I Guess... | The resilience of Rita Ora

  /  11.26.2018

‘I Guess’ is Kathy Iandoli’s battle cry of #shruglife. It’s everything that impresses us and unimpresses us—which could be one in the same given the day.

The U.S. and the U.K. have this weird relationship, especially as it pertains to music. Historically, we’re obsessed with the other; it’s the reason why the British Invasion happened over here and why Drake is the greatest thing since bangers and mash over there. (Yes, I know Drake is Canadian, so that’s not the U.S., but shut up). An interesting point to note though, is that culturally the U.S. and the U.K. are hardly in sync. So much so that certain movies have alternate endings since the audiences are often in opposition. With music, it’s the same thing. Certain singles are hits overseas and suck over here. And vice versa. And that’s been Rita Ora’s entire career thus far.

I remember when I first interviewed her in 2012. She was lovely; her Roc Nation deal was a few years deep, but she didn’t have much music to publicly show for it. Back then, her swag was very Rihanna and her aesthetic was very Beyoncé, so she wrongfully had built-in haters from jump. The plan in 2012 was for Rita to drop “How We Do (Party)” as the lead single in the U.S. and “R.I.P.” as the lead single in the U.K. The former sampled Biggie’s “Party and Bullshit,” and it was like, “Okay, what’s happening here?” It didn’t go far around these parts though it made a splash in Australia and New Zealand. “R.I.P.” (in my humble opinion) was a far stronger single for the U.S., but the inclusion of London-born rapper Tinie Tempah on the track was not enough of a draw for us fickle Americans. So from the start, Rita Ora’s career was semi-thwarted on American soil.

Over the next few years, she continued to thrive in the U.K., though in the States she was that girl from another town who would casually show up to other schools’ dances. After a while, it was like, “What is she doing here?” considering she hadn’t much movement in America. Her hook on Iggy Azalea’s “Black Widow” was awesome, but it was right smack in the middle of the big Iggy shun, so not only was Rita coming to the other school’s dances, but she was also hanging out with the wrong crowd. Still, she persevered.

While once again dominating across the pond, she caught a look here in 2016 when she was named the new host of America’s Next Top Model by none other than Tyra Banks herself. It was a puzzling appointment to anyone clueless that Rita Ora had a whole career happening in Europe. North America thought she was washed, except for her cameos in the Fifty Shades franchise. She had a lawsuit brewing with Roc Nation from 2015, basically blaming them for making her washed. She then inked a new deal with Atlantic Records—much to everyone’s amazement since, once again, the going rumor was she was washed.

Then came January 2018, when she landed the lead single “For You” (with Liam Payne) off the Fifty Shades Freed soundtrack, which is usually a career-changer. Think: The Weeknd’s “Earned It” and Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do” for proof of that. However, the song just didn’t hit here.

By May 2018, she released “Girls” with everyone she could find at her label: Charli XCX, Cardi B, and Bebe Rexha. The song managed to climb the charts a little, while also climbing on the nerves of the LGBTQ community who found the song problematic. So that was a bust.

She performed at the Thanksgiving Day Parade and was criticized for lip-synching. The next day, she dropped her second studio album Phoenix with a bunch of tracks that had already come out in 2017.

So here’s the thing…

It’s pretty damn impressive that Rita Ora continues to release music (or at least try to) in a territory that seems so confusingly unwelcoming. Her voice is good, her music (at times) is great, and she has the whole star power package. Yet something just doesn’t connect. I mean, it was like three degrees on Thanksgiving and she was expected to have warm pipes for the frigid parade float. The whole thing seems unfair—even John Legend came to her defense!—but it’s not the first time an artist has been challenged for the good ‘ol lip synch. In Rita Ora’s case, it may follow her forever since she’s already constantly criticized.

My hot take is this: something is lost in translation when it comes to Rita Ora and the American audience. Either that or it’s just been decided by some invisible cognoscenti that she’s not allowed to flourish here. Whatever the case may be, I salute this woman for continuing to push forward, giving us the music we apparently don’t want. She’s like, “No you’re gonna hear this music! I’ve waited like seven years to release another album, so you better fucking listen.” If you’re ever wondering if you should quit at something, just think of Rita Ora, and KEEP GOING.

As a total aside, this Phoenix album is pretty damn good. Team Rita over here. Let her live, damnit!

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