Sexy is an adjective Elle Varner isn’t used to seeing next to her name. “Everyone doesn’t know I was two hundred pounds before. I was teased and bullied most of my life. So when people are looking at me, like, “Oh, she’s sexy!” and “She’s hot!” I’m like, “Who, what?!”
These past two years have been a roller-coaster for the 25-year-old jazzy soul singer. Since releasing her debut album, Perfectly Imperfect in 2012, Elle earned her first Grammy nomination and found love with New York Knicks player Iman Shumpert. Although the couple called it quits last year, Elle isn’t sitting around moping.
“I have some experiences under my belt. I’ve been through some shit, straight up. And I’m gonna share it with you,” she declares when describing her upcoming album, 4 Letter Word. This time, the girl with the signature big, curly hair who makes reading glasses look cool isn’t afraid to expose her vulnerability and insecurities.
During our candid interview, which felt more like sessions from a midnight sleepover, Elle opened up about love, heartbreak and shady friends. Read on to find out why her sophomore effort, due this fall, will have you asking for several refills. —Terry Carter Jr. (@WrittenByTerry)
VIBE: You recently released your first single, “Don’t Wanna Dance.” The lyrics are definitely relatable to homebodies like myself.
Elle Varner: It’s a very specific song, yet I find it to be ironic and funny that it makes people wanna dance. It comes from the point where you’ve been home for a while and you’ve been kinda depressed, and you finally decide to go out, [even though] you know you don’t want to. It’s that reality of just being in the club and really not wanting to be there. I think everyone can relate, even if they’re not a homebody. People who go out all the time have those nights sometimes where it’s just not going well.
How did you link with A$AP Ferg?
I met him through A$AP Rocky about two years ago. We’re label mates, so we’ve always talked about working on something together. I love what he brought to it because it’s not your typical rap verse. He’s painting a picture. He’s bringing some imagery to the song and it’s pretty cool.
Ferg named dropped Martin in the song, so I gotta ask what’s your favorite Martin episode?
Oh my god! [Laughs] I don’t even know. Martin is a classic! Funny fact: my mom was on a couple episodes of Martin. She played a reporter. She had a few one-liner roles on the show.
Although the new single is about staying in, what would a turnt up night with Elle Varner consist of?
Turn up night with Elle would be a house party where I kinda know everybody there so I can really let loose and not have to worry about everything, and how I look and if somebody is gonna put me on Instagram! [Laughs]
What’s your go-to turn-up song?
I can turn up to Stevie [Wonder] and I can turn up to Young Money. Whatever the song of the moment is.
Any other collabs we can expect on the album?
I’ve been collaborating with a lot of rappers, but I’m not sure exactly where everything is gonna fall into place. We’re finalizing it now. I did work with Chance the Rapper early on. I also worked with J. Cole. I’ve been working with Juicy J. That kinda opened up a new lane for me musically because I feel I get labeled for being R&B, but I got every kind of song from country, to hip hop, to jazz influences so I don’t wanna limit myself to one genre with this album.
Who else do you wanna work with that you haven’t yet?
Lana Del Rey. I’m going left with that one. [Laughs] And SZA. That’s my girl! We already talked about it, so you might be seeing that in the near future.
What’s your favorite song on the album?
I would have to say “Nothing.” It’s the first song that I wrote. I feel like the whole album makes sense as a complete story. It’s a concept album, in a way. It’s a snapshot of where Elle was at the moment. This is not Perfectly Imperfect. It’s not the naive, wide eyed “I never experienced anything” Elle.
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