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Finding Joy in the Little Things With Jorja Smith

With her new album Falling or Flying out now, we caught up with the UK artist to find out more on the process of creating her sophomore album, moving back to her hometown and giving back to her community.

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A few months ago a video of Jorja Smith – standing behind some DJ decks in a small club in Birmingham, a microphone in her hand and her friend’s arms wrapped around her neck as she belted  ‘Little Things’ – a song off her recently released Sophomore album Falling or Flying – went viral across social media.

It was a departure from the usually semi-serious, crooning personality that debuted 5 years ago with her album Lost & Found, where she performed slow jams like ‘Blue Lights’ and ‘Don’t Watch Me Cry’ – songs that talked to the irks and fatigue of love and relationships. This Jorja was glowing, happy, and after a couple of drinks and to a small excitable crowd, was singing: “It’s the little things that get me high”. It was a fitting lyric for a seemingly impromptu hometown club night.

Though It’s not the first place you’d expect an artist who’s on the precipice of global stardom, whose highest streamed song on Spotify ‘Be Honest’ has over 280 million listens and who has collaborated with Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Kali Uchis, and Stormzy, it’s a moment that makes Jorja laugh with nostalgia.

“Those moments helped me because I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m doing okay,” she says, appearing on-screen in a bathrobe, slightly sick, her hair pulled back in a relatively messy bun with a cup of tea balanced on the edge of the couch, “All of my friends were there. It was just a great place to be.”

She speaks from her home of Walsall, a small market town on the edge of Birmingham, and her new place of full-time residence since her move back from London in 2021. Tired of the concrete-lined streets and starless sky – and already making trips back to her parents’ house every weekend – she’d decided to make the move permanent.

‘I feel like I have a balance now,” she says, smiling, “I’ve actually got a life when I’m here. I don’t feel so rushed or overwhelmed. London’s a lot. I loved it to begin with. But I’ve always missed home.”

While some might be surprised about her move back, it’s not necessarily a staggering step for someone who has been pretty low-key in their public life. If you think about it, it’s actually quite fitting for an artist who – though made for the spotlight – hasn’t bowed to the fatuous nature of it, once telling Alicia Keys in an interview – “I never wanted to be famous. I’ve always just wanted to sing and write. That’s it.’ 

And while you’d expect the insularity to detract from her influence or art – it hasn’t. In fact, she’s been busy. One part of that, she tells me, was starting the Blue Lights choir. An initiative that sees teenage girls meet every Wednesday, “eventually I could have a big space or a community hub and have the choir in there but also other projects,” she says, “I want to do more for Walsall but I need to figure out what Walsall needs…because there wasn’t really that much for me growing up.” 

The second part was the making of her sophomore album Falling or Flying.

While Jorja’s first album was a compilation of songs she’d written between the ages of 16 and 21 – and involved reaching back into her past and revisiting moments that she’d already grown from – her sophomore album sits in the present. At the age of 26, it’s written from the perspective of someone who’s older, moving on from first experiences but still learning the difference between achievement and failure. 

“The songs are now. Everything’s super in the moment,” she says, “I’ve matured and I’ve grown…and making decisions about what I want to put out.” Despite that, she says, it’s still, “ a hard balance to figure out, cause it’s a bit blurry between falling or flying. I can’t tell if I’m up or down, good or bad, happy or sad. I don’t really have an in-between.”

Yet home and familiarity have helped. Aiding her in sonically documenting that journey, Jorja’s new album enlists the talents of collaborators she’s known before the searing lights of stardom. 

DAMEDAME*, a duo consisting of Edith Nelson and Barbara Boko, are a fairly anonymous outfit (there’s not much to find on them online) yet one of them she’s known since high school. 

“I didn’t know her very well, I just knew of her. And all of my friends would be like, ‘They make sick music’. I used to see them at parties sometimes,” Jorja says, “But we became really good friends making music.”

When they were stuck for inspiration they’d take it back to the crux of their love for music. DAMEDAME* might play an old song they’d written, they’d change the words and then Jorja would say, “This slaps…It just stemmed from us talking about what we listened to growing up.”

What resulted was a 16-track project honing stuttering drum beats, her signature R&B crooning but also an exploration of genres – if you listen closely to “GO GO GO” you might even hear a smattering of pop punk guitar melodies. It’s a welcome step forward from her debut album whose sultry R&B revolved around the utterings of a teenage heart. Like growing older and wiser usually results in, Jorja has become more multifaceted and so too has her music. In this album, she sings of past lovers and critics, entering womanhood and finding joy in the small moments.

Some of that can be attributed to DAMEDAME* who made second album anxieties non-existent as spontaneity and experimentation came to the forefront – the pressures to make music weren’t there like they may have been when working with some of the industry’s veterans. It just happened. But that doesn’t mean pressures didn’t surface in other ways.

Type Jorja Smith’s name into Google and you’ll see hundreds of articles and comments praising her beauty, voice and presence. J Hus – collaborator and ultimate reply guy – hides in her Instagram comments, “Yeah, she’s mine, nobody goes near her,” he’ll say. Her online followers will call her their “wife”, and many, if not all of her fans are probably in love with her. It’s the unwanted curse of being a celebrity and especially a famous woman – whose value can often be put down to looks.

“I didn’t really find the pressure on the music side. I love making tunes and never care about that,” she says, “But when I started putting music out, I started finding pressure because people are so opinionated. It’s the pressure of what I look like that’s the only irritating thing.”

Yet Jorja’s face brightens when we talk about the comments under the videos of her club night in Birmingham. Most are pointed to a smiling man whose arms are wrapped tightly around her neck. “Unhand my wife,” is the general iteration of comments under those videos. 

“Because obviously we were drinking,” she laughs, “And it was my friend who had his arms around my neck…It was so funny.”

It gives new signs of life in a better Jorja, or perhaps an old one resurfaced, whose finding happiness in the small moments. Ones like moving home, having space to record an album, and giving back to her community.

“That’s when I feel like I’m flying,” she says smiling, “not falling.”

Follow Jorja Smith here for more and stream the new album Falling or Flying now.

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