Jorja Smith, by Chloe Newman
Words by Mark Spero
A year ago, 19-year-old Jorja Smith quietly released her debut single on SoundCloud, leading to her meteoric rise to international fame, including earning fourth place in the BBC Sound Of 2017, a competition whose past winners include Sam Smith, Haim, and Jessie J. On January 28, she took the stage at the Rickshaw Stop for her San Francisco debut to perform for a sold-out crowd.
For someone so young, Smith easily connects with her fans through songs about love and heartbreak. Her fans include Drake and Dizzee Rascal, and her songs gain well over a million plays on SoundCloud. Now a long way from her home in the West Midlands, she is headlining shows all over the world, and dropping hit after hit. Her show in San Francisco was produced by Popscene, a staple of Bay Area live shows.
The night began with the DJ skills of Aaron Axelson, Popscene’s resident DJ, who kept the crowd dancing to a mix of electro-soul and hip-hop including Solange and Kehlani. Axelson had the crowd singing along until 11pm, when Smith took the stage with her full band. The crowded dance floor instantly became a much more intimate setting, as Smith delivered her crooning voice and particular brand of sensitive electro-pop and soul. It was easy to understand why people compare her to Amy Winehouse and Corinne Bailey Rae.
She started her set with “Something in the Way,” including a brilliant solo from her guitarist. She followed it up with an unreleased song entitled “Beautiful Little Fools,” a song inspired by The Great Gatsby. She had the audience snap along for the song, saying that she would be dropping the single soon.
Though Smith has only released a few singles and an EP, she played for a little over an hour, including a cover of Drake’s “Too Good.” Mid-way through her set, she brought out Maverick Sabre to perform their duet “Carry Me Home” off of her 2016 EP Project 11. The enthusiastic crowd cheered and sang every word. She followed this up with two of her early singles, “Where Did I Go” and “Blue Lights.” After 45 minutes, Smith and her band left the stage, but quickly returned to perform the piano ballad “So Lonely,” leaving the room silenced and awestruck.
After this short encore and raucous applause, DJ Aaron Axelson returned and began mixing again. Most of the crowd stayed and the party continued past 1am. Popscene puts on many shows at the Rickshaw Stop and across the Bay Area. Many popular artists make their San Francisco debuts with Popscene, which has hosted artists like Grouplove, Kiesza, and Spoon. Its artists are consistently brilliant and on their way to international stardom, and Jorja Smith is no different. In a recent interview, Smith said she was not planning on signing to a record label, and after last night anyone can see that she has the charisma and skill to take the music world by storm all on her own. The packed house got to see a newly-minted star before she hits much bigger stages.