Dinah Jane Is Making Old School New Again
On May 11, 2018, Dinah Jane performed for the last time with Fifth Harmony before their indefinite hiatus. The group, comprised of Jane, Ally Brooke, Normani Kordei, Lauren Jauregui, and, until the end of 2016, Camila Cabello, had released track after track of chart-topping hits, most memorably “Work From Home”, “Por Favor”, “Worth It”, and “BO$$”. Subsequently, in the wake of so much success, their departure from the world of pop music came with an important question: what will each member do with her newfound autonomy? For Jane, the answer was loud and clear: R&B.
Jane grew up south of Los Angeles in Santa Ana, California listening to the voices that defined 90s and early 2000s R&B — legends like Aaliyah, Mariah Carey, and Tiimbaland all held court on the family stereo. Returning to that style felt like a no-brainer; in honoring the aesthetic adopted in large part due to her mom’s influence, Jane’s pursuit of the genre was a homecoming of sorts. It just felt right.
“[My mom] was like, ‘It’s crazy that my own daughter can take me back to that time where I was in high school, around prom, where I was listening to these types of records, and it feels all brand new, it’s refreshing,’” Jane says. “ I’ve always had this part of me that has an urge to sing songs that I grew up on, the style.”
In an era where nostalgia reigns supreme, and throwback culture dominates, Dinah Jane is on her way to mastering the perfect mix of old and new, starting with her first three-song bundle: Dinah Jane 1. The name begs the question — will there be more? Maybe! For now, we’re soaking up the sound of Jane’s first solo project, where R&B, pop, and a handful of other influences come together to make a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Watch the video for “Heard It All Before” to get a taste of what’s to come, then hear straight from the singer herself below.
So, tell me about the three-song bundle. It came out super recently— what’s the reception been like?
Yeah! So I named it after myself of course. Dinah Jane 1. The name kind of originated from my fans. They have seen me in the studio so many times and they’re like, “Wait, what is she up to?” So they named the album before it was even an album—well it’s not even an album, the bundle—they named the project before it was a project, and I was like, you know what, let’s just run with that. Because I think that’s kinda cool, kinda cute that it comes from them, and I feel like they would appreciate that too, like, “Oh my gosh, we have a part in this, of the journey.” And so I dropped three songs that were leading towards something that I always wanted, which was R&B. I’ve always had this part of me that has an urge to sing songs that I grew up on, the style. So my mom always played R&B around the house, and with me getting in a girl group, I was exposed to many different directions, different styles of songs, like pop, super pop, reggae, R&B pop— rhythmic is what it was, actually. We never really touched R&B, which is what I was hoping for, but now that I’m here, and I’m a solo artist, I have an opportunity to do exactly what I’ve always wanted. With my three song bundle, I had a huge say in which songs I selected. LA and I sat down in his office and we said, what would be the best introduction to the real Dinah Jane? Those three, I feel like, collectively they scream of who I really am and what I’m inspired by.
Yeah, I was going to ask you about compiling it, because there are only three songs, so I feel like they carry more weight than tracks in an album or EP would. How did you decide that those were the three that really embodied what you wanted to introduce?
I feel like I just showed more of a vulnerable, intimate side, that I haven’t really shared with everyone as a soloist. So because of my personality…I’m super closed off and I’m very private, so I felt like this was the perfect opportunity to introduce myself as this girl that you never go to know. I also feel like, vocally, being in a group, I was never really able to showcase what I was capable of, so when I started, when I wrote my first song, one of my first songs, Fix It, I was like wow, where was she this whole time? There she is! Because my first audition on X Factor, it was If I Were a Boy by Beyonce, and I was hoping that I would make records like that. I want to make sure that the covers I would love to cover are the songs that I could make. And I feel like I can do that now.
Now that you are out on your own and solo, do you feel more pressure or is it just more creative freedom?
I feel like I have more control and say, but I feel like there’s a part of me, honestly, where I’m learning to say “no, I don’t like that” or “yes, that’s it”— well, actually, it’s easier for me to say “yes, yeah, I love it” rather than telling them “Oh my gosh, what is this. I’m not happy,” you know? I feel like there’s just a part of me, a part of my personality where I’ve always just been super polite and too nice, where I just never want to step on anybody’s toes, and I’m just like, I don’t want them to hate me at the end of the day. ‘Cause I can really be that girl who you are not gonna like at the end of the day, but I was like, I want to make sure that we just get it right. So I’m learning to really speak what’s on my mind rather than getting feelings and emotions involved. So at the end of the day, it’s also my project and I want to be happy.
Thinking about the “Heard it All Before” music video, visuals are such a huge part of creating that whole thing, and when you say R&B, it’s like, “Yes!” That video is so perfect. Can you talk about how you brought that to life?
I was introduced to this great director, Steven, and I was introduced to him, so I saw some of his great work on Instagram. And I became such a huge fan, where, when we shared creatives, he was like, “Yo, this song gives me late-’90s 2000s vibe, I feel like we need to bring this to life.” And being that he was there for that era, like he kind of schooled me and educated me on like, the phone, how it was ringing in the beginning of my music video. I was like, what is this, I wasn’t here for it— I know it’s not a beeper phone, but it had like, the Jumanji ringer on, I was confused, and people were going crazy on the comments on YouTube. They were like, wow, she really is going there. So, my mom was also there for that era, my mom’s only like 41, 42. And she was also educating me on it. She was like, it’s crazy that my own daughter can take me back to that time where I was in high school, around prom, where I was listening to these types of records, and it feels all brand new, it’s refreshing. So when the song and the visual came hand in hand, I feel like it had to blend and it had to have that same, that same energy that this record had. I felt like that was the winner. We had to balance it.
Yeah, I mean, the diamonds, the crystals, the outfits, I was like, oh my God. I feel like I’m watching Aaliyah or something.
Aw, I’m happy! I’m inspired by so many female artists from back then. Like, I love Aaliyah, I was there when Mariah Carey was at her prime, for like “Heartbreaker”, “Always Be My Baby”, like I always look back at those videos and that is like something I’ve always wanted to do one day. And I was able to bring it to life.
So how do you find that balance of being so heavily inspired by that era but also bringing your modern perspective and point of view and making sure that both are seen and heard?
I think it’s great that I, like I said, I have my mom as my backbone, where she kind of schools me on this direction. Because I’m here in this generation where I’ve listened to it but I was never really there for it, so it’s easy for me to balance both worlds, and I can kind of modernize the songs. I never want it to sound so cheesy or trying so hard or gimmicky, and that’s always been my biggest fear, so if the song just doesn’t fit and if it sounds like I’m trying to sound like from back then, then it’s not it. It has to still sound new at the same time. It’s just kind of crazy, I don’t know, it’s weird, it’s tricky.
Yeah, I mean it’s an interesting balance.
Yeah, you could easily fall into the gimmicky side. But yeah, I feel like, with the producers I’m working with and the writers, they give me that fine balance. I can easily be in a room by myself but I’d rather have other creatives in there too just to guide me. ‘Cause like, this is my first time in the game as a solo artist, I’m like, I need some guidance, and then I’ll work on being myself in the studio.
So, when you were younger and coming up, did you always imagine yourself as a solo artist or like, in a group? Which one has been the most surprising part of your career?
I mean, I’ve always wanted to be a solo artist from the jump. But, I can honestly say that I’m grateful for the experience of being in a girl group, because I learned so much. Like, I already feel like I’m 50. Like, I’ve been exposed to so much things, I dealt with so many different personalities, I heard people’s different perspectives of life, and I learned from that, I learned how to be patient with people, and I’ve learned to just to also give people the space that they need, ’cause it’s easy for me to just be like, “Hey, are you okay? What’s good? Blah blah blah” there’s always a time and place for that, but when someone needs their downtime, you just gotta let them have it. But yeah, me being a solo artist, I feel, at the same time, free, and I feel like I can just be my true self and sing at the top of my lungs, sing whatever it is at the top of my mind, and I don’t feel closed off and blocked and it’s ??? expressing that.
Even since ‘Bottled Up”, which wasn’t that long ago, what has changed since then? Do you feel the same or different?
So, originally– no one knows this, but “Bottled Up” wasn’t supposed to be a single. It wasn’t. It was just something that I was teasing with Marc E. Bassy, who is featured on the record— we was teasing it online, and then the fans got a hold of it because I didn’t know anything about screen-recording. So I knew nothing about that, I was only on there for like 40 seconds, like, “Ah, they won’t get it,” but nah, they recorded the majority of it. And I was like “Oh, okay, it’s out there.” So with “Bottled Up” leaking like that, they were having this craze of “no, we need the song, I love it, give it to me now, now, now” so I was like okay, I sat down and said “we should just release it as content, let it be something, because I know this is not the official single.” Let me just play with this and give them something to eat while they’re waiting for the actual full course meal. So that happened, and Bottled Up also kind of represented where I came from, with my growth, like it gave that rhythmic pop flare, so when I did that— I also threw some Fifth Harmony references in there, like, “work from home but he ‘gon stay up with me” and something with “Worth It,” Worth It is in there. And people analyzed the hell out of it like, “Oh my God she mentioned like 3-4 songs, she’s so smart,” and I’m like, “What?” At the same time it wasn’t done intentionally, it was just fun. But yeah, I’m totally different from then and now. I grew a lot and took a lot of time after I dropped “Bottled Up”, I gave myself some down time to really figure out who it is that I was.
Do you feel like you came to a conclusion about that or you’re still discovering who you are and what kind of artist you are?
I’ve come to a conclusion. I feel like when having so many people having an idea of who you are and what they think you’re capable of, I was kind of, like, tossed and turned into so many different directions. Like, it felt like Fifth Harmony all over again, where they felt like “oh my gosh, you’re like a trap queen, we should do trap music.” If you look at my phone, I don’t have that much trap music— I love, like I said, the ’90s, 2000s songs, a lot of Monica, Faith Evans, Mariah Carey, and when ??? saw my phone he was just like, “Oh, well actually, nevermind, but do you mind trying some trap songs just to see what happens?” And I think that’s when it clicked to me, who I was. And I was like, I can’t have someone create, craft me into something I’m not. I love trap music, but I think we already have so much of it, so I find balance, and I did this one song called Retrograde, where it was just enough urban and R&B, ’cause I was like, I need my R&B, like a little taste of it. I need to sing.
So this is Dinah Jane 1— is there gonna be a 2 and 3? Is this the start of something?
There might ! ‘Cause everyone was hitting me up like, “What does the one mean? What do you mean, ‘one’? Is there a two, three, four?” There’s been talks about it. We have some things in the works but you know how it is, it always changes last minute, decisions are made while we’re on the way to the next project. So when you think it’s going to be something, you can never be like, “Oh, it’s set in stone.” It’s never set in stone. So I try not to get too excited myself ’cause I do want more music out, but yeah. Maybe the album will come out eventually, we’ll see what happens.
What do you have planned for the rest of the year?
I have maybe some tours or something I’m working on. I don’t know, my main focus is just working on “Heard It All Before”, first— I would say this is my first single. I want to work on that more so and then put my energy into the next level, which is the tours, the creatives, and whatnot. But there might be another visual for the other two songs I dropped on the EP, for “Fix It” and “Pass Me By”. There’s talks of it, but yeah. Keep you guys excited, keep y’all eating. Because the fans are like, “We’re hungry, we’re hungry!” and I’m like, “What the hell does that mean?” You make me sound like I don’t feed my children! I don’t want you to starve! You make me look bad!