She’s a young woman making pop music cool again. Every bit the archetypal modern artist, Shura – born Alexandra Denton to a Russian mother and British father – rose to prominence after her single Touch went viral in 2014. To put into perspective just how popular the track became, the video, directed and edited by Shura herself, now has over 26 million views on YouTube. A deal with Polydor came soon after, and with a debut album out this month, the ever-expanding ‘Shuniverse’ shows no signs of slowing down.
Shura’s synth-heavy sound is at once incredibly retro and ethereally futuristic. She cites Janet Jackson and Madonna as influences, and speaks enthusiastically about her love for “both” Whitneys (the band and Houston herself). Think ‘hipster pop’, although Shura says she prefers “to describe it with a term that I’m not sure I really like, it sort of send shivers down my spine, but it’s very easy… indie pop… it’s pop music [but] it’s a way of differentiating it from Katy Perry or Taylor Swift. It comes from my bedroom more or less”. Typically for a new age artist, she boasts a multi-dimensional skill-set and produces a lot of her own material. When I ask about her shift into digital, having found some of her older, folksier stuff online, she tells me quite plainly that that was “…a different era. That was like Jurassic Shu”.
The life of ‘new era’ Shura is a world away from when, as a video editor, she would use all of her annual leave “just to record music, so never actually went on holiday.” That’s not to say that she didn’t enjoy that work however. “Video is hugely important to me,” Shura tells me. “My dad is a documentary maker and my mum was an actress [so] I have film in my blood,” which explains why Shura has had so much creative control over the visual counterparts to her songs. Her involvement in her music videos is “one of the luxuries for me, being interested in film.”
“The thing about being a musician that’s cool is that you get to do so much other stuff… if you’re big enough. Look at Kanye [West]… doing all these fun things because he can,” Shura says.
Like Kanye, Shura is rather active on Twitter. “It’s great for me to be able to communicate who I am in a time where there a lot of people interested in the idea of me being a perfect or exotic thing,” she explains. She uses social media to show that she’s “just a human like everyone else”. Shura’s also keenly aware of the commercial importance of interacting with her fans:
“Otherwise the message would be ‘buy my album’ from my record label – because of course that has to happen – [but] it’s really great for me that I can go on Twitter and say ‘oh this is what I’m listening to at the moment’… or ‘my brother’s just recorded a really embarrassing video of me not being able to tie my shoe laces’, silly stuff like that.”
We talk a little bit about how social media and the digital revolution in general have affected the music industry. “When I was 13 and imagining what it might be to be a rock star, we didn’t have Twitter, Soundcloud, Spotify,” Shura reflects. “The reality of [being an artist] is very different to the dream,” she says. “Not that it’s negative, it’s just very different to how I imagined.” She reminds that me “record labels are [still] figuring out how to sell music in an age where people don’t buy music.” Shura articulates this contemporary conundrum nicely when she reasons that with a smart phone, “we have access to every single song ever written in the history of music, in this tiny thing that we put in our pocket [so] we’re still figuring out the fall out from that and what it means for music.”
One way the music industry is still generating big money is through live shows, a big part of which are, of course, festivals. As you might expect, Shura’s playing at a whole host of festivals this summer, one of which is this year’s LeeFest Presents: The Neverland. Known for having platforming break out artists such as Clean Bandit, Bastille and Years & Years, this new version of LeeFest is set to be bigger than ever this year, and it’s an event Shura speaks passionately about. She praises the festival’s “focus on booking good people” and tells me how she “was in a cinema a year ago and saw this very strange advert for a festival about a guy who started a concert in his back garden. So when we got the call to do it I said ‘of course!’” Shura argues that “it’s how festivals should be started, and how we end up with incredible heritage festivals like Glastonbury, they have to start somewhere and LeeFest is an example of that.”
Summer may be filled with festivals, but there’s also the eagerly anticipated debut album Nothing’s Real out this month (Fri 8 July). Shura is expecting the release to be “a bit mad.” “I keep referring to myself as feeling like I’m pregnant,” she laughs. “I’m at the seven-month stage where it’s like, I’m really glad that everyone is excited but can I just deliver it now?! I’m bored of carrying these extra kilograms around with me.” Shura might envision the release as “a massive relief,” but with the world at her feet, it’s clear that pop’s newest princess is just getting started.
Shura plays LeeFest Presents: The Neverland, when it comes to Edenbridge, Kent, on Thurs 28 – Sat 30 July. Her debut album Nothing’s Real is out on Fri 8 July.