Pop powerhouse Leona Lewis has become the voice of resilience. After wowing the likes of Simon Cowell on The X Factor, signing to his label and selling over a million copies of her 2007 smash “Bleeding Love” in her native U.K., Lewis is returning with her fifth studio album, I Am, under her new home, Island Def Jam. The 15-track offering (slated to drop Sept. 11) is chock full of uplifting eargasms, exposing the ups and downs of love, relationships and life’s inevitable lessons, subjects Lewis knows a thing or three about.
The album’s first single, “Thunder,” leads the charge as a celebratory salute to self love. Its simplistic video serves as the perfect visual for the uplifting track. Dressed in a gorgeous, flowy black gown with her signature golden blonde and brown tresses, Lewis hypnotizes with her gray eyes before eye-pleasing nature filters. She also sings empowering lines like, “And I won’t wait any longer/ When you let me down, I got stronger.”
Now, the girl-next-door-turned-phenom has found her creative footing, scorching souls with music that mirrors life. VIBE recently caught up with Lewis during her recent New York City press run, where she discussed parting ways with Simon Cowell’s Syco Music label, signing to Def Jam and possibly dueting with unfiltered labelmate, Kanye West.—Angela Wilson
VIBE: Congratulations on your new album, I Am. What makes this album different?
Leona Lewis: Thank you! Reaching my fifth album is huge for me. It’s so cool. I feel like this album is coming from a very strong standpoint. I feel my other albums came from a more vulnerable place about relationships and breakups, and how you get through that. But this time around, it’s about a different subject, from a more empowered place. It’s a bit more stronger lyrically because of the things I’ve been through these last few years and growing up all makes for a stronger lyric.
You can definitely tell from your new single, “Thunder,” it’s personal.
It’s such a personal album. It’s very emotional. It’s me literally wearing my heart on my sleeve.
When would you consider yourself the most vulnerable?
I leave myself the most vulnerable in relationships. I’m very open, and not just in love and romantic relationships, but friendships, as well. I’m a very open person. When I’m in a relationship or friendship, I give my all. I’m a ride-or-die kind of person.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I would tell myself that it’s okay to eat the cookie! I shouldn’t stress out as much. I used to be such a worrier, whether worrying about the past or worrying about the future that sometimes, I used to miss the present and what’s going on now. I’m definitely still working on the present. I feel like I live in the moment a lot more than I used to.
What was the transition like between labels?
It was a huge step for me because I’ve been with my previous label for seven years. It was Simon Cowell’s label—obviously, such a powerful label—but it was time for me to make a change. We had a bit of a creative difference. My label wanted me to do a covers-heavy album whereas I wanted to do something different really, so I stepped away from it. It was hard because I had great relationships there and so much love for Simon and everyone.
It was a big difference because Island [Def Jam] is very different from where I was at. The artists they work with are very different and they have a very hands-on approach to working. I came to them with my album and they just helped me put things into motion. I needed a change. In any profession or anything you do, sometimes it’s good to have an injection of fresh energy into your work, so it was important for me to change teams and get the right team around me again.
Have you spoke to Simon since you parted ways?
I have, and he said he misses me at the label and wishes me well. I definitely have a lot of love for him. If he ever needs me for anything, I’m always there and likewise, so it’s all good. I compare it to a relationship. Breaking up with someone, you still remain friends and are amicable, but you still have to move on because you’ve kind of outgrown each other in a way. I feel like that’s what happened with me.
Kanye West is your labelmate now, right?
Yes, he is. I never would’ve thought it, but he is!
Have you ran into him since the label switch?
No, I have not yet, now that I’m with Def Jam. Although when I was recording my first album, I remember I met him. He was rolling around in a scooter in a studio years ago.
Is there a collaboration we can hope for between you two?
I mean you never know, but not yet.
Speak on your “I Am Empowered” campaign and how fans can get involved?
So on this record and just in life, in general, these past couple of years, I’ve been very open with my fans. On my Instagram, I talked about the things I’ve been through and the roller coaster of emotions I experienced [from] the change of label, different relationships I’ve been through and the ups and downs. I got an amazing reaction from it and a lot of people reached out, sending me stories and obstacles they’ve been through. One girl had bulimia one time and she opened up [to] me about how she got through it, and another who lost family members had reached out to me with these letters and I felt like I needed to do something with them.
I started sharing them on my social media and it rolled on to this campaign. With the album I Am, I call it, “I am empowered” and I let people fill in the blank of what they want to share with the world. So it’s a positive campaign on social media because I sometimes feel like social media can be negative, especially with female artists, pinning each other against each other, and things I’m not into. There’s no regard for other people’s emotions with a lot of negativity and we need to do something to change that.
What do you say to people who want to compare you to Mariah Carey?
First, I would say thank you! She’s one of the voices of our generations, many vocalists learn a lot from her. That’s what I hope to, one day, be an inspiration to younger singers because she’s such a huge influence. She taught me so much. She’s amazing.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about you?
Sometimes, my albums are very heavy and can be quite emotional. Some may think when they meet me, I’m heavy and serious but I’m so silly. I joke and mess around. I’m very lighthearted and maybe, people are a bit surprised [by that] when they meet me.