Adding to the steady stream of impressive UK female vocalists of late (hello Mabel, Nao), Jorja Smith is an 18-year-old newcomer from Walsall who’s ripping the internet to shreds at present while allegedly still holding down a day job at Starbucks.
Pigeons & Planes premiered her debut single ‘Blue Lights’ last week, and it’s already clocked up over 100k SoundCloud plays, alongside support tweets from Stormzy, Elf Kid and – this might have had something to do with the high play count – Skrillex.
All the plaudits are worth it too, because ‘Blue Lights’ is a fantastically introspective and clever piece of songwriting. With vocals delivered in a similarly despondent tone to Alessia Cara’s ‘Here’ from last year, where it differs to that track is that Cara made her introduction all about herself. ‘Blue Lights’ is concerned with everyone but Smith, who plays the part of the restless, internally bruised onlooker to perfection.
It’s about lamenting the culture of crap schools, endless boredom and oppressive police in one-horse towns, and where all that inevitably leads. And while that type of fare has been covered a million times before, there’s something more insistent about Smith’s vocal here – she’s pitched somewhere between the childlike croon of Amy Winehouse pre-‘Rehab’ and the otherworldly tones of Miseducation-era Lauren Hill – that cuts though. The second half of the track, when she realises there’s no way back for the song’s protagonist and changes her tack, telling him/her to run (“the blue lights are coming for you”) is cutting and emotional.
Throw in a nifty sample of Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Siren’ and you’ve got something very special on your hands.