What is it about a strong female overcoming adversity that makes the gays go crazy? With her fiercely defiant court appearances, straight-talking demeanour and penchant for shirtless men and Moschino, Tulisa Contostavlos has been embraced by the gays like no other over the last two years.
But after an seemingly endless onslaught of tabloid persecution, the 28-year-old former N-Duz star and X Factor judge is getting back to what she does best with a brand new single, 'Sweet Like Chocolate', which samples Shanks & Bigfoot's 1999 garage classic and marks the start of a brand new chapter in The Female Boss's story.
Whatever you do though, don't call it a comeback: As Tulisa makes abundantly clear, she's no victim, refusing to see the media's attempt to tear her down as anything more than a learning experience.
With 'Sweet Like Chocolate' finally dropping in full today and a performance "back home" at London's G-A-Y set for tomorrow night, we caught up with the resurgent star to find out just where she's at...
So, the release of ‘Sweet Like Chocolate is upon us – how are you feeling?
I’m super excited. I’ve just got itchy feet! It was a journey to get there. It’s funny because I recorded so much music and had so much material and ‘Sweet Like Chocolate’ was actually one of the more recent songs that I did. It just so happens that the last one I recorded was the one.
It’s such a well-known tune that really has a life of its own – what made you want to come back with it?
It happened quite naturally actually. It wasn’t so much thought of in respect of ‘this is what we are going to do, we are going to do a cover’ - we were in the studio and made a beat from scratch, and once we came up with the beat we were listening and thought ‘wouldn’t this sound amazing with a sample from an old school garage record over the chorus’. So we were singing all the old school classics and then ‘Sweet Like Chocolate’ it literally fit over the top of the beat like a glove. We were like ‘this is the one!
You gave it a first live outing at Manchester Pride last Friday – how was the reaction?
Yes that was amazing. I was so, so happy with the response. There is always that tester moment where you perform a song that nobody knows yet and luckily people already know bits of it because of ‘Sweet Like Chocolate’, but to see that reaction the first time I drop it to a full on crowd is just amazing. They were already singing along to the chorus already – obviously! It was just great.
Your gay fan base really seems to have championed you over the last few years, why do you think that is?
I don’t know, for me it feels quite natural because I am constantly by all my gay besties; that’s my world in and out of music. I guess my gay fan base means the same to me as all my gay friends do. I don’t have any straight friends anymore! [laughs]
The ‘Living Without You’ video seemed like a real moment for your gay fans, when you really embraced the camp side of your personality.
Now you bring that up, that was probably a lot to do with it. Because I am, in terms of performance and being on stage, a bit of a diva and that was the first time I felt I really put that across. ‘Living Without You’ was something that had to be done as part of the journey, and I feel like that’s when that part of my fanbase began to grow with me. And plus, I just love having sexy guys with their tops off on stage. [laughs]
You’ve rebounded from so much professionally and personally over the last few years – what headspace are you in right now?
I feel like I have healed a lot more now, and I feel like I am ready to take one more challenges after everything that has happened. Even back then when I released ‘Living Without You’ I was like ‘I want it now, I want to come back’, but now is the time I feel I am actually ready. Sometimes you don’t actually realise how long it has taken you to heal: You subconsciously feel you’re over the trauma of a situation, but not realising I was still coming to terms with everything that had happened. I feel like I think I am ready now.
How do you feel like your experiences over the last few years have changed you as a person?
I think with me, I’ve always tried to take my negatives and turn them into positives, and any struggle I just try to take as a lesson and learn something from it. I don’t want a situation like that to make me bitter and make me not trust people. Yes, obviously I am aware of people more than ever now – of what I say and who I am talking t. – but at the same time, I’m not angry and I’m not holding onto the hard times. If anything, I want to enjoy life more. I want to love. I enjoy the feeling of love and being loved. I want to trust people. I don’t want this situation to make me bitter.
Do you feel like there was a sexist and classist element to the way the media came after you?
Definitely classism. As soon as I got to that point [of success], some members of the press openly labelled me a chav without even knowing the true meaning behind that. Because I was raised in a council flat? Or maybe because of my accent? I’m not sure. It’s not really fair. Eventually I embraced it as I do most things, but yeah, it is very much to do with class and culture. But hey ho, that’s life. I’m still here – council flat or not.
Looking to the future, can we expect an album from you any time soon? Is ‘Sweet Like Chocolate’ a fair reflection of what’s to come?
I love all types of music, but I’m ultimately an urban artist, that is where I came from. But I love my melody, so any material that comes out is just going to be urban combining pop. ‘Sweet Like Chocolate’ is probably the poppiest song out of the bunch moving forward. As to albums, I don’t have any plans for an album at this moment in time. I feel like I just want single single single single! If I do release an album, it will be after about seven singles.
The new series of The X Factor kicked off this week. Is it something you’d consider returning to?
Honestly it’s not a focus or at the forefront of my mind right now. Obviously you can say never say never, but right now I’m not connecting it with my career moving forward. I just want it to be about the music right now.
You’re heading down to G-A-Y in London on Saturday night – what have you got in store for everybody?
Yay! It’s going to be a really exciting show and I can’t wait, it will be my first time performing the record with it actually being out. Every time I have a big single released I always open at G-A-Y because there is no better place to do it. I always feel really safe there, I feel like it’s my real true fan base. Rather than worrying about a performance or crowd pleasing, I feel I’m back home. I'm chilling with the family! Literally, it will be pure euphoria on Saturday night for me.
After all you’ve overcome in the last few years, what would your advice be for someone going through hardships?
Stay strong, get out there, fight the bullshit. My motto is ‘If it’s not OK, it’s not the end’. Just carry on until you get there.
Tulisa plays G-A-Y at London's Heaven tomorrow night (September 3). 'Sweet Like Chocolate' is out now.