Is she too cool? Does she dress to wacky? Is she not naked enough? This week the British pop star played Fallon doused in paint, but does she really have a chance at topping the Stateside charts?
Rita Ora on Jimmy Fallon this week singing "I Will Never Let You Down." Oh and she also let graffiti artist Mr. Brainwash Dot Com cover her in paint mid-song. (Srsly though, what's up with that inner bicep tat?)
Why Rita Ora isn’t a bigger deal than she is in the US is a head-scratcher to me. When she first emerged under the wing of Jay-Z back in 2011, it seemed like she’d be the next big thing in Roc Nation girl-pop: I mean, she looks and sings like Beyoncé and Rihanna’s love child, which also sounds like one of Hova’s more questionable wet dreams. Granted, the girl is big in the UK, but her US influence is middling at best, which is terrible for us, because she’s really fun and good, and definitely worthy of more of our time.
Rita Ora looks like one of those London society girls that goes to Dalston on the weekends to hang out in weird sweaty downstairs rooms that double as garage/jungle nights (or The Alibi), a look she’s cultivating so perfectly you might believe it to be true, if she wasn’t constantly swanning about like fashion royalty with her model BFFs. She's just very, very cool, and maybe that’s half the problem: her aesthetic is intimidatingly sexy and stylish in equal proportion, and yet like all cool girls, she’s wearing the shit out of her outfits, so much so it’s like she’s not wearing anything at all. Which is the calling card of true style, right?
So it seems that with Miss Ora, the Kosovar-Albanian by way of London pop star, all the best things about her might be working against her, at least in our US market. Let's take a closer look…
SHE'S THE LOVECHILD OF BEY AND RI
I already mentioned that Ora is a Beyoncé/Rihanna amalgam, but as a perfect mix of Bey’s elegance and Rihanna’s good-girl-gone-bad—the 23-year-old is technically everything we ever dreamed of (and Jay too). Surely this mash-up is a recipe for chart success, but unfortunately for Ora, the US market likes its pop stars easily compartmentalized: the virgin or the whore, being the most obvious of cages. Rita doesn’t have a strong enough brand to go up against the likes of Beyoncé and Rihanna, and while she might be more of a realistic pop personality, it means she’s neither here nor there, and she's certainly not polarizing enough for a militant fanbase to champion.
SHE'S GOT JAY-Z'S MANDATE
When Jay-Z picked up Rihanna her success was swift and unstoppable, like the sword that felled Ned Stark. When Jay-Z picked up Rita Ora it was more like the slow squeeze out of a tube of toothpaste, and even though her first singles “How We Do (Party)” (below) and “R.I.P” (feat. Tinie Tempah) went to number one in the UK, she bombed out on Billboard's top 100. It’s perfectly acceptable that she wasn’t/isn’t intended for a US audience, but having Jay-Z’s mandate should surely have garnered her more attention, and her great pop songs should have kept it there.
Or maybe it’s just that no one cares what Jay-Z thinks anymore now that Beyoncé has made him her bitch.
SHE'S TOO COOL
Rita Ora is BFFs with model du jour Cara Delevigne. Her boyfriend is Calvin Harris. She’s a FROW regular. She oozes a sort of stylish charm, but her vibe still says “My shoes are better than yours,” yet without any of the smarm you’d think would come with that sort of an unspoken statement. Basically, she’s super-cool, and she appears not to care, which is what makes someone cool. I am not in the least bit cool, and as a non-cool, I can tell all you cools reading this that it’s much easier for me to identify cool in others because I’m not blindsided by it in myself.
HER STYLE IS A BIT TOO WACKY
Rita Ora doesn’t always put sex appeal first, and her wacky style is sometimes just plain cuckoo. That’s great for a UK/European audience—a market that isn’t completely saturated with sex and is more open to embracing an artist's idiosyncrasies—but when you put her in an arena with her crazily dressed US contemporaries (Miley Cyrus, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj) Ora, frequently, falls short on the nudity factor. That’s not a criticism mind you, but rather a reflection of the state of undress that US pop stars are currently in.
THE ROBBIE WILLIAMS EFFECT
Most likely, Ora’s music hasn’t taken off in the US because of The Robbie Williams Effect. British pop music is often more nuanced and unaffected than Stateside pop. Over here, sometimes what the Brits produce hits, but mostly it doesn’t. Robbie Williams is the perfect example, or Girls Aloud, another of my favorites. Rita Ora’s new track “I Will Never Let You Down” (watch above) is pop perfection, but it’s referentia too—there's something very early 90s-Kylie about it—it's much more raw than the overly synthesized, Auto-Tuned tracks that top of the US charts these days. It’s also not over-produced: it’s very, very simple and straightforward in its composition, with a pure pop sound.
More often than not our demanding market seeks sensory bombardment. We may not be turning out an inferior product because of it—the proof is in Beyoncé’s visual album, Katy Perry’s constantly oscillating sound, or Miley’s Bangerz tour—but right now America's after the epic, rather than the timelessness of good old fashioned pop. Sure the globalization of music and artist thanks to the internet is definitely a factor, but Rita Ora is a testament to the differences in Stateside music fans' taste and across the pond's pop palate—a gulf that's still as profound as when the US ignored the fact that Pulp was happening.
Kat is rooting for Rita and she's on Twitter - @Kat_George.
Kat has just about recovered from the onslaught of Gaga rage inspired by this apparently incendiary thinkpiece: