Jessie Ware keeps her hands in the pockets of her slouchy pants while she sings. She's not much for dramatics in positioning or light work, and even on the long belting choruses of "Say You Love Me," a song written with Ed Sheeran for her sophomore album Tough Love , there's nothing to distract you from her buttery soulful voice.
When I saw Ware in Washington D.C. in April, she played two really different venues. The first was NPR's Tiny Desk concert series—an honor that's a better predictor of success in music than anything but a Rolling Stone cover—where she played three songs in a tiny space without the lights and pressure of her 2,000 person sold-out show later that night.
At both concerts she made jokes between songs and told background stories, but something about the way she spoke, her British accent falling into almost a whisper at times, made it feel like she was speaking only to you.
Ware's music is somewhere between Adult Contemporary and pop. Her 2012 debut album Devotion was named one of Pitchfork's "Best New Music," and it debuted at number 5 on the U.K. albums chart. Devotion was produced by three different people and at times it felt like Ware's voice was lost under their distinct styles. As a debut album, it was an incredible production—beautifully sung, tightly written, and with a mainstream crossover in the single "Wildest Moments"—but it lacked confidence.
But on her 2014 release Tough Love, Ware found a depth to her voice that made her new songs as beautiful as crystal and with as sharp of an edge. The title track opens with a verse that, in Ware's highest notes, seems to shimmer. But lyrically it's the story of a fight that gets a little too honest.
Ware is a complicated lyricist with an ability to turn a genre that can sometimes be sleepy and tiring into something brilliant and enrapturing. Last week, she appeared on BBC Live Lounge, a program that encourages artists to cover a song they love. Ware performed Nick Jonas's winter single "Jealous."
It's a song that's a lot more pop than Ware is used to. The beat is faster, and the tempo is far more upbeat than most of her work, and Ware chose to leave it that way instead of transforming the song into her style. It's proof that she could break easily into mainstream music in the future if she wanted to.
And on top of all that, she also has a really cute dog.
Kelsey McKinney is a culture staff writer for Fusion.