TThe pandemic has temporarily ended the game for emerging pop stars: who could compete for headlines and live broadcasts with Dua Lipa? For Connie Constance, it ended a career she had just started. A few months earlier, the Watford-born songwriter severed ties with AMF, then an imprint of Virgin EMI, the major label that released her 2019 debut album, English Rose, when she felt empowered. apart. She spent the rest of her money on a trip to Los Angeles, writing songs, networking and restoring her musical confidence. Back home, her manager obtained a distribution agreement that would allow her to launch her own label. She couldn’t wait to go. “Then Covid came along and I was like, ‘No! She hoots, pushing her hand towards her webcam. “What? How is it going!”
In the first confinement, writing songs became difficult again. “The lyrics that were coming out were so dead,” the 26-year-old-born Constance Power said, laughing quickly, during a video call from her boyfriend’s London home. So she left the music alone and “made a bunch of mansions on The Sims 4”. Then a host of social issues surfaced – Black Lives Matter in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in the United States, Marcus Rashford’s free school meals campaign – that spoke to a woman who once said she found politics boring.
“It’s a naive comment I made when I was younger, but at the same time it’s true,” says Power. “None of the political figures excite me to go and change my world. But this [past] year, I feel like there’s been a lot more relativity and young people come together to talk about how they feel about things, rather than trying to have a voice on their own.
This reignited his songwriting, notably producing Prim & Propa, the title track of a new EP and a surprisingly effective combination of disparate strains of British pop: the almost spoken verses bristle with the barked beauty of Paul Weller; the cathartic choir reaches heights worthy of Florence. The lyrics sound like Nathalie Olah’s controversial Steal As Much As You Can in pop form: a working-class songwriter declaring that she envisions being more than she’s been told she can be, but doesn’t. has no interest in the aspiration or respectability of the middle class. “We only had just enough but I guess it left more room for love,” she sings, her voice gruff and agile.
Power recognizes her mother as “a warrior” in the lyrics. “She works at a charity and worked throughout the lockdown,” she explains. “You look on Instagram and you have celebrities on their yachts and living their best lives, and then there was a family my mom was dealing with that barely survives. Marcus Rashford’s story of school meals also reminded me of my own upbringing; how would we have survived if we hadn’t had this when we were younger? That’s what lies behind Prim & Propa: I’m so lucky to have a loving family and a strong community because these people don’t really help us there.
BBC Radio 1 was named Power Artist of the Month for August and has performed at Prim & Propa daily. This was a huge justification for Power and his two-person team. “At this point, we’ve done more damage than Virgin has ever done with all their money and access,” she said. “We killed him.”
In June, Power tweeted her support after British pop star Raye opened up about her major label, Polydor, not letting her release a debut album seven years and a dozen massive singles after her signing. “I’m so lucky to be out of my market this shit has choked my whole being” Power wrote. “Big Love for @raye speaking out.”
Power has never hesitated to reject institutions that don’t work for it and to work with determination for what it wants. (“I think that came from my mother too,” she says.) She danced as a child, an emotional outlet as the only mixed-race child in a predominantly white area, wondering why her father was so often absent. She left the sixth grade after being refused the subjects she had chosen and went to a prestigious dance school. She and a companion worked at college as staff for The Lion King musical, believing they had hacked their future: “It’s the only musical we can do anyway because we are turning blacks and mestizos back, ”she said. “We’re going to watch all the moves, the songs, and we’re going to walk the audition.” She hated it too and left after realizing that the music she made with producer Blue Daisy was what she really wanted to do.
She perfected her writing and singing, and regularly practiced If I Ain’t Got You by Alicia Keys to see if she had improved. “It was my criterion. But then what I realized I liked was when I could hear someone’s voice – that’s what drew me to Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen, even Adele.
This led to Power’s roughly trimmed vocals, a distinctive quality that caught the label’s interest. At the time, she was partying regularly in the West End with a group of girls including young Dua Lipa. (“I remember when she came to the club one night and said, ‘Guys, I just signed a deal with Warners!’ We were all really drunk.”) Power was also interested in the label but went with Virgin because, “we loved people,” she says, laughing so hard she finds it hard to speak. “In the beginning.”
Power says she felt tough and went into ‘stubborn’ con mode, summoning a teenage idol: “Naomi Campbell doesn’t care if people call her tough to work with. ‘they are going to see me, I have to protect myself.
Power and his manager devised a strategy to try and get what they wanted. Meanwhile, the label pushed Power – who adores Arctic Monkeys and covered the Jam on his debut album – into pop and R&B and made some insane comparisons to other Métis artists. “They kept saying Corinne Bailey Rae. I really love her and listened to her grow up – I don’t look like her at all. You just look at me like a mixed race girl with fluffy hair and say, “It would be cute if we put flowers in your hair and made you do cute soulful things that don’t shake the pot.” This is certainly how I felt.
She says no one at the label has ever asked about her well-being. “If anything, if I sent an email saying I’m miserable, it’s like” – she gasped – “‘Why does Connie say that stuff? Take control of your artist. ‘ This is what my manager was getting all the time. A spokesperson for EMI, the now inactive parent company of the AMF, said it was “the first time we have heard of Connie’s concerns,” and that they could not comment as the AMF was unable to comment. is no longer part of EMI.
Black British women have often struggled to find a place in mainstream British music outside of R&B. It’s not Power’s problem to solve, but she knows why: “Black women have always been in all different genres of music, so it’s nothing new,” she says, “but from a standpoint. commercial, if a woman of color wants to make music it’s not R&B, it seems new because there is no benchmark where it’s earned.
It will be interesting to see if Arlo Parks winning the Mercury Prize makes a difference. “Let’s go find some other black girls with short hair who can make the same sound!” »» Power tongue-in-cheek. “I hope it’s more like, ‘Oh yeah, black people can make independent music,'” she laughs weakly.
His new songs accumulated but were not released; Power admits to having opened a Soundcloud account under an alias just to feel heard. Her debut album received international acclaim, but she felt her team had lost interest. She stopped thinking about music and focused on escaping. “The problem is, people play with your career like it’s not your whole life. I can’t do anything else.
Power spends the rest of the year writing his second album. Watching the documentary MIA again prompted her to focus on more identity material; a new piece is called Afro Hair. “It’s about feeling silenced because you are seen as an angry black woman and a stereotype,” she says.
One of the best things about running your own label, she says, is never having to ask permission. She named it Jump the Fence after a lifelong mantra: breaking into abandoned houses as a child, jumping into a farmer’s field, sneaking out the back door of a club. “It’s the epitome of how I move through life,” she says. “I like to take the risk, go into the unknown and see what happens.”