Jessie Reyez Wants to Smash the Patriarchy With Sex-Positive ‘Body Count’
In Jessie Reyez's 2017 short film, Gatekeeper: A True Story, she stands, inches from screen, baring her soul to camera — so close that you can almost feel her breath, hot with embitterment and rage. Over the next 12 minutes, she details an encounter with an anonymous but influential producer who tried to coerce her into sex in exchange for an early profile boost. Reyez refused, but it sticks with her. "I was this close to breaking," she spits. "F--k that." And then, firmer: "F--k that." Fade to black.
In the years since that night, Reyez has scored a record deal, charted with 2016 kiss-off "Figures," and released her debut EP, last year's Kiddos. This summer, she's set to join Halsey on the final leg of the Hopeless Fountain Kingdom Tour. But even as she gains momentum, Gatekeeper remains one of the most vulnerable moments in a career thus far built on emotional intimacy. As the 27-year-old proclaims in her Twitter bio, she likes to sing about things she doesn't like to talk about, turning her music into a sort of open forum catharsis, as if she's reading pages from her diary for the first time in song, still just as raw as when she wrote them.
What Reyez didn't know when she released Gatekeeper, though, was that it signaled the early swell of the #MeToo sea change yet to come, or that, almost exactly one year later, she'd return with "Body Count," another patriarchy-smashing anthem that shuts down slut-shaming and encourages women to be sex-positive.
Below, Reyez details the song, teases its Salem witch trial-themed music video, and weighs in on how far movements like Time's Up have helped us come — and where we still need to go.
“Body Count” is your first single, aside from features, in over a year. What can you share about it?
It was inspired by free love. It’s about being with who you want to be with without getting judged and how it’s a luxury for men, because a lot of times women are encouraged to keep their body count [a slang term for your number of sexual partners] low, whereas men can walk in and get high-fived. So it’s about eliminating the judgment and shame when it comes to that. Anybody who has an opinion on it can go kick rocks.
Can you tease anything about new music?
The “Body Count” video is coming out in two weeks. It was inspired by the Salem witch trials, because it’s a bookmark in history for women in a time that was oppressive. It's remembered for allegations of magic, but more often than not it was for sexual promiscuity or rejecting the wrong guy and getting prosecuted for it. I thought it was really fitting not only because it makes sense, but because there are still so many places in the world where women get judged or are placed in f--ked up situations like that, where they’re getting put down for s--t that men would not get put down for.
It’s been about a year since your debut EP, Kiddo. Does this mean you’re working on a full-length album, or some kind of new project?
Sort of. Period [laughs].
You’re also going on tour with Halsey soon. What do you admire about her work?
I’m a fan. I think she’s dope. I really respect her as an artist. She’s a woman that stands in her truth. I really like her voice and her songwriting and how free she is, what she wears and her fashion sense. I love all of that.
What are three songs you’ll be playing on the tour bus this summer?
“Is This Love” by Bob Marley, “Pink Matter” by Frank Ocean, and “Valio La Pena” by Marc Anthony.
What’s your go-to snack for the road?
Bananas! If I have time I’ll grab a pizza or steak and it’s lit, but bananas are nature’s granola bars. It comes in a wrapper and you just toss it. Quick, fast, great.
You're appearing in the upcoming Gina Rodriguez film, Someone Great. What was that experience like?
It’s a cameo. I’m playing myself. I’m a fan of Gina. All the girls on set were dope. It’s a female-heavy cast, which is amazing, and there’s a female director. I was really happy to be there.
Gatekeeper: A True Story was released several months before the Harvey Weinstein allegations broke and the #MeToo movement began gaining traction. What made you decide to put out something like that when, at that point, women had been historically discouraged from speaking out against gender inequity and abuse?
I always equate it to being sick. If you eat something that’s bad for you, your body just knows and throws it up. It’s not something you think about. So it was just something that felt natural to me, to tell my story. But after it was out and I saw the way people reacted to it, it was humbling and flooring and shocking. There are two sides. It’s like, ‘All right, dope. People are resonating with this. It’s a conversation that people are having.’ But the other side is like, f--k, it’s 2018 -- or at that point 2017 -- and people are still having this issue?
Now that there’s been this incredible push behind #MeToo and Time’s Up, have you felt a shift in the industry? Do you think things are starting to change?
Not enough. It’s so easy for people to put a band-aid on something while things are in the headlines. I think it’s important to not let it become old news because it’s not like it’s new news — this s--t has been going on — it just so happens that a rock got turned over. But I don’t think that it’s enough change.
So far, it doesn’t seem to have taken hold of the music industry in the same way that it has for film and TV. Why do you think that might be?
I agree, but I feel like in every f--king workplace and school it could be talked about more. If people talked to kids about it more and educated children, it might not even be an issue, but people wait too long to talk about it. I feel like it needs to be more present everywhere, in music and in schools and like, at the f--king bank. It’s everywhere.
You also recently tweeted about mental health and seeking help in response to the Toronto van attack. Is that something you feel strongly about?
Yeah. It’s such a difficult thing to talk about, but I think it’s the same thing. If we as a society taught kids about tolerance and patience and understanding and respecting each other’s differences at a younger age, I don’t think it would be happening so frequently. It’s hard to say something after the fact because I can’t tell you about someone else’s struggles, but I think the solution comes from having earlier conversations.