“I’m still talking about my life, my pain, my demons,” Jessie Reyez tells Remezcla on the lyrical content behind Being Human in Public, her second EP, which drops on October 19. The pain she describes has largely fueled her creativity since her emergence in 2014, but most notably in her 2016 breakthrough hit “Figures,” a gut-wrenching confession about the rage and anguish of romantic betrayal. “I’m not good at falling out of love. I was with him for a long time, and it was hard to put an end on it,” she says, reflecting on that cheating ex who, ironically, ignited her musical trademark. On her forthcoming release, the Toronto native continues to showcase the many shades of heartbreak with a vindicating yet brutally honest approach. Instead of brooding about the torment of a broken heart, the hard-hitting lyricism of her forthcoming EP arrives with a vengeance, confronting dirty tricks and misogyny in the battle of the sexes.
Remezcla met with the Toronto native this past summer in Queens, New York, moments before she jetted off to her hometown. Clad in a mustard-hued flannel, long white socks, and a baseball cap atop her glossy-yet-unruly curls, her vibe is mellow this day, as she just wrapped up a busy week. The day before, she’d rocked out at Brooklyn’s Afropunk Festival: “Everyone [at Afropunk] treats themselves like a canvas; they got the wickedest factor,” she notices. “It’s so cool to walk around and see rich culture as one.”
Days prior, the 27-year-old rising star seized the stage at the VMAs with her confessional soul jam “Apple Juice,” the second single off the new release. “I was nervous as hell. That whole day up until then, I was practicing scales, praying, and crying,” she recalls. “It’s a mess before I go onstage. But when I’m there, I get lost in it.” Contrary to the flashy theatrics, lavish costume changes, or auto-tuned sound productions often seen at award shows, Reyez’s spine-chilling performance was a welcoming refresher that stole the show, thanks to her mesmerizing, bleeding-heart vocals.
Through her brash-yet-soulfully wounded pop, Reyez is quickly rising to global stardom. This year, the artist of Colombian descent snagged a Juno award for Breakthrough Artist, and earned two VMA nominations (Push Artist of the Year and Video with a Message) for “Gatekeeper” — a video and song that tapped into an ongoing dialogue about sexual harassment in the entertainment industry.
Aside from these socially conscious themes, Reyez is stepping into Spanish-speaking territories in her new music. Her first Spanish-language single, “Sola,” resonates with the heart-rending candor of a balada romántica, while echoing Bob Dylan’s cold-hearted “It Ain’t Me Babe.” “[Cantando en español] fue algo muy íntimo,” says the singer switching to Spanish. “El corazón en español tiene un poder de hablar de cosas tan bonitas y tan lindas. Las canciones tienen un sentimiento único, que si se traducen [al inglés], no suenan igual. No tienen el mismo color, ni el mismo sentido.”
“Fuckery is where a lot of these songs come from.”
Her fiercely unapologetic pop-R&B also grabbed a cluster of superstars by the musical jugular. In a recent interview, Eminem told Sway, “Her voice to me sounded really crazy. I went down the wormhole of looking up shit, and I was like, ‘I really wanna fuck with this chick’…I think she’s gonna really blow up…I would put my money on her.” Off his recent surprise release Kamikaze, he brought the singer-songwriter in as a guest vocalist on “Nice Guy” / “Good Guy,” where they enter the trenches of tortured love and its maddening after effects. In a similar spirit, on last year’s Spanglish duet “Un Vuelo a LA,” she joined forces with king of bachata Romeo Santos, a song that brought awareness to domestic violence and psychological abuse over a rockabilly rhythm.
“Fuckery is where a lot of these songs come from,” Reyez says about her repertoire in general. “Part of yourself is trying to heal those wounds, but every few weeks you pick at it.” While the outspoken wordplay on Kiddo exposed the singer’s personal experience with both toxic relationships and misogyny, Being Human in Public challenges it. The upcoming EP also shines a light on gendered prejudices on a larger scale.
The stripped-down “Body Count” tackles these taboos. “I dodge dick on the daily,” she wails with a biting social critique that defies the stigmas of women’s sexual liberation. Its accompanying video sees the singer being dragged by bitter-looking colonists, to be burned at the stake like a 16th century so-called witch, possibly for her violation of societal conduct. On the sticky hip-hop slasher of “F*** Being Friends,” she slyly growls at fuckboys, “You ain’t scared to fuck but you scared of being lovers?”
The acerbic feminist banter Reyez embraces is even more hard-hitting in today’s cultural milieu, especially considering how patriarchal gender roles have taken a front seat in recent news — i.e. “Ariana Grande, Mac Miller and the Demonization of Women in Toxic Relationships” reads a 2018 Rolling Stone headline; then, the terrifying bravery of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony. And with the ongoing misogyny that black and Latina women have experienced for centuries, Reyez brings a much-needed and welcoming voice that continues to shatter disparities in that regard.
“The thing about ‘fucking the pain away’ is when I close my eyes [while singing] to focus, I go through it again,” says Reyez about the struggles of recovery. “It’s the craziest contrast. But when I open my eyes, happiness takes over.” Through Being Human in Public, Reyez solidifies herself as pop’s most provocative player when battling toxic, misogynistic relationships — whether romantic or not. She dealt with her “old demons” via her intoxicating, conscious material, and the reaction to that pain has made her into a poet. That is her courage; not too many pop stars have the nerve to expose their vulnerabilities and indignation as plainly as she does. Jessie Reyez is doing it fearlessly, while singing about hell like an angel.
Jessie Reyez’s Being Human in Public EP is out on Universal on October 19.