Jessie J’s tour should have taken place in March but was postponed because her second album wasn’t finished. “I am honestly truly sorry,” she told fans at the time, displaying the same maximalist approach to contrition as she does to singing.
Since then not much has gone right. She left her role as a judge in the UK television talent show The Voice having irritated many viewers for inveterate attention-seeking. Her album Alive finally came out but has sold poorly, falling far short of 2011’s multi-platinum Who You Are. Her US record label hasn’t yet released the follow-up, ordering her to record more songs. Chastening times for Jessie J.
The first of two shows at the O2 Arena sought to re-emphasise her status as an A-list pop star (in the UK at least). There was a glitch at the beginning when the curtain was removed prematurely, revealing a dark and lifeless stage, but otherwise it was a slick exercise in arena-pop stagecraft. The lighting was especially good: beams of light cross-crossed Jessie during “Who You Are”, then lifted up and roved out over the audience when the guitar solo kicked in.
But there was a problem. The Londoner, real name Jessie Cornish, has taken a wrong turn on Alive. She has put her Serious Face on. Tonight’s set was interspersed with pre-recorded segments in which she intoned risible advice (“Be you, do you and love you”) like a randomised Madonna. In between she sang about “never running from my mistakes” and knowing “how it feels to cry in the middle of the night” without ever specifying why. Songs began with rudimentary acoustic guitar chords before lumbering aloft jumbo jet-style with hammering drums and overwrought singing. Clichéd sentiments were broadcast at maximum amplification.
If there’s anywhere you can get away with turning the word “domino” into a 10-syllable rollercoaster then the O2 Arena is it. But Jessie struggled to change register. The 1990s R&B pastiche “Daydreamin’” wanted the honeyed style of Mariah Carey, not the wind-tunnel treatment it received. Her signature hit “Price Tag” at the end was a reminder of the sort of songs she should have aimed for on her new album – upbeat, urban, super-catchy – but a shrill, guitar-heavy rendition emphasised her failure to repeat the trick.