That Rita Ora’s debut album has spawned Number 1 after Number 1 is hardly a surprise; a lavishly produced record with an army of A-list collaborators and producers lending a hand, it was less a launching pad for the Londoner dubbed ‘the British Rihanna’ and more a yearbook for chart pop in 2012.
What is surprising is the way she brought it to life with the first of two sold-out nights at Shepherd’s Bush Empire – her local venue when she was growing up. Those who’ve propped her up to date – Tinie Tempah, Drake, DJ Fresh, Chase & Status et al – are nowhere to be seen, leaving stage school-trained Ora to soak up the spotlight. And soak it up she did – making her entrance in a box marked ‘quarantined’, she soon broke free, wearing a revealing metallic silver space get-up, her trademark peroxide locks flailing around as she leapt across the stage, leaving her two backing singers to do much of the work during the first half of her set.
Born in Kosovo and raised down the road near Portobello Road, she’s visibly excited about playing on home turf. Early on she tells the crowd “I’m gonna save the emotional shit for later” – and there’s plenty of it. She turn the house lights on “To have a look at you all”, talks about driving around Shepherd’s Bush Green and dreaming of seeing her name outside, plays a slideshow of photos of her and her fans, and says thank you…a lot.
But it’s not entirely gushy – under the gaze of a vaguely sci-fi and very neon backdrop, the largely female, teen crowd, go crazy for the likes of Hot Right Now and the break-neck will.i.am collaboration Fall In Love. It’s these party anthems that see Ora at her best; bounding across the stage, waving into the crowd – the ringleader, orchestrating her own party. But even the hardcore drift off when she digs into the duller corners of her album, and chatter spreads across the Empire during the rough, electro-ballads that pad out her debut. There’s a brief reprieve with the Rhianna-ish Shine Ya Light and an acoustic, sing-along version of Outkast’s Hey Ya.
Towards the end of her one hour and ten minutes on stage, after her fourth costume change, Ora pulls out her secret weapon; a medley of Notorious B.I.G songs. “This man is my inspiration, I listen to him every day”, she tells us before launching into How We Do, with its chorus lifted from the late rapper’s Party and Bullshit.
It’s a credit to effusive personality that, despite her image as a ghetto princess, tonight’s show feels intimate – warm, even – but at the same time it feels lifted from an arena; the costumes, the backdrops, the confidence…and the complete adoration from the crowd would all have felt at home in a venue many sizes bigger than the little ol’ Shepherd’s Bush Empire. But there are a few thousand grinning faces, flocking to buy posters by the steps outside, who are glad she chose this venue. As for Ora herself, she ended her night by tweeting: “I will never forget this day”.