I'm not Pretty
How Are You?
HELL OF IT
Be Here Now
But I Don'T
On January 1, 2021, Vancouver singer-songwriter JESSIA’s life completely changed in 15 seconds flat. That day, she posted a brief TikTok video of herself singing the chorus hook to an unfinished tune she was developing—but even in that primitive state, the song’s anthemic melody and message of body positivity were already fully formed. Within days, she was contacted by Ottawa-based producer elijah woods, who helped her finish and release the track on January 8; within weeks, that song—the sassy, acoustic-R&B track “I’m not Pretty”—was racking up millions of plays and inspiring viral dance crazes, en route to landing JESSIA a deal with Ryan Tedder’s Artist Driven Records imprint and prime slots at mega-festivals Lollapalooza and OSHEAGA.
But if JESSIA has seemingly taken the easy road to success, her debut EP leads us down unexpected paths. While its six songs may come loaded with the sort of instant earworms and self-empowering statements that made her an instant social media sensation, it delights in throwing sonic curveballs to keep you off balance. “I write music selfishly,” JESSIA tells Apple Music. "I do write pop music and pop music is usually meant for other people's approval, but I write solely for myself, and that’s what gives elijah and I and Ryan the creative freedom to just try out everything and do the unconventional stuff. And if it’s too weird, I don’t know—my mom will like it!” Here, JESSIA offers a track-by-track guide to her mother’s favorite record.
“I hit rock bottom in 2019 and I wrote a lot of heartbreak songs and was asking myself, ‘What am I doing with my life? Should I continue being a musician?’ This was a song that I wrote when I was just struggling so, so hard with all aspects of life. I wanted to start the EP off this way, because a lot of the things that I have released previously—like ‘I’m not Pretty’ and ‘I Should Quit’—are all like, ‘Woo-hoo! Whatever!’ So, I wanted people to think, ‘OK, she does have a heart, she has been hurt before, and she does care about what people think and how people treat her.’”
“I’m not Pretty”
“It’s really weird—when I hear this on the radio, it feels like I’m singing someone else’s song, because it’s just become so big. It still feels very connected to me because it is my story, but it’s just become so much bigger than me. I’m so unbelievably proud and honored by the fact it started this body-empowerment movement. The amount of people that it’s touched from all sorts of ages and genders is just unbelievable. I still have to pinch myself. I’m so thankful and happy that the song that put me on the map wasn’t just like, ‘Everybody get up! Everybody dance!’ Those songs are really fun, but to have a song with such a powerful meaning behind it really opened the door for me to be able to talk about the really, really crappy stuff and be completely, authentically me.”
“How Are You?”
“This is a very, very bitter song. This was the first song that elijah woods and I wrote together in person. I recorded ‘I’m not Pretty’ in Vancouver and he was in Ottawa. I gave elijah this little debrief on what my life had been like in the last little bit, and we wrote this song in a night. It’s one of my favorites to perform, because it just goes so hard. It’s definitely about that bitter ex who has found the light after a breakup and is like, ‘OK, I’m good!’ It’s funny, we cut out that spoken-word part a bunch of times and every single time we did it, I was like, ‘It’s missing something. Now it just sounds like a breakup song.’ I really want people to feel that, when they’re listening to my music, they’re having a conversation with me. So, what better way than to actually just talk? With a lot of artists, I’ll hear their interviews and I’ll be like, ‘Oh my god, that’s what their voice sounds like? That’s so cool!’ And you somehow feel a little bit closer to them. So, putting my talking voice in this song was a more intimate way of sharing.”
“HELL OF IT”
“This whole song is literally a list of what I’ve done in the last two years. I went on this trip by myself, and I would go to this market every single night for dinner, and I would go to the same guy, and he had all of these really weird foods. I’m into just trying everything once, so the whole time, I was just like, ‘Fuck it, let’s just do it for the hell of it.’ But that whole breakdown at the end, where it goes from the chorus into the quiet piano part, was actually a glitch in the computer. Elijah was sitting there, getting super frustrated and was like, ‘What is going on? Nothing’s working!’ And then, all of a sudden, he was like, ‘Wait….’ So, we just built off the crazy mess that the song already was. The song is so wild and crazy, and then all of a sudden, you sit down and you’re in silence. It’s kind of like that moment when you leave the party and you stop and think, ‘This is what life’s about.’”
“Be Here Now”
“This song was our biggest struggle—elijah and I almost killed each other over this one. I walked into it thinking it would just be piano and vocals. And he, of course, being the producer, was like, ‘OK, let’s add different elements.’ And I was just like, ‘No! It’s too much. It needs to be stripped down—the production is taking away from the lyrics.’ I wanted to make sure the lyrics were definitely heard, because it is a coming-of-age/‘what the hell am I doing?’/‘what is life?’ song. It was a really, really beautiful moment and a sigh of relief when it all clicked in. It’s the most complementary track on the EP—it ties everything together, because it’s not, like, absolute heartbreak and it’s not, like, ‘Whoo, I’m wild and crazy!’ It’s this middle ground of ‘this is exactly where I’m at in my life.’”
“But I Don’T”
“We were trying to make a gypsy pop song. I don’t think that’s ever really been done in the last little bit. We had cowbells and we were doing all of these crazy, wild things. It was so fun. But we went through a bunch of bridges on this one, because I was like, ‘We need to get a bridge that everyone can sing to!’ So, I started writing for other people’s approval and it was awful! Finally, I went back to the original bridge I had written for myself and was like, ‘That’s it! We’re doing that,’ and that’s what the bridge is now.”