Shaé Universe: "CEOs Didn't Understand Me As an Artist — My Community Kept Me Afloat"

Shaé Universe is one of the hottest new artists in the UK R&B scene. Her recent album "Love Letters" is an unflinching, raw look into her deepest desires for not only romantic love, but self-love. Many Black UK artists within the R&B scene ( mostly they are Black women) are still trying to break down the doors to find global success, like other UK artists across more mainstream genres have managed to achieve. The road might be long, but artists like Shaé Universe are paving the way — and have no plans of quitting. We caught up with the artist on the rise as she front's Spotify's new playlist "Riffs and Runs", which spotlights those within the genre making waves.

When did you realise music was your calling?

Shaé Universe:I've always loved to sing from really young. I started singing in church in the church choir. But honestly, at that point, I hadn't realised that it was my calling. I just knew this is something I love to do. I think where it switched for me was probably when I started releasing covers on Twitter around like 2015, 2016. Because they would go viral. And that was when I really realised "Wow, I'm actually touching people and resonating with people." I would say it was around that time that I've really realised like, okay, I was actually called to do this.

As an artist, you're unique in your voice and storytelling — has it been easy for you to find you place in the scene?

Shaé Universe:I haven't always embraced my uniqueness - it was a process. I definitely had to grow into myself. I had to unlearn a lot of things and just come to a place where I'm able to hear my internal voice louder than everybody else's opinion. We're in an oversaturated industry and there's so much noise all the time. It's definitely a process and a journey to honour yourself and preserve that inner voice inside of you. It's not been easy but it's been worth it.

There's been a lot of talk about representation for R&B artists in the UK and whether there's accessibility for you to go mainstream in the same way other artists do — what are your thoughts?

Shaé Universe:I absolutely do think it's possible for UK R&B artists to go global; I'm on my way to doing that. However, the only way that I was able to to navigate that was by branching out of the UK. I'm not saying that it will never be possible for R&B in the UK to be at the forefront in the way that some other genres are. But I do feel like it's still going to take a little while to do that. I think a lot of R&B artists like myself are just realising that we don't have all that time. It would be amazing to be respected as an artist that flew the flag for the UK and was part of the movement that that brought R&B and to the forefront.

At one point that was definitely one of my goals and then I realised how long I would have to be in this game for that to happen. We also have our lives to live; we have our families to look after and we have bills to pay. So, I don't really have the time to wait around for the UK to catch up — I'm kind of just going to go make it as a global start. Then, hopefully that contributes to how quickly R&B becomes commercial in the UK.

What lesson did you learn being an independent artist?

Shaé Universe:I have learned that community is everything, community is even more important than all the other stuff that people make us feel like is important. A lot of CEOs, businesses and companies will stress numbers, like that's the whole thing. Some companies won't even looking in your direction if you haven't got a certain amount of numbers or influence, which from business standpoint, I get because they're trying to make sales and money.

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One thing I've realised is, even when the CEOs did not understand me as an artist, or know what to do with me, as an artist my community kept me afloat. That is priceless. In the grand scheme of things, I really want more artists to start to realise how precious your community is because those are the people that stay. When you're made by a machine, or when you have a company handing it all to you, just as quickly as they give it all to you, they can take it away from you. There's no stability there and you're kind of always on the fence.

Whereas when you have a core community that you have built, who have been there on your whole journey and can vouch for your character - those are the people that really keep you afloat. So, with the DLT festival that opportunity was secured for me entirely by my supporters commenting and demanding "We need to have Shaé there." They created that buzz and literally got me booked. So, it's just a testament to everything that I'm saying.

Shae Universe: Absolutely. I think my faith in God informs everything that I do in life, period. But especially in my career, I believe that my ability to sing was given to me by God. And so at every point, I always like to ensure that I'm doing my best to make God happy and I'm doing my best to utilise my gift to its full potential, you know, and its purpose. So yeah, it definitely my faith definitely interweaves itself into everything I do.

Spotify's "Riffs and Run's" playlist spotlights the best artists in UK R&B. How has Spotify supported your career?

Shaé Universe:First of all, shout out to Spotify because not just on this playlist, but I can't tell you how many of my songs over the span of my career they have supported me with. I think at some point, I've even been on the cover of playlists and they show me a lot of love over there. It makes a difference for upcoming artists because Spotify users see you face popping up consistently and it makes them more likely to stream your music. So, I have to say thank you to them because I think that they've definitely helped with my visibility.

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There's a number of other R&B artists featured on Spotify's playlist — who are you championing?

Shaé Universe:Honestly, I want to shout out every single UK R&B artist. There are people that I affiliate with more like Bellah and Melania, there are so many of us. We're all fighting the same struggle and doesn't matter what level you are whether you are on the cusp of breaking through, or just starting out or on the come up. We're all fighting to try and find a way to make our sound commercial and find the platforms to give us the opportunities to be globally recognised.

Your new album, "Love Letters" is all about romantic and self-love. When did you find self-love?

Shaé Universe: It's still a journey I'm on and that's something that I only recently realised. Upon releasing "Loves Letters," I felt like "Wow, I'm this brand new woman, I love myself so much more than I did before." I did and I do. But as I came out of that process, I found myself entering a new process where it's like, "Okay, now the stakes are even higher. Now there's more eyes looking at me." So,the level of self-love that I fought so hard to arrive at the stakes have gotten even higher with it. I'm saying that self-love is a constant process and a conscious process, you have consciously try but I'm doing well and I'm grateful for the growth that I have made so far.

What legacy would you like to leave behind?

Shaé Universe:That's a deep one. I would like to be the person to shift the standard of R&B in the UK. In the UK, it doesn't matter what genre but I think for the most part, the UK definitely caters to commercial music a lot more. I feel like it's more common in America to have different types of artists in the same genre. They're able to be themselves but all be commercial.

I want to shift the standard of UK R&B to where it doesn't always have to be the "FLO's" or the "Bellah's." There's absolutely nothing wrong with either of them, I love both of their music - but it's more commercially tailored. I want to be the person to shift that standard and make more raw, grounded music that is accepted in the commercial world. It's not something you see often but it's definitely possible and I would love to be the person, if not one of the people, that helps us shift that standard.

Check out the "Riffs & Runs" playlist on Spotify here.

Aaliyah Harry (she/her) is the associate editor at PS UK. She writes extensively across lifestyle, culture and beauty. Aaliyah also has a deep passion for telling stories and giving voice to the voiceless. Previously, she has contributed to Refinery29, Grazia UK and The Voice Newspaper.