“My iPhone is so jacked up. I’m clumsy. I drop everything,” says Elle Varner, rolling her eyes at herself. The 22-year-old singer/songwriter is so comfortable discussing her flaws that it’s almost as if she’s unaware of her killer Coke-bottle shape, lips perfect for pouting (though she never does), and the big, emotive eyes of a caramel-skinned Precious Moments doll.
Her playful and honest lyrical content meets with her voice (think Adele-like soul with a touch of raspy seduction) in a way that is anything but clumsy on her self-written debut Perfectly Imperfect, predominantly produced by Pop & Oak (Nicki Minaj, Diggy Simmons).
The “Only Wanna Give It to You” songstress tells Rap-Up.com how she built up her confidence, which record of Lauryn Hill’s inspired her, and the advice Alicia Keys gave her. Find out why Elle is next to blow.
1. How has your style changed from living in Los Angeles to now being a New York City girl?
I was the chubby nerd. I was so uncool it wasn’t even funny. It blows my mind when people are like, “Oh, your style is so great.” It is like night and day. It’s a recent thing because I was heavy growing up, I had really low self-esteem. In junior high, it was not cool to have glasses—four eyes. Now even people that don’t wear glasses get them. I didn’t look anything like I do now. When I finished school I started taking my health more seriously and I lost weight. I could wear stuff I couldn’t wear before and I felt more confident. You should feel confident regardless of what size you are, but in my journey it wasn’t until I broke that cycle of low esteem that I began to care. Style isn’t about what you’re wearing—it’s about how you feel in what you’re wearing.
2. What message are you trying to get across with your debut album Perfectly Imperfect?
[The title] piggybacks off of my song “So Fly.” That’s a song I wrote in school, which literally attacks the situation where I like a guy and he’s not paying attention to me because he’s looking at some pretty girl. Through that song, I just say, “Forget it. I am who I am and that’s why I’m fly.” Not because I have this, that, or the third. Perfectly Imperfect embodies the concept of embracing your imperfections. And even on the album, there were so many mistakes and slip-ups that we kept. And that was perfectly imperfect.
3. What was it like working with J. Cole in the video for “Only Wanna Give It to You”?
We had so much fun. It was crazy because that was my first video and I quickly learned that when you have a treatment and all of these scenes, even with all the people working, there’s a lot we forget to do and there is so much going on that by the time he was supposed to leave at 9, we didn’t get a scene together. And it made sense to have one. He had to leave; he had to go to Miami the next day, but he stayed to do the scene. We did the playful thing where he gave me the shoes in the scene and threw it on the floor. It was fun.
4. You put him in check in that video. Is it important for a female to put a guy in check sometimes?
Absolutely. It’s ridiculous. We go through so much; we put on shoes that hurt, we put on makeup, we wax, pluck, nip, tuck, and for what? A guy that really cares about you and is worth your time is going to love and appreciate you without none of that. Of course I love to get dressed up, but it’s not for them, it’s for me. It was cool because if I was working with some big rapper I didn’t know, I might not have felt as comfortable.
5. J. Cole is your only feature thus far. Who else would you like to collaborate with?
I would like to work with Kanye, André 300, Adele. I want to work with a lot of artists, songwriting and collaborating. And of course Lauryn Hill.
6. Speaking of Ms. Hill, she is one of your influences. How did her album The Miseducation affect you?
“To Zion” is definitely my favorite song on that album. I didn’t really understand the lyrics at the time because I was so young, but sonically, you have this hip-hop, but then you have this soul of her voice that cuts through. Because of her honesty, I just feel like I know her and I feel her. I may not be able to relate exactly but I can empathize and I’ve never felt so touched by a record like that. She’s a genius.
7. Your labelmate Alicia Keys is another female powerhouse. Has she offered up any advice?
She has. One of my first shows was opening for her at the Apollo and I was so nervous to go on stage. She walked over and her aura was so soothing and calming. She took my hand and said, “Don’t be nervous. Just go out there and sing your song. You’re going to do wonderfully.” I was so surprised at her vibe. Not to say I expected anything, but it was very real. She’s just so down-to-earth.
8. What song do you wish was yours?
Definitely I would say “Sure Thing” by Miguel.
9. If you were an ice cream flavor, which one would you be?
I would be vanilla bean. Not plain vanilla—it’s got the bean so it’s something that you’re familiar with. It’s comforting and not too overwhelming. As wildly quirky and kooky as I am, that’s what I’d be.
10. If you could live in another country for a year, where would you go?
Ghana. I had so many friends that studied abroad there. The food, the culture, the people—I love all of it. As you can see in my video, my dress is inspired by kente cloth. I love the fashion. And I grew up with some people from Ghana so I just love the people.