The VICE Interview: Jamelia
The singer on waking up to the treatment of black women in the media, her obsession with plantain and why she stopped being a Rastafarian.
This is the VICE Interview. Each week we ask a different famous and/or interesting person the same set of questions in a bid to peek deep into their psyche.
Jamelia – Birmingham-born singer and, more recently, social media star – is known for her string of 2000s hits, including "Superstar" and "Thank You", and for going on panel shows and always being the nicest person there. After leaving daytime chat show Loose Women in 2016, her latest venture is a YouTube lifestyle channel centring on black hair and beauty.
I spoke to her over the phone about conspiracy theories, Mary J Blige and Rastafarianism.
VICE: When was the last time you said no to something relating to your career?
Jamelia: Recently I ended a business relationship because it wasn't serving me or my intentions for myself in my future career. This year, for me, I think it's very important to become a person that empowers other people. This business relationship just didn't support that idea, in a variety of ways. Over the past year I feel I've seen the media representation of black women completely differently. I feel like I've found a whole new section of media that motivates and empowers, which is exactly what I want to do. We have to intentionally occupy spaces that serve us in all of our facets.
What is the nicest thing you own?
The nicest thing I own is my house. When I was younger I lived near not a national park, but that kind of thing. We'd go there in the summer to fly kites, or go and find tadpoles, and I remember seeing this area and absolutely not seeing myself in that type of place. And for me, living where I live is a representation of how far I've come and the fact that I've successfully socially migrated. I don't believe that social migration is the only way of displaying success, but I think it is a very clear way to do so. In comparison to where I grew up, which was inner-city Birmingham, in a council house, I can do little things like being able to dance around my kitchen – we didn't have space to dance in the kitchen when I was young.
Would you rather change one day from your past or see one day from your future?
I think maybe see one day from my future. I think, for me, I've had a multitude of experiences, good, bad and extremely ugly. But what I will say about them is that they have absolutely served me in becoming the woman that I am today. I think seeing a day in my future would just be a way of being reassured that I'm doing the right thing and that the choices I'm making today are going to continue to serve me well.
What would your specialist subject on Mastermind be?
Mary J Blige, because I'm obsessed with her.
Would you like to experience death if it could be guaranteed you could be brought back to life?
Absolutely. I know that seems like a strange answer, but I'm curious [about it]. If you can be so intuitive and so connected to other people, can that just switch off? I just don't believe that that's possible. But being someone who's non-religious I don't have any explanations or reasons. I'm definitely scientifically and technically minded. And, for me, it kind of borders on the spiritual or the religious. So I feel like I need that proof, but only if it's guaranteed that I'm going to wake back up.
Are you religious?
I was born into Rastafarianism, and so the first 10 years of my life I spent as a Rasta. I'm curious and interested in religion but I have come to the conclusion that I don't require religion. I do appreciate and accept the necessity of religion for other people.
If you could live in any time, which one would you pick?
I enjoy overcoming struggles, so I would have loved to have been around in the 60s. I don't feel like that era of black women are acknowledged enough. I don't have access to the history around them. We only know what we're taught in Black History Month or what's available in the libraries. I just feel like there has to have been more to it than that. I feel the only way that I can gain that history is to have actually been there. The elders of that generation are kind of cagey. They want to let it go.
What was your first email address?
I actually still have it, but it's not functioning, so I can tell you what it is! It's email@example.com. You know when you're signing up to things and you don't want to give away your email address? I still use it for that. I did it when I was 15, the same year I signed my record deal. I didn't want it to be my name because I didn't want people to figure it out. And I just thought it was like me – cheeky. It's so embarrassing, but I was only 15, so allow it.
What would your parents prefer you to have chosen as a career?
I believe that I've surpassed any aspirations that my parents had for me. Because they were the first generation after Windrush I feel like they were a bit of a lost generation. My mum didn't leave school with any GCSEs. Neither did my dad, actually. My mum did go on to do amazing things with her life – she started off volunteering at the local play centre and ended up managing it. Which was a big deal, especially for me, having a front row seat to that ascension.
What conspiracy theory do you believe?
I don't know if you'd call it a conspiracy theory, but I think the mainstream media has an agenda to present ethnic minorities' narratives in a certain way. In a skewed way. I don't even think it's a conspiracy theory, actually; I think it's a fact. I think that us taking advantage of social media and the internet was something that they didn't bargain on happening.
Do drugs make you happy?
I genuinely have no idea. I've never taken them. I don't even think I've seen a [hard] drug before in my life. I'm 36 tomorrow and I'm very green when it comes to that. Growing up Rastafarian I've seen a lot of weed in my time. But it's funny, because I don't see weed as a drug. That might be controversial to the British media, but I really don't. So, to me, with my idea of what a drug is, to me taking them doesn't look like happiness.
If you were a wrestler, what song would you come into the ring to?
I think I'd come in to "Return of the Mack". People have definitely done that. I feel I am someone who has been knocked down so many times, but I always get back up and I always come back.
What's the latest you've stayed up?
Oh my gosh, I'm a proper night owl. I'm also a parent, so last night I was up to, like, 3AM, and I had to be up to get my girls ready for school at half six. Frequently I'm up all night and then I'll function normally in the day, which actually is not something to be proud of, because then I'll have days like yesterday, where I slept literally all day. But I do work in an industry where I'm able to sleep in the day if I want to.
What would your last meal be?
It would just be a bowl, or plate, as big as possible, of fried plantain. I'm obsessed
What memory from school stands out to you stronger than any other?
I had two fantastic teachers in primary school, one called Mrs Smith, who unfortunately died a few years ago, and my other teacher Mr Lamb. As a young black girl sometimes you can be written off in a school environment. But if they saw me starting to go off the rails they were like: "Nope. Not you, not today!"
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