18-year-old singer songwriter Ellapaige has been waiting in the wings of pop since she was four years old, patiently anticipating that moment when the time would be right to take her position in the spotlight. Now finally, in the summer of 2013, the right time is right now.
The release of ‘Made You Look’, her debut EP, establishes Ellapaige as creative force to be reckoned with, and is the result of sessions with noted tunesmiths like Sacha Skarbek (Miley Cyrus - Wrecking Ball, Lana Del Rey, Jason Mraz, Adele) and up-and-coming producer Flo Reutter. It’s an intoxicating, diverse mix of contemporary pop excellence: lead single ‘Made You Look’, Ellapaige’s fiery take on the current epidemic of cyberbullying, immediately showcases her ability to look at life from a unique perspective, while tracks like Tinchy Stryder collaboration ‘Dessert’ show that she’s just as comfortable letting her hair down. She does it all with a sparky, streetsmart attitude with a cheeky sense of humour sprinkled on top. “I try and make things funny out of the worst situations,” she says. “Sometimes, when things are getting pretty bad, all you can do is laugh!”
For an emerging artist, Ellapaige’s achievements make for impressive reading: 23,000 fans already follow her on Twitter, while her mashup video ‘Shine Bright As Love As You Love Me’ hit nearly half a million YouTube views in its first week online. Google her name and you’ll also find over nine million results, although that particular aspect of her public profile is, as you’ll find out, a rather long story.
First, let’s go back a few years. Ellapaige grew up with music all around her: her mum’s a music photographer and her step-dad’s a music lawyer, while her dad’s a DJ whose work would often take him - and his daughter - to events like Notting Hill Carnival and The Big Chill. Sometimes, when he’d been working with musicians, Ellapaige’s dad would arrive home with signed photos of singers and artists, which would take pride of place on Ellapaige’s bedroom wall. Looking up at night, she’d take inspiration from the talent that was almost within reach, and she’d dream of one day achieving success of her own. She certainly started early, attempting to write her own song at the age of four, scoring a place on a special program at the Royal Ballet School at age six then, a couple of years later, honing her talents at Sylvia Young’s night school. But it was at a family barbeque some years later, when she was coerced into singing for friends, that the true force of Ellapaige’s burgeoning talent was first unveiled. From that day forward, she was focused on a singing career, her swelling songbook blending a diverse array of influences ( Taylor Swift, Lana Del Ray, Adele, Etta James, John Mayer, Eminem) with Ellapaige’s own pop sensibility. “I’d sit in class at school scribbling song ideas in my exercise books,” she laughs. “A lot of those songs are things I then went on and demoed afterwards.” School life wasn’t always easy for Ellapaige, and songwriting provided a great release. “It was my way of dealing with my life there,” she recalls. “I find it easier to know myself when I write things down. A lot of people write music to let other people know what they’re thinking; I write to find out more about myself. It helps me make sense of situations I’m in.
She may have been brought up in a musical environment, but Ellapaige’s family also knew enough about the makings of a true talent that they insisted she found her own route, and scored her own breaks. Ellapaige wouldn’t have it any other way: “You’ve got to find your own path and find your own people,” she says, and she found a way to do just that. She started off on MySpace, posting demos, and then used anything that came to hand - YouTube, Facebook, Twitcams and Twitter - to get her music out there. The demos she posted went down rather well, and soon fans from all over the world were getting in touch and a close-knit community of fans blossomed. Money from her weekend work at Hollister was spent in Boots printing out photos to sign and send out to Argentina, Brazil and Europe to fans who sensed that they’d chanced upon that rare, exciting moment that lights a fire in the heart of any music fan: that feeling that somehow you’ve chanced upon an artist taking their first steps toward something rather special.
As her fans were picking up in number, Ellapaige started making contacts of her own in and around the music industry. Sheappear ed in a couple of low-key videos for labels like MInistry Of Sound and EMI, and even worked behind the scenes at The X Factor, styling acts during the One Direction year. During her time off, she was hammering the social networks. “I’d find all my favourite songs, go on Wikipedia and find out who wrote them,” she explains. “So I love Katy Perry, for example - fun, sexy, a brilliant balance. I’d find who wrote her songs, then I’d find them on Twitter and DM people - ask for advice, ask for thoughts.” Her introductions were short and to the point - usually some variation on “Hey, I’m a singer-songwriter from London” - but the music she sent over wasn’t always quite so straightforward, capturing as it did (and still does) the complexity of growing up, and growing into yourself. It was rather more successful than she was expecting.
By summer 2012 Ellapaige received a message from Jordan James, one of the songwriters she’d been messaging online, four days before she was due to leave for a holiday to LA with a group of friends. Come to LA, he said. Well it’s funny you should say that, Ellapaige thought. Within a week, she was in the vocal booth. During the sessions Ellapaige met another songwriter, Meredith Hope Raney, who in turn put her in touch with Flo Reutter. The relationship proved incredibly fruitful: Reutter went on to produce Ellapaige’s debut EP, while Meredith is one of the EP’s key collaborators, her work appearing on both ‘Dessert’ and ‘Made You Look’.
Ellapaige’s story took another unusual twist in 2012 when music impresario Forrest Lewis got in touch with a view to developing the singer as an artist. Lewis was also booking slots for Justin Bieber’s tour DJ Tay James while the Bieber tour was in town for Capital’s Summertime Ball. Forrest introduced Ellapaige to Tay who one day, in turn, introduced Ellapaige to Justin Bieber. Ellapaige hooked up with the Bieber entourage again when she was in LA, and again during Bieber’s spring 2013 UK tour. “I didn’t really tell anyone about it or make a big deal out of it all, but then people started seeing pictures in the press,” Ellapaige recalls. To start with, she was billed as a ‘mystery girl’. When she was named, the snowballing press coverage turned into an avalanche. Almost overnight, her life and career changed. For a brief period she was hounded by paparazzi. More significantly in terms of her music, for a rather longer period she found herself on the receiving end - via Twitter, Facebook and any other channel Bieber’s fans could find - of some alarmingly blunt messages.
She was faced with two options: buckle under the pressure, or meet it head on and somehow rise up. Unsurprisingly, this singleminded talent wasn’t about to let the last few years’ determination and progress go to waste. “It gave me that drive,” Ellapaige admits. “I knew I needed to focus.” Ironically, and perhaps rather infuriatingly for the hundreds of people hurling death threats her way, the abuse only made her stronger.
And that, as you might guess from the song’s strident lyrics, was the inspiration for ‘Made You Look’, an uncompromising answer to those who tried to bully and intimidate her online. “It’s time to let you know who I really am,” she sings in the song. “Never underestimate a girl who’s got drive, your words cut, the music keeps me alive.” Ellapaige doesn’t have any intention of dwelling on this whole debacle, but nor is ‘Made You Look’ her only song to confront issues she’s faced in the last few years. One key song, ‘Reputation’, was written from a perspective Ellapaige knows all too well: the high-school politics that make Mean Girls seem like a walk in the park. She was singled out for being mixed race, for her modest upbringing, and for her dedication to her music. “I use songs to talk to people sometimes and this song’s all about this idea of ‘come and look in at this situation from my perspective’,” she says. “I do think that nine times out of ten, if people were to step back and look at a situation from someone else’s angle they’d be horrified by what they were doing.”
Looking at life from different angles is a theme that runs through Ellapaige’s music. EP track ‘Leave Us At Peace’ is another of her most cherished songs, and has become an early favourite of those who’ve heard it. “It’s a bittersweet song,” she smiles. “I’m used to writing sadder ballads, or songs where I’m heartbroken, but for this one I wanted to find a way to put a positive light on a difficult situation.”
Though she’s honest and direct in her songwriting, in an era when oversharing is the order of the day it’s refreshing that with Ellapaige there’s plenty more than initially meets the eye. The magic of her songwriting seems to lie in her talent for striking the right balance between being personal and accessible. As such her music, intimate though her lyrics often are, has the potential to resonate with many. “It’s amazing with everything going on in the world, you can connect people though music,” she says. “It’s a language of its own.” That’s a language in which Ellapaige has already proved herself fluent, and it’s a language she’ll be using to tell stories about her own life and the way she sees the world around her for many years to come.