Ora is refreshingly idiosyncratic and uncontrived, and when she says she’s a normal girl, she’s not just saying what you want to hear. She’s a fashion plate with a sense of adventure— her VIBE photo shoot preceded a paparazzi-stalked run on Coney Island’s rickety Cyclone roller coaster; she’s recently taken up waterskiing; and once, at 15, she walked around wearing a leotard with a hole cut in the stomach in homage to the shooting scene in the ﬁlm Death Becomes Her.
Most intriguing, though, is that she’s in it for the music, which these days seems rare for any singer on the pop track. Halfway through an interview at Roc Nation, Ora breaks into an a cappella version of the ﬁrst song she’d ever written: a three-chord ballad called “I’ll Be Waiting,” with vibrato that shows off her range and invokes a little bit of ﬂ ashy Aguilera-style trills, without the throatiness. Simply, she loves to sing. “Music is a job that revolves around your personal emotions,” she says. “So if it is personal, you might as well take it all the way. That’s what deﬁnes a musician versus a pop star, in my eyes. Jay, for example, he took it all the way within himself. He understood the personal touch you need to do to make an iconic record. That’s the shit I admire. Unafraid to be personal… At times I’m just like, ‘Yeah, you really do love music, innit?’”
SOUND CHECK IS a wrap, and Ora has a few hours before putting on a show for the select crowd of fancy fashion folks, boss man Jay-Z and Beyoncé included. Instead of chatting it up before showtime, she insists on saving her voice, communicating through miming, lipsynching or interpretive dance moves. It’s goofy and cute, but also about integrity: She’ll do what she needs not to mess up a gig, even a small intimate one.
Roc Nation is clearly setting Ora up for the big time: There’s an upcoming summer tour with Coldplay; her debut album features songwriting by The-Dream and Drake; and in February, she and Jay had a cotillion of sorts when he debuted her Notorious B.I.G.–lifting ﬁrst single “How We Do (Party),” on New York City pop radio station Z100. In the video, she vamps happily in a skully and bikini the colors of the Jamaican ﬂag, a nod to one of her idols, Gwen Stefani. But rather than shouting out No Doubt, critics made inevitable comparisons to fellow Roc Nation superstar Rihanna. Ora herself told The Guardian that Jay believes she could be as big as Ms. Fenty.
Directing Ora in a Rihanna direction is a lofty proposal, but it’s not hard to see why the Roc is going that way—beyond, of course, global expansion and ensuing dollars. Ora’s got enough pluck and personality to carry a mainstream narrative, and already she’s breaking records: Earlier this year “Hot Right Now,” a rave-pop hybrid with producer DJ Fresh, became the ﬁrst-ever drum ’n’ bass track to hit No. 1 on the U.K. singles charts. Meanwhile, her own Drake-penned U.K. single, “R.I.P.,” is more of a straightforward club banger, and features rapper Tinie Tempah lustily declaring that “I can feel your Ora” (get it).
Even as Rita racks up praises, she’s keeping her Nikes planted. Tugging on her baggy jean shorts and stretching out her slim legs at the Roc ofﬁce, she says earnestly, “I don’t really care about that [fame] stuff, man. I don’t think it’s important. If it happens, it happens. But it’s something you shouldn’t care about or want to control, because you can’t. You can only control what you put out. What happens after that is not in your hands.”