How Therapy Helped Rita Ora Write Her Latest Album“Now I look at myself in the mirror, and I think, 'Look, you got up.”
If you’re a fan of Rita Ora, you know she’s a pop sensation with hits like “Let You Love Me” and “How We Do.” For her third album, the artist is getting more personal, with catchy lyrics and samples celebrating self-love, family, and not settling for anything less than a fairytale type of love.
“It was like I was waiting for something, and I didn't know what it was. Then, boom, it did happen,” she says of the inspiration behind tracks like “Don’t Think Twice” and “You Only Love Me.” Of course, Ora is referring to her relationship with actor and director Taika Waititi, which naturally blossomed into something romantic after being friends for six years. “I needed to give that girl that I once was a bit of hope and for anyone listening as well,” she adds.
Ora wrote all the songs on the album (including #1 dance hit "Praising You"), and she credits much of her vulnerability to the skills she learned in therapy and becoming more confident and clear about the music she wants to make. “I wanted to just speak to the people and feel really connected and close. And so that's why I called the album You & I,” she says. “It feels liberating.”
Here, Ora speaks on dealing with album-release anxiety, letting it all out in therapy, and going to her mother (who just so happens to be a mental health pro) for advice.
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WM: How are you doing lately?
Rita Ora: I’m good. I'm in the middle of promo, so I'm definitely a little overwhelmed with work, but I know it's just because we are leading up to the release of my album and so everything's moving at a really fast pace. But, you know, mentally and health-wise—luckily, touch wood—I'm doing pretty good.
WM: What has your experience with therapy been like?
RO: It might not be for everyone, but it's been a great outlet for me to talk in private. … It just feels really safe, and it's just nice to get it off my chest. To have an hour to sit down with someone and solely talk about whatever you want is like [chef’s kiss] in my books. And it's helped me a lot with my new album being able to express myself, finding words to communicate. All of that I learned in therapy.
WM: What’s something you learned about communication?
RO: I never understood the [advice to] “just use your words. Just communicate. Tell people how you're feeling.” You always try and do it yourself where you are like, Oh, whatever, and you brush under the rug. That's just what we do as humans 'cause we're just surviving and trying to just get onto the next thing. But expressing how you're feeling or what you want, I think that's a huge learning curve that I learned.
WM: You went to therapy after feeling like you lost yourself when you were younger and partying more. What do you do differently now to make sure you’re staying true to yourself while keeping that fun-loving girl alive?
RO: For a long time I thought I had to pick one or the other. Like in your 20s, it's like, Oh, I'm just gonna be this party girl and have fun and do what I want. But then when I go into my 30s, I realized it would be more about finding a partner and being an adult. But, at the same time, I don't wanna lose that essence of me as a human because I enjoy having fun. We all need our way to release, and my version is spending time with my friends and acknowledging that part of myself. That's what “That Girl” is, and knowing that she'll always be a part of my life no matter what stage or age or whatever the hell I'm in. It's good to just have that relationship with yourself too 'cause it's like your kid self that you'll never get rid of.
WM: A big chunk of your album is devoted to your self-love journey. What was one of the biggest obstacles that you had to overcome in finding self-confidence?
RO: A lot. Pfft. I'll say that much. I don't even know where to start. I felt like to love yourself and to be happy with the girl in the mirror is a hard thing to do for anybody. But it's a really rewarding lesson once you get there.
I've been doing this now for over a decade, and a lot of people comment on what I wear and how I look and ups and downs in the business—it's happened to me a lot. From the beginning, I knew that I wanted to be this 360 artist and do film, TV, and music. But with that comes judgments and opinions and a lot of scrutiny and a magnified role, I would like to think. But I just enjoyed the idea of being multifaceted, and that all stemmed from proving something because of the relationship I had with myself. I guess in some sort of dreamland it gave me a lot of drive, you know? Now I look at myself in the mirror, and I think, Look, you got up. And that was a real huge achievement, you know?
WM: What aspect of your mental health would you describe as a work in progress?
RO: My mom likes to say the words “work in progress” all the time. She's actually a psychiatrist, and to be honest, she did play a huge role in my self-love journey. There's a song on the new album called “Shape of Me,” and it touches on it. Basically, it was about the one who taught me to trust in myself and to trust all those cracks because … those cracks are kind of what has shaped you. Those aren't the words—it rhymes way better than that.
She's a badass. My mom is a hardworking woman who restudied to be a psychiatrist from her education back at home in Albania as well as beating breast cancer. Like, she just has so much determination, so much strength, and that great work ethic has been installed in us from day one. I think my mental health really does stem from family and having a great example.
WM: Do you ever go to her for her professional opinion?
RO: I ask her a lot, but she feels real uncomfortable to do her work things with me. But she definitely references me to the right people and the right therapists. … She does approach me in a real calm, delicate manner, which I think is great. She's always been really good at calming down my nerves and anxieties when I was younger. I was really lucky to have that understanding of a parent.
WM: What mental health stigma or struggle do you hope we can tear down soon?
RO: If I had the powers of the world, it would probably be how to not psych yourself out, you know? I still deal with that myself. If we could just abolish anxiety and social anxiety altogether, I'd be really happy.
What's helped me is hanging out with other people that go through it and going out together and everybody just meshing into a ball together while being out, and then we encourage each other. Then you realize, Oh shit. I'm still alive. I made it. And you always do make it. You just have to hold on.
WM: It can be so hard to have that perspective in the moment when you’re anxious.
RO: In the moment, you think you're never going to. But my therapist was like, “Listen, have you always survived them?” And I was like, “Yeah [laughs].” But you don't notice and you don't feel that and you don't think that in the moment.
WM: You experience panic attacks as well. What helps you cope with those when they pop up?
RO: I mean I actually nearly felt like it was coming back a couple weeks ago 'cause of course when you put an album out, everything is like ahhh! When you're in [panic mode], everything goes out the window, you know? I mean, it's so hard to collect your thoughts.
But what I did was I actually got ice out of the freezer, and it was like that immediate feeling or sensation that [helps] you take yourself out of that spiral 'cause it's really cold. So I hold it and then I put it on my face and then it just really snaps me out of it.
Then I sit down. I look at the time, and I look at a thing, and I smell something. I try and step outside. For me, breathing works, but it's hard for me to get into that pace when I'm in this sense of panic. Like, I have to shift my brain into something else really quickly, hence the ice. That's what works for me, but everyone's different.
You know, it sucks, but it's a real thing, and I'm really happy and comfortable to talk about it. I feel like it's something that everybody should talk about.
WM: What does it feel like when you think a panic attack is around the corner but it hasn’t actually happened yet?
RO: It's almost like because you are so familiar with the feeling, you just can't forget how it felt. But it doesn't mean you're feeling that right now. But because you're afraid of it, you are almost inducing the fear, which is, for me, always the start of something bigger. I think it really stems from trying to make sure you can see the difference from when it did happen to what you're doing now. That is the connection that really helps calm me down.
WM: What message about mental health would you like to leave with readers and your fans?
RO: You would be very surprised with what you see on the cover and what someone's actually going through in real life. So my thing would be to genuinely just be gentle and nice because you don't really know what people are going through.
And just have patience that you will find your way out in your own way. And just 'cause it says something in a book, it doesn't mean it's gonna work straight away. It takes a lot of practice. I think patience and practice are the two things that I would tell my fans and my followers, and [what I] hoped somebody would've told me [laughs].
And know that there are so many ways to get help as well. And just talk [to someone]. For me, talking has been a real life-changer. I know it’s crazy 'cause I do music and you feel like that's a way of sort of vocalizing [emotions], but you'd be surprised. Talking just does something different.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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