Virgin Mobile V Festival, Hylands Park, Chelmsford, Essex, Britain - 20 Aug 2011

Acoustica Live – Jessie J

It’s one thing to hold an audience while backed by a full band, or to smother your songwriting in layers of noise, but what happens when an artist finds themselves unplugged, naked and have to just sing over that guitar and piano acoustically to an audience?

Sometimes, it’s awkward and slightly cringe-worthy, as all of a song’s flaws are thrown into sharp relief. Other times, it produces the most magical, emotional and spellbinding performances in the world.

Jessie J has the ability to sing complex melodies with pinpoint accuracy and uncanny pitch without issue, and this is often noted as being a signature of her style. Her control, in regards to her vocal dexterity, is mirrored in her breath control.

As a result she can hold notes for lengths of time without loss of quality to the sound  and sing complex and lengthy vocal lines in a single breath. Strong mid-range that is solid, rounded, has a good dynamic to it and leads into the belting range effortlessly.

Her studio albums best displays her range, but you don’t get the full effect unless you watch her perform acoustically live.

I’ve been playing this above YouTube clip of her doing a slow-ended version of her song Nobody’s Perfect with nothing but a guitar, and it gives me chills to see how viciously she slays it.

She starts off low, an intense whisper. As the song builds towards the climax of the chorus she pulls back from the microphone and unleashes the wrath of her voice.

The sound is simultaneously aggressive and smooth, charged yet buttery, playful yet unflinching, shaky and controlled. There are no wrong notes. It’s hard to place the style because there are elements of soul and R&B, and at several points you feel like this white girl is rapping at you.

But that’s what makes her stand out vocally: the intensity, strangeness, and twang of her vibrato.

Those were the days when she had to impress strangers over the Atlantic by busking in their subways as part of the Boombox series so that people could stop and take notice. And they did.

Her playful rendition of Price Tag, her vocal prowess on Who You Are on full display to the subway users that day that had no idea they were listening to a vocal diva in the making.

And after she got famous, she didn’t really forget where she came from and continued to busk and give live acoustic performance at malls or streets for grateful fans. Check this out.

She enhanced her own legend-in-the-making reputation when she covered Rihanna’s We Found Love in acoustic set up.

Her raw emotions and vocal delivery made the song her own. How sick must it feel when a cover is way better than the original. If i was a famous singer, I would dread Jessie J doing a cover of one of my songs, she’d screw me up big time.

It’s fascinating to watch singers create music in the middle of a live performance because, with a good singer anyway, you can see how the song grabs hold of the performer emotionally.

The singer’s job is to exorcise the music out. It is not a singing just to sing—it is a singing out of need, as if to say there is this thing inside me that I have to get out. I suppose that what makes a good singer a good singer is the sense of urgency with which a song is sung.

To captivate an audience is to claim an entire space that simply, and boringly, returns back to normal at the end of the performance. You spend time watching a performer, being sucked into their presence and then all of a sudden: it’s over. Where does all this power come from?

I’ve often wondered why there aren’t more amazing voices like hers on the radio. Some say that pop music is not necessarily meant for great voices, that the pop scene is just a capitalist machine where the performers themselves are completely interchangeable.

But there was a moment in pop music—Whitney, Mariah, Celine, Christina—where the big voice was in.

And Jessie J is one of them.