Why Jorja Smith Is R&B’s Next Big Thing

From Starbucks to superstardom

Three years ago, Jorja Smith was working as a barista at a London Starbucks, ducking out the back to record lyrics on her phone.

Now, she’s a BRIT Award-winning singer, performing sold-out shows at the O2 Academy, Brixton and sitting front row at the Chanel fashion show in Paris. While she wouldn’t trade fashion week for frothing milk, Smith does miss catching the train without being recognised. “Sometimes it pisses me o when someone wants to take a picture, but there’s not much you can do, so I try not to worry,” says Smith, who has 1.6 million followers on Instagram.

Smith’s rise to fame may have been quick, but it wasn’t an accident. She grew up listening to punk, R&B and reggae in the industrial town of Walsall with her musician father and jewellery designer mum. “I talked loads as a kid, and I used to just go in my room and write all the time,” says Smith, who penned her first song at age 11. “It was called ‘Life Is A Path Worth Taking’ about the consequence your actions have.”

Still not afraid to tackle big issues, Smith’s debut album Lost & Found examines social injustice, police brutality and feminism. She’s gearing up to play it this month at Laneway Festival on her inaugural trip Down Under. “It’s my first time right across the world so I’m really excited,” says Smith, who would dream about touring while behind the counter at Starbucks.

Nowadays, she’s more about the grand life than grande latte. “I was never any good at making coffee,” Smith says. 

Lucky she quit her day job.

Jorja Smith is playing at Laneway Festival in February. Head here for tickets and dates.

This article appeared in this month’s February issue of marie claire. On sale now.

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