Jay-Z’s latest co-sign reps the UK, Kosovo, and Roc Nation. Can Rita Ora live up to such great expectations?
This feature appears in Complex’s August/September 2012 issue.
Rita Ora needs a moment.
The 21-year-old Brit isn’t finished prepping for tonight’s performance at Emirates Stadium where she’ll be opening for a little band called Coldplay. She’s just had her golden ringlets attended to, inhaled some fragrant vapors from a bong-like device that soothes her vocal cords, touched up her lips (M.A.C. Russian Red), and lamented the fact that one of her multi-colored velvet fingernails has chipped off.
Pulling a varsity letterman’s jacket over her pale pink satin nightgown, Rita steps out of her dressing room onto the mezzanine level of the enormous sports complex. She watches silently as the first wave of 70,000 fans begin dashing toward the stage where she will soon be performing. This being London, a light drizzle begins to fall and tiny umbrellas start popping up on the distant stadium floor. One person slips, falls, and gets wheeled away by medical staff. “This place is packed,” Rita says to herself. “I’ve gotta go down there soon.”
“I get nervous before shows and then I’m just like, OK—let’s go,” she explains later. “It’s like, you can’t fuck it up now ’cause everybody’s watching you. It’s more of a rush—like an adrenaline high.”
Back in the dressing room Rita’s old friend and stylist, Kyle, helps her with final preparations before taking the stage. “I’m like a dude,” Rita says, despite ample evidence to the contrary. “Jordans are my favorite. I wear them all the time for shows. I can get girly-girly when I want to, but I can’t perform in heels. I would bust my face open on stage and we don’t want that.” Rita takes a deep breath and laces up her Nike trainers (that’s Brit-speak for sneakers). She’s ready.
I can’t perform in heels. I would bust my face open on stage and we don’t want that.
“Rita always performs better under pressure,” says her older sister and road manager, Elena, a stunning brunette who still lives in the same three-bedroom flat in the West London counsel estates (a.k.a. the projects) where their family grew up. Rita had to move to her own place because ever since she racked up her second No. 1 hit in the UK—“R.I.P.” featuring Tinie Tempah topped the charts in May, following DJ Fresh’s “Hot Right Now,” on which Rita sings the hook—random people started ringing the doorbell asking for photos and dropping off CDs. “Nothing scary,” Elena adds coolly.
You want scary? Scary is when Jay-Z and Beyoncé pop into your dressing room 10 minutes before showtime. But Rita shook off the butterflies and nailed that performance a few months ago in New York—even singing a Destiny’s Child cover, much to B’s delight. So rocking the biggest stadium she’s ever set foot in should be no sweat. After that, all she has to do is translate her UK success to the States and head up Roc Nation’s British Invasion.
They say be careful what you wish for, but this is the life Rita Ora’s been dreaming of for as long as she can remember. At age 11 she was the girl at the neighborhood youth center who sang “Killing Me Softly” into a counselor’s camera phone. “He told me he knew somebody who knew somebody in the industry or whatever,” she recalls. “I said, ‘OK cool, play them this video.’” Nothing ever came of the impromptu demo but he still carries the clip around on his phone to inspire other kids.