BC Jean is ready to greet the world
What’s the difference between life for a guy and for a girl? Pizza, for one. When a guy wants pizza, he gets a pizza; for a girl, it’s a dilemma.
So says 23-year-old singer and songwriter BC Jean, who found herself in that very situation while working in New York a couple of years ago, on the heels of a bitter breakup with her first boyfriend.
“I was writing with Toby [Gad], and I wanted a piece of pizza,” the singer with the platinum blond hair and big brown anime eyes said while seated at a conference table in the offices of J Records, which will release her debut album early next year. Mulling the eternal question, to order or not to order, Jean explained, “I was trying to be good with my diet, and I said, ‘I wish I were a boy.’
“He always recorded everything I said with a little tape recorder, and he said, ‘What did you just say?’ and he put it in my face.... I said, ‘Stop, Toby — I just said I’m hungry. I want that pizza in Times Square.’ … Then he went, ‘What else would you do if you were a boy?’ I said, ‘I’d be a better man than my ex-boyfriend.’”
Out of that repressed lust for pizza came one of the big hits of recent pop music, “If I Were a Boy,” a song that found its way into the hands of Beyoncé Knowles and subsequently soared to the top of the pop sales chart. The single has tallied 2.4 million digital sales to date and has been played 400,000 times on the radio, according to BMI, Jean’s publishing rights organization, which honored her for having one of the most-played songs of 2009.
“She co-wrote one of the great songs of the last few years — not just a hit record, but a very special song,” said Clive Davis, who signed the San Diego-reared musician to his label about 18 months ago and has been shepherding her career to the point where the veteran music mogul is ready to introduce her to the world. That introduction begins with Monday’s release of her debut single, “Just a Guy,” which is something of a bookend to the song that made her.
“She’s really a strong songwriter, and I think she’s got the ability to really carry it and be an artist,” Davis said. “A number of writers don’t project the charisma, don’t project that kind of spark or magnetism, and she does. That combination is really what attracted me to her.”
Davis anticipates that her music will find a receptive audience among fans of pop-rock provocateurs such as Pink and Alanis Morissette. Some tracks she’s assembling for the album also weave in chant-like phrases and refrains the way Lady Gaga has done so successfully.
Morissette, in fact, is one of the key sources of inspiration cited by Jean, who was born Britney Jean Carlson — hence the name change for a young woman hoping to create a niche for herself in a music world for which the openings for Britneys was filled some time ago.
The other main influence in shaping Jean’s interest in writing, singing and performing was another blond, Gwen Stefani, who came to the fore lamenting her own second-class citizen status as “Just a Girl” with her band No Doubt.
“The first record I bought,” Jean said, was “‘Tragic Kingdom’ [by] No Doubt. And then ‘Jagged Little Pill’ and Alanis Morissette, because she was cussing and I wasn’t allowed to listen to it,” she said, laughing easily. “Those were really my foundation records. I got those with babysitting money, when I was like 11 years old.”
Her laugh has the same sharp rasp she employs in her version of “If I Were a Boy” and elsewhere on the still-untitled album, which is packed with songwriting collaborations and production work by some of the hottest names in pop and R&B: the Matrix, Max Martin, Ryan Tedder, Dallas Austin, Zac Maloy and Gad.
The forthcoming single, which she wrote with the Matrix and is produced by Tedder, exhibits a skill similar to the one she used so effectively in “If I Were A Boy.” The new song recounts examples of male cluelessness she’s encountered, then reaches a certain appreciation of the boyfriend in question on accepting the fact that he’s “just a guy.”
“I draw from real experience,” Jean said. “I want it to be real, whether it starts with a title or from actual experience. I don’t like to force songs. If it’s not working, I just stop.”
She was wearing a black-and-white, horizontal-striped sweater over a black top, jeans and brushed black leather shoes with mini-zippers and stiletto heels. The middle finger of her right hand sported a ring with a ruby-colored stone about an inch and a half in diameter in an antique-looking marquesite setting. “It’s my don’t-mess-with-me ring,” she said mischievously.
At 14, growing up in the upscale suburban community of Carmel Valley in northern San Diego County, she told her parents she had no interest in college and wanted to pursue a career as an entertainer. After years of downplaying similar comments from their daughter, her parents agreed to support her if that was truly the direction in which she wanted to go.
Her mother and manager, Lori Carlson, said in a separate interview: “That was a big decision: to say it’s OK not to go to college and to say yes to sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.” Except that Carlson and Jean’s father didn’t simply turn their teenager loose.
Carlson accompanied her daughter to Las Vegas after she landed a spot at 15 as a singer in Liquid Blue, a cover band that gave Jean her first big gig: a week at the Sahara Hotel.
Jean, however, quickly tired of singing other people’s hits — although she credits the time in Liquid Blue with educating her in the art of live performance — and moved to Los Angeles to focus on writing and recording her own songs.
Actively seeking various writing partners eventually led her to Gad, whose connections led to Beyoncé hearing, and then deciding to record, “If I Were a Boy.” That ramped up interest and something of a bidding war over Jean as a recording artist, with Davis and his J Records label emerging the victor.
“Today it’s a real challenge,” Davis said. “You not only have to come up with a hit record, but you also have to come up with real artists.... You can have a hit and sell lots of digital downloads, but you need more than that to have meaningful album sales. This is an album that not only has one single, it has many candidates for follow-up. And even when you have all those ingredients in place, then you cross your fingers and you hope.”