When I posted about “Future Pop Star” Ella Henderson earlier this month, I was fully aware that she was signed to Columbia Records in the U.S. but I DIDN’T realize that her label here had plans to release her music stateside so soon, NOR did I expect to be present (read: IN THE ROOM) for Ella’s incredible U.S. debut performance at The Box on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. SHOCKED and PLEASANTLY surprised on both accounts! Ella’s INFECTIOUS debut single, “Ghost” is out in America NOW (iTunes) and I was there to see her SLAY The Box. WHOOSH!
When I moved to New York City a little over a year ago, it was basically so I could experience MORE live music. Ever since I visited the NYU campus during my mandatory college tour with the parentals, I knew that NYC was in the cards for me. Sure, Boston (my home for ten years) had a shockingly high number of MAJOR artists from across the pond roll through (i.e. – Amy Winehouse, Noisettes, Kate Nash, VV Brown, Natasha Bedingfield, Estelle, Adele, etc.), and play some of Beantown’s most INTIMATE venues, but New York City Boston is certainly NOT. One artist who I probably wouldn’t have had the pleasure of seeing live, had I still been living in Boston? Ella Henderson.
The Box is one of Manhattan’s most exclusive venues, and while I’ve only had the pleasure of attending shows there twice, it’s one of my favorite spots to see live music in the city. Located on Chrystie Street on the Lower East Side, The Box is actually more known for its late-night cabaret shows than it is as a concert venue. In fact, the two shows I have attended there have been, more or less, press-only, limited promotion artist showcases. The Box reads New York City 1940s GLAMOUR & DECADENCE (with a hint of gaudiness and maybe a little kitsch). When the red velvet curtains rose, revealing Ella’s band (Three very attractive gentlemen in their mid-late 20s), Ella emerged from the crowd to take the stage. Positioning herself in front of the glittery black mic stand, she confidently (but not too confidently) introduced herself to the invite-only crowd of music industry people, press, bloggers and assorted plus ones. As she breezed through her INCREDIBLY short five song set, I couldn’t stop thinking about how this TALENTED artist was only 18 years old. Absolutely mystifying to me.
The first song of the set, “Glow” was a clear standout for me, largely because it was one of the only two more up-tempo numbers Henderson performed. “Glow” was written by Camille Purcell (Little Mix, The Saturdays) and Steve Mac (Kelly Clarkson, Leona Lewis), who also serves as the song’s producer. Definitely a contender for her a follow-up single, “Glow” perfectly showcased the young singer’s impressive power and range, not to mention Ella’s smokey rasp. As the follow-up to “Glow,” Henderson delivered the audience an emotional wallop of a ballad, a newer song and one that she wrote entirely on her own, “Yours,” which she called one of the most “personal” songs on the album. While I’m not 100% sure I believed the sincerity of the performance, given how personal she said it was, vocally it was on point. I just wasn’t really feeling any emotional connection while she was up there singing, but maybe that was just me. Vocally, I love the sound of Henderson’s voice. I absolutely love the way it cracks. That being said, the cracking happens with such frequency (especially when she’s singing in her lower register) that it’s a bit worrisome. Will she last an entire tour with her voice in tact?
For her cover song (she includes ones in every set) Ella Henderson opted for a ballad version of Gorgon City‘s MNEK-assisted Top 5 UK hit, “Ready For Your Love.” As much as I loved Henderson’s slow burning version, it’s hard to do a ballad version of a rousing DANCEFLOOR stomper, especially a floor-filler as massive as “Ready For You Love.” That being said, Ella did her best with this rendition, replacing MNEK‘s soulful sounds with her own big-voiced ballad-ready vocal. After a quick sip of water and no song introduction, Ella launched into her next tune, “Empire,” which she co-wrote along with Camille Purcell and TMS (Professor Green, Emeli Sandé), the English production duo and co-writers of “Changing,” that new DnB banger by Sigma featuring Paloma Faith. This mid-tempo stunner (the studio version of which was also produced by TMS) definitely sounds like yet ANOTHER contender for a single down-the-line, although I’d maybe worry about some confusion surrounding the name, given how Shakira ALSO had a song called “Empire.” Despite “Empire” being yet another mid-tempo track off Ella’s forthcoming album, it did perfectly showcase her highs and lows, with the live version leaving plenty of room for vocal ad libs and riffs galore, both of which she delivered. Closing the set with her first UK No. 1 single (and new U.S. single) “Ghost” was a given and MAN, did she sing the hell out of that song.
Overall I was pleased with Ella Henderson‘s performance. She commanded the small Manhattan stage like a seasoned pro; showing the small but fully engaged and invested crowd exactly why she deserves a shot in this scary and over-saturated pop music market. While things were on point vocally throughout the set, like I said before, I didn’t necessarily believe what she was singing was coming from a genuine place. I just didn’t feel that the emotional connection was there, which could very well have been nerves. This was, after all, her first U.S. performance. It also could have to do with the fact that she’s 18 years old and still developing her live stage persona. Whatever the case may be, Ella Henderson has plenty time to grow as a live performer. Her vocals are impressive, as is the fact that she’s already honing those songwriting skills, writing or co-writing virtually every song on her forthcoming album, Chapter One, due out later this year in America and on September 22nd in the UK (iTunes). The girl can also play piano, evidenced here by this live cover of Drake‘s “Hold On We’re Goin’ Home” mashed up with John Newman‘s “Love Me Again.” Ella Henderson isn’t just some “flash-in-the-pan” pop singer. She’s the real deal with real talent.
Over in the UK Ella Henderson is already a bonafied star, with her debut single “Ghost” landing in the No. 1 spot and staying there for two consecutive weeks, making it the fastest selling debut from a UK artist so far in 2014, surpassing Sam Smith‘s “Stay With Me.” Working with OneRepublic frontman (and hitmaker) Ryan Tedder on “Ghost” was a surreal experience for the 18-year-old. Tedder heard Henderson’s Drake cover (above) and immediately wanted to work with her, saying “It took listening to her sing half of a cover song to convince me she has an insanely bright future.” The dynamic duo started writing the song together in London and finished it in Tedder’s Denver studio. While there’s no word yet on what the follow-up single to “Ghost” will be, Ella’s been teasing with photos from the video shoot and song lyrics, so hopefully we’ll find out soon enough. Appearing on the British version of The X-Factor in 2012, Ella abruptly exited the show in sixth place but was snatched up almost immediately by Simon Cowell and his Syco label. While it took nearly two years for Ella to release her first single, “Ghost” is proof that all good things come to those who wait.
Back here on this side of the pond, Ella Henderson is prepping for her U.S. television debut on Wednesday, August 6th when she will perform “Ghost” on ABC’s Good Morning America. Check out the stunning Jem Talbot-directed/New Orleans-shot video for “Ghost” below.