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Rita Ora — A Day in the Life

Gino DePinto, AOL

Every time Rita Ora smiles, an angel gets its wings. The blonde songstress’ captivating countenance doesn’t really cause such a heavenly act to take place, but a look in her direction when she’s beaming feels like that — or anything as far-fetched — is actually possible. Just like the movie that phrase comes from — “It’s a Wonderful Life” — Rita is living a blessed existence.

The 21-year-old Pristina, Kosovo native welcomes The BoomBox into her world for our A Day in the Life series. While Rita kept the talking to a minimum throughout the six hours to preserve her voice for an “MTV Unplugged” performance in New York City, she did get to touch on some poignant moments, all while showing off her delighted grin.

Montana Studios is where we find Rita first. It’s 10:30AM on a sunny day in midtown Manhattan’s West Side. She’s rehearsing for her “MTV Unplugged” set with a full band behind her — two guitarists, a keyboardist and drummer. The singer, whose debut LP, Ora, has been released overseas, is moving through some of the tracks on the effort. She’s composed and in control while directing the musicians on each song’s arrangement — “Shine Ya Light” “Roc the Life” and “How We Do (Party)” to name a few.

She hasn’t sat down for hair and makeup yet, but looks are deceiving. Rita could easily pose for a magazine cover just how she presents herself at rehearsal. A natural beauty, her style is effortless as well. Not too many ladies can pull off wearing a forest green pencil dress splashed with a geometric pattern and black-and-neon-green Jordan sneakers. She’s a bit of a refined tomboy with a penchant for all things gold. Rita Ora shines not only from her facial expressions but from the many rings and necklaces adorning her body too.

Watch “Day in the Life: Rita Ora”

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Day in the Life: Rita Ora

Videography by Annie Carroll

About an hour into her private jam session, the Roc Nation signee puts down her jug of tea and grabs a laptop. She begins singing lyrics from off its screen. Surprisingly, Stevie Wonder‘s “Love Light in Flight” echoes from her lips. The song first appeared on The Woman in Red Soundtrack in 1984. Wonder produced the entire effort.

“I don’t think anyone would expect me to sing a song like that,” Rita tells The BoomBox. “I always like to do the unexpected. I’m a big Stevie Wonder fan. I just thought it was the right thing to do. You have to do it right though ’cause if you get a legend’s song wrong, you’re getting stoned.”

That last sentiment she shares with a laugh. Good thing for Rita, her vocal chops won’t be the cause of bloodshed. She hits high notes with ease and there’s a stirring soulfulness to her voice. No audio effects lace her lyrics in rehearsal; what you hear is what you refreshingly get from her performance.

Before heading out to an intimate show at Spotify headquarters, the smiley star sits down in a chair to get pampered by her hair stylist. There’s touch-ups to her curls and face, but little has to be done to make this woman camera-ready. It’s noon now and the conversation during Rita’s primping session turns to strippers. Elena Ora, Rita’s 23-year-old sister and member of her management team, shares a story of witnessing an exotic dancer with wings tattooed on her rear. Rita’s trying to stay quiet for her day of performances but her older sibling’s description sends her into a fit of giggles.

Elena had politics in mind when considering her life path, not a music business career. Thanks to Rita, that all changed. “It started when she was 11 and she was Cinderella in the school play,” Elena shares. “The music teacher was like, ‘You should send her to stage school. She’s really good.’ My mom was like, ‘I don’t have a clue about any of this but let’s do it.’

“[Our parents] had to save up money and pay every month to send her to [Sylvia Young Theatre School]. Amy Winehouse went there and one of the Spice Girls. It was really good.”

Rita’s come a long way from playing the part of Cinderella. It’s not every day that a girl from West London with roots in Kosovo gets to show off her singing skills at Spotify. As she sits inside a turtle-top van packed with an entourage that includes a publicist, stylist and management team, heading to the office of the digital music service, she’s focused on what is one hiccup of the day: memorizing Stevie’s track. “We have to learn this song,” she states while throwing on headphones.


See The BoomBox Photos of Rita Ora’s Day in the Life

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Now in New York City’s Meatpacking District at 1:30PM, Rita practices vocal warm-ups before doing an interview with Sandy Smallens, who oversees Artist Marketing and Original Content for Spotify. She grabs a quick bite — (“Something fat-free”) — with her team and then flourishes during an acoustic set that includes “How We Do (Party),” among other tunes. On the wall behind her is a photo of the Notorious B.I.G. — fitting, considering the song she’s singing samples his 1993 effort “Party and Bullshit.” She tells the packed room of Spotify employees that the song from the Brooklyn MC was the first rap track she ever heard.

The riveting songbird wraps up her performance but not before surprising those in the room with a toast. Champagne is popped and Rita acknowledges Spotify’s one-year anniversary. “Thank you for allowing me to take you away for a few minutes,” the tattooed beauty states. She doesn’t get to take a sip of the bubbly, but her gratitude to the company for receiving her warmly is enough cause for celebration.

There’s a few more hours to go before Rita tapes her “MTV Unplugged” show. After she leaves the Spotify office, the final destination is Harlem’s Metropolis Studios, where the intimate filming takes place. Rita shows no sign of nervousness yet, but the major event she’s about to take part in is obviously weighing on her mind. “We need to change the world with our performances,” she explains back inside the van. “I’m talking about Pink at the Grammys, when she hung from that ribbon.” With over 40 million albums sold worldwide, Rita chooses a remarkable pop star to look to for inspiration.

Perhaps another outlet Rita gains inspiration from is her reading material. E. L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey is the singer’s favorite book at the moment. She starts to read excerpts from the novel, giving the passengers in the vehicle some sexually explicit storytime. Her sister scolds her — (“You need to get your own sex life and stop reading”) and attempts to cover her ears. But Rita can’t get enough. “Hold on, I’m getting to the good part” she explains, sharing a passage detailing a man sucking toes and licking thighs. “He’s too erotic and I’m too combust… He pushes his nose inside my pubic hair and inhales.” The entire van bursts into laughter as Rita finishes reading the story aloud.

It’s around 3PM when Rita arrives at Metropolis Studios. Her mood turns serious. A faint smile appears on her face while she moves through sound check but it vanishes when speaking to the producers and sound guys — her business hat is on at the moment and her brand is the focal point. One of the songs Rita sings during her run-through is the reggae-flavored “Shine Ya Light.” Fraser T. Smith produced the track — he’s responsible for crafting hits like Adele’s “Set Fire to the Rain.”

“‘Shine Ya Light’ was one of those songs that I wanted to do that came from a different kind of world,” Rita shares in her heavy British accent. “You can hear my influences in it. Reggae is one of my big influences. I love mixing and matching genres. That’s who I am. It feels good. It reminds me of an anthem.”

Triumphs and tribulations come and go for Rita. Today, there was a fear of losing her voice before her big MTV performance. However, she doesn’t dwell on the negative. Makes sense when her smile lights up a room. Rita has her eye on the prize.

“My focus is really depending on the result,” the charismatic entertainer explains. “I always want a great result. Sometimes you kinda go through things and you think that things won’t turn out, but they do turn out. Every moment comes and comes; you just can’t think about it all at once ’cause then you’ll freak out. I tend to just kinda take my time with it.”

Time is on her side. Two hours later, Rita Ora is ready to sit under the glowing lights in the studio and perform. Dressed in a Philip Lim pantsuit and a fresh pair of white Jordans, her attire is also a showing of what listeners can expect from her music. Her sound is classic and innovative; her lyrics have depth yet promote a good time to be had.

“Rita’s her own biggest asset,” Elena says of her younger sister. “If we want somebody to believe in the project you just have to meet Rita. Her personality and her energy, you don’t feel judged. You just feel like you can be yourself and it’s gonna be fun.”

Party on, Rita.

Watch Rita Ora’s “R.I.P.” Video Feat. Tinie Tempah

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