How Psy, Big Bang and N*SYNC helped spawn the Sierra Leone's first K-pop princess.
Words and Interview by James Walsh and Joseph ‘JP’ Patterson.
A*M*E (pronounced Amy) is a pint-sized pop princess with songwriting sensibilities that belie her tender years. Signed to Gary Barlow of Take That fame’s Universal imprint, Future Records, she was noticed for her own brand of K-pop, which has been steadily building over the past year and gathering momentum to the point where the success her talent and hard work warrants seems to now be inevitable. Before 17-year-old A*M*E – who is now based in London – goes on to top many-a-one to watch list for 2013, MTV IGGY spoke with the teenager from Sierra Leone about Africa, Britney Spears and her infatuation with pop music from Korea.
It’s known that you moved from Sierra Leone to England when you were younger. We’re really interested to know what music you listened to back in Africa as a child…
Well, my dad was always doing headline tours – he was pretty big back there and played African reggae music. I used to go with him, watch from the audience and study him from a performance perspective. Sierra Leone’s musical scene was more shaped from the music streaming in from Europe and America. I listened to Take That, N*Sync and Britney Spears mainly, but all of the songs were a few years behind. I’d always be listening to the radio for something which sounded remotely new, but I wasn’t aware at the time that it was old. It was all exciting to me.
How different did you find the musical scene in London to Sierra Leone?
I was 8 years old when I moved to London. It was great discovering different genres. I discovered K-pop in London, as well as music I didn’t know existed, like indie and country. There was so much new music to be open to that I never heard back in Sierra Leone.
You mentioned K-pop, which is blowing up right now. Tell us about your fascination with it…
I first heard K-pop in about 2006, around three years after I moved to London. My older sister came across this group on YouTube called Big Bang, and introduced me to them. She told me to listen to it with an open mind, as they weren’t singing in English. I absolutely loved it from the first moment. I was fascinated by the fact they weren’t singing in a language I knew, yet I still felt as if I could understand and relate to it.
So that means you probably knew about Psy a long time before the rest of the UK? [Laughs]
[Laughs] Yeah! It’s so bizarre seeing Psy’s success now and seeing it happen with “Gangnam Style”. I’ve been following him for a few years. He’s an incredible artist and writes amazing music. It’s pretty cool all he’s achieving now, and hopefully it opens the door and paves the way for more K-pop artists to follow.
You’ve had your own success in Korea, too. Can you tell us a bit about that and how you would describe your own music, which has a very K-pop sound?
I wrote a track called “Beautiful Stranger”. It’s a quirky song, typical to my style but we felt that we had stronger songs for the album. Thankfully, a girl group called F(X) liked it enough to want to record it, and it went on to become a number one hit in Korea. My sound is pop, but with many different elements. Growing up in Sierra Leone has been a big influence on my music, as the songs I was hearing put me in a ’90s head-space, musically. My music has ’90s synths, ’90s basslines, and I feel like the pop songs of the ’90s are how songs should be written: very well structured. My tracks so far have each been a variation of pop. “Ride Or Die” was pop with bashment, “City Lights” was more electronic-pop, and “Play The Game Boy” is more ’90s retro-pop.
Tell us a bit more about your new single, ”Play The Game Boy”…
I was put in the studio with Electric, who are music producers, and I was really excited when I initially heard the beat. If I could describe me in a beat, “Play The Game Boy” would be it. It made me feel amazing and I was itching to start writing to it right away. I never think of a concept and try to write around it, I just go with what comes naturally. Electric already had the hook line and I didn’t want to write about the obvious, so I went with the idea that girls can play games the same way boys can. It’s lighthearted and fun, but the message is basically that girls can do the same things as the boys. Everyone seems to have their own perception of it and it’s great that it appeals to people in different ways, and that one person can take one meaning from it and another can take an entirely different one.
The last few months have seen you tour with UK pop stars JLS, sing backing on Cheryl’s album and work with one of my favourite new producers, MNEK. How has that all been for you?
JLS were incredible to tour with. I sometimes think you don’t really appreciate an artist until you see them live, and they were a whole other level. I was gobsmacked from the first show to last! They were such nice guys and gave me good advice. They taught me to keep the energy up, get the audience pumped and to just be myself. Doing backing vocals on Cheryl’s album was a great experience, everything was so polished. Then on the flip side, working with MNEK, who’s just starting out on his career, has been amazing. I’ve known him since before I was signed, so it’s great seeing it all take off for him. He’s a good friend and we bounce off each other in the studio, it’s more banter and a really fun process to work with him on a track.
Is there an album on the horizon?
The album is never done until it’s literally in your hand, but June/July 2013 is around the time we’re aiming for. I’ll be doing some more support tours; there’ll be some more singles, as well as sneaky little feature – which I’m not telling you about [Laughs]. It’s been a busy few months, but we’ll be going into overdrive from now on.
In five years’ time, you’ll still be incredibly young. 22, in fact! What do you hope to achieve by that time?
I want to keep on writing. I want to be a household name like Rihanna. I want to have good record sales, number one singles and albums and, ultimately, be successful. Most importantly, I want to grow as a writer and expand as an artist. I’m always learning and hopefully people appreciate my music and like it enough to put it at the top of the charts, time and time again.