At today’s announcement of the Mobo shortlist, all eyes will be on the established stars in the biggest categories but it’s really worth paying attention to the Best Newcomer list, where this celebration of urban music invariably chooses a future giant. Rita Ora, Tinie Tempah and Jessie J have won it in recent years, and among this year’s bumper crop of Londoners the judges have included Jess Glynne — a newcomer you may already know. Since her guest appearance on Clean Bandit’s Rather Be, the biggest-selling British single of the year, she’s looked every inch a star in waiting.
I find her sitting in a stairwell on a Bermondsey industrial estate, characteristic red curls scraped back, ghost-pale face make-up free — no place for a new singer whose year has just been made even better with her first award nomination. She’s taking a break from tour rehearsals to talk about it. To say she’s pleased is putting it mildly.
“Oh my god. I’ve literally never been so shocked. It’s the most amazing feeling,” she gushes. The 24-year-old from Muswell Hill won’t have far to travel to the ceremony on October 22 at Wembley Arena — the Mobos are back in London for the first time since 2008, surely their rightful home when you study the birthplaces of the majority of acts making the urban music that it recognises.
Glynne is not bothered about being a white girl at these awards for Music Of Black Origin. In fact, after Ed Sheeran surprisingly topped BBC 1Xtra’s Power List in July, it looks like a ginger takeover is afoot in this world. “Anyone who’s black, white or Asian can have soul,” she says.
“Back in the day, the Sam Cookes of this world made bloody great music, and it’s nothing but a compliment that artists such as myself are influenced by it. I don’t know why people get arsey about it.”
She’s a forthright talker with a husky, geezerish voice which acquires a feline slinkiness when she sings. She uses expressions such as “sick” and “that’s jokes”. She asks my permission to put on some large, angular sunglasses when we head outside: “Is that all right? I’m not doing it to be a diva, I have really sensitive eyes.”
In any case, she’s not living in diva-land yet anyway. Thanks to her first two hits being guest spots on other people’s records, she’s in the strange position of being both a little-known newbie and the top-selling British singles act of 2014. There’s the bass and horns of her own Right Here (silver sales), the piano-house of Route 94’s My Love (platinum) and Clean Bandit’s huge mix of classical strings and dance-pop, Rather Be (double platinum). That all adds up to more than two million singles for a girl who just over a year ago was still working in promotions for a drinks company.
She’s just done another song with Clean Bandit, possibly being released in time for Christmas. Her first UK headline tour begins next month, and her next solo single will arrive in January, with a debut album following. In the meantime, she’s been doing well as a songwriter, talking of collaborations with Rudimental, Tinie Tempah, Little Mix, Iggy Azalea and Rita Ora that may or may not be released in the future.
She’s not someone about to be typecast as another dance diva collaborator with “ft.” in front of her name for ever. Her output to date has been feelgood pop, made for a big Saturday night, with that strong voice lifting it above generic dance music. Her album will surprise people, she says.
“I’m not making a dance album at all. I’ve been inspired by Aretha Franklin and Etta James and Sam Cooke and Destiny’s Child and Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston for vocals.” Phew. “I’ve taken that and then I’ve taken the Jay-Zs and the Kendrick Lamars and the Frank Oceans and the Eminems. I love rap and I try to write a bit like a rapper, to have a flow.”
As a Jewish girl from north London, she also lists Amy Winehouse among her main inspirations. “Oh, man,” she sighs, when I bring her up.
Like her heroine, Glynne doesn’t rate music-school training. She did a year-long course at an east London college, having already been discouraged by her music teachers at secondary school and rejected for the X Factor at 15 (“It’s all so fake”). But at least at the college she met her regular co-writer, Jin Jin, who introduced her to her producer Bless Beats. Together they made Glynne’s introductory song, Home.
“It was then that I thought, ‘now I know exactly what I want to do’. That was the first time that I really felt I’d found a sound.”
Now she’s ready for the real attention that solo stardom, and this Mobo nod, will bring. “I’ve been this voice of a lot of upbeat dance tracks but people don’t really know me,” she says. That won’t be the case for much longer, as pop’s brightest newcomer begins to build something that will last.
The Mobo Awards in association with HTC take place on October 22 at the SSE Arena, Wembley (0844 815 0815, mobo.com)