Watch the singer-songwriter's new video for "Loyal to Me" and get the lowdown on her new album and just how she pulled off those moves.
Watch the singer-songwriter's new video for "Loyal to Me" and get the lowdown on her new album and just how she pulled off those moves.
Text: Jake Viswanath
Nina Nesbitt is well-versed in the art of dealing with fuckboys just from having to go through her friends’ experiences right alongside them (a much more strenuous effort than we give it credit for). Luckily, she’s been able to use her knowledge for good, crafting her infectious, ’90s-influenced new single, “Loyal to Me”. The singer-songwriter has been crafting both thoughtful acoustic tunes and bombastic pop bangers at once for a good while, ever since she started uploading videos of her singing covers of YouTube—the classic millennial way to get your talent out there. Now, she’s found an immaculately crafted middle ground on the new track, complete with a dash of melodic R&B for good measure.
Today, V premieres the airy yet empowering new video for “Loyal to Me”. Directed by her new creative partner, Debbie Scanlan, Nesbitt comes through as a classic proper popstar, forming a set of female cohorts to support one another through the use of intricate, and at times mind-boggling, choreography that you can still pull off at home. Even if you’re as bad as Nesbitt herself claims to be.
Let’s start with the basics. There’s The March, or as Nesbitt describes it, the move you make when “you’re going on your night out in your heels or whatever, and you’re strutting about.”
The Probably Leave is something you likely already do “if you’re in a club and some creep’s coming up behind you,” as Nesbitt says, but now you can claim some street cred.
The Glory Roll (yes, we know) requires a little more flexibility...
And the Loyal V is our personal favorite...
The clip brings us back to times where music videos were used as a enchanting and effective motivator of female empowerment and unity, with the potential to join the echelons of Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies”, Britney’s “Stronger”, and Dua Lipa’s “New Rules” in the near future, without losing any of Nesbitt’s soft, personal touch. Below, she talks to us about finding a balance between two sonic worlds, her upcoming debut album, and why she decided to try ballet when she’s never been one to dance.
Who were your idols growing up?
I have a Swedish mum, so I was brought up on pop music basically.
Sweden has the best pop music.
You have no clue how ABBA obsessed I’ve been lately because of Cher.
Really? I wouldn’t say they’re an idol, but I was raised on ABBA, Mariah, Whitney, Britney, Madonna, Christina, all the pop idols. And then as I got a bit older and found my own stuff, it was more of Alanis Morissette and singer-songwriters like that. So I would say strong females in pop that write their own stuff, or just great performers.
Totally. I feel like a lot of people, including myself, were influenced by them for sure. Have you ever actually been to the ABBA museum in Stockholm?
Yeah. I went to it, but I didn’t go inside it.
Oh my God.
I know. I need to go back.
It’s incredible. I’m not even a huge ABBA fan, but its gobsmacking. You’re from Scotland, right?
From a little village in Scotland.
So you have a lot of the British pop scene under you, plus you have Swedish pop music. You have the best of both worlds of pop music honestly. So how’d you decide when you were growing up that music is what you wanted to do?
I kinda just spent a lot of time figuring it out. When I started, I was 15. I started a YouTube channel [laughs]. There was no other way of me getting out there.
For sure. I mean YouTube was such an easy way. As we have seen with Justin Bieber, it gave people a platform they didn’t have before.
Anyone from anywhere could get there. So I got a 20-pound guitar from a shop called Argos. I learned the whole Taylor Swift Fearless album, obviously, and then started writing my own songs from that. And then it just grew into this thing and suddenly I was an acoustic artist. And I was like, “Well, I’ve never had the opportunity to go to the studio and do stuff”, so I went through a phase of doing that as well. I feel like I’ve gone through a phase over four years of figuring out myself, and I feel like I’ve found it. It blends the upbringing of the pop with singer-songwriter lyrics.
Totally. What was it about music?
I never thought it’d be a career. I knew I wanted to do it, but I never imagined I’d be able to do it, if that makes sense. Obviously, I didn’t have any connections and lived in the middle of nowhere. I think the internet made me realize that it could be a career. And I would say it was not until I was 17 that I was like, “Okay. Maybe I can do this.” But I was really interested in things like criminology, psychology, stuff like that. And I was thinking I would maybe do that instead of music. Music just over time became this career. And then I was like, “Oh great, that’s a dream.”
Let’s talk about your new song “Loyal To Me”, which I’m not gonna lie, has been on loop in my head all week.
No, it’s a good thing. Tell me, how did that song come about? Was it inspired by a certain something?
So, I spend half my time writing for other artists and also writing for me. And it was a time when I was unsigned and didn’t really know what I was doing. I just woke up one morning and was like, “I love ‘90s R&B music. I’m gonna write a ‘90s R&B song today and I’m gonna pitch it to Little Mix,” who are like the girl band of the UK.
Yeah, they’re huge. I’ve seen them open a couple times for different people.
I’m sitting in my bed, writing this song, and I’m like, “It’s for Little Mix” with all the harmonies, et cetera.
I can actually see it for them.
Yeah, right? I was sitting and writing, and I was like, “Hmm, maybe this could work for me. Maybe not. Not sure.” So I wrote half the song on my laptop in my bedroom, just these chords, and the song started forming. And then I took it into the studio, played these two guys the song, and I was like “I feel like it’s a bit too silly. What do you think?” And they were like, “Oh, this should be yours. You should finish this.” And I was like “Okay”. So I wrote the chorus there and that was the end. It’s reminiscent of TLC, Destiny’s Child. That’s the sort of era I was trying to capture.
When you write, do you tend to write from real life experiences or do you craft stories and characters? Tell me about your writing process.
Yeah, both. That song was written about my best friend, who was dating this guy and she wasn’t sure what was going on. She was like, “we’re going on all these amazing dates” and then she doesn’t hear from them, and it’s like “What’s going on?” So a song about all the symptoms of dating a fuckboy and all the things you need to look out for. So I wrote that after speaking to her, so a lot of it comes from my friends. “The Best You Had” was about another friend who had been dumped, and wasn’t bothered about it until she saw the new girlfriend. So I draw a lot from my friends, but also a lot from me. The album’s quite practical, so it’s all within my circle.
Let’s talk about the video. Are you an actual dancer or no, not at all?
[Laughs] No, I’ve never danced in my life. I did gymnastics as a kid.
Okay, so that’s something.
Dancing is something that I always look at my friends and I’m like “I wish I could dance.” But I just can’t. Unless I’m drunk, then I’ll just go for it. But I can’t dance very well. So with the next few videos, me and Debbie Scanlan, the director that I worked with on all the upcoming stuff, were like, “Let’s set a challenge for each one. Let’s do something out of the box that I’m not used to doing and let’s go for it.” So that was the first one, and it was just a bit of fun, I guess. And it made me come out of my comfort zone and try something new.
And that’s something every artist needs to go through, for sure. How did the concept of the video come about?
So obviously, we were talking about something out of the box, and she was like “What did you do as a kid?”, and I was like “Gymnastics, but I really love ballet.” And she was like ‘Let’s do ballet!”, and I was like “Uh, I can’t do ballet.”
Really? Because you’re wearing your ballet flats and you have really good pointe shoes. So it’s weird you’ve never had ballet experience. How’d you do that?
Something that I always do, right? *stands up on the tips of her feet to demonstrate* I always walk about like this when I’m bored.
So you just naturally do it anyway?
When I’m with my friends, I always walk on the tips of my toes. And they’re like “That’s so weird. You should do ballet.” So I went and bought pointe shoes. I found them okay to walk in, so I was like “I’ll be fine.” And then I got to the actual video, and my feet almost fell off. So I wouldn’t recommend.
Okay, good to know.
We just thought ballet was something that’s really beautiful and feminine. And that kinda goes with the artwork. But then, it’s fucking painful and hard. And I feel like I liked the balance.
Tell me a little bit about your new album. Do you have a title for it yet? What’s the goal for this album?
The album does have a name, but I haven’t announced it yet. I think people know what it is already.
[Laughs]. It’s a long title.
Oh, I like that. Nobody does that anymore.
It’s really long, which is probably going to be annoying for my label, but oh well. It’s really long and it’s a mantra that I live by, so hopefully people will find it. The album is about personal goals from start to finish. It starts off in a shitty place, like I’ve been dropped, I didn’t know what was going on, I’m pretty depressed, didn’t know what to do with my life. And then by the end, I used this album to help myself get back on track, if that makes sense. And by the end of it, I was like, “I feel great. I’m ready to go again.” I document that journey. And it’s also a really honest description of someone in their early ‘20s, living in a big city, and all the things that come with that. Like relationships, career goals, ego, my friend having a baby. Like that being the first friend that’s had a baby. That being almost the end of an era. Not in a bad way, but like, “Oh fuck, we’re growing up.” And my friend had a baby and that’s like…
You’re adults now.
Like that’s so weird, but also great. And the whole record is just a really honest diary of such of that time, from age 21-23.
It reminds me of Adele in a way, even though you’re not naming it after your age, just catching people up on what you’ve been up to.
Yeah. I’m just trying to make it as honest as possible. And then I feel like people can relate it to their own life.
You really balance the line well between singer-songwriter stuff, and your unabashed pop fare. Does that come with any challenges?
Yeah. I think a lot of my fanbase discovered me on acoustic music, so I kinda of feel like I owe it to them to still do it like that. And also, I think that is who I am as a person. I’m quite lyrical and I play instruments, and that’s me when I feel most comfortable, with an instrument. But there is a bit of me where I want to do straight up shiny pop music because I love it. But I’m not the girl that’s gonna be dancing about onstage. I don’t have to be trying to be bloody Britney, you know what I mean? Like Britney is amazing, but I’m Nina. The thing about me is I write my own songs and I tell stories, and I can do that through pop music. I think it could still be personal. People like Julia Michaels do that really well. It still feels authentic and raw, but pop with the melodies, you can go as poppy as you want. So I think that’s something that I’ve tried to get a balance of with this album. I think it’s hard because I want to do pop music, but then is that losing the artistic thing? But it’s not. If it’s pop, it means that it’s popular. And I think that’s what anyone wants their music to be.
Totally. And she does that really well. And even Taylor when she wrote 1989, the transition to pop still told stories really well.
I still feel like it’s about her life and it’s interesting.
You’re just hitting the 1989 phase a little early in your career because you already started with Fearless, so yes.
Who are your dream collaborators?
I’d love to collaborate with Max Martin as a writer. It’s quite a goal, but we’ll get there. But he’s just written so many amazing pop songs. I don’t know if he’s written alone, or with the artists, or a bit of both. And I would absolutely love to just get in a room with him and write pop songs with him. He’s just my dream collaborator.
Everything he touches turns to gold.
I think he surrounds himself with young pop writers, as well, which I like. So if I make another album, I’d love to go at him. And I love Calvin Harris, as well. He is someone that I listened to as a teenager at school. We danced at house parties to Rihanna’s “We Found Love” and then ended up still listening to him. I think he evolves so well and collaborates so well with so many different genres. So I’m not asking for much [laughs].
No, I don’t think you are at all. People often underrate Calvin’s ability to create melodies and choruses. He’s not just a DJ, he actually has a lot of good musicianship.
I also love G-Eazy. I think I’d like to collaborate with him. I’d like to collaborate with a rapper, and I just think it would be fun.
Given that you’re from a small town, did living in a small town influence your music in a way?
Yeah, I guess like opportunities-wise because I couldn’t really go to a studio and try metal music or whatever I wanted to do. Not that I wanted to do metal. It limited me, but I think in a good way because it made me really driven to get out there. And it also made me sit down with a guitar and piano and actually learn like how to just write a song, and make sure the nature and the basis of a song was hopefully good. So I think that was actually helpful.
Did that affect it lyrically too?
Yeah. I was an only child, as well, so I just kind of sat in the house. It definitely made me write relatable songs to people, because I have a very relatable life and I had a pretty boring upbringing, but a great one. I think it did influence me lyrically. I’d hate to be singing about things that weren’t relatable to people. I’ve still got the same friends from high school, and a very normal setup still. So I think it helps you as a writer to be in touch with what people actually listen to and not be too industry-bothered.
You’re going on tour soon, Whenever you perform live, how do you approach it? What’s your goal on stage?
I’m still working that out at the moment for this album. I have a vision in my head of what I want it to end up like, and the idea of all the production eventually. I have it all in my head, but I just have to keep building it. My main thing at the moment here in America is just playing to new audiences and getting the initial reaction of what works well. I try to keep it intimate, but also so people can have a good time too and dance about, sing along if they want. It’s like a mixture of that. I’d love to bring the dancing into my live show eventually. Maybe not me, but dancers.
Why not you? You had me convinced that you’re a natural dancer.
Maybe one day.
When you open for people too, knowing that most people won’t know you or know your music, how do you handle that?
The first night of tour, I just go on with a setlist with loads of songs. And I just vibe it. So I did a tour with Jake Bugg, and that was silence in the room. Just complete silence. That was amazing, and I just did ballads and told stories. Quite a funky show. Whereas I did another tour, the Jesse McCartney tour, which was fun. And people wanted to sing along, they wanted to have a good time. So I wanted to crank out the covers and do sing-along bits. You have the first night, you work out what kind of crowd it is, and just adapt to it.
What’s one of the best lessons or worst lessons you’ve learned in the music industry so far?
I’ve learned to enjoy things whilst they happen because you could literally be number one this week, and no one cares about you two weeks later. I just enjoy what I do. I don’t take anything for granted, and if I’m on a tour, I’m gonna go out, and see the place, and do the tourist things, and have a night out. I think you’ve just got to enjoy what you do and like make the most of it because you can’t take anything for granted in this industry.
Do you ever miss just making music on YouTube in your bedroom?
I just want to move forward. I’m always thinking of the next thing. My whole life I wanted to move to London and do this. So I guess sometimes when it’s really busy or stressful, I’m like, “Maybe I should just go and get a normal job.” But no, I think I’m just a creative person. And I’m always going to be making music in some way. I’d love to make more albums, but I need to love the albums I put out.
What about long-term goals? Do you see yourself expanding into other fields?
I’d just like to keep making music. Before I put this music out, I couldn’t even get a million streams on a song. And then the first song came out, and it’s over 100 million streams on the first three songs on all of the platforms. I just wasn’t expecting it. And coming here, I’d never been to America other than New York and LA, so there’s unexpected things happening all the time, and I just like to go with the flow. I want to keep writing songs that I love and that I think are good, and see where it takes me. But I’d love to do more things with fashion. I’m really interested in the business side as well, like streaming services. I like to get involved with everything.
Interesting. I’ve never seen a musician actually want to go into that side.
I wouldn’t want to give up music for it, I’d just like to do it all at the same time. I’m really interested in all aspects of music, like the writing business, the performing, and the fashion side, as well.
I saw that picture of you on the Times Square billboard. How did that feel?
So surreal. I still can’t get over it. This whole trip has been funny. I’m just enjoying it. It’s just funny, all my friends back home are like, “What the fuck? This is so weird.” My boyfriend keeps making jokes that I’ll be flying the plane home or something. He thinks it’s so funny.