As the name of her new sophomore album suggests, Rita Ora is rising to the top as a stronger and wiser version of herself.
Six years after the release of her debut album, Ora, and settling her legal battle with JAY-Z’s record label Roc Nation, the 28-year-old singer is pleased to have “a sense of freedom” with her first North American release, Phoenix.
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“I think what’s really cool is that we’re at a time now where you can express your artistry in whichever way you want, and I think that’s really exciting for it being my first label release and having a sense of freedom and feeling like there’s not really any wrong that can come out such a creative thing,” Ora tells PEOPLE about making her comeback amid her switch to Atlantic Records.
“I worked really hard on this record in London with a small group of people, so it feels really close to my story and my journey,” she continues. “I feel like it’s a new time, which is why I called it Phoenix — it’s really liberating.”
Though music wasn’t at the forefront of her mind during her short hiatus, Ora explored her creativity through different channels. She says she returned to music, her true passion, once the time felt right.
“During those years I was doing a lot of other things,” she says. “I was designing clothes and on TV shows and things, and it just didn’t feel like it was the right time to have a solid body of work that I could represent fully.”
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“This year I really just had the chance to focus solely on music and figure out how I want my music to come out,” she adds. “I was really lucky having experienced that side of not having pressure until this year, so I feel like it was a good learning period for me.”
While both albums share a common theme of independence, Ora describes Phoenix as the work of a wiser artist.
“I think I’m a little bit older now and looking at things differently and starting to really gain my confidence just as an overall creative,” she says about Phoenix, which is inspired by “having a new lease of life.”
“I’ve built a really strong foundation in myself to portray a lot of vulnerability and a sense of truth, which is what I felt like pop music really needs right now – just that sense of authenticity and truth.”
Never one to underestimate a powerful truth-infused track, Ora focused only “on the good vibes” in her sexually-charged pop hit “Girls,” featuring Cardi B, Bebe Rehxa and Charli XCX, in which she opened up about being bisexual for the first time.
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“The great thing about music is that you can express what message you want to put across without feeling guilty for it; it’s your control and it comes out of your body,” she says. “I look at things really physically at all times, and I visualize everything, so it’s one of those moments where I felt like I’ve never spoken about something like girls before — I’ve never had a public conversation about it — and I just felt like putting it out in music was the most sincere way of doing it.”
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“The LGBTQ community has been the biggest support system and I don’t think I’d be here today if it wasn’t for them, so I felt like it was very important for my fans to know the truth and the story behind me,” she adds.
From Frank Ocean to Katy Perry and Demi Lovato, artist across the musical spectrum are using their platform to celebrate their sexuality and candidly open up about their personal lives. It’s a phenomenon that Ora admires.
“I think that’s the first step — not being afraid to speak of things that people usually speak about — and I think it’s great to be in that place, especially right now in the world that we live in.”