This installation of The Cultural Reset's Artist Interview Series turns its focus to Pop/R&B singer/producer Jazzy Mejia. A teen icon and former member of internationally renowned girl-group G.R.L., Jazzy Mejia sat down with TCR's Nick Lee and Shay Ervin to discuss her complicated transition from girl-group stardom to independent artist, the loved ones that inspire her creative process, and growing up in and navigating the music industry as a woman of color.
Photo: "Jazzy Mejia"
Click here to listen to Jazzy Mejia's FULL INTERVIEW
Nick Lee: We are so happy to be sitting down with you. You have a very interesting story about how you got to where you are and would really love it if you could share a little bit of it with our audience.
Jazzy Mejia: I got my start when I was really young. My dad was the VP of Marketing at Warner Brothers when I was born. Then he moved over to RCA, then over to Universal. I had some older siblings who were in music groups and rappers and DJs. I have a big family. My dad played every instrument and, I was always singing with him and learning songs and performing at my school. I didn't start taking it seriously until I was 12 or 13. My sister was on a TV show called Pussycat Dolls: Girlicious. It was a competition show. And she won. I was in seventh grade and our lives changed so much, because so many people were watching the show. It affected me in a sense. I was very inspired. But my personal life changed.
At school people started to treat me differently. They were mean, they thought they knew everything from a reality show. They thought that they knew me and my family. I lost a lot of friends. I was made fun of a lot. And people would say a lot of really mean things to me. I had to leave and become homeschooled. It inspired me in a good way. I thought to myself, who cares about the bullying? For me? It's good. I don't care about that. I'm going to show them. And that's when I really started to take music seriously and my parents started taking me seriously. Then, we held an audition at our house to create a girl group. That girl group went on a tour around California for a couple years, we did the LA a school tour. Instead of going to school, we went to other people's schools. We went from school to school to school—like middle schools, high schools, colleges, sometimes elementary schools—and performed for the kids—passing out my CDs and signing CDs and getting to meet and know my fans. A lot of those people are still following me to this day. I'm 26 years old; I started at 12. That's how I got into it and started to grow my fan base. And then from there, that group disbanded and we're still friends. From there, I popped up into about six groups. I really loved doing the creative process; working with other people, being in a group setting and deciding on choreography and songs. I loved the idea of it. I went into a group called Future Stereo, we got signed to an independent label when I was 16. It was through Mophie. I auditioned for the group and got signed by Rico Slavisa [Rico Suave]. That was kinda short lived—we filmed a couple music videos. It was me and two guys. It's kind of like a little Black Eyed Peas group in a sense. So it was fun working with the guys. But it was just the same thing—things don't last forever. We grew up and we decided that it wasn't right for us to be in that group. Then a couple other groups followed. Then the big one came. G.R.L.
My sister was in the Pussycat Doll Camp because of Girlicious and she was one of the first members of G.R.L. It was Simone, my sister, Natalie, Lauren, Paula, and Natasha. Then, right before they got signed, my sister got pregnant. She was given an ultimatum. And, you know, that's how the music industry is, “Do you want to be in the group? Or do you want to have a family?” And of course, she chose to have a family. She also wanted to be in the group, but that's not how this works—she left and was replaced with Emily. Unfortunately further down the line, one of the members of G.R.L. had passed away. Her name was Simone. I knew her because of my sister. Two of the girls kind of disappeared—Laura and Paula They wanted to go and heal and take time off from music. They still had some shows that they were obligated to do as G.R.L. which they didn't want to do, understandably. That was when they went for the search for the new member who could follow through with a lot of those tours and shows that they needed to finish. They held a small audition, but none of the girls fit. Since my sister is very good friends with all of the girls, she knew what was going on. And then one day, she was at lunch with Natasha, and asked “Why don't you just put my sister in the group?” They were so excited and so on board with the idea. I still had to audition. They had known me since I was 12, when my sister got into that whole camp so I grew up with the Pussycat doll music, video shoots, and knowing all these girls and knowing Robin. I grew up with all of these girls.
They held an audition at a studio for me. It was a long audition! They had me freestyle, they had me sing, they had me learn long choreography. They literally tested everything that they were going to need me to do. Eventually Robin called me with the girls on the phone and welcomed me to G.R.L. They were leaving to Australia in two weeks so we had to re-record all of the songs, as well as write two more songs with the girls and learn all of the tour choreography. Then we were performing at a stadium at the Nickelodeon Slime Fest.
This was in 2015; I believe I was 21—but I was ready! I would go into rehearsal almost everyday—all day long, and they had all the choreography, and they would just wait for me to learn it. I'd have to fall into formation and catch all the moves and do it again. And again. And again. Then to the studio to record the parts, and then to the next studio to record the new songs. And it was a lot and then the press photoshoots. It was everything that I had been working for a really long time.
Shay Ervin: Your first go at it definitely sounds like a lot! We've had a lot of experience, but now you're working solo? How was that transition? And what is the difference now?
J: We went from being really busy to the girls not feeling it anymore for a while. I was like “Let's go, let's go, let's go!” And they were like, “we're tired.” After they did the shows they were dedicated to do, they didn’t have to do certain things and so they didn't want to do certain things anymore. They wanted to rest and needed time. Lauren had a baby, which is beautiful. And she is building a family and she built a studio with Robin. Then Natasha is a businesswoman working for three different businesses and just doing her thing. They weren't really for it anymore. Everyone needs to be in it for it to work, so it just ended naturally. We never said we were done. We just kept turning things down.
I didn't want to stop just because G.R.L. wasn't moving. It put me in the mindset to figure it out for myself. That's how I got into production. I've always struggled with producers, and them having a second agenda, or not giving me the full production or being lazy or up-charging me after I’d fallen in love with the song or trying to have a relationship with me.
It's been exhausting, you know, and the music is the center of the dream. You're not getting your music, and you're depending on other people to give you the most important thing. It's tough.
S: A few of the things that you've talked about have been specific to the response to being a woman in the music industry. Whether it’s getting pregnant and having to make a choice to have kids or have a career or having producers that screw you over. Is this something that you've faced often? How have you overcome that?
J: It's something I've faced since I was young. Either you have to be extremely rich and be able to pay them out, or they want something else. It's unfortunate. Because without a deal, and as an independent artist, you don't have $10,000 to give somebody for a song. You just want the song, just so you can use it and then pay them back. It doesn't work like that. I've made the mistake of creating a relationship with producers and not for music. Just because that's what happens when you're in the studio with someone for so long. Then that can mess it up to when you genuinely start to like someone. When G.R.L. ended, I didn’t want to go back to begging people—begging men to give me my music. I was so tired of it. That’s how I got into production. I locked myself in my room and studied for probably like a year or two non-stop.
I started learning how to download beats from YouTube and learned how to produce vocals. I learned how to record myself, mix my stuff. And that started the production journey for me. But for the first couple years, that's what I was doing. I'm not going to the studio anymore. I need to learn how to do this. I can write all day long. I've been writing since I was a little girl. So how can I create and build a song myself? When I was able to do that, my stuff was sounding good. I’m tired of grabbing stuff on SoundCloud, or YouTube because I don't own it. So now, let me use those skills to transfer over to production.
Photo: "Jazzy x BAER"
"I didn't want to stop just because G.R.L. wasn't moving. It put me in the mindset to figure it out for myself. That's how I got into production..."
N: What was it like for you being a female producer in the music industry? Once you made that transition. I know that the music industry specifically is not kind and is not open to women producers. It's a really male dominated space. What was that like for you?
J: Luckily, my stuff sounded good. And my stuff spoke volumes. Because people were pleasantly surprised. The second song I put out reached over 100,000 streams in under a month. Which for me was insane. Because I did everything and mixed it and produced it, engineered it, recorded it and then put it out. It felt really good. Let me tell you.
People always have some negative things to say, but at this point, I don't have to listen to them. I am in my own world, and I'm over here creating and I'm in nobody else's studio and I don't listen to anybody else's opinion. Except for my family and the people who care about me, that's kind of all that matters, I'm just happy to be out of that bubble. And I'm happy to finally feel independent.
S: Would you say that your mission is to be able to stand alone? To be able to prove as a woman, you can be a producer and put out quality?
J: One-hundred percent that is definitely my mission. I think I've always loved being in groups, but I always knew that I eventually wanted to take everything I learned and become the best solo artist I could be. That’s from learning from all of these people around me, all of these talented females and males, and taking little by little, and helping me in the long run and not in a crazy narcissistic way just in a sense where I respect these people. It has helped and taught me how to do what I do. I had a a couple producer friends as well who would come by and teach me some things too. I wasn't really on my own. It was me and YouTube and a couple really good friends. Specifically, this guy named MVXMILLI. He's amazing. I have two collabs with him. But his music on his own is insane and he just got signed. I'm so excited for his albums that are about to drop back to back.
N: From what I'm hearing, it sounds like you're very self-made and hands-on with everything that you do. People in our audience are wondering about how they can do that themselves. I feel like we're living in a time, especially in the music industry where, it's expected that people are learning how to do everything.
Let’s talk about your EP Seven24. It's incredible. This one was really interesting to us, because we read that you wrote it while in quarantine. What was that like? And have you seen this time and quarantine as an opportunity to grow personally and musically?
J: I'm sad about what's going on. And why this has happened. Of course, it's devastating. But it's definitely helped me a lot because I have had so much time to brighten up and just get better at my craft. I also started sewing and creating designs, which is something I've always wanted to do. Quarantine somehow pushed me into it. I'm a lot better than I thought I would be so quickly. I think that's why I pushed it away so far. But as soon as I started, I was creating outfits from nothing. I'm obsessed. Why was I never doing this before? It's a whole new way to create and create something physical that other people can appreciate. The EP I did during quarantine is about my man who I love so much. His name is Jared. He is so supportive. It's insane. And funny thing is his brother is married to my sister. He's technically my brother-in-law. He has been in my life for a really long time, because our siblings are married with three kids. We were best friends first. Then it became this. He's so supportive of my music. And if you watch my music videos, he's in them. He helps me with anything, except for the Xbox, he needs to stop playing that.
S: That song Xbox must be about him!
J: 100%. I’m really grateful for him. You know you love someone when you're not doing anything, and there's no distractions, and you still love and you're still happy, and you're still getting along. Which is rare, because I've never had that before. Then Girls was kind of me just wishing for that kind of night again to just go out with my girls. I love my girls. While in quarantine it really made me miss those old days. When we got to get ready and meet up and go out with no mask and have some fun. I wrote that one on Instagram. I had all of my followers and fans, send me their names. I did a little questionnaire and I put a clip to the song I was writing, and I shouted out my fans. I just wanted people to feel connected and feel I am grateful for you and for your support and for following me and for being a part of this. You are genuinely truly a part of this. So that was really fun to create because I made a lot of people feel really good and really happy and it made me feel really good, really happy.
S: A great way to use your art for positivity this year for sure. But also using it as a community which is something that we are definitely lacking. Especially during times of adversity and difficulty and struggle, it's that sense of community that's missing.
J: It's not even just about the song. I always try to respond to all of my messages and all of my DMs and all of my comments, because I don't want to be that artist that ignores their fans. I don't have that mindset that other artists have, I feel like if you take the time to send a nice message or to compliment me, that means a lot. And that makes me feel good. So of course, I'm going to acknowledge that and respond to you, you're a human being just like me. I just really want to stay connected to my fan base.
Photo: "Jazzy Mejia"
"...learn everything you can about the music industry. Learn how to do things on your own, even if you don't want to know how to do it so that you're not going into situations clueless..."
N: That's beautiful. I'm so happy that you're an artist that's like that, because you do see a lot of people who are not that mentality. You've been in this huge group, you have toured around the world, and you still care about the people that are tuning in to listen to your music.
S: I want to talk to you about a song that you released in 2019. Called Sometimes, and starts off with your sister talking about you. It seems so genuine, so beautiful. Can you tell us about that?
J: That was a clip I took from my sister on MuchMusic, which is the Canadian MTV. She was being interviewed. Back when I was 12 or 13. When she first won the show she went on her first tour. She was saying in the interview. “I have a little sister and she thinks she's in the shadow. But you'll get your day to shine, I promise.” She looked at the camera and was talking to me. I remember watching that. And I was like, “Thanks, sister.” That's something that has always stuck with me. I always did feel a little bit in the shadow. But it was more just because my sister is a lot older than me. She's six years older than me. Six years is a lot and especially because my sister was doing a lot more—going on auditions and on TV and going on tour before Girlicious. She was in other groups. She was signed already. I feel like a lot of my upbringing was about Natalie at the time. My sister was just busy and so my parents did have to be with her a lot. She was 19 when she won on the show. My parents were always gone with her. I always asked what about me? I want to be on tour. I want to be on Disney. I wanted to do these things. I always cried about that. My sister knew how I felt so her saying that was a big moment for me. She said it on TV; we’d never had that conversation face to face.
S: That's so sweet. Would you say that she inspires your music now?
J: Yeah, for sure. I think my sister has been inspiring me my whole life. I don't think I'd be who I am without my big sister. In so many ways, she loves that I produce now. Sometimes she comes over and goes “Make me a beat. Let's go.”
It’s nice because I have my own thing now. My thing is my production. Which I something my family never thought I would get into. It's cool that we're different, but we now get to bring things together and create.
N: What would you say is your inspiration for your vocals? Who do you look up to artistically?
J: I grew up really loving Jojo. I love Jojo so much. Then people like Lauryn Hill. I love Lauryn Hill. Nowadays I’m a huge fan of Jhene Aiko. I love the simplicity and how she almost talk-sings, but it's so it's pretty; its easy listening and good on the ears. She doesn't have to try too hard. Right now, I've been listening to a lot of Summer Walker. I love R&B artists. I also love some pop artists too.
S: You mentioned earlier on, before we were recording, that you are working on something now. Do you want to talk about that?
J: I actually haven't talked about this with anybody. I don't want to get too much into it. There are hints of G.R.L. coming back. I don't want to say too much. I will say that I'm not going to be a part of it. I’ll just leave it at that.
S: Happy for you, whatever it may be. We would love to circle back afterwards. What would you tell our listeners who are young artists working in the music industry?
J: I would say learn everything you can about the music industry. Learn how to do things on your own, even if you don't want to know how to do it so that you're not going into situations clueless. Read up on production, read up on vocals, read up on how to write songs, read up on how to create and direct. Learn as much as you can about it. So that you are always on top of your game and so that nobody can have control over it. I would say use YouTube to learn. Not to be cliche, but there's going to be high highs, the higher the highs, the lower the lows. Know what you're doing it for and get through those lows to get back to the other side. It's a serious roller coaster and you just got to hang on for dear life.
N: Jazzy, I want to thank you for coming on. I also want to let you know that I appreciate you being so vulnerable and talking about who you are. We appreciate it, we know our audience is really going to appreciate it. Like Shay was saying, we love to circle back with our artists, later on down their journeys, so we can check on them to see what's changed.
J: Thank you again!