Feature: There’s Something About Rita Ora

News

/ June 4, 2012

SHE’S GOT QUIRKY SUPERMODEL LOOKS, DOWN-TO-EARTH PERSONA AND AN OBSESSION WITH AIR JORDANS. YET, ROC NATION NEWBIE RITA ORA JUST WANTS TO SING—MINUS THE TWITTER EXPLETIVES. TAKE A GOOD LOOK AT POP’S NEXT ANTI-DIVA

Words: Julianne Escobedo Shepherd Photos: Matt Doyle
IT’S JUST SOUND check, but Rita Ora is belting like she’s prepping for a National Anthem performance at the Super Bowl. Perched on a stage in a Manhattan warehouse space gussied up for a private party being thrown by upscale jeweler Cartier, where she’s performing later, the bleach-blonde, crimson-lipped singer is hitting every note with rapier-like precision, and warbling with the kind of convincing fervor you’d conjure if you were auditioning for The Voice. About eight people total are in the room, half of them disinterestedly stocking champagne in the back, but she still gives it up: “We’re gonna shiiiiine,” in a slightly rasped vibrato, her backing band full and shimmering. When the song breaks she uncoils her performance posture, looks out into the room at her tour manager, Cez Darke, cocks her head, and wonders into the silence in a British lilt, “Was that awright?” It was actually pretty awesome, but this is the Rita Ora way—in the first lap of her relay to stardom, she’s taking nothing for granted. The 21-year-old spitfire is next up in Roc Nation’s elite cadre, and, having already established herself as a favorite of Jay-Z’s, you might expect a little attitude. But the only one she’s got is an around-the-way pluckiness and a generous spirit. “I’ve always tried to be independent,” she says later, virtually swallowed by a huge leather couch in the Manhattan office of Roc CFO Tyran “Ty Ty” Smith. “It’s just my personality. I’ve always been the type to motivate the camp. I’ve always wanted to be the fuel for something—for music, the fuel for my family, the fuel for my best friend. Helping someone with what I’m doing.” An ethnic Albanian, Ora was born in Kosovo in 1990—just as Serbians and Albanians were about to explode into brutal war. Her parents, a psychiatrist (mum) and a club owner (pops), anticipated the conflicts, and moved Ora and her sister to West London before their homeland erupted. She barely lived in Kosovo—she’s been in Britain since age 1—but still cites the lilting trills of Kosovan music as a huge influence. And, oh yeah, the entire country is counting on her, including President Atifete Jahjaga, who Ora has yet to meet, but it’s on deck. “This is the thing: No one from my country has done this or even been on MTV or in the charts, so it’s like what to them, you know?” she says. “I definitely feel like everyone’s watching. It’s such a huge honor, I’m just a normal girl. I have this opportunity to really make history for our country, but I try not to think about it.”