As a clever songwriter from the Bronx, jessa knows about spinning a heartbreaking story into a funny and relatable pop song. Presently living in Astoria, Queens, jessa is making music that feels like home, which she says is a marriage between alt R&B and indie pop. “I love guitar-forward music,” she told Noisey. “All my uncles and my grandpa played guitar, so I think it’s in my blood to love the sound.”
Her new song “TUFF” is a revelation, with warm riffs and smooth falsetto vocal runs. Describing it, the 26-year-old spoke about her music-filled childhood, coming of age in the 2000s, and revisiting her youthful expectations of love and romance—it’s all about “healing your inner child, balancing your expectations, and grounding yourself,” she said.
She wrote “TUFF” with Raffaella Meloni, an artist she’s known for 20 years. “It was the first song we’ve written together,” jessa said. “Raffaella is one of my closest friends, so she was in a unique position, as a cowriter, to help me bring aspects of our childhoods to life in the song.” The two mused over Y2K nostalgia and early teenage millennial drippings, from Butterfly clips to Crocs and Claw Machines, which they included in the song’s music video, recorded on an iPhone at the Mall of America in Minnesota.
“We have these lofty expectations growing up, and it’s easy to romanticize and fantasize,” jessa said, remembering a conversation she had with Rafaela, who also shot, edited and directed the music video. “The conversation that took place right before we wrote this song was about how in the media we consumed as kids, and all the fairytale endings were so unrealistic. Like, Lizzie McGuire going to Rome and meeting Paolo but ending up with her best friend who was there all along,” she laughed. “I love The Lizzie McGuire movie, love Hilary Duff, but how dare she?”
In navigating adulthood, jessa has revisited her childhood expectations with grace and humor. She addresses them with patience, reflecting on what she has learned as she’s allowed her own fantasy and reality to co-exist. “Being tough,” jessa said, means keeping it all in perspective, a task we’re all learning and navigating daily. “Sometimes what you want doesn’t really align with the boundaries you know are good for your mental health,” she said. “To me, being tough is learning how to respect your own boundaries and other people's boundaries, it is a process I'm still learning.”
With each of her songs, jessa is dancing at the intersection of humility and happiness over alternative pop and R&B beats. “TUFF” follows her previous single, “I Can’t Stop Crying.” Both tracks introduce more honest and emotional songwriting from jessa, but “TUFF” is a confident smile amidst new levels of vulnerability. Looking to the future, jessa plans on evolving and finding lyricism in the routine aspects of life. “I’m excited to write differently and constantly change, and tap into less emotional things, just different aspects of life,” she said, “like taking care of yourself and what it feels like to be in your 20s and trying to be an independent and self-sufficient person.”