Nina Nesbitt Opens Up About Being Dropped from Her Label at 20—And How It Helped Her Find Her Real Voice

The Ed Sheeran muse's second album is a must-listen.

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Nina Nesbitt's origin story is a music industry fairytale, filled with the kind of serendipity usually reserved for daydreams and Hollywood productions. The Scottish singer-songwriter's big break came in 2011, when she met Ed Sheeran at a radio gig (his, not hers). The then-17-year-old asked Sheeran about his advice for aspiring musicians and, in response, he asked her to play him one of her songs. Sheeran was so impressed by Nesbitt that he offered her a chance to open for him at famed London venue Shepherd's Bush Empire, and then to join him on his European arena tour.

But though Nesbitt signed with Island Records and released her 2013 debut album, Peroxide, to considerable success (the record charted in the Top 15 in the UK and she had two UK Top 40 hits under her belt by 2014), she was shelved and eventually dropped by the label. Upsetting, to be sure. But what Hollywood story is complete without some mid-action disappointment?

Now, Nesbitt is rising from the proverbial ashes for a third act triumph with The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change, her gorgeously ethereal sophomore album. The record blends joyful, dance-y pop with wrenching indie ballads, displaying a newfound maturity in the now-24-year-old Nesbitt's songwriting. The Sun Will Come Up reflects her growth—both as an artist and as a person in the world. 

Nesbitt spoke with about her new album, overcoming disappointment, and being an introvert who makes a living on stage.

On being ghosted by her record label:

"I had basically been shelved by the record label for two years and I was writing songs every day. I made two albums that just never came out, and that was just a really big knock to my confidence, because everything I sent seemed like it just wasn't good enough. I was unaware that I was actually shelved.

"I think people just didn't know what to do with me. And I think a lot of the time it's like you'll get signed, and then someone else gets signed a year later—as the next you—and then someone else will get signed as the next them, and it's a bit like a conveyor belt. I just really hated that."

On how being dropped was actually the best thing for her career:

"When I got dropped, no one really wanted to work with me.... I felt like my career was over and I didn't really know what to do. So I learned production myself, I got a whole studio set-up and I thought, If no one's going to produce my music, I'm going to do it myself. So I learned how to do that. 'The Moments I'm Missing,' on the album? That one was produced from my bedroom. So it was actually, looking back, a great thing to be dropped."

On the track that Rihanna almost sang instead:

"My favorite song on the album is probably 'Is It Really Me You're Missing?' [I] wrote that song and I was unsigned at the time, so [I was] like, 'Let's just send it to some, like, big publishers and record labels and see if anyone's interested.' And at the end of the session I was like, 'Oh, we should send it to Rihanna!' Like, as a joke, because [I'd] kind of been thinking of how she does her ballads, while [I was] writing it.

"So, [I] sent it to her record label and I got the email back and it was like, 'We absolutely love this song for Rihanna. We want to put it on hold, we want to play it to her.' And I was like, What the f*ck is happening?!

"She was actually, like, the first gig that I ever went to, when I was 12, and I'm just so inspired by her as a woman. She's just such a strong icon, and I was just so excited—so that really helped my confidence, whether or not she actually ever heard it."

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Nesbitt performs on stage at O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, London on November 13, 2018.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

On being forced into the public eye:

"As an introvert, you have to spend a lot of time with me and then little bits of my personality will come out over time. But as an artist, sometimes you only get five minutes to impress someone, so it is kind of hard. I keep pushing myself and it's just something that I need to work on.... But I think being on the stage is kind of liberating because I can go into this other character for an hour, which is nice."

On not being shy at all when she met Sheeran:

"I've never been that nervous to go up to someone and be like, 'Hey, this is my music, what do you think of it?' So that wasn't really a problem. And he's such like a friendly guy, so it wasn't like some intimidating person."

On what it felt like to find success so quickly:

"My tenth-ever gig was in an arena, which is mad.... I remember being backstage with multiple artists there and someone had had their teeth done—like veneers—and I come from a very small village where people are lucky to even have all their teeth."

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Nesbitt at an event in London in 2015.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

On being ambitious as a woman:

"I love my song 'Empire,' which is about career ambitions and not being afraid to fail.... And actually using failure as a lesson, and using it as motivation to keep moving on and believing in yourself and working at what you do. Things take a lot of time, and I think your end goal always sort of moves.... And also, like, as a woman, not being afraid to be ambitious and tell people that you are ambitious.

"I think often if females in pop are like, 'I believe in myself and I think this album's great,' it's perceived that she's really cocky or arrogant or whatever. 'Empire' is a song not about being arrogant, it's a song about knowing what you want."

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Kayleigh Roberts
Weekend Editor

Kayleigh Roberts is a freelance writer and editor with more than 10 years of professional experience. Her byline has appeared in Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, ELLE, Harper’s Bazaar, The Atlantic, Allure, Entertainment Weekly, MTV, Bustle, Refinery29, Girls’ Life Magazine, Just Jared, and Tiger Beat, among other publications. She's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.