“I could be what?” I’m telling Lauren Jauregui – or trying to – that she has the makings of a great agony aunt. But this very British term for newspaper advice columnist isn’t one that Jauregui, born and raised in Miami, has ever heard before.
“I could be a nun, is that what you’re saying? I literally have no idea what you’re saying; this term is not in my vocabulary!”
So I explain, fumblingly, that she seems to have a gift for dating advice, and reassure her that I’m not suggesting she join a convent any time soon. And then the former Fifth Harmony singer, who’s chatting on the phone from her LA base, catches my drift. “Oh, I could probably do that,” she says. “But could I give myself an alias so people don’t even know it’s me?!”
We’ve segued into dating advice because Jauregui is telling me the story behind Expectations, her excellent debut solo single which dropped in October. Low-key and bluesy, it’s a blast of relatable relationship drama driven by Jauregui’s gutsy, husky voice. “All these tears that I cry while I’m turned to the side, and you’re in the same fucking bed,” she sings with palpable emotion. “Wish I had no expectations – but I expect, you expect, we expect.”
“You know when you’re in a relationship and you have particular expectations of someone, and when they don’t meet them, you get disappointed?” she tells me, sounding chatty and relaxed as she begins her Friday morning. “We like to blame the other person, but 90 percent of the time, it’s probably just your own fault because you shouldn’t have expected what you expected to begin with, because everyone’s an individual.”
Lauren wears denim jacket by AGDOLE at BLOOMINGDALE’S, priced £152, and diamond necklace with pendant from SWAROVSKI
So, I ask, do you think most people go into relationships with expectations that are a little too high? “Here’s the thing,” she replies purposefully. “You should always have your standards. You should have your limits, your boundaries, things that make you comfortable, things that you like, things that you don’t like. You should know all those things. But you should never expect another person to give you those things. It’s important when you’re in a relationship with someone to understand that the other person isn’t you – they’re not gonna love like you do, and they’re gonna have their own language, if you will.”
Jauregui pauses, then adds thoughtfully: “And so if you wanna really love somebody, you’ve gotta apply yourself in terms of learning that person’s language. You can’t expect that the way you would react to things will be the way that other person’s going to react. But at the same time, you’ve got to look out for yourself and make sure you’re being taken care of. If the other person isn’t trying to listen to your language, they’re not the person for you. And when that happens, you’ve gotta move on.”
See what I mean? She’s a natural agony aunt. But for now, Jauregui is concentrating on building a very promising solo career after six years as a member of girl-group Fifth Harmony. Formed on the US version of The X Factor in 2012, the band (whose line-up also included Camilla ‘Havana’ Cabello and Sam Smith collaborator Normani) scored eight gold or platinum singles before announcing in March 2018 that they were going on indefinite hiatus. Two months later, Jauregui signed a solo record deal. At this point, she’d featured on tracks by Halsey, DJ-producer Steve Aoki and singer-songwriter Ty Dolla $ign (who’s been her romantic partner since 2017), but never released any music simply as Lauren Jauregui. Did she have any idea what kind of solo artist she wanted to be?
“Not really, to be honest,” she replies candidly. “I had kind of turned myself off creatively as far as, like, trying to make music went for so long that I feel like I had no idea what I wanted to sound like. And that [what I should sound like] is something that keeps evolving every day – I feel like I’m getting closer and closer to my answer. Right now, at this exact moment, I’m in a much clearer headspace than I’ve ever been on what my sound and my vibe is.” And how would she describe that vibe? “Like, stepping into the alternative R&B world – and I really love it.”
Jauregui’s second solo single, More Than That, dropped in January and signposts her new, alternative R&B direction. “You gon’ have to come stronger than this liquor / Wanna take me home, better be more convincing,” Jauregui tells a potential suitor, singing over dreamy beats that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Frank Ocean album. Expectations and More Than That represent an intriguing gear shift from Fifth Harmony’s glossy pop-R&B approach, which peaked with massive bangers such as Work from Home and Worth It, but never produced a completely convincing album.
“I think I was so focused on doing what I was doing that I didn’t really have time to focus on me or what I wanted,” Jauregui recalls today. “I feel like that was probably the safest thing to do – I couldn’t express it, so why even feel it, you feel me? So I kept it in. I would still write poetry and shit – I had a journal that got lost in the middle of America somewhere! I still wrote, but I didn’t really write music. I really started writing music with my verses on the features I did. And then [my creative process] really started in May of last year. My heart opened up in ways that I haven’t experienced in a long time, and I’ve been opening it up further and further ever since.”
Jauregui’s blossoming creativity has already given us the stunning, Botticelli-referencing video for More Than That, whose concept she’s described as “Aphrodite’s visit to Earth”. The video follows the ancient Greek Goddess, played by Jauregui, as she “finds herself in a unique club surrounded by the earthly embodiments of the divine feminine”.
“I’m really inspired by Goddess imagery, and Aphrodite is the Goddess that resonates the most,” she tells me today. “I felt like the song really encapsulated her and so I used Botticelli’s vision as inspiration and put a modern twist on it.” It feels like an especially powerful image for younger female fans, I suggest, given that society still teaches girls to be afraid or even ashamed of their sexuality. “That’s part of it,” Jauregui replies. “What I love about Aphrodite is she’s very sexual and sensual – she’s the Goddess of fertility and connection and being feminine in all ways. I’m very moved by her and her energy. And that’s why there are no men in the video except for the one serving us! I really wanted to encapsulate the sensual image and the power of the woman.”
More Than That isn’t Jauregui’s first subtly powerful statement. In 2017, she and Halsey (whom Jauregui has since opened for on tour) teamed up for Strangers, an ‘80s-sounding breakup song sung from a queer perspective. “She doesn’t kiss me on the mouth anymore, ’cause it’s more intimate than she thinks we should get,” Halsey sings at the start.
Lauren wears denim jacket with crystal embellishment from THE BLONDS, price on appointment, and diamond hoop earrings from SWAROVSKI
The previous November, Jauregui had set out her stall by writing a plain-speaking open letter to Trump voters titled “I Am a Bisexual Cuban-American Woman & I Am So Proud of It”. Halsey has said of Strangers: “If I want this song to be believable, it needs to be real, so I’m not going to put a girl on the song to sing who’s straight.” Jauregui, a fellow bisexual woman in pop, made a natural duet partner.
Today, I ask Jauregui whether she realised Strangers would mean so much to her queer fans. On Twitter, it was widely hailed as “the bisexual anthem of 2017”. “I think I did, to be honest,” she says. “When [Halsey] sent the song, I was into it. But at first the pronouns weren’t ‘she’ and ‘her’ – it was ‘he’. Then she texted me and was like, ‘Hey, I wanna talk to you about this thing’. And when we talked, we were both like ‘let’s change these pronouns, let’s make this a thing’. And so we did. Me, if I was younger, and I’d have heard this song from two queens, I would have been like: ‘Yesss! This is my song!’”
Last year, Rita Ora’s own attempt at a “bisexual anthem”, Girls, was condemned as tone-deaf and unhelpful because it included lyrics such as “red wine, I just wanna kiss girls, girls, girls…” Given how important accurate representation is to the LGBTQ community, did Jauregui worry about making sure that Strangers was absolutely spot-on? “Honestly, I think if you’re conscious, you’re conscious,” she replies coolly. “I don’t think [Halsey] and I really thought about it because it’s who we are, you know. It came off authentically ’cause it is. And that’s it.”
Lauren wears bodysuit from THE BLONDS, price on appointment, and ring from LUV AJ, priced £60
Jauregui may call herself “conscious”, but others have gone further and branded her “political”. Google her name and you’ll find articles like “20 times Lauren Jauregui got political on social media” and “Lauren Jauregui’s 6 most political moments”. So I ask: does Jauregui consider herself a particularly political person? “I think I’m an aware citizen – is that possible to say?” she replies. “I feel like I’m educated on what’s going on around me and I think more people should be that way. And I don’t think it’s something that should be taboo to talk about. I think it’s a mistake to separate being a human who lives in the country that I live in from being an artist. I think it’s even more important for me to be political because I have a voice that speaks to people, sometimes beyond even what politics can do. So if I have that power, that privilege that’s been given to me, I’m not going to waste it on pretending I only care about superficial things. Because I don’t.”
I say that in the current climate, given the global rise of the Far Right, it’s pretty difficult not to be political. “Exactly. That’s how I feel, and I hope how most of us feel,” Jauregui replies. “I think it’s kind of dangerous not to be involved. Right now, there’s a lot of purposeful rhetoric, a lot of propaganda and a lot of falsehood going around. I think we should be looking at the facts – and checking on them, and discussing what they mean. Because unfortunately, uncomfortable conversation is the only thing that sparks change and revolution. I believe that right now we’re in a revolution of consciousness. There’s a lot to talk about, and if we don’t talk about it through our music, and through social media, then it’s never gonna get talked about and we’re just going to stay ignorant and let things that have already happened continue to happen.”
With Pride season approaching, what does Jauregui think of LGBTQ activism in 2019? “We have a voice and a community that’s definitely united in a way that’s special during this time,” she says. “But if we’re talking about politically – if we’re talking about the way people are being treated and talked about, there’s a lot of progress to be made, I believe, especially from a legal standpoint. But you know, I’m not the bitch with all the answers. I definitely don’t have all the solutions. But look at the way we unite at Pride – the way the community’s there for each other. We have amazing things in our favour. But there’s levels to all of this, and we can discriminate even among ourselves.”
Lauren wears denim jacket by AGDOLE at BLOOMINGDALE’S, priced £152, asymmetrical denim skirt by AGDOLE at BLOOMINGDALE’S, priced £121, and diamond necklace with pendant from SWAROVSKI
“We can scream and march and be present with each other, and that’s great,” she adds. “But it’s going to take actual conscious awakening for people to start moving past this ‘other’ situation – this feeling of ‘other’ that keeps some human beings disconnected from other human beings.”
With our time almost up, Jauregui says we should expect new music towards the end of the summer. Will it be another single? “It might be more than that… I don’t have a formula. I’m just dropping music and seeing if people fuck with me, you know? You just drop music and hope that something you wrote, that came from your heart, means something to somebody else. Even if it’s one person, for me, that’s enough. And I’m lucky enough that I’ve had way more than one person listen to Expectations and connect with it. That’s what my makes my heart happy. When I have a concert, and they sing my words back to me, that’s what this is about for me.”
So, what does she want the name Lauren Jauregui to stand for – to mean to people? “I want them to think: ‘Damn, she makes shit that makes me feel shit.’ I want them to think: ‘Damn! This bitch gets me every single time.’”
Photographer Ryan Pfluger
Words Nick Levine
Stylist Jessica Paster
Creative Umar Sarwar
Hair Clyde Haygood
Makeup Carlene K
Producer Lewis Corner