Earlier this month, Rita Ora went unrecognized in Germany. Specifically, in an attempt to prank the judges of the nation’s incarnation of The Voice, none of them know who she was. Which would be funny if it wasn’t so confusing (also, very sad). The singer is a fixture on the UK pop charts, on BBC Radio 1, and as the host of award shows and events in Britain. And yet she remains a relative question mark here.
Currently, the singer is closing in on the number one spot on the UK Official Singles Chart, where “Anywhere” is threatening to knock Camila Cabello from the top. Which is a feat: “Havana” is a jam, and Ora is neck in neck with Ed Sheeran, whose “Perfect” will inevitably camp out at number one and drive us all mad with its saccharine prose. Plus, “Anywhere” is objectively a terrific pop song: it’s catchy, it’s quick, and an easy breezy type of track that makes singing along to it actually enjoyable. (Compared to Sheeran’s “Perfect,” which sounds like the accompaniment to the saddest of all Richard Curtis movie scenes.)
She’s consistently busy, obviously has an audience, and with the help of singles like “Anywhere,” has proven her ability to deliver above average pop. So, like, what the hell?
Not to mention that Rita’s been hustling since the late 2000s. In 2012, she scored a number one album and three number one singles (again, in the UK), and while contract disputes with Roc Nation led to the delay of her second LP (which has yet to be released), she’s kept busy in the wake of being signed to Atlantic. She’s appeared in the 50 Shades of Grey films, headlined two tours, fronted campaigns for Calvin Klein, Material Girl, Rimmel, and DKNY, and collaborated with Adidas. She was a judge on 2015’s season of X Factor and the host of America’s Next Top Model following Tyra Banks’ departure. She’s consistently busy, obviously has an audience, and with the help of singles like “Anywhere,” has proven her ability to deliver above average pop. So, like, what the hell?
In 2015, Spin sought to explore Ora’s “mainstream pop purgatory.” And rightfully, they pointed to Rihanna comparisons which saw the singer slagged off as a wannabe of the top 40/entrepreneurial queen. It also didn’t help that in 2014 she’d promised new music if her tweet about it hit more than 100K shares—and then blamed hackers when it got only 2000. Which adds to the argument Noisey made about her in 2014: because British music tends to be more “nuanced and unaffected” than North American music, there’s a disconnect —or at least, there has been. In an era defined by artists like Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, and Beyoncé (stars whose music and personas are larger than life and all-encompassing), there isn’t room for straight-up pop singers.
But in 2017 and 2018, that can change. Since Ora’s 2012 breakthrough, the climate has shifted, creating space for artists outside the borders of their geographical place. Ed Sheeran’s emerged as a vanilla force to be reckoned with, appearing onstage only with his guitar and his glasses. Harry Styles and Zayn broke from 1D to write rock and R&B respectively, revelling in their independence and toned-down live shows. Adele dominated the 2016 Grammys with an album filled with ballads. Meanwhile, Taylor Swift’s reinvention as a revenge-driven goth is getting half the attention she reaped from 1989, which means that in short, there’s room for an artist like Ora—particularly as stars like Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato, and even Rihanna herself, pepper their discographies with straightforward, nuanced pop songs that you can simply revel in. You know, kind of like “Anywhere.”
In the flurry to make Rita Ora happen in America, we may have missed an important point: she doesn’t need to.
The thing is, there’s no excuse for her not to succeed Stateside at this point, particularly not now. We know how to explore music outside the realm of our own familiarities, we know enough not to assume that an artist is a Splenda version of another singer because they both perform pop (and know how to lend their names and likenesses to brands in smart, savvy ways). But in the flurry to make Rita Ora happen in America, we may have missed an important point: she doesn’t need to.
Ora has carved out a niche in the UK. She is known, arguably in-demand, and riding the wave of Official Charts success. She doesn’t need to “happen,” she already has—at least enough for us to sit around analyzing why she hasn’t headlined North America yet. (Which, arguably, infers that she’s big enough for you reading this and me writing this to know who she is.) And the more we push for a Rita Ora renaissance (a Ritassance, as I’ve now coined it), the more desperate she seems when she isn’t and shouldn’t be. Ora is not the pop manifestation of “fetch,” she’s already happened. So maybe it’s up to us to champion to redefine what we constitute as “making it.” Is it Katy Perry, reinventing herself with empty political rhetoric to lack of critical acclaim? Is it Taylor Swift, clinging to five-year-old feuds? Or is it smaller, surer steps in the direction of a career of one’s own? In 2017, the trajectory of Rita Ora may be the only answer to that question we need.