Jaira Burns Is Ready To Heat Up The Music Industry

Photo: Christopher Polk/Getty Images..
Jaira Burns doesn't shake hands — she hugs. The singer-songwriter is into connecting with people through her music, hugs, and unconventional ice-breakers like, "Can I vape in here?" which she asks as she pulls out a tiny, shiny, oval-shaped vape out of her wallet during an interview with Refinery29. Burns has blueberry-hued hair that pops against her nude-colored crop top, which features two embroidered manicured hands over her chest. With her first EP, Burn Slow, finally out in the world for her "JairBears" to devour, Burns is literally and figuratively feeling herself. And it's about damn time.
Burns, 21, has been making music since she was 13. She first dabbled with a few covers on YouTube — check out her rendition of Adele's "Someone Like You" — but she ultimately found her big break after moving from a small town in Pennsylvania to Los Angeles, where she was quickly signed by Interscope. And by "big break," we mean big break. Her debut single, "Ugly," was featured in a 2017 TV ad for Beats x Balmain collaboration that starred one of the most influential millennials in the world: Kylie Jenner.
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"It was insane," Burns tells Refinery29 in a sunny conference room. "I was low-key in shock." While she didn't have any face-to-face time with Jenner, the collaboration put her name in a lot of mouths, and her debut single, a punchy synth-pop track about a sour hookup, in a lot of ears. Soon after "Ugly," she dropped "Burn Slow," about smoking and chilling with your boo, and then "High Rollin," which broaches a similar topic, but with a totally different vibe, thanks to Burns' ever-changing mood and inspirations. That unpredictable mood is reflected in Burns' tracks which incorporate electronic, R&B, and even reggae beats. Burns is a rising hit-maker who never doubted her ability to find success, and her songs exude that same confidence for her listeners to bask in, and be inspired by. "I like to encourage people to do whatever the hell they want, to say what they want, to do what they want, and to be unapologetic about it," she says.
Ahead of her first full length fall U.S. tour, Burns tells Refinery29 about the highs and lows of being a new artist who is ready to heat things up.
Refinery29: Do you have a favorite song off of Burn Slow?
Jaira Burns: "It's hard for a lot of artists because you have people, and fans, who gravitate towards one or the other. But as the artist, I love them all as a collective. They all come together for me at the end of the day as one two-hour song."
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Speaking of being a new artist, do you feel like you've had to grow really quickly, or are you still on your own timeline of what you want to achieve?
"I feel like as a new artist you're continuously building your fanbase and your relationships with people at record companies. Right now, for me, being a new artist is pretty simple. I won't ever stop growing even if I'm ever 'there.' 'There' is in quotations because I don't think I'll ever stop. As humans in general, we try to make the process [of growing up] go faster, and it just doesn't happen like that. As I mature in life and go through some more shit, I think that my sound is going to change continuously."
I feel like that mentality is in a lot of your songs, too. Do you write your own music?
"I wrote on 'Burn Slow,' 'Sugarcoat,' and 'Low Key In Love.' That is a hard part for me, accepting other people's records because I like to have a hand and really lead the entire session. But as a new artist, I like to collaborate and learn from the greats. It's better for me to sit and pick somebody's brain who has been doing this for like 20 years rather than me who just started. I'm a good writer, but I want to be an amazing writer."
When you are writing, what's your inspiration?
"I am very moody. Sometimes it's even a color [that inspires me]. Maybe I wake up, and I'm pissed off because I had an argument with someone and then I need to write a song about being angry. I'll say to the producer: 'This is the vibe I want: dark, edgy, urban and a little bit of mystery.' They'll start to structure the skeleton of the beat, and then I'll come in. Sometimes it will be a line or a word, and I'll focus on it and be like, 'That's what we're writing.'"
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How has it been translating your songs into music videos? I noticed they are also really moody, vibe-y, and centered around a certain color palette, like you mentioned some of your lyrics are.
"For my first two videos I took a backseat, and then after I was like I can do this. I would listen to one song on repeat for hours. I would turn it back, and close my eyes as I'm hearing the words and the beat, and start seeing different things. I'd write those things down, and then send it to the label. It's been an incredible journey being able to make my visions become a reality."
Did you think when you were doing YouTube videos that you would end up here, as a singer with this creative control?
"Yes, I did know. I have such great ideas, and I know I have great ideas, and I know my worth. I have known that since I was 11. I knew this was it."
With the #MeToo and Time's Up movement happening, are you confident in the industry? Have you personally felt any change being a woman in the music industry?
"I moved to Los Angeles three years ago [for work] and being from a small town, you don't get to see progress as fast or as happening or as alive as it is in other cities. It opened my eyes. This industry has a lot of respect for women, at least the people I work with. Half of my team, in creative and marketing and everything else, they're women. We're coming in strong."
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What and who is inspiring you right now?
"Urban music is inspiring me heavy right now, especially Lil Uzi Vert. I recently saw him live, and the crowd was... live crowds inspire me a lot. Seeing the people gathering together to listen to music and getting along. That is one of the most inspiring things to me."
Going back to your songs and your lyrics, do you pull a lot from your personal life? How do you want people to feel when they're listening to your music?
"At the end of the day, I just want people to feel something, whether it's happiness or sadness. Let me pick you up when you're down. With 'Sugarcoat,' I've had so many people reach out to me like, 'Jair, thank you for this because I just went through a break-up and I wouldn't have been able to get through it without that.' I like to encourage people to do whatever the hell they want, to say what they want, to do what they want, and to be unapologetic about it."
Who is that for you?
"Rihanna and my mom."
Have you met Rihanna?
"No! Rihanna, come thru."
Burn Slow is available on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever else you get your music.
This interview has been condensed for style and length.
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