Rita Ora is the music industry’s greatest star-in-waiting. The British-raised bombshell is the first to admit that in the U.S., she’s still an unproven artist. “I’ve never actually released [a record] here,” the 24-year-old songbird says while in town for 103.5 KISS FM’s Jingle Ball last month. She’s had one album, “Ora,” released to wide acclaim in the U.K., but her offerings stateside have been limited to a few singles, like “I Will Never Let You Down,” “How We Do (Party)” and her current guest vocals on Iggy Azalea’s hit “Black Widow.”
Fortunately, Ora is used to biding her time. After being discovered by a representative from Roc Nation in 2009, she was flown to New York to meet the label’s head, rapper Jay-Z, who offered her a contract on the spot. Still, it was three years before Ora could release an album she was happy with. “It’s like building — and when the time is right, you release your record,” she says. “That’s what’s going to happen [here].”
Ora’s first U.S. release is due out late this spring and will feature collaborations with a slew of her famous friends, including Prince and Diplo. “It’s way bolder, darker, more energetic and way more sexy,” she says. Last summer, Ora went through a widely publicized breakup with DJ and producer Calvin Harris, and while she’s been mum on the topic, she promises her new tracks will shed some light. “It’s definitely just a more honest record,” she says. “[There are songs] about my relationships, my life. … But it’s not like [listeners] are my therapists. It’s a feel-good, heartfelt record, but what people wondered [about] is what’s in the songs.”
While Ora is a bona fide star when it comes to music — she’s got four U.K. No. 1 singles and was named Harper’s Bazaar’s Musician of the Year in 2013 — she’s also carved out a niche for herself as a fashion icon. She’s graced the covers of Elle, Cosmopolitan and Glamour, developed her own line for Adidas and secured her spot as the face of Roberto Cavalli and Rimmel London. She’s also a ubiquitous presence in tabloid red-carpet recaps; she’s usually lauded for her fashion hits, but even when she’s called out for style missteps, she’s unapologetic. “I take risks — some people may like that, some people may not like that,” she explains. “[Either way], I’ve kind of already won because they’re thinking about it.”
That confidence is the basis of Ora’s persona. Love her or hate her, she doesn’t care — she says she just likes “knowing that I’ve put an opinion in someone’s mind.” It’s the same reason she never doubted she’d reach success: “If you don’t think about [the doubt] and you just think about the fact that you’re singing, it’s less scary,” she explains. “If you think, ‘Oh gosh, maybe it won’t work, maybe people won’t like it,’ you won’t [ever] know the answer. I just take every day as it comes.”
Ora will take the big screen in next month’s “Fifty Shades of Grey” as protagonist Christian Grey’s sister, Mia. “[Acting] was amazing, it was so cool to be someone else,” she says. “In all honesty, the fact that I was even involved is all I cared about — I could have been a tree for all I cared. It was awesome.
[Iggy Azalea] is one of my really great, dearest friends; she’s an awesome person. I’ve known her for so long, she supported me on my European tour before [her song] ‘Fancy’ came out, before anything came out. No one knew who she was. She came on tour and we shared each others’ clothes, shared each others’ microphones. It was literally two girls on the run. Now the fact that we’ve done ‘Black Widow,’ it’s an amazing feeling.
I got the role of Cinderella when I was 7 in elementary school. I thought, ‘I made it.’ I was so happy. I was dark-[haired] then; [I was a brunette Cinderella] in a yellow dress. The video is so funny.