As a chart-topping songstress and perennial media fixture, Rita Ora doesn’t necessarily seem like someone who has struggled for acceptance. But the Kosovo-born, London-raised popstar is no exception to the merciless scrutiny disproportionately experienced by females in the industry; in the wake of Beyonce’s Lemonade, Ora was thrown into the news storm surrounding Jay-Z’s alleged infidelity. Then, just this week, Ora’s seemingly innocuous tweet of a photo of her and boxer Conor McGregor prompted further sensational headlines about her “home-wrecking” ways.
As we round the corner to 2018, it can be disheartening to witness such slut-shamey media tactics diverting attention from Ora’s undeniable talent. But if anyone has been affected, it doesn’t seem to be Ora. The starlet is still glowing from her performance this week of George Michael’s “Faith” at the British Fashion Awards, and yesterday made a triumphant return to the much-discussed LOVE Advent.
On the heels of her 27th birthday—one she describes as her official entry into ‘womanhood’ — Ora is spreading her positive vibes by partnering with Absolut Vodka for the Open Mic Project, a platform for fans to speak up about times they did, didn’t, or still don’t feel accepted. As you read through them, the testimonials are powerful enough on their own, but Ora also co-wrote a song inspired by them, set to premiere the week of the 2018 Grammy Awards
Below, we speak with Ora about the holidays, her first time skiing (in Chanel, no less!), and why acceptance is key to moving forward.
Why is acceptance such an important cause for you, out of everything else going on?
Right now, I think more than ever, everything is so micro—like, times a thousand—and it’s such a sensitive time in the world for so many people in situations, whether it’s in Hollywood or whether it’s in like, normal day life or whatever is going on, and it’s very important to show that some things are still sincere and real. And I thought that this was a really cool example of that because this song is from real people’s stories that aren’t in the limelight, that probably have more inspiring stories than headlines that we read nowadays, and I feel like that is just so more important toward the world. And then, without preaching, I went to Africa and met kids that lived in villages that have no clue what goes on and other things, like eating and living with their family. And I just looked at life in such a completely different way. And so I just look at things differently and I wanted to be a voice to people.
I was a victim of a lot of scrutiny—I still am—it’s just the world I live in, it’s just what it is, but you can survive it, and you can come through it. And I’m very blessed to do the job that I love. And that’s really why I wanted to do this and be a female in this industry, and like, have the capability of having a voice, especially right now.
You recently performed “Freedom” by George Michaels at the British Fashion Awards! What was it like to perform in front of fashion’s biggest names, in honor of Donatella Versace?
Well, it was a huge honor to be invited to the Fashion Awards as Donatella’s date. And, you know, she did ask me to pay tribute to George Michael, which I immediately said yes, because he’s one of my icons and you know, “Freedom” was a really important song for Gianni and herself, and me as a musician. So it was just a win-win, I was like, ‘Of course I’d do it.’ I’ve gotta kill this, you know? And I kind of just went out there, and I had the choir with me, which made me feel so special. And I started crying, and people stood up, because it was just kind of like, how could you not stand up for such an amazing record? And it just filled the hall (it’s such a big venue and it’s such a beautiful-sounding place) and I was wearing Versace, and it was just definitely a moment to remember. And she was winning her Icon Award, and she was like, “Thank you Rita, Versace girl,” which made me really happy, because I was just like, ‘yeah, I’m a Versace girl!’ but, you know. It was special, for sure. I literally have this huge bruise from the tambourine, though.
Yeah, because I was like, ‘Freedom!’ So into it.
And, just last month was your birthday, too. Happy birthday!
I’m 27! I turned 27 and it’s like, I’m a woman now. It’s so crazy.
And then we have the holidays coming up, what are your plans for the holidays?
I don’t really have any traditions, I normally just spend them at home with my family, and then New Year’s, I’m actually gonna try skiing for the first time. I’m going away to Aspen.
I love skiing. I’m such a skier.
I’ve never done it in my life, so I’ve just got my Chanel skiing suits ready.
Okay, well then you’ll be fine! You’ll be a pro, just because of the Chanel.
I know, I’m so excited for the, for the gram!
Get a good boomerang, while you’re there.
I know, but usually I’m the one that does the cheeseboard for the Christmas dinner, and that’s it.
Well the holidays are such a reflective time to think about how far you’ve come and where you want to go and what you’re grateful for, so what are you most grateful for right now?
That’s a great question. I guess, I’m most grateful for the freedom I had to make this album. I went through a lot of things to really get into the position that I am today to really have control over my music, and I’m really happy that I finally did that. And releasing “Anywhere” and “Your Song” and just having material out there made me feel like I was reborn, which is kind of the undertone of my new record. Just like the trials and tribulations I had with making amazing friends in the industry like Sam Smith, and things like that. And people are so awe-inspiring to the point where they look at you like, “Rita, you have such a good music—like I feel it!” And I feel that support from people that are in the same business, so I’m just grateful for the acceptance of people loving me back, musically.
Well, and that’s what I was gonna say because everything’s performing so well. It’s wild. The receipt has been—
Thank you. I just—I’m a harsh learner, I like to work, and I love to be a part of something that’s a movement. And I’m a singer, first and foremost, so I just love that. And I just am able to sing my heart out on this record, which is amazing.
Speaking of acceptance, you’ve partnered with Absolut for The Open Mic Project—how did you get involved with the brand?
I was approached by Absolut and they were just kind of like, ‘What do you think of this really interesting concept of the Open Mic project,’ and I just thought, ‘Wow,’ like, hands-down, I was in it from the get-go. I was so connected to it because acceptance is a big part of my journey. So, you know, when they then told me it was gonna be from fans and people that usually don’t have a voice or the light to shine their stories on, I was like, ‘This is just perfect, because then I can write a tune, a song about you know, their stories.’ And I did, and unfortunately, submissions are closed now, but I did and it’s called “Proud,” and it’s an amazing record, and it comes out Grammys week!
What was the writing process for that song like?
It was difficult because I—it was so easy to just get into one person’s story because everyone had such intense stories, but what I did was I saw like a similarity on all those stories and I was like, ‘Well this is strange.’ It was always about like, ‘I grew up in so-and-so, I grew up in here,’ and it was about their environment and habitat and surroundings, and I was like, ‘dude, we’re all animals!’ Because that is so important to people, that your habitat influences you. So then I was like, this is a really cool start to make a record about making people feel comfortable in their space, talking about a specific city—that was really interesting.
I read some of the submissions and they’re all really powerful and personal. How did it feel to kind of read through those?
I mean, it took me a long time to kind of gather my thoughts and kind of go fresh into someone else’s story because I was like, wanting to cry reading some of them. But again, I was so grateful because it was almost like I got even closer to my fans. It’s like, I talk to them everyday, and it was nice to include Absolut fans and my fans, and I guess being closer to them. I could almost speak for them, which I found really powerful.
Main Image: Getty Images/Jeff Spicer/BFC