Estelle wasn’t always this confident. Picture a spindly teenager with protruding boobs and a booty most women (and men) would slaughter for. “I always thought I was too skinny. And then I started getting boobs and I stayed skinny. I got a butt and I stayed skinny. And then I could fit all the couture clothes and I stayed skinny. It was great!” She chuckles. “Growing up skinny, you get called a rake, a mop. It’s as much as the chubby girls. I got some shape and I was like, Okay I’ll rock out with it.”
Curvy and well fed nowadays (thanks to her wildly successful 2008 stateside debut, Shine, and mentor John Legend), the U.K. import once teased for her crooked teeth exudes coolness and certainty. Her heartbreak-laden yet cheery LP All Of Me depicts a chick who’s grown balls, both through other’s mistakes (see: the Akon-penned anthem “Thank You”) and her own.
Tonight, we’re face to face in an Atlantic Records conference room in New York; it’s the stock record-label backdrop for promo-hungry artists. Chic and petite, Estelle’s sporting a designer hodgepodge—camel-colored cropped leather coat, Helmut Lang pants, black Top Shop tee and Chanel boots, accessorized with a Tory Burch belt, Hermes bracelet and vintage turquoise ring. She’s trying to pinpoint her top three white boy crushes. “Ryan Gosling, Ryan Gosling and Ryan Gosling,” she jokes. When her little sis suggests Maroon 5’s Adam Levine, a smiling Estelle silently rejects. They dissolve into laughter. Doting on her most introspective album to date, Vixen takes an icepick to the cocoa-skinned singer-MC’s brain about music, love, the best of times and the worst. —Clover Hope
VIXEN: You’ve talked about how this album is your emotional release after a breakup with your boyfriend of three years. Why did you decide to sing about it and not keep it in?
Estelle: It wasn’t really a choice. It was happening while I was recording the album, unbeknownst to me. I ended up writing about somebody I’d break up with at the very end of recording. I kind of got the balls to do it right at the end. An epiphany hit one day coming back from the “Break My Heart” video shoot. I was like, “I deserve better.” And that was it. And then I listened to the album and I’m going into it, like, this really feels like the story of my breaking up with this guy.
What was the biggest issue that made you question that relationship?
I didn’t feel good. I didn’t wake up in the morning smiling. In a relationship when that starts to happen, you might want to push them while you’re in it. They say through thick and thin, but when it’s always thick and it’s always bad and it’s always negative, it’s never really going to turn into something. You know it’s going to be wrong but you’re like, no I want to stick around. It’s a waste of your life.
A lot of people say they like certain artists better when they’re sad, like Mary or Keyshia.
Well, I fall into the category of having had “American Boy.” That’s the happiest song on the planet. So I don’t know; people love both. What I always wanted to do is give a balanced opinion and viewpoint of what a real life is like. It’s not always sad. It’s not always happy. It’s a bit of both. I just talk about how you get through both.
Were you surprised with the “Thank You” reception?
I was surprised because in my head it hasn’t been out that long. But when I did the tour this entire month, people have been singing it word for word, the entire room, men and women. That surprises the hell out of me. That makes me cry now, where before it would be the song would make me cry. That reaction makes me cry, like, ‘Oh my God, so we’re all in this together? I’m not crazy?’ It kind of affirms and reassures me of my choice.
People love to hear songs about heartbreak, especially when they’re going through the same thing.
When people sing “Thank You” to me, with the lyrics, it’s a different spin. It’s talking about what really happens every single day and not settling and not just being party to that stuff. And not in a facetious way. More in an “I’m cool. I’m actually cool” way. And the part that people sing out most is: “Sometimes I wonder/If she was more of a woman to you than you were a man to me.” That’s something that’s never been said in a song before, that real and that directly. People scream that bit at me and I’m like, So you understand! People are saying that like they never had the chance to say that before. They never had the option or the words to say those words to somebody before.
Did you speak to the guy after the song came out?
He loved the song. I sung it, so he heard it and then two weeks later I broke up with him. So he had heard it and liked it. He was like, “This is a beautiful song” and didn’t think it was going to be the song that helped me through therapy, through his situation. Life is funny. It will throw you a curve ball when you think everything is great. It really will.
VV: Do you think that heartbreak theme has helped your fellow U.K. star Adele?
E: I don’t think we are even on the same page as far as music. She does what she does. I do what I do. I’m just happy we’re both here releasing records in a climate that doesn’t let you release records after the first album. I’m just happy I get my third album, official fourth, but third album, second worldwide.
Do you believe in marriage?
Do you want to get married?
Hell yes! I would be a fantastic wife. [Laughs]
I’m all in.
Ride or die?
Yeah, I will have slept for three hours and still go and try to find some kind of food or check my dude. I’m real attentive, and I definitely have one of these [referring to her big heart]. And it’s to my detriment.
Have you been close before or thought you were close to getting married?
I thought I was. He actually proposed to me minus the ring, so it kind of was like, Are we really…
The “Thank You” guy?
Yeah. Minus the ring. When you’re ready to really holler, I guess yes… When you’re serious, let me know. And that was part of the thing. I tried to always look at us and he would only see him. And even when he tried to look at us, he could still only see him. So it was kind of like, we ain’t on the same path. We’re not on the same page.
What’s the hardest thing about being in a relationship and being famous?
You’re carrying some kind of weight whichever way it goes, you know? If they don’t understand your life, they look at you like you’re you. You should be happy. And when they get into your life and they see you, they’re like, Well, I did all of this for you that no one else sees. So you can’t win either way. You’re going to pay for it for who you are somehow. I won’t complain. I love my life, I love my job, I love what the hell I do, and I love who I am. This is my existence. This is what I do. But it’s a tough thing to have to deal with always having that hung over your head, that feeling of well, he might throw that at me that he cooked for me today, like that’s not standard. I didn’t cook for him the entire week because, well, I’m me and I should be lucky that somebody wants to do that for me.
The spoken interludes on the album remind me of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
That was intentional. I think people need to talk. They need to have the conversation that [Lauryn’s] album had. They need to have that pull together that the album had and remind people that skits are fun, too. And it reminded me that I wasn’t alone, again. If you’re in a relationship and I’m who I am, sometimes I had to ride that out alone. Not a lot of people supported it. A lot of people were like, “What are you doing with him?” And then some people were like, “Well, you don’t deserve him.” And it was like, what? We like each other so what’s wrong with that? To a point, I felt alone a lot. So it just reminded me that we’re all going through the same shit. It was just five of my friends in a room talking in my front room. As much as we’re busy and we’re friends, my life is drastically different from theirs. So it just reminded me that I’m not too far off emotionally from what everyone else in the world is dealing with.
Let’s talk beauty. What hairstyles did you rock when you were younger?
I had everything. I had a blonde Mohican. I had a bowl cut with blue stripes in it, purple stripes in it. I had the fingers ways, the pushed up waves. I had short-slicked Halle Berry. I had the short-slicked Nia Long. I’ve had every hairstyle—braids, you name it.
What’s your favorite look?
My favorite look is when I had a bob cut like Regina King in Friday. It was slick, smooth and it moved. It just went from side to side. I was proud of that [laughs].
Worst hair experience?
This lady gave me like a spaceship. My hair gets really thick if you don’t relax it properly so I think she reckoned she relaxed it but she cut my hair into a space ship, a flying saucer kind of haircut. Do you remember the earlier Cynthia in Sex and the City when she started in the ’80s? Well, it looked like that but it was dry and brown. Ooh child, I was so angry. I think I tied it down.
What’s your facial cleansing routine?
Mario Badescu cucumber facial soap—all his products. I get a clearing facial every month just to re-up and clear up skin. As much makeup as I wear, and as much as I have to be turned up every single day, I try to take it down once a month. Take it all off.
Celebrities have access to so many different regimens and procedures. What’s your favorite?
The crystal, clearing thing is pretty good. It’s at Bliss Spa, if you go to a W Hotel. It’s the best most affordable clearing mask, scrub, peel, whatever. They run $500 and up, but this one is like $200 and you’ll see the difference. Your skin will actually lift a shade because it’s just a bunch of dead skin, especially for Black skin. It’s the absolute best.
Do you do your own make-up?
Do you have a favorite line?
Make Up Forever is pretty incredible for all skin tones. Oh my God, they have every shade. A lot of people say MAC, but I say Make Up Forever. I’m going against the grain. I like NARS as well, as far as lipsticks, eye shadows and body oils.
Are you a frugal person?
I am, when it comes to things I know I can get for cheap. I’m definitely the girl that’s like, “Oh, that’s in Wal-Mart. I’ll go in Wal-Mart and buy that.” I love my shoes; I love my products—I don’t skimp on that. Because I know I will use them everyday. Shoes I collect them. Their products you can give them to your kids.
How many shoes would you say you have?
Someone told me I need an intervention.
What’s your favorite type of shoe?
At the moment, sky-high stiletto wedges or platforms. I’m all about that. I’m short; I’m like 5’5, 5’6 or something. I look short, too. People always think I’m taller than I really am so I’m always in heels. Put me in the sky; let’s go.
Do you guys hit on you now more, or less because they’re intimidated?
Well, now more for some reason, because I’m single I think, putting out pheromones apparently. A lot of them are intimidated, a lot of them don’t quite know what my deal is and I’m not in the rush to tell them. I kind of want to see their whole M.O. It takes a special kind of guy to really talk to me because I’ve heard it all, seen it all, and I’m definitely not here for the bullshit and I can see a through a lot. Sometimes I want to be like, try me. I might be in a good mood. I might be tipsy today. It always ends up nowhere but it’s fun to watch the attempts.
Who are your top three girl crushes?
I always lean towards fashion, so I would say Kate Moss. What she wears is everything. Iman is another one. I want to be her when I grow up. And Rachel Roy. Iman and Rachel are really good friends of mine. I look up to them and I want to be them when I get grow up. They’re beautiful women; they’re amazing.
Favorite place to shop?
Dover Street Market in London.
Does London has better stores?
Hell yeah! Than anywhere else in the world.
Top Shop got imported here.
The one here is like ugh, I guess. The one in London is just everything. Westfield is good, too. It’s like a million stores in one. It’s like the biggest mall ever.
What you want people to get from this album?
That it’s the same ish, different currency. We’re all going through this stuff together, and I think they’re getting it. It’s real life, though. It’s not just a bunch of records. This was really the most painful, stretching, intimidating experience of my life and I made it through it. So I just want anyone that’s going through it to have a guidebook, to have a bit of help.
What advice would you give girls who are reading Vixen right now who might be insecure about their body?
Hug yourself in the mirror with just your underwear on because you’re beautiful. Everyone says that, but do it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with you. God made you this way. I say it in a song, “I’m nice in my skin/I love every color/I got the body God gave me, don’t want another.” That was the most profound thing I feel like I’ve said on a record ever. People hear that and they’re like [gasps] because they feel like, “She must have done this and that.” And I’m like, no I work out because I want to be healthy, but listen if I put on some weight I’m cool with that. I’ll find some bigger clothes; they sell them. As long as I’m healthy, I’m good. All that stuff is overrated. Just live, man. Live. You’re beautiful.