instantly-catchy bop that found the artist resurrecting the anti-f---boy attitude of “No Scrubs” for a generation of frustrated Millennial women. (It also found her strutting around savagely in pointe slippers, but more on that later). The song was a far-cry from the bubbly, folksy-pop sound of her debut album, Peroxide (2014), revealing yet another layer to the multifaceted performer. “The album has some very chill, lyrical moments, but there’s also some upbeat, nostalgic pop, like ‘Loyal to Me’ and ‘Love Letter,’” Nesbitt shares. “I really miss the pop bangers of the aughties, when music was super poppy and empowered in that way. It’s something I wanted to try more of.”
While the musician’s gorgeous sophomore album isn’t all zippy, uptempo throwback tunes, it’s undoubtedly her sleekest output yet, from the swirling, synth-driven ballads (“Things I Say When You Sleep”) to the atmospheric, autobiographical R&B jams (“Sacred,” “The Moments I’m Missing”). Much like the colorful lotus flower motif present on the album cover might suggest, The Sun Will Come Up… captures the precise moment an artist finds herself blossoming into a full-blown pop star. Now, Nina Nesbitt is truly in bloom.
Below, Nesbitt opens up about the stunning music video for her emotionally-charged new single “Is It Really Me You’re Missing,” how one of her songs almost went to Rihanna, and why beautiful things often come from the darkest of places.
You filmed “Is It Really Me You’re Missing” in Norway. What was that experience like?
I wanted to make the music video like a fashion film, so that’s kind of what inspired it. It was so magical, like entering a different world. I wanted it to feel like a dark fairytale, and it definitely felt like that. The horse was perfect as well, though I was quite worried a bit at first. Horses have such a different sense, but the handler was able to control it by making this trilling sound. I was like, “Oh my God, it literally sounds like Cardi B on Instagram!” [Laughs]
Did you really dye your hair pink for the video?
For the video shoot, I needed to have brown hair for the long ponytail scene so we actually used a pink wig, but wearing it all day was one of the most painful things ever. It, like, pulled my face back really tight—a free face lift! But I did actually dye my hair pink in real life after the video shoot.
The song was originally put on hold for Rihanna. How did that play out?
I started writing cuts with Jessie Ware and a bunch of other female acts. I was just trying to write the best songs I could write—not really for specific people—and then the song got sent around to a load of publishers. People got really excited about it and I got an email one day saying that Rihanna’s label had put it on hold and that they were gonna play it for her. And I was like, “No way!”
Rihanna’s actually the first gig I ever went to when I was 12. I’ve always been really inspired by her as a woman. It was so cool, but I don’t know if she actually heard it. I’m sure she has like, hundreds of songs on hold so it’s probably not as cool as I thought it was, but it was still very exciting! It gave me a much-needed little confidence boost. It’s definitely a dream to write something for her someday.
Are there any artists you’d absolutely love to write for?
Ariana Grande, though I feel like our voices are so different that I’d never be able to write a song for her. I love what she’s doing at the moment, I feel like she’s the pinnacle of pop right now. I’d also love to write… I don’t know, I feel like I’m good at writing classic early aughts pop songs so I’m waiting until that sound comes back around and then I can write a bunch more of them. I’m waiting for mumble rap to run its course. [Laughs]
The album art for The Sun Will Come Up… gives off a divine feminine vibe. What’s the story behind the aesthetic?
I feel like the album is quite fragile and vulnerable, but there’s this other side that is empowering. I wanted to make sure that the album communicated that it’s okay to be fragile and vulnerable because that in and of itself is powerful, and I also wanted it to have that strong, female empowerment vibe. I actually wrote quite a lot of the lyrics near water. I’m a Cancerian who grew up by water. The visuals were also inspired by Gucci’s Bloom campaign.
The lotus flower became a logo for the album as it symbolizes that beautiful things can grow from bad places. It’s a flower that comes from muddy waters, growing underneath for a long time before emerging, something which represents the journey I’ve been on … I originally was gonna be submerged in the water for the album cover. We actually shot the artwork with the flowers above me to symbolize that the world is beautiful around you even if you can’t always see it. And then I was like, “Hmm, this is a bit dark,” so I decided to be above the water and have it be more colorful. It’s about finding positivity in the end.
How difficult was it to wear the pointe shoes (ballet slippers) in the “Loyal to Me” video?
I was a rhythmic gymnast as a kid, which I loved. Sports are one of the best things because they teach kids how to have drive, but this was one of the hardest things ever. For the video, I didn’t want it to be just a boring pop video. I wanted to have something that was an actual challenge for me. You know, if you’re given a decent budget and you have the opportunity—in my case, at an amazing label—to do whatever you want, you want to do something that you’ll get an experience from. So I decided I wanted to do a ballet video, even though I’m the worst dancer. [Laughs] I signed up for a few training sessions. A few ballerinas were annoyed about it, but I just wanted to challenge myself. I knew I wasn’t actually going to become a great ballerina or anything. Ballet is definitely not easy. I have so much respect for people who do that.
Was there a single relationship that informed a lot of the songs on the album, particularly the breakup tracks?
It’s definitely pulled from bits and pieces of relationships, but I’d say it was informed largely by a relationship I’ve been in for 3 years with the same guy, who I actually also dated when I was 18 for about a year. We’ve been through a lot together, and even though we dated other people when we were broken up, I think getting back with him inspired me when I started making this album. Some of the songs are about us and me trying to understand what a relationship means, but others are me looking back at other relationships [I’ve had] or commenting on my friends’ relationships.
It’s all given me a clean idea of what a relationship should be. Last November, I wrote “Somebody Special” and “Things I Say When You Sleep” about him. I think “Things I Say...” sums up our relationship perfectly. But I don’t write a lot of love songs; “The Best You Had” is about one of my best friends. A lot of the breakup songs aren’t directly about me, but I think being in a relationship has helped me see breakups more clearly. I think so often, people can be in relationships that are actually really bad for them and they don’t realize because they’re so used to it. Then, when they get into a good one, it’s like, “Oh, that’s nice for someone to not make me feel like shit.”
You picked up guitar because of Taylor Swift back when you were a teen. I think this proves the adage that “if you can see it, you can be it,” with regards to representation for women in music. Do you hope to inspire young fans in this way?
Absolutely. Many of my fans are quite musical and artistic, whether it be covering my songs or writing their own or drawing. I always try to inspire people to follow their dreams because I came from a little village in the middle of nowhere where people would say, “Why even bother with that? You’re never gonna be able to do that.” The challenge is whether or not you actually believe in yourself, so I always try to encourage people because it’s obviously what’s worked for me so far! Taylor Swift, like you said, was that inspiration for me. Seeing the cover of her album, I was like, “Oh, that’s a girl with a guitar. I can do that!” I realized I could get a guitar and learn how to play. With the internet, anything is possible, so I went onto a website to learn the chords.
V are all about girl power. Which women would you like to see take over 2019? Who will define the year?
Sasha Sloan, who is one of the girls that I did the [“Psychopath”] Spotify collaboration with. I’m really excited for her. I like that she goes for what she wants and doesn’t feel pressure to do what men in the industry tell her to do. However you want to dress, whatever you want to do, whatever music you want to make, it’s okay. I’m also excited for Charlotte Lawrence, who I also collaborated with. She has some bangers. And someone I’m incredibly inspired by at the moment is Lady Gaga, who’s an absolute queen at everything she does, whether it be acting, singing, writing songs, playing piano or guitar… She’s just so talented and an amazing performer and dancer. It’s not like she’s just a good performer but doesn’t write her own songs, or that she writes her own songs but isn’t a good performer, you know? She does it all.
Check out dates for Nina Nesbitt's upcoming North American tour below. More info on her website.
02/23 – Dallas, TX – House Of Blues Cambridge Room
02/24 – Austin, TX – Antone’s
02/26 – Atlanta, GA – Vinyl
02/27 – Nashville, TN – The High Watt
03/01 – Washington, DC – Union Stage
03/02 – New York, NY – Le Poisson Rouge
03/05 – Boston, MA – Great Scott
03/06 – Philadelphia, PA – Voltage Lounge
03/07 – Uncasville, CT – Wolf Den @ Mohegan Sun
03/09 – Toronto, ON – Velvet Underground
03/11 – Chicago, IL – Schubas Tavern
03/12 – St. Paul, MN – Amsterdam Bar & Hall
03/13 – Milwaukee, WI – Back Room @ Colectivo
03/15 – Denver, CO – Lost Lake Lounge
03/16 – Salt Lake City, UT – Kilby Court
03/19 – Los Angeles, CA – The Roxy
03/20 – San Francisco, CA – Swedish American Hall
03/23 – Portland, OR – Holocene
03/24 – Seattle, WA – Columbia City Theater