"I didn't know if I ever wanted to put out a piece of music again," are the words being spoken down a telephone line from Nashville by Jennifer Paige, whose 1998 single 'Crush' is recognised by all right-minded individuals as one of the greatest singles in the entire history of pop. "I've always been a fighter," she adds, "but I'd lost my fight."
Jennifer had followed 'Crush' with some other stuff but by the late 2000s things were looking, frankly, fucking bleak: in 2008 her mother suddenly died. Two weeks later, so did her father. In 2010 the Nashville flood washed away their home and then — JESUS CHRIST, THEN — Jennifer was diagnosed with skin cancer. It would be fair to say that back then banging out pop songs didn't seem like much of a priority.
"I was pretty much like 'screw this, this is no fun'," Jennifer recalls. "I'd lost all inspiration — and in my career as well, it had just got so hard. It had become a grind. It was actually a surprise to me when I found the urge to make a new album. I found my fight again."
That relocated fight is brought to life on Jennifer's new album 'Starflower'. The video for its great first single 'The Devil's In The Details', which sounds like a lady Troye Sivan singing over music off Stranger Things, is premiering below this paragraph.
'Starflower' is a fan-funded project and came into being after Jennifer exceeded her Kickstarter target of $35,000, which seems like a load of cash but in reality kind of isn't.
"It wasn't enough, honestly," she admits today. "I thought that in today's age you can get so much done for 35 grand, but making and releasing a record is so expensive. I wasn't really prepared. I've never been the one writing all the cheques, because there's usually been some Daddy Warbucks sitting in an office somewhere. There was no Daddy Warbucks this time. It's crazy how expensive everything is when you dig in and talk about manufacturing, PR and all the other things. It's like: HOLY CRAP."
Holy crap indeed. But the upside, she reckons, is that while going the fan-funded route means "hustlin' hard", she doesn't have to bend over backwards to appease music industry dickheads. "It gave me the opportunity to say what I wanted to say without having to go to labels and ask for approval," is how she puts it. "I always felt this pressure with the major label system: the pressure to have one big release that just worked, and if that first single didn't work you were screwed."
Jennifer adds that with easy access to streaming platforms first singles needn't, now, dictate the fate of an entire campaign. "These days if something doesn't work you can literally redeem yourself the following month," she reasons. "And it might not mean redeeming in the commercial sense, but people who want to stay connected to you can. That's a gamechanger."
When asked how bored/10 she is of talking about 'Crush' she estimates a seven, and anything below an eight feels like fair game so we talk a bit about that song: about the acoustic version that's included on her new album ("if you don't like it you can go and listen to the original") but also about how hard it must be to kick off your career with a song that's basically perfect.
"Then you need another perfect song," she laughs. "But also, I think it worked because it was just the right song at the right time. And that can always happen again. Sometimes songs resonate with people because they know what you mean and they relate to what you're saying. And as long as you can resonate with people, you'll always have success at some level."
'Starflower' is out on March 31, and you can pre-order it here.