Karine Jean-Pierre
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Emeli Sandé on Her New Music, Inspiration, & Falling in Love With a Woman

Emeli Sande

In the video for her new song “There Isn’t Much,” singer and songwriter Emeli Sandé heralds the joys of finding someone to share her life with. “To look at all my stuff, you would think I had enough. I’m afraid there isn’t much without you,” sings Sandé, while surrounded by sensual dancers from the queer community.

The video from director Marieke Macklon that dropped in late March wasn’t intended as a public coming-out, but Sandé, who became an international sensation with her hit “Next to Me” in 2012, says it felt like the right time to share that she’d fallen in love with a woman. 

“I never intended to do a big coming-out reveal or anything like that, but with the video, it felt like a natural way to do it — especially with this song [with] me falling in love with a woman,” Sandé says. “I love being able to put out new music. I love the response from it. But then being able to come home and have somebody that truly loves and supports me, it just makes it 1,000 times better.”

Sandé's new album, Let’s Say for Instance (available May 6), is a gentle ode to manifesting what’s possible when people allow themselves to dream of a brighter life. “Until you can actually envision something, I don’t believe it can become a reality,” Sandé explains of the album’s meaning. “Even just the beginning of a thought can open a whole new life.”

She offers a few examples. “Let’s say, for instance, the world can be accepting one day of everybody. Let’s say, for instance, there are brighter days to come.” 

Sandé amassed LGBTQ+ fans early in her career, often playing her thoughtful and infectious music in queer clubs. Now, with her new record out May 6 and a European tour slated for the summer, she’s squarely a part of the queer community and feels the love like never before.

“To have that support [from queer people] means everything to me. It is quite a daunting thing to be honest with the world and to share our love with the world,” Sandé says. “We were in the park yesterday doing some content filming, and this guy came up. He’s like, ‘Hey, welcome.’ I never expected that type of embracement.”

The news that Scotland-born Sandé has a new album, a tour, and love in her life comes after sweeping changes in her career in early 2020 that occurred just before the pandemic hit. She’d left her label Virgin, her manager, and her publisher around the same time, although she said it was just a coincidence that things shook out that way. During lockdowns, she had time to consider what was next, including possibly going back to medicine — she earned a degree in clinical neuroscience before diving headlong into the music industry more than a decade ago.  

“[Lockdown] was really the first time where I just felt like a person again [after years of nonstop touring and creating music],” Sandé says. “What do I want to do? Do I maybe want to go back to medicine because that’s obviously a lot more useful in these times?” she says. Or, “Do I want to use my music for something different?”

“[The downtime] gave me a lot more of a focused purpose coming back, because I feel like I’ve made informed choices. I’d had 10 years to understand how the industry worked,” she says. “This time, I thought, OK, I can make an album…. Nobody’s expecting the album, but I just want to make it.”

Having reentered the music industry following the pandemic and major life changes — like falling in love with classical pianist Yoana Karemova — Sandé notes positive changes for women in the music business in the decade since her career blew up.

“I do believe women are becoming a lot more confident in taking the roles which in the past have kind of been denied to them. I feel the internet has played a massive big switch in that,” she says. “When I started and had my first song out [around] 2008, 2010, it was all based on what the major labels allowed to go out there. What they thought should be promoted on TV. We were being more dictated [to], and we weren’t leading as much.”

Among those artists Sandé admires who’ve risen to fame since “Next to Me” dominated the airwaves is “Juice” chanteuse Lizzo, whose recent reality series Watch Out for the Big Grrrls centers on body-positive cis and trans dancers of color.

“I’m addicted to it. Watching her, I’m like, Wow, this is so empowering,” Sandé says. “You have a trans contestant on there, you have bigger women, you have all different communities involved. I don’t think you would have been able to see that, let’s say, 10 years ago.”

Sandé hopes to similarly empower and uplift others with her music — and by walking in her truth as a queer person.

“I realize I’m in a privileged position living in London, where it is legal to be in love and marry your partner, and where it is to an extent safe to be open. I’m aware of all the different people around the world that are not in such a privileged position,” Sandé says. “I’ve always felt different, whether that be my color or how I look or now being open about my sexuality. I’m very proud to be [out]. I hope that I can kind of shine a light for people and help them on their journey.”

Watch the “There Isn't Much” video below. 

 

This story is part of The Advocate’s 2022 Champions of Pride issue, which is out on newsstands May 17, 2022. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe — or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.

Tags: Exclusives, Music

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