She was on a major label, hanging out with Dua Lipa – but being sidelined behind the scenes. Now independent and thriving, the UK musician has a cautionary tale for women in the music industry
The pandemic temporarily spelled game over for emerging pop stars: who could compete for headlines and livestreams with the likes of Dua Lipa? For Connie Constance, it stalled a career she had only just jump-started. A few months earlier, the Watford-born songwriter broke ties with AMF, then an imprint of Virgin EMI, the major label that released her 2019 debut album, English Rose, when she felt sidelined. She spent the last of her money on a trip to Los Angeles, writing songs, networking and restoring her musical confidence. Back home, her manager secured a distribution deal that would allow her to start her own label. She was raring to go. “Then Covid came in and I was like: ‘No!’” she hoots, thrusting her hand towards her webcam. “What? How is this happening!”
In lockdown one, writing songs became difficult again. “The lyrics that were coming out were just so dead,” says the quick-to-laughter 26-year-old who was born Constance Power, video-calling from her boyfriend’s place in London. So she left music alone and “made loads of mansions on Sims 4”. Then a host of social issues bubbled up – Black Lives Matter following the murder in the US of George Floyd, Marcus Rashford’s free school meals campaign – that spoke to a woman who once said she found politics boring.
“That is a naive comment I made when I was younger, but at the same time it is true,” says Power. “None of the characters in politics get me enthused to go and make change in my world. But this [past] year I feel like there’s been a lot more relatability and young people coming together to talk about how they feel about things, rather than on their own trying to have a voice.”
It revived her songwriting, most notably producing Prim & Propa, the title track of a new EP and a strikingly effective combination of disparate strains of British pop: the quasi-spoken verses bristle with the barked beauty of Paul Weller; the cathartic chorus reaches Florence-worthy heights. The lyrics feel like Nathalie Olah’s polemic Steal As Much As You Can in pop form: a working-class songwriter declaring that she plans to be more than she has been told she can be, but has no interest in middle-class aspiration or respectability. “We only ever had just enough but I guess it left more room for love,” she sings, voice gruff and nimble.
Power acknowledges her mother as “a warrior” in the lyrics. “She works in charity and worked throughout lockdown,” she explains. “You look on Instagram and you’ve got celebrities on their yachts and living their best life, then there was a family my mum was dealing with that’s barely surviving. The Marcus Rashford school meals thing also reminded me of my own upbringing; how would we have survived if we didn’t have that when we were younger? That’s what’s behind Prim & Propa: I’m so lucky that I had a loving family and a solid community because these people aren’t really helping us out over there.”
BBC Radio 1 named Power artist of the month for August, and played Prim & Propa every day. It was a massive vindication for Power and her two-person team. “At this stage, we’ve done more damage than Virgin has ever done with all of their money and all of their access,” she says. “We’ve killed it.”
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