With her bubblegum pink hair, magnetic melodies and her affinity for catchy, heart-tearing hooks, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Nina Nesbitt is, at first glance, simply a pop superstar poised for global domination. Delve a little deeper, and you'll discover that the Scottish born songstress, who's sophomore album came out last Friday, is so much more.
Nina’s first dance with fame happened a few years ago now; after a brief conversation with Ed Sheeran, she secured a touring gig with him, and success soon spiralled. Making a name for herself as a peppy, potential successor to the throne of pop, debut album Peroxide landed in 2014 to much fanfare; in the midweek charts it stood tall at number 1 (!) yet, due to being released in the same week as The Brits aired, saw an eventual tumble over favour of established acts that the general public had reconnected with via television.
With a tango here and a waltz over there, Nesbitt paraded across the dance floor of the music industry with grace and poise, however, according to industry professionals, lacking one core value; purpose. On the eve of the release of a new single, 2016’s Chewing Gum, which was designed to be a more mature, complex and sultry reemergence and drive Nina’s second whack with her Modern Love EP (which is, incredible), Nina got the call that it wouldn’t be going ahead as planned; because in the morning, there wouldn’t be a label that she’d call home.
Now, just over three years later, we caught up with Nina to celebrate the release of awaited (and apt) intensely personal sophomore album The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change, while we salsa’d through what defines success in the streaming industry, and tip-toed around none of the intimacies. There are no moments to be missed here; so join the conversation, and let’s begin.
We catch up with Nina when she’s on a train from Edinburgh to Manchester. She’s just played a show last night supporting The Sun Will Come Up…, part of an intimate and acoustic run of gigs that see her getting back to her roots and celebrating where it all began; with a heart, a guitar, and oodles of fans. ‘Edinburgh last night was insane. So many people turned up I was in shock, it was great. So many of these songs started out acoustically so it’s nice to show people that they can still work on guitar or piano; on tour it’ll obviously be a bigger production. It’s just nice talking to people and finding out what their favourite songs are…’. She sounds tired, humble, and yet surprisingly perky and upbeat. But, wouldn’t you be, after what it’s took Nina to be here today, promoting an album that encapsulates her own twenty-something existential crisis in a way that has instantly proved relatable to millions across the world?
‘It took a long time to get out there. It didn’t take that long to write, it was actually quite an easy album to write, somehow, because I didn’t really think I was writing it for me. It’s nice to have it out, really’. Nina likens the writing process to a personal diary, which she’s now compacted into bitesize, catchy segments and uploaded to the internet. We delve into the core subject of this absolutely stunning 13-track showcase.
‘I think it’s almost like a weird time, your early twenties because you’re sort of leaving behind adolescence, childhood and entering the adulthood which is a bit daunting, really. For me it’s about relationships, friendships, my friend having a baby, career ambitions, mental health, all of those things that I experienced personally or people close to me did’. In the daunting Sacred, wherein she looks into the mirror (and the insta lens), ‘calling out her own behaviour, whether it be repeating the same old routine of getting wasted at clubs every week or being ‘hooked on celebrity, doped up on jealousy’, we glance a turning point; a death of adolescence, and the, only slightly reluctant, arrival of adulthood. Throughout the album Nina gradually explores her relationship with time, emotion and destiny, and she does so in a manner so impeccably mature that one thing is clear… this album is a complete reintroduction, and to someone who, if they wanted it, could have the world in her hands.
Dating too, of course, takes precedence throughout the tracks. The guitar-led, seductive single Somebody Special, which was first released in January 2018 and has now clocked in over 25 million streams worldwide, is a homage to the tentative, early days of love. It’s romance at its most sincere and humble; ‘you could turn this bar into a five star, we could use your back seat as a bed’. The melancholic millennial setting of making luxury from what we can, while capturing the joyous essences of true love like dancing in the kitchen wearing a dress and being treasured ‘like I cost a million’, make this an instant favourite. Who hasn’t, at some point in their life, thrown their lovers’ shirt on for the first time and felt like they’re royalty like they’ve made it, like they’re something we all crave to be… safe? Wait till 2:32 in this song for the breakdown, it’s glorious, and you bet your ass if there’s ever a remake of Coyote Ugly I’ll be petitioning for this song to be pivotal in the scene where the lead does a sultry, ‘thinks-she’s-alone-but-is-being-watched-by-the-love-interest’ striptease after the bar has closed and the lights are dimmed. In fact, she can write the whole damn soundtrack. It’s ‘LeAnn Rimes who?’ at this point.
‘I guess in your teens it’s sort of like…’, Nina continues, ”you’ll date someone for like six months or a year or whatever and move on to the next’… I feel like in your twenties it’s like, ‘do you really want to commit to a relationship when you could be having fun… is that the person you see yourself ending up with?’.
No song encaptures this best, perhaps, than Things I Say When I Sleep. Placed delicately towards the end, the track is a tender homage to a former flame, one of drama, heat, and ultimately, rain. ‘Things… is about when I got back with my ex-boyfriend. It’s really a risky thing to do, I know a lot of people say never get back with an ex, that’s sort of something that I live by… we just became mutual friends, and then kind of hooked up with each other. We were like, ‘hmmm, what’s going on here?’; it’s a song about realising that you love somebody but maybe you’ve hurt them in the past so it’s a very sensitive subject, and not really wanting to tell them how you feel just in case something changes. It’s a song about all the intricacies of our relationship, how two opposites can come together, and wanting to tell them something so badly but knowing it’s like not fair on them… so it’s waiting ’till he’s asleep and telling him’. She laughs throughout retelling this, clearly proud (and rightly so) of this chapter of her life. What others may call mistakes, she calls experience.
After being dropped by her former label, Nina stumbled a little. She has previously described that time as being a little depressed, lots of thinking, and pivotal, monumental thoughts surrounding the future of her career. A songwriter by nature (with such accolades as Jessie Ware’s Slow Me Down), she even noticed a drop in people who were willing to produce songs with her for other people. So, not keeping a girl down for long, she did exactly what anybody with true talent would; she decided to produce them herself.
‘It really helped because before I’d have to go into a studio with somebody else to produce the song. With The Moments I’m Missing was basically recording the vocals on my bed with a laptop and I think you can kind of hear that they sound a bit raw, but I kind of like that cause I think they capture an energy’.
‘For the rest of the album… Things I Say When You Sleep, Last December, Empire… I wrote those in my bedroom too. I made demos of them and I was able to just ring them in and be like ‘can you just make them sound a bit more professional? So it was really handy, and I think the album’s come out exactly how I wanted it to, production wise’. We discuss the pros of being able to have such a hands-on approach to your craft, being able to carve more sound, more emotion, more depth into your work yourself, ensuring your vision is as articulate and immaculate as you wish. A risk to many perhaps, but one that has paid off. Empire is a stand-out, one that hooked and reeled me in with it’s asian-infused, underwatery opening seconds. A gradual build up as Nina recounts the building of her confidence, she goes from ‘I haven’t played a show in far too long/ People keep asking me where I have gone’ to a chorus of ‘I’m gonna take it for what it’s worth, put in the hours ’till I have learned’. It’s an autobiographical look at her climb back up the mountain, and one that bursts into a crescendo of a chorus, too. Nina cements herself as not wanting to compete against other pop girls, or suffer in an industry so fickle and, frankly, undeserving of her; she’s playing her own game… and you know what? She’s winning.
‘I want people to know that pop music can still be personal’ she says, ‘have emotion and storytelling to it and not just be a throwaway. I’m really proud that it is a pop record. It seems to be getting shared quite a lot at the moment so hopefully it’ll just continue to grow’. We jump onto touring, and find out what lays in store for the pop Princess’ upcoming 2019 run, which includes pretty-much worldwide dates.
‘I’m really looking forward to the U.K. tour in particular. The first date just sold out, and it looks like the whole tour will sell out pretty soon which I’m so excited about. It’s just nice, I’ve been touring for seven years so to have tours selling out is amazing, and that’ll have production and stuff. It’s my first proper U.S. tour so I’m excited for that, then we’re doing Australia and Asia and stuff which I’ve never done before. () I know, it’s far! Dreading spiders but excited for the show’. She goes on to say how excited she is to play Love Letter, track eight on the album which has become somewhat of a fan favourite. Latin notes flow throughout, before arguably one of the album’s stronger choruses (that’s a lie, they’re all flawless, I just can’t pick a favourite) bursts through the Saloon doors and turns the song into a sexually-charged, female-empowering middle finger that flips it’s hair and flips it’s skirt up just high enough as it walks out your life for good. I hope you got a good look, because this is the last you’ll ever see of me’ is a vibe, and if you don’t grab your hair and body roll as Nina coos ‘by the time you get I’ll be out on the road, ’cause I packed up all my things, put your name on a note’, then… you’re dead. I thought Colder would live up to its name, but nothing is more icy (or worthy or a fist-pump and a ‘fuck yes, Nina’) than the lyrics ‘yeah you thought you were clever but you didn’t know, that my heart left you about two months ago’. Phew. I’m sweating.
‘I have no idea what I’m gonna do next (laughs). I’m tryna just work it out at the moment. I think I’d like to release another project album, but I might not release it as an album. I might do something a bit more sort of creative because I feel like there’s every opportunity to do that now. I knew that I wanted this one to be an actual album. I’m interested to find new ways of putting out collections of songs’. As for how others may judge her likely-scrutinised return to music?
‘I’m not really sure how you determine someone’s success anymore, if you know what I mean. When I started it was like ‘get in the iTunes chart, get into the charts, get on the radio’… that was it. I feel like now I dunno when someone’s doing well. That’s actually a good thing, because how I determine success now is how many people are actually coming to the gigs, and if you love what you do, if you’ve actually created your own world, which is what I try to do’.
‘There’s streaming, but then there’s people that buy on iTunes… there seems to be this divide in generations at the moment in how they consume music, which I think is kind of like not giving a fair representation of what’s actually doing well. I feel like a lot of the younger pop artists are just streaming and they’re actually doing really well, but a lot of media and the industry aren’t realising. It’s just at a really weird transitional period which I also think it’s exciting, because people are sort of pushing themselves musically; with streaming, you can do whatever you want, you don’t have to fit onto a radio station or whatever. I feel like it’s an exciting time’.
I’m listening to the title track as I finish typing this, hoping for inspiration on how to end what has, quite frankly, been one of the most enjoyable interviews I’ve done, however brief. And then, it hit me; I’m not going to end it. Because this isn’t the end. It’s the opposite. Nina has spent so long in the darkness, the cold, the eternal winter… the release of this album is the true start of the light, a new dawn; for her, and for all who listen to this album. In a world of streams, YouTube views and Instagram followers, it can be hard to decide what is worth keeping in your own personal world; this album should, and likely will, sit right at the heart of your own pages. For however long, that is to be decided by you. \
Despite Nina encouraging us all throughout that everything has its day, that the seasons will change, as it is, she has completely surprised herself, and every listener, in the process of this album.
She has created something truly timeless.