Elle Varner Interview With BOSSIP About Politics, Dating And Music
Last month we chatted up the very socially aware singer Elle Varner following the soundcheck for her Atlanta tour date. We talked at length about her new project (Four Letter Word), her love life and her troubles last year with K. Michelle, who went ballistic during a “Breakfast Club” interview over the two putting out similarly sounding songs.
BOSSIP: We heard you doing a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On? during sound check. When did you decide to do that and how much of what’s going on has inspired you as of late?
Elle Varner: Well…I would call it my awakening, cultural awakening, and I think it’s amazing, despite all of the negativity that’s happening, it’s amazing to see young people so involved. It’s almost like now we have something to fight for. My grandparents had something to fight for, even our parents and you know, without that we’re just a bunch of friggin’ people with our cell phones, you know? And when Ferguson happened and they were rioting, I was listening to Kanye’s “All Falls Down” and I was reading those lyrics and it’s almost like, I felt like that’s when I saw a little bit of the connection to where we’re at and where music is at. And I think it’s something that people are starting to see.
Like it’s hard to listen now to some of these songs that talk about murdering each other and all the misogyny and all these things and I’m like ‘wait a minute? Really? Oh so that’s [Ferguson] not okay, but that’s okay?’ And so I started thinking about that and with the cover it was like we were in rehearsal, and we were going to do a cover. So…we were going through songs and it just [snapped], I was like, “What’s Goin’ On,” it’s perfect for right now. And then when we did it I found some of the lyrics like ‘brutality’, so I changed them a little bit in my set.
I just try my best. I’m not a saint, I’m not perfect, I just try my best to use my platform as much as I can, you know, and I want to encourage people, it’s so important to vote and to be apart of the laws because we can talk about it on Twitter, we can talk about it on Instagram, but this is happening (right now), they just passed a law…
BOSSIP: Yeah in Chicago
EV: Can you believe…can you believe?
BOSSIP: that you can be arrested for filming the cops? It’s crazy
EV: I mean… I just… I don’t even know what to say. It’s tough, I understand, it’s tough for a lot of celebrities. They have things, contracts, and they have relationships, and it’s touchy, and it’s tough, you know, but…
BOSSIP: So you don’t feel any of that pressure? Of like ‘oh if I’m too outspoken about social issues, I can’t…
EV: Yeah I be [I’m] worried about the government coming to get me (both laugh).
BOSSIP: Is that more like how you’re raised, that makes you worried about the government coming to get you?
EV: No, no. I was raised in a very, what’s the word, not afrocentric, but like… aware; like my mom made me do book reports on everyone…I was aware of like culture, and so it’s always been important to me as an artist like, I see a bigger picture, I see what I represent for black women beyond what just I want out of it.
How refreshing is it to have an artist out here worried about the current state of world affairs unlike some of her peers who are more concerned with hooking up with other famous folks and walking around with fake hair and fake cakes?
We found it pretty nice, but Elle also told us that she feels a certain pressure from her audience not to do certain things she’d like to do, like change her hair or make a twerk video for example. Hit the flip for more on that.
BOSSIP: Okay, we follow you on social media so we see everything, we’ve seen the twerk video (Elle laughs). We were like why did she delete the twerk video?
EV: I got so much backlash
BOSSIP: Really? Like from your camp? Or from your fans?
EV: From my camp
BOSSIP: But it’s like you’re young. You’re how old now?
BOSSIP: You’re really young, you know? Like when do you get to have fun?
EV: (sighs) It’s been very stressful being micromanaged, you know? But, it’s a part of life
BOSSIP: Okay, (laughs) that’s like a very PC answer.
EV: Yeah I mean, you know…anyone who follows me on social media for the past year has seen me with blonde hair, (Bossip: your hair was straight in july) straight long ass hair, I mean, you know, that was my way of finding; I kind of had to go through some things.
And that became a big issue, and what I’ve learned from it, and I’ve said this earlier, I would impart this to all artists, is that if you want to create a real, well not even, legacy, you have to consider your brand at all times. If you have a different hair style every week how the hell are people supposed to…
BOSSIP: But you also have really fabulous big long curly hair that people go buy bundles of just to look like you.
EV: Yeah, and there’s just been times where I’ve been tired of my own hair but not even realizing how much that my hair meant so much to people. You know, like, here’s this girl she’s got curly hair, she’s different… you know, so… that kind of made me see, you know, don’t be so selfish because you have all these people that have kind of invested into you. It’s all brought me back full circle to say the least.
BOSSIP: Ok now and when you’re dealing with this how does it play out as far as musically? Because, I know you’re a songwriter.
EV: Mmhmm. I mean, I am very, much more to the point. Like one of my favorite things about the first album is my use of metaphors. There’s a lot of hidden things in there some people don’t even know. I dance around the topics. In this album I obviously have a song called “F**k It All”. Doesn’t get more blatant than that. I could be a whole lot of things: a piss drunk b***h of a wh**e. Like, c’mon, and I don’t know how to explain it. It’s almost like it gives me wings, to say what I feel, and not apologize for it.
Do you prefer Elle with curly or straight hair? Dark or blonde?
Hit the flip to for her take on the so-called K.Michelle beef!
BOSSIP: At some point there was an issue with K. Michelle, she went on The Breakfast Club to talk about a song and she was like ‘well Elle she’s the curly hair girl and so she gets everything’. Do you think there is a truth, to a certain extent, that people may find you to be safer versus her?
EV: I did not watch that interview but the bottom line is – and I’ve heard things come back to me – I wrote a song that she felt sounded like a song that she had. That’s the bottom line. I wrote a song with the producers, who produced my entire first album, that she hired to produce the song that she says sounds like hers. So, you know, if you want to say that, then say that. But all that extra stuff and attacking me and saying that they picked (management), they said the song was too big for … I don’t know. But that doesn’t even make any sense. And it’s very simple. It’s called law, do what you you got to… Send me whatever you need to do, if it’s something real. If it’s nothing real then keep talking about it. At first I thought I’m not going to respond to this nonsense, but what ended up happening after a while is that she kept going on and on and now people start to think I’m guilty because I’m not saying anything. And you know, I didn’t even know about that whole thing she said about me being curly-haired.
Ed. Note K.Michelle’s quote was: It was handled improperly and for you [management] to say I can’t sing certain songs because it’s not time and it’s not good for me but then she can put out the same identical record because that’s your “curlyheaded good girl,” but you want me to be your brokenhearted baddie, black girl,
BOSSIP: The connotation was that because people might feel more safe because you’re… they…
EV: Because I choose lyrics that do not…huh (laughs)…I’ve presented myself in a certain way. There’s nothing I can do about that.
BOSSIP: And you can’t do anything about what you look like naturally…
EV: I can’t and that breaks my heart to see another sister go there… We have it bad enough just being Black, now we have to go through which ‘level of Black.’ I went through that crap all through high school and junior high and it’s so, it’s so unfair and it just… It sucks. But, it’s life.
BOSSIP: She was on the radio more recently and she did say ‘oh Elle and I are fine’. Everyone saw you wished her well on her album when it came out…
EV: That, I did?
BOSSIP:You didn’t Instagram her at all? I thought we wrote something about it and everything.
EV: No, I retweeted her tweet. Bottom line, it’s nothing personal against K. Michelle. I think she’s incredibly talented, I’m just at a place in my life that if someone shows me something, I have to be smart enough to say ‘look, it is what it is’ and keep it moving.
Well glad to hear she’s at least mature about the whole thing.
More from Elle on social media and dating when you continue.
BOSSIP: And just to get back to the whole social media thing, do you ever get upset because you’re in the moment and you want to take a picture but you’re like ‘uhhh this could come back’?
EV: Hell yeah! I mean, I have to always think about my responsibility because I’ve been given some of these gifts. I feel like I have to honor them in the best way and I guess its just a professionalism thing. Like yeah, sometimes I want to wild out, sometimes I want to do all the crazy things somebody else does, but I’ve created such a unique lane for myself and an image. You know I just had a father come up to me and say ‘Thank you. You know I have a 15 year old daughter and you’re like the only black artist she can listen to, one of the only ones she can listen to that’s not ratchet.’ So I know there’s girls that need me to be that ship. Michelle Obama, her daughters are listening to me. It was tough, you know, even with some of the songs that are on the album, but I had to understand that at the end of the day this is your career and your life. You can consider other people but you can’t make your decisions based on them. So I went with the art. That’s where I went.
BOSSIP: It seems like you learned a lot in this process especially you know to go from the first album to the second album. Do you have any regrets or things looking back that you wish you would’ve done differently the first time around?
EV: The first time around, um, its not that I necessarily regret anything but I feel like everything was happening so fast. I wasn’t as present as I would’ve liked to be. It was all these firsts – first this, first that. And now it’s like, I got some skin in this; I’ve experienced a lot of these things; I’ve met most of the people that are my peers now ands it’s like when you get to that place – like I had a show in NY on Sunday, and the sound went outfor almost 10 minutes. When I tell you I was so on point. I was telling jokes, freestyling, doing all these things; I had that moment when I knew, with all humility, it was ‘a star is born’ moment. Because, being how I handled that, whatever came, I was actually glad it happened, because I knew ‘you’ve got this’.It was so dope. And it’s taken years; and it’s taken falling on Black Girls Rock; and bad performances.
BOSSIP: What about the time when people thought you married the white guy. Do you remember that?
EV: Oh my God speaking of the white guy, what white guy is this? I just want to understand where the white guy came from. It’s like I posted a picture of a ring – and …the quirks in my personality are in my life as well. Isht is always happening to me, it makes no sense; it’s like a movie. And, the fact that I posted that picture, I didn’t think it sent because I didn’t have service. So I took a nap, and left it up for like 4 hours. If I thought I had posted it I would’ve been like ‘lol, jk’… So, I wake up from a nap and my phone is like ‘OH MY GOD!” That hurt my heart a little bit.
BOSSIP: Because you realize how ignorant people really are?
EV: They are, but you know what I realized? I had to get back to the way I used to be in high school. I was always on some other ish and I did not care at all. I loved it! You look at me crazy? I love it. Please, please say something. ‘Cause I know you’re going to do the same isht I just did in two weeks. And that would always happen, always happen. And when I became an artist, and all these people, and taking in all these things, you know, it’s like I start to second-guess all the time, or I start to care what people think. ‘That’s not you’. So you know, I’m going to be with whoever I want to be with – Black, Spanish, Filipino, White – and should something like that happen again where people have something to say, I will bask in that (laughs).
More on Elle’s date life when you continue.
BOSSIP: So you’re open to dating anybody?
BOSSIP: So, rappers?
EV: Oh, oh no, nuh uh! I meant anyone who… no. Here’s the thing: I mean people are people. You can’t put everyone in a category, but it’s like, ok if 90% of athletes have shown this type of behavior, why try and prove the point with this one? I’m not saying all rappers are the same. Its going to take an exceptional, bend over backwards, you mean the world to me and I need the world to know it… and I’m going to need more than words, more than ‘um I think he feels’, for me to be with someone like that.
BOSSIP: So does that mean you regret dating Iman Shumpert?
EV: No, not at all
BOSSIP: Do you regret letting the world know that or taking pictures or any of that?
EV: No, not at all.
BOSSIP: Are you still friends with him
EV: No, not at all. (laughs). That’s over and, not even him because he was different…well…to a degree. But I’m just saying like when I meet a lot of these guys I know, within the first few sentences, it’s just not happening.
BOSSIP: is there anything that you do gravitate to? Musicians? Producers?
BOSSIP: You’re a sapiosexual
BOSSIP: That’s someone who’s sexually attracted to intelligence.
EV: Yes, oooooh. You got me all hot. Now I’m definitely a sapiosexual. I’m attracted to intelligence; I’m attracted to values and success. And I don’t mean like ‘I need the richest guy’ I mean you got to be doing something. I’m doing something; I’ve figured it out. You got to, like, meet me somewhere.
BOSSIP: And do you write better one way or the other? Like fresh off a break up or…head over heels in love?
>EV: I’ve been writing love songs but I feel like what’s happening right now is so amazing because I’m falling in love with myself. And that is super important for me to attract the person I’m going to be with. And the reality is, I don’t know that I even want to be in a relationship right now. Straight up, I’m young; I want to see what’s out there too; I want to date. I don’t want to tie myself down to one situation, shoot… And my career is just, that’s my first love, that’s my first thing, so it takes a toll on relationships but…whatever.
Q: Is there anything that you want to set the record straight on? Or any misconceptions you think people have about you?
A: Ummm, I’ll just say that there’s a lot more to me as an artist than any particular song or sound. And that was a big thing for me for this album. Like, the girl who sings ‘Refill’ is such a limitation on what I do. I play multiple instruments; I’m a song writer; I’ve written songs for other people now; and, I just really want people to… expand your mind and try something else out. Don’t be afraid to be an individual thinker. I think we put too much pressure on each other to like the same thing or to go with the same thing. And you’ll miss out on a lot with that mentality.