Those who come to see French pop singer Jain in concert generally expect to see her in a cobalt jumpsuit, trimmed in red, which she pairs with white sneakers. The outfit is a step beyond any musician’s traditional tour costume; for Jain, it’s a uniform, and one she takes quite seriously.
But in the moments before her soundcheck for her show at Irving Plaza in Manhattan — the last stop of her North American tour promoting her second album “Souldier” — she’s still dressed in her usual clothes: a black jacket and dark jeans. Though 26, Jain has a teenager quality to her, and while she’s known for bright, energetic pop songs, she’s rather reserved and shy in person, politely answering questions but not going any further.
She’s been in New York for a few days, playing earlier in the week in Brooklyn before the Irving Plaza show on Thursday. In her downtime, she’s been “just visiting the city,” which includes “drawing on the walls” and walking to restaurants in neighborhoods she “will not know how to tell you where exactly it was.”
Once she completes soundcheck she’ll begin her pre-performance ritual: stretching, singing a bit and putting on her uniform. “And when I put on my uniform, it’s the way that I start the show already. It’s how I become the ‘souldier.’”
The concept of a uniform is one she has stuck to since releasing her first album.
“It’s really important because it’s how you present yourself to people, and for me it’s an act of respect, you know? To get dressed for the people who came to the show,” she says. “And uniforms are very important because you can incarnate something, an idea of your music. You can’t see the music, you can only hear it, so for people to see a little bit of the music it’s really important to make it global.”
Jain earned global attention with the release of her debut album, “Zanaka,” in 2015; the record was certified gold in February 2016 in her native France, and one year later became three-times platinum in France. Her second album, “Souldier,” bowed last August, and with her North American tour, she continues her push into the U.S. market.
“It’s really different from Europe actually, because you have big cars and big roads, so it’s really surprising when you see that for the first time,” she says of this past tour. “I was amazed at how big the country is, actually. It’s huge compared to France. You have multiple Frances in the same country.” (To be precise, 15 — that’s how many times bigger the U.S. is than France.)
New York is a favorite, but surprising runners-up were Minneapolis and Denver. “The shows were good actually, and there was a lot of good energy,” she says. When it comes to dressing, though, there’s nothing like a New York audience for her.
“People are dressed well — the same vibe in Paris,” she says. “It’s quite weird and surprising — but I love it.”
Born Jeanne Galice, Jain is a native of Toulouse in the South of France, but spent much of her childhood internationally. Her father worked in the oil industry and his job moved the family out of France when she was nine, first to Dubai for three years then to the Congo and Abu Dhabi, where she completed high school.
She was living in the Congo when she decided to send her first single, “Come,” out to record label executives.
“It was a bit hard; there was not a good Internet connection,” she says. “I sent my songs to every major company and I got only one answer, from my now manager. It all started with MySpace.”
Though she cites Kendrick Lamar as a present-day influence, her mentors are more historical, from Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone to the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd. She identifies her brand of music as “a kind of melting pop” – a poppy blend of her young adult years.
“I don’t know if I would’ve done music if I hadn’t traveled in those countries; it really brought me my own sound and that’s why I wanted to mix cultures, because I was a little bit mixed when I was a teenager,” she says. “I want to have Congolese influences but also influences from Dubai and Abu Dhabi and France. To mix everything up.”
See below for Jain’s live performance for Vevo X, as part of Vevo’s new series featuring predominately female artists.
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