Adding to the steady stream of impressive UK female vocalists these days (hello Mabel, Nao), Jorja Smith is undoubtedly an 18-year-old newcomer from Walsall who’s ripping the online world to shreds currently while allegedly still holding down daily job at Starbucks.
Pigeons & Planes premiered her debut single ‘Blue Lights’ a week ago, and it’s already clocked up over 100k SoundCloud plays, alongside support tweets from Stormzy, Elf Kid and – this may have had something connected with the high play count – Skrillex.
All the plaudits are worth it too, because ‘Blue Lights’ is often a fantastically introspective and clever bit of songwriting. With vocals delivered within a similarly despondent tone to Alessia Cara’s ‘Here’ from a year ago, where it differs fot it track is the fact that Cara made her introduction information about herself. ‘Blue Lights’ is anxious with everyone but Smith, who plays fault the restless, internally bruised onlooker to perfection.
It’s about lamenting the culture of crap schools, endless boredom and oppressive police in one-horse towns, and where everything inevitably leads. And while that kind of fare has become covered hundreds of times before, there’s something more insistent about Smith’s vocal here – she’s pitched approximately the childlike croon of Amy Winehouse pre-‘Rehab’ as well as the otherworldly tones of Miseducation-era Lauren Hill – that cuts though. The second 1 / 2 of the track, when she realises there’s absolutely no way back for your song’s protagonist and changes her tack, telling him/her to perform (“the blue lights are coming for you”) is cutting and emotional.
Throw inside a nifty sample of Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Siren’ and you’ve got something very special on your hands.