Jorja Smith was born in the small city of Walsall near Birmingham. She spent her early days there listening to Curtis Mayfield and Damian Marley’s records inherited from her father, the lead singer of a local neo-soul group, 2nd Naicha. She moved to London part-time to attend an elite music secondary school. In the capital city, the young teenager spent her days between school, the home of her aunt and uncle, and a Starbuck where she began to work to pay the bills. By 15 she was spotted by her now-manager already armed with her notebook full of songs and several covers released on Youtube.
Her manager began to book dates for her in London and success happened when she finally released a song written at only 17 during a school project: “Blue Lights”. The song was released in January 2016, Jorja was only 18 years old and she no longer needed to work as a barista.
According to Soundcharts data, 2 years later Jorja was followed by 150 000 fans on Facebook (a 22 123% increase compared to the 678 fans she had in January 2016), and between April 2016 and August 2018 (10th), the Spotify account of Jorja gained 582 600 followers. How did she manage to have such a success? Talent, talent, and talent ? Yes, talent is the answer to the why question. The how question demands facts, and here are some that seems to have had a great impact on Jorja’s blooming career.
How Blue Lights put Jorja on the spotlight
Blue Lights began to be shared on various blog and entered the ‘Hype now’ charts from Hype Machine the 20th January 2016. 4 days later the title was charted number 1 on the same chart. A day later Jorja Smith had her first play on the national UK stations BBC 1 and BBC 1 Extra, entering there on a low rotation (1-2 plays a day). In two weeks time, the song began getting attention from the small ecosystem of music influencers and radio pluggers.
The Shazam Weekly charts of the 1st of February where the song entered at the 138th position tells us something else. It shows us that the song began meeting traction directly with the public. That must be a direct consequence from BBC support. A week later it reached the 108th position.
A month later, the first major artist backup happened when Drake added the song to his 16th Ovo Sound playlist (02/27).
That addition had a powerful impact and at the beginning of March the single was number one of the downloads in the UK category R&B/Soul (iTunes, 03/02) and obtained various chart position in the USA, Poland, Australia, and South Africa. The song was also added to the mid-rotation of the famous Belgian Station FM Brussel (now BRUZZ). The song entered the global Spotify Viral charts along with 17 country charts. A flying start for the teenager singer.
She released a song featuring Maverick Sabre in April named A Prince which was added to several medium Spotify playlists including Dope The Playlist from Sony music Belgium and I Woke Up Like This & Slow Down from spotifyuk (local Spotify team before the global merge).
How Drake spotted and supported the rising talent
The real second boost was provided by her second single released end Of May 2016 Where Did I Go. A song that Drake backed again in this Entertainment Weekly article where the singer picks it as his favorite song of the moment. The song entered 11 Itunes R&B/Soul countries charts and 2 Spotify Viral charts (UK & Denmark). Spotify added it to the NMF Sweden playlist and Filtr on the playlist Stay Sharp. The song was also synched in the 5th episode of the American TV Show “Insecure” and added to its Spotify playlist.
Jorja released her first EP in November 2016. Entitled “Project 11”. The BBC supported again the project with Carry Me Home entering BBC1 rotation and Something in the Way being added to their Spotify playlist Hottest Record In The World. Some New Music Friday created by Spotify local teams also added songs from the EP (Nederland, Sweden, France, and Australia).
In March 2017, the rising star took another leap forward. Her new song Beautiful Fools was added to several local New Music Friday again on the 10th and she was invited to sing on two tracks of Drake’s album-mixtape “More Life”. One called Jorja Interlude - a real showcase for her as she alone was singing - and Get it Together on a production from the South African artist Black Coffee. The status of Drake made them added to several playlists and the number of total streams to date is enormous: with 120M streams and 78M streams the two songs are still among the most streamed songs featuring Jorja.
Following this huge spotlight by the Canadian rapper, Spotify global playlist teams became adding Jorja’s songs to some important playlists, Beautiful Fools to Chilled Afternoon the 3rd of April, Sweet Soul Sunday on the 18th, Alternative R&B on the 21st. The same day Where Did I Go released a year before was added to Café Libros.
From rising talent to global superstar
The third single of the upcoming album “Lost & Found” Teenage Fantasy was released at the beginning of June and was strongly supported by Spotify, with the song added to Spotify & Chill and Chilled Pop Hits and to various New Music Friday playlists including the Global one the 11th of June. A true confirmation of her change of status: from promising local star to a global one.
On My Mind released in August 2017 was the hit that confirmed the viral success of the new voice of the British Soul scene. The song was mixing her unique voice with the Grime sound of the producer Preditah. The success was instantaneous: the song entered the top playlist of Spotify (This Is How We Do, All the Feels, Hot Hits UK, Pop Rising, Grime Shutdown) but was also added to top artist playlist Diplo and Friends Radio and top brand playlist Nike Women. Meanwhile, the soul singer was achieving her first tour in the States.
She began to release new songs from her upcoming album end of 2017, Lost and Let Me Down were added to various local New Music Friday. But the next huge success was released in the Soundtrack of the Box office success “Black Panther”. I Am featuring Kendrick Lamar reached various chart positions all around the world and entered the United States Top 50 playlist on Valentine’s day. While her commercial success was on the tracks, Jorja won the Critic’s Choice Prize during the famous BRIT Awards. This award that was granted to Adele 10 years before her. And everyone knows what Adele became after this distinction. (Update - one year later she won the British Female Solo Artist Award)
Following the success of I Am she started in April the second tour in North America with 19 dates booked across Canada and the United States. In the same time, a promotion campaign started on various DSPs and Blue Lights and Teenage Fantasy were added to various New Music Friday playlists from Spotify between the 20th and the 23rd of April. France, Nederland, Italia, Deutschland, Espana Turkey and Mexico for Blue Lights, and Singapore, Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia for Teenage Fantasy. In the meantime, the clip of Blue Lights was finally released on Youtube and the song entered the BBC 1 rotation again but in the mid-heavy rotation and not in the low one which proves the change of her status in only two years.
Lost & Found: her masterpiece
February 3rd was released the 25th of May, three weeks ahead of the album release. It was instantly added to 14 of the top countries New Music Friday playlists and on the Global one but also to Hot Rhythmics and Chilled R&B. Jorja performed two last shows before releasing ” Lost & Found” in Primavera (Barcelona) and We Love Green (Paris). The album was a commercial success and unanimously acclaimed by music journalists around the world. The day of its release, it was the most downloaded album in the iTunes App in France, Spain, and Luxembourg, and it charted in 51 different countries Itunes Main. It reached the 13th position in the States and the 2nd position in the UK. Its songs were added to various New Music Friday playlist and mainstream ones.
During June she focused on her album’s external promotion with a multiplication of tiny concerts and interviews given to the international press. Jorja spent the rest of the summer singing in various festivals throughout Europe and Asia. She was lined up in the top Japanese festival Summer Sonic and met the K-Pop group BTS on her way back.
In a tweet, the group backed the rising star to its followers and her Twitter account gained 10k new followers in a single day.
This summer Spotify consecrated the artist by creating a dedicated Jorja Smith playlist. She has also begun the most ambitious international tour she has ever made so far. She is set to travel across Europe and America visiting ten countries: with 9 dates in the UK and 20 dates in the States. A tour that came to an end on the 19th of November in Toronto.
In 2019, Jorja has been nominated British Female Solo Artist during the Brit Awards, succeeding to Dua Lipa. A rightful consecration for an incredible artist that will mark the years to come.
Listen to Jorja:
Jorja Smith website