Youthful yet intriguingly introverted; Jenevieve’s affinities for Studio 54 records, Michael Jackson and Bad Bunny are ever the catalyst for her nostalgically-informed, viral music moments.

It’s an Autumn evening in September. In London, the last remnants of the day’s sun are setting and where Jenevieve is in Los Angeles, they’re just peeking through over the horizon. The burgeoning global pop-sensation and I have found ourselves traversing nine hours of time-zone dissonance to have a much-anticipated discussion about her debut project, not an album, “Division”. In case you haven’t yet been acquainted with the Miami-born, neo-soul-hybrid ‘Anri’- sampler behind the 2020 lockdown hit “Babypowder” – which at the time of our meeting had already racked up over  13 million streams on YouTube -, the first thing to know is that she’s amongst a new cohort of L.A up-and-comers who established themselves on the international music map using the internet, at a time when the entire world was relatively locked down. The next thing to know is that despite all the buzz around her right now in reaction to her lightspeed ascension into global consciousness, Jenevieve still feels unimaginably chill about it all.  

As the “Medallion” singer greets me on zoom nestled behind her bouncy signature black curls, which today are billowing out of a faux leather bucket hat, – she’s soft, smiley and somewhat subdued. We immediately warm to each other by comparing notes on the smoke-and-mirrors perception that’s often attached to the L.A. experience. “There are so many great things about the city” she assures me, “but…it’s never what you expect it to be” she admits light-heartedly. As I begin recounting my first experiences of walking down Hollywood boulevard as a teenager to her, a  grin slowly creeps up between her ears before she bursts out into laughter; presumably, anticipating what I’m about to say. As it turns out, the touristic naivety and main-character-energy that all L.A. first-timers often flock towards the walk of fame with, juxtaposed by what they find, is universally underwhelming. For Jenevieve, since landing in the City of Angels from the Sunshine State, the spots she’s been frequenting tend to be a little less underwhelming; and come with their own perks.  

After our morning catch-up, she’ll be popping out to a session with the renowned producer extraordinaire Babyface. She doesn’t seem to be freaking out at all as she tells me of her gratitude for the opportunity, “there’s a lot of exciting things going on right now so I’m feeling super happy!” she grins. The music she’s hoping to make today will  “probably…maybe” be used for her debut album, but as for the project that precedes our meeting, it’s 80’s disco referencing afro-Latin pop music, think early Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston inspired, but with striking and alternative contemporary sonics. Jenevieve’s signature sound so far has been steeped in angsty young love narratives,  her lyricism de-constructing the topic in a way that the current wave of alternative R’n’B kids coming out of L.A can’t quite seem to cover; the joys and the shortfalls of it all. When I ask if Jenevieve feels like life has sped up around the release of her debut offering, she admits unabashedly, “A little bit, but it still kind of feel like this is just the beginning;  I still feel like I’m just getting started you know”?  

So, with that, we embark into a candid discussion around the up-and-comers’ dance beginnings, her parents’  contributions towards her vast musical knowledge today, the impact she’s having on young people, and what fuels her overarching musical ethos of “just being yourself” unapologetically. 

TAHIRAH: Ok, naturally I want to know something about you that is completely unrelated to your music… JENEVIEVE: Oh, I really wanted to be a basketball player when I was growing up! 

Yo, really!? 

Yeah, I wanted to play for the WNBA. I’d say that’s because my dad and my uncle played when I was younger. Though,  at the same time, I was torn between that and dancing with my grandma; she owned a ballet studio and would always insist on teaching me. I was also in the church choir! That’s where I started singing. So, it’s safe to say that I was pulled in a few directions by my hobbies when I was younger. Eventually, though, I found music and started doing that and it was my own little passion, 1so I decided to pursue that instead. 

I mean, ballet is pretty difficult from what I’ve heard?

Right! I do think dance was the catalyst for me pursuing music though. Yeah, I’d write poetry and play ball, but I’d always be dancing. I just started singing along when I danced and that organically turned into me wanting to do music;  so, I’ve 100% got my grandma to thank for planting the seed.  

Basketball’s pretty cool too; the sportiest thing I’ve ever achieved was becoming a cheerleader. 

[Laughs] Yeah, I guess my love for sport really stemmed from my liking to be outdoors. I also used to fish a lot because my uncle and grandfather on my mums’ side would take me in the summer. So, outside of music I just love adventure,  you know? 

I do – nature’s a trip. What’s the biggest fish you’ve ever caught? 

A marlin. To be honest, I’m only really good at catching the smaller ones.  

That’s tight. You’ll have to teach me sometime.  

Oh, for sure!  

I think the first time I ever heard your music was actually when “Babypowder” started growing online. What do you think it is about that song that’s connected with so many people? 

I think it was the whole nostalgia of it that song reminds me of Florida, I think people warmed to that when they heard it musically. It’s the kind of music that my grandparents would listen to. Regardless of the sample being Anri’s  “Last Summer’s Whisper”, which is the super cool Japanese song that the track was loosely based on, it reminds me of The Delegations, The Isley Brothers, like all those Barry White sounding American bands. That’s the stuff that I grew up on. In my mind, it feels like that Anri sample really showed who I am musically and that’s why Babypowder connected in the way that it did. 

I mean, it was your sophomore single! What did it feel like seeing millions of people streaming your stuff online at time when we couldn’t connect with each other physically; when you couldn’t do shows or talk to the people listening outside of a screen? 

Yeah, I mean me and Jonathan (a.k.a BENZIBOY) my engineer we’re really just doing our own musical thing during the pandemic; then I liked Babypowder in particular, so I shot the video and released it. When it first came out, he told me “Don’t look at it, just let it sit”. So, I didn’t at first and then it came to a point where I was like “Okay, I get why you don’t want me to look, but I do want to see what people are saying”. Honestly, I don’t even remember the time period between me releasing it and me going online to find it and seeing it at a million views; just like that. I only know that it didn’t take long, which I was super surprised by, but honestly, it felt really interesting to see it happen like that.  

Do the numbers matter to you at all or are you more focused on who the music reaches? 

No, numbers don’t validate me at all really. It’s nice to see it happening, it kind of plants that seed of feeling like, ‘okay, there’s support out there; it reinforces that there are actually real people that like it – in that way the numbers don’t lie. Though in the actual music-making process, numbers don’t validate anything, I mean the process in my head doesn’t take any of that stuff into account at all. I’m always focused on working on the music, then releasing it and allowing it to live wherever it ends up – the most important thing to me is that it connects somewhere.  

Saying that, do you think that the pandemic was a good time for music in hindsight? 

I mean, it actually felt good to disconnect for a while. It was weird because when I was in the studio I felt really disconnected, but somehow at the same time, we were all becoming hyper-connected through the internet in a way we’d never been before. I also feel like more people had the time to actually sit in front of their computers and look for new music and find new sounds; so yeah, from my perspective overall I’d say it was a good time for music. All the songs I wrote during the pandemic came from a place of wanting to make people feel good. Now, I’m trying to perform 

as much as I can, because I haven’t had that many chances to so far. When I get out there, I’m hoping I can create even bigger live moments now that performances have become more of a novelty because of the pandemic. I’m hoping that the anticipation to experience live music again translates into people being more excited to connect with artists.  For a lot of my supporters, I’m still that artist that they discovered during the lockdowns but never got the chance to see perform; I’m hoping that the people who come out to support will be more engaged because of that! 

Is there anywhere in the world in particular that you want to perform but haven’t had the chance to yet?  

Well, I’m still trying to figure out where my supporters are at to be honest – so that I can go meet them. So many people want me to come to France, and I’ve also heard that there’s loads of people in Mexico and Brazil who want me to visit! I get Italy quite often too; people are always hitting me up! There are lots of Japanese requests right now. I’d be super down to explore Asia at some point – that’d be a dream!  

Oh, your music would fit so well with a Tokyo crowd. It’s got that Tower Records feel to it for sure! You mentioned before that “Division” was largely conceptualised as feel-good music. What do you want people to take away from the debut? Is it music for dancing, driving, self-healing, falling in love to etc.? What’s the big message? 

Since it’s dropped, I’ve received so many messages and DMs from people being like “I just broke up with my boyfriend and I was driving home crying and then I put your music on and now I feel better…”. What I’ve gathered from the people listening is that my music is helping my peers through their coming-of-age experiences. So, it’s really for every emotion. I want to have a musicality that moves people; the way that when I listen to Selena or Michael Jackson, it moves me. No pressure, just vibes! 

Yeah; I’m sure people are just looking for a little musical stimulation and joy right now. So, being an artist that’s making feel-good music that blends between all the popular genres – you’re in a great place. Where does the genre-blending stem from? You’re never just pulling from one sound on any of the tracks on the project.  

I’d like to think that I’m pushing the boundaries right now with my music, especially as an African-American and Latina woman who listens to everything from French classical music and 80’s disco right through to Bad Bunny and Don  Toliver. I think one of my biggest musical influences was handed down by my mom, who used to tell me these nostalgic stories about the times she spent at Studio 54 when she was around my age, so I’ve got her and the records she showed me growing up to thank for that whole disco aspect of my musicality. Essentially, I have my own way of being myself through music and I’m always trying to translate those things sonically. It’s just that different aspects of my personality come out as different genres quite naturally – I don’t have that much control over it. 

Oh sweet! I guess that way, in the long run, you’ll be able to grow your sound on your own terms and as your personality evolves, so will your music. 

Yeah, definitely! Right now, there’s a lot of upbeat tempos, lots of songs to dance to and I’m holding it all together with poetic words. That’s the only way I can describe it. I honestly don’t know where I’ll take it next and that’s exciting for me.  

What does come through pretty clear, is that despite your fun and often experimental approach to blending sounds,  you’re pretty dedicated to being yourself through your music – which is sick. You don’t sound like anyone else coming-up right now. 

You know, I’m glad you say that because I’ve always made a point to be myself unapologetically and for a while, it felt as though nobody wanted to give me the time of day for it. Since all of this has happened, I often get those same people reaching out and I don’t even know how to embrace them now, because they didn’t care at all before I put it all into a musical format.  

Well, art does have a way of explaining things that are beyond words, right, it’s another language in itself. I think that’s a great point to close off on actually. Do you have any advice for any young people who might be feeling how you felt back then? Who are trying to just be themselves and achieve their goals and feel like nobody’s really in their corner? 

Oh, do I? [laughs] Honestly, if you’re in school, just remember that you’re most likely never going to see any of the people around you right now again if you don’t have very many friends. So, stay positive, be a positive person in general regardless of others and focus on your future. Think about it! You’re going to be sitting in your future for way longer than any temporary situation you’re in right now, so you don’t have to listen to anybody who won’t take the time to understand you. Remember that your own inner voice is always going to be more important than anyone else’s opinion. So, trust your gut, and know that whilst it’s perfectly fine to take in what people say, if what they have to say is negative, just make sure you don’t spend too long dwelling on it. Always be yourself first! 

That’s amazing advice. Lastly, rounding up on the release of this great musical introduction, I want to know what defines success to you as an artist functioning in this digital age of music? Where are you hoping to take the music in the future and over the course of your career? 

Oh, I’m definitely trying to see the stage at Madison Square Garden at some point! I want to be at the Grammy’s in the future, the VMA’s, The AMA’s – all that. I want to be a global artist and for my music to be embraced in as many places as it can. That’s my way of spreading love and we all need a little love right now so that’s where I’m headed!

Photography Meech Fashion Soukena Jean-Jacques Makeup Shanice Jones Hair Donnell Threets

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