Welcome to The Drop, Refinery29's home for music video premieres. We want to shine the spotlight on women artists whose music inspires, excites, and (literally) moves us. This is where we'll champion their voices.
The ancient Greek legend of the phoenix goes something like this: The mystical, brilliantly colored bird, often thought to be connected to the sun, lives for hundreds of years until it bursts into flames and dies. But once reduced to ashes, it is born again, rising from the cinders from whence it came. To many today, it symbolises the cyclical nature of life, renewal, and redemption.
It’s with this spirit of rebirth (and a quote by Ecuadorian poet Yung Pueblo) that singer Jasmine Cephas Jones opens her new music video for “Little Bird,” premiering exclusively on Refinery29. The song is one of the most intimate moments in Jones’ Blue Bird EP, her first solo venture. Previously, she was most well-known for originating the dual roles of Peggy Schuyler and Maria Reynolds in the 2015 critically-acclaimed Broadway musical Hamilton, the recording for which she and the cast received a Grammy Award (the musical also swept the Tony Awards). Most recently, Jones has been appearing in film (The Photograph) and TV (Mrs. Fletcher).
According to the singer, the heart of Blue Bird is an examination of her feelings and solemn determination. “It came from a blue place that I was feeling, but I didn't want to make this EP depressing,” said Jones. “That's not what it's about. The point is to be able to understand that it's okay to feel these feelings in the moment, and that they're not forever. There's always a light at the end of the tunnel. It's recognizing these feelings, knowing that they're there, and that's okay. And you will be able to move on from them.”
In the video, Jones walks around a home filled with mementos from her past — old magazines, barbies and dolls — and gathers them up to eventually rid herself of them by burning them outside. In the final shot of the visual, the singer’s dulcet tones echo as she stands triumphantly over the bonfire, flames framing her face.
Refinery29 spoke to Jones about the inspiration for the song, the visual, and finding the courage to let go of the things that hold you back.
Refinery29: What does “Little Bird” mean to you?
Jasmine Cephas Jones: “This song is basically a love letter to my younger self. I was always feeling out of place or comparing myself to other girls — not feeling good enough. All of those classic feelings that a lot of young girls go through while they're trying to figure out who they are. Basically, the song reassures that one day you're going to spread your wings and you're going to fly. Right now it's okay to feel these feelings, but you're going to grow out of them.”
How would you say “Little Bird” fits into the greater message and ecosystem of the EP?
“My nickname is ‘Bird,’ that my dad gave me after the jazz musician Charlie Parker, and Little Bird is basically little me. I hope that younger girls — or you can even be an adult — that listen to this song, whatever they're going through: know that it's just a moment in time. You are uniquely you and that's completely okay. Whatever you're feeling, it will pass.”
What was it like venturing on your own, without a record label, and trying to find your own voice?
“I never even looked at myself as a songwriter because I kept working with these producers that wanted to put me in a box and wanted to make me sound like somebody else. This time, I had a safe space to try things and really find what I sound like as a songwriter and as a singer. I'm just so grateful I was able to meet some really talented people that just so happened to be my friends, that I could create with and have this safe space of opening up and really writing about everything that I was feeling at the moment or wanted to write about.”
Why do you think this message is important right now for women to hear?
“Thanks to the Me Too movement, we’re in a time now when women are coming forward, and rightly so, in demanding their space and their worth and equal pay. There are more women directors, there are more women that are leading shows now. We still have a ways to go, but I think it's a start. This business is not what it used to be 10 years ago. There's more opportunity there and there's room for people to speak up. I hope this song inspires women and young girls to do that, because there's no better time than now. There's something brewing — there's something happening at the moment. I think we just need to band together, inspire each other and give each other safe spaces to express how we feel, and demand that space as well.”
How did the “Little Bird” visual come about?
“I worked with a production company mainly run by women called Our Secret Handshake. Tina, the director of the video, and I went through a bunch of ideas to see how creative we could be with this budget that we had. We landed on the idea of this girl going through different rooms of this house and each room representing a different stage in her life. We start out in the baby pinks and the toys, which represent her younger life. That's where she picks up the doll, and then she walks into the other room and that represents her teenage era, where she's reading magazines. And then the last part, where I'm wearing black, is the realization of following my own path.
“Throwing the doll in the fire and ripping up the magazine... It's nothing against dolls or magazines, it represents comparing yourself and the lack of representation. It's those thoughts that make young women feel that they're not good enough — that their bodies aren't good enough, that they're not talented enough, that they have nothing to say. That comparison. It's throwing that into the fire and being reborn again as a phoenix.”
Was there a moment you can pinpoint when you came to this realization that you had to "burn" all that negativity in your life?
“I think it was last year, when I decided not to wait for people to give me roles or to feel creatively fulfilled. It maybe even started a couple of years ago when I started writing my own music, which led to a bigger thing of writing ideas for TV shows or a film. I'm starting to write all of that and feeling empowered doing that as well. I actually feel like fear will always be there — it's just working through the fear.
“I think the turning point happened once I started to get over, ‘I'm not a writer.’ How do you not know until you start? I don't have to wait for anybody to write music. I think, since people have never done it before, they think that's not what they're supposed to do. But once I stopped asking permission and just allowed myself to do it, that was a very big moment for me. It's fucking terrifying to do all of that, but there's also a let go and a relief and a feeling of freedom, I think, when you take control.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.