Disco Diva Jessie Ware Has a New Favorite Word, and It’s “Cunty”
When Jessie Ware joins our Zoom call, she’s donning a cozy white robe, hair down, her eyes hidden behind a big pair of black sunglasses, the kind you’d wear to shield yourself from the paparazzi. The last time I saw Ware we were in Marrakesh, on a tour of the Medina and its market of rugs and spices alongside drag queens Gigi Goode and Symone. After spending 48 hours in Los Angeles for West Hollywood’s OUTLOUD Music Festival, Ware is back in Greece filming a talent show searching for the next big musical theatre star. Oh, and she’s just been on a boat all day. On the heels of her new album, That! Feels Good, the glittering follow-up to her critically beloved What’s Your Pleasure?, Ware is getting used to life as a disco diva. Her music is adored in equal measure by drag queens, suburban moms, and twinks alike, lip-syncing for their lives to new hits like “Pearls,” “Freak Me Now,” and the canonical gay anthem “Free Yourself.”
It was no surprise, then, that she was chosen alongside Grace Jones, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Shangela to kick off Pride festivities in WeHo, one of the epicenters of gay culture. Before heading out to her wrap party on the Greek island where she’s lived for a month, Ware took a cheeky moment to share memories from her first-ever headlining Pride performance, where her look was inspired by none other than Beyonce, and revealed her new favorite word. Hint: it rhymes with hunty.
JESSIE WARE: How are you?
ERNESTO MACIAS: I’m doing great. Yourself?
WARE: Sorry, love. I’m, oh, shit, I’ve just locked myself out. Right. Sorry. Ok.
MACIAS: Oh, cutting out.
WARE: Yeah, the wifi is awful. So, you’re just gonna have to kind of bear with me. Hit me.
MACIAS: Where are you right now?
WARE: I’m in Greece. I have just locked myself out of my room, so I’m walking to the reception to get myself a new key. I’ve just been on a boat today and it was fabulous. I’m working.
MACIAS: And what are you working on?
WARE: I’m doing a TV show, a talent show where I’m a judge trying to find the new Mamma Mia stars and Amber Riley is also a judge, it’s really fab. I’ve been here for about a month, but in between I went to Los Angeles to headline my first Pride and that was magic. How are you?
MACIAS: I’m good. I’m in New York, which is not as exciting as Greece. So let’s talk a little bit about Pride. When was the last time you were actually in L.A.?
WARE: Probably when I had my shows there, for when I supported Harry [Styles].
MACIAS: And how many hours did you spend in L.A.?
WARE: Yeah. 48 hours, had to kind of relearn my show in a dance studio. It was exciting and wonderful and, you know, it was a great way to be reminded that that’s my day job properly when I’ve just been on a Greek Island, judging other people’s musical theater talents.
MACIAS: So, you’re basically like that Gaga meme right now. Another club, no sleep, party, another club..
WARE: [Laughs] Less of the partying, I’d have to say. But it was amazing and it was a real honor. They asked me to open the show on Friday night, the day when I think all the tickets were free. I had a lot of fun.
MACIAS: So you said it was your first time headlining Pride? How did that feel?
WARE: Yeah, I’ve never performed a Pride before. It felt like an honor. I think I’m still learning about how to be the best kind of ally. And if my offering on that night was to make them dance and kiss a stranger in the audience, well, I think I did it and it was good fun. But, of course, it’s important to remember what Pride is about. It’s a protest, first and foremost, but I have to say West Hollywood put on a good party.
MACIAS: That’s a good way to protest. Do you recall your first-ever Pride?
WARE: If I’m being honest, Ernesto, I think Pride was always going on in London and I was always aware of it, but I never thought it was a space that I, as a young, straight woman, necessarily should be at, you know what I mean? I think it’s become more and more apparent and important. It’s become a different thing over the past, I think, 10 years, and I definitely feel like it’s more internationally celebrated and acknowledged. I think I didn’t understand it so much when I was younger.
MACIAS: So what’s in your system before a big gay show like this?
WARE: [Laughs] A cheeseburger, a tequila, lime, and soda. What else did I have? I had a lot of room service, a lot of hairspray, and a lot of huge eyelashes. It was this thing where it was a 45-minute set, and I just wanted to play bangers and make people dance, but maybe didn’t realize that my cardio skills are not up to what they were up to at the end of last year. I’m not gonna lie. I have quite upbeat songs now and it’s quite hard to put them all together. Look, my, rider is not what Grace Jones’ is. And hers has un-shucked oysters, which I think is perfection.
MACIAS: What’s the most exotic thing that’s on your rider?
WARE: Bollinger. Which is my favorite champagne. Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous loves drinking. “Bolli, darling.” That’s about as fabulous as mine gets. And I didn’t even get to have a bloody glass because my mate Chloe and Benny bloody drunk it all. So, there you go.
MACIAS: Tell me about the vibe for the glam. I saw this picture with a lot of rollers in your hair.
WARE: I really wanted to look like Beyonce. That’s why all the rollers were in there, because I wanted to have a Beyonce moment. However, I realized that I don’t have the budget or the skill of Beyonce. So therefore, when I was like, “Oh, there’s two wind machines on stage, I’ll use them,” I didn’t think about the fact that my red trousers had big gates in them and that potentially people would be able to see my Spanx underneath. I think I need to do a whole, intensive course on hair and wind machines before I tackle another one. I was wearing SS Daily, that caftan with that gorgeous body on, it felt quite fitting to be able to wear it pre-Pride. But then the red outfit that I wore–my stylist, Ella Lucia, got a whole custom thing done. Costumes on stage, I’m learning there’s such an art to it. It’s a totally different ball game to dressing for the red carpet. I wanted sparkle, I wanted big hair, and I wanted the people at the back to be able to see it. I wanted to look like I’d made an effort, and we certainly did try.
MACIAS: Do you have any pre-show rituals?
WARE: I was pretty nervous. So I had a shot of whiskey before. That’s what I do when I’m nervous, I’ll have a shot of whiskey to snap out of it.
MACIAS: I love that. What was the crowd’s energy sending your way?
WARE: It was incredibly warm. I think what I realized when I watched the videos back is there’s so much love for me, and I feel it so much within the queer community and I love them back. I felt like the biggest reaction came to my song “Freak Me Now,” which is the next single, which nobody knows is the next single. I have a surprise for them, which I think is gonna blow a lot of their minds. I loved it when Symone put up the fucking video and she was like, “Yasss diva.” Well that’s just the greatest accolade ever. Do you know what I mean?
MACIAS: Coming from her? Absolutely. Did you go to any after parties?
WARE: I tried. I was gonna go to The Abbey—what was really special, the person that was hosting, Hannah Rad, played me probably the first out of everybody in New York. She played me on East Village Radio when she used to be a DJ there when I had a song with Subtract called “Nervous.” It was my first-ever release and she played it. This would have been over 10 years ago, and she was hosting the after party at The Abbey, and for us to both be there in Los Angeles was really special. But I can’t fucking remember what your question was, sorry…
MACIAS: The afterparty.
WARE: So everyone was going to The Abbey. But I went to Holloway House, like a Soho House—forgive me, father, because I have sinned. That’s so boring, but I just went for a drink. You know, Los Angeles, they don’t party like New York, they just don’t.
MACIAS: You said it, not me.
WARE: I said it. I said it.
MACIAS: What’s your favorite gay slang that you’ve learned?
WARE: [Laughs] I don’t know if this is right, so, you’re gonna have to forgive me. “That’s cunty. That’s cunt.” I hated that word for a very long time and my mother’s told me off many a time. I mean, it’s not slang but I should have just said “Padam” to everybody.
MACIAS: Jessie, I love that you just said that. What are you doing after this call?
WARE: I’m going to my wrap party for this show. We’ve got the last show tomorrow and then I’m going home to be a mother and go do after-school activities with my children and make friends with school mums that I haven’t seen for a while. So I’m going back to reality.
MACIAS: Well, I cannot wait to catch you on tour when you’re in New York.
WARE: Thank you, Ernesto, it’s really nice to see you.