Yes, she is indeed ‘just’ Alexandra Burke from North London, but she’s also the 2008 winner of The X Factor, a three-time chart-topper on the singles chart (her debut, a stirring cover of Hallelujah, sold 105,000 copies on its first day of release) and the creator of a UK number 1 album, Overcome, that features collaborations with the likes of Flo Rida (on the amazing Bad Boys) Ne-Yo and RedOne.
She can belt out a ballad with the best of them (as shown by her beautiful duet with Beyonce during The X Factor final) and she brings energy in abundance once the tempo shifts up a gear, as on her dancefloor-slaying 2012 collaboration with Erick Morillo, Elephant. She may not be super human, but in pop terms she’s not exactly of this world either.
That’s not to say that Alexandra doesn’t work hard for her success. In fact, it’s this determination to succeed that’s come to define a career that started with rejection during the 2005 series of The X Factor, but which only made her eventual victory all the sweeter.
A favourite to win from the start thanks to an obvious versatility and a voice saturated in emotion, her position as Britain’s favourite was cemented by her determination to take the opportunity the show gave her and kickstart a proper career, not just become a flash in the pan.
With 1.5 million copies of Overcome sold worldwide and a sold-out national tour under her belt, it was the sort of success story that many of the show’s critics didn’t believe could happen.
Once again though, Alexandra wasn’t complacent: “Literally straight after I performed The Silence on The X Factor [in December 2010] I started recording for the second album.”
Keen to keep progressing as an artist, Alexandra knew she’d not only have to take more risks but also take more control over the follow-up album.
So, as well taking part in writing camps that would go on to produce a number of the songs on what would become Heartbreak On Hold, she also executive produced the whole thing.
“It basically meant that nothing got passed me and my say was the last and final say,” she says of her new role. “The amount of control I’ve had is unreal.” One of the first decisions she made on a personal and professional level was to be more honest and open with her emotions.
While Overcome could only have been an Alexandra Burke album, the lyrics, while inspired by Alexandra and drawn directly from her diaries, were written by others.
“With this album I just wanted to be totally honest. For me to be able to be the executive producer I had to make sure that I was more honest than I’ve ever been”.
While most other pop stars looking to follow up a successful debut are made to rush their second albums, Alexandra took a year and half to take stock of what she’d achieved and set about putting her journey into music.
There was also the small matter of a label change from Syco to RCA in the middle of recording to contend with. “I’d been with Syco since 2008 and then to have to leave and go somewhere else because it just had to work out that way, that was hard,” Alexandra explains.
“Syco, for me, are my family. Anyone I work with, I see as a family member. I get that deep. They were all there with me from the beginning. To have to leave them was a bit of a heartbreaker as well. That’s why I named it Heartbreak On Hold – in that year and a half of recording I went through a lot in my personal life.”
Like all great pop music Heartbreak On Hold effortlessly wraps lyrical sadness in songs that make you want to dance. It’s not by accident. “I’m that person who always wants to turn a negative into a positive because it’s just the way I think,” explains Alexandra.
From the frustrated stomp of first single Elephant – a song written about a relationship that was slowly stalling and an immediate favourite of Alexandra’s because it “it just felt right” – to the exuberant throw-your-cares-away dance rush of second single Let It Go, Heartbreak On Hold is an album that acknowledges the hard times but offers a window of opportunity for people to forget about it all. “Yes it’s upbeat and uptempo and I want to get you dancing but I want people to understand the deeper meaning behind the album.”
While Elephant and Let It Go both slot nicely into the current pop trend for dancefloor stompers, Heartbreak On Hold also displays Alexandra’s love for 90s dance, specifically the emotional house music of Robin S or the soul-inflected dance of Soul II Soul, as heard most obviously on the heart-burstingly bittersweet title track.
Featuring a vocal that almost erupts with emotion (“I tried everything to get over you, trying to make it through but nothing ever seems to work”) it’s the kind of song that makes you want to dance while tears stream down your cheeks.
Elsewhere the “very sexy” Between The Sheets and Daylight Robbery bear a stronger R&B influence, whilst the fluttering synths and four to the floor beat of This Love Will Survive marries Alexandra’s survival extinct (“Sometimes if you really want something you’ve got to fight. It’s telling the other person ‘we will survive’”) to a beat that Alexandra rightfully says you’d have to be dead not to dance to.
Then there’s the ballad. Of course there’s a ballad. A big, emotionally-charged blubathon that closes the album and features a lone piano and Alexandra’s raw emotion speaking directly to the listener, What Money Can’t Buy is possibly the best thing she’s ever done.
It’s apt that the album ends with Alexandra at her most emotional. Written when she was just 18 years old, it’s a song that captures both her vulnerability and her strength, not only in what it expresses as a song but also in the fact that she fought to have the song on the album in the first place.
Heartbreak On Hold isn’t just a collection of songs it’s a representation of Alexandra Burke, the artist. “This album is a lot more sexier and grown up. It’s deeper. I think and feel it has an element in there where it’s just more uplifting than ever. I’m just trying to give a bit more of my personality and how I see life, which needs to be positive,” she explains. That positivity is seriously infectious.
And that positivity will surely be what she brings on stage to Donegal Live this Friday May 25th at the launch of Donegal’s favourite festival. Tickets to see Alexandra are only 15 Euro, Children’s tickets (under 10 years old) are 10 Euro or you can buy a weekend pass for the Festival at 25 Euro. For more information or to buy your tickets online go to www.donegallive.ie.
It promises to be the biggest weekend of live music in Co Donegal this year.