Rita Ora is like a chameleon. The "Anywhere" and "Let You Love Me" singer said so herself in an interview with British Vogue when discussing her tendency to change and adapt. You’ve probably noticed how all over the place Ora — known for her bright red lipstick and bleach blonde hair — is with her beauty and fashion choices. As she put it in her Vogue story, "I can do red carpet glamour and go all-out grunge the next day."
But this constant transformation isn’t just limited to the pop star’s looks. Ora rose to fame with a chart-topping debut album in the UK in 2012 and strategically remained in the spotlight in between records with high-profile film and singing competition roles. And yeah, okay, Ora’s much-talked about love life kept her name in the news as well.
But obviously, her stardom didn’t happen overnight. Here’s a look at Ora’s constantly evolving career (and looks).
In search of a better life
Ora is a refugee and proud of it. When she was only a year old in 1991, her family fled Kosovo in search of a better life in the UK. They ended up finding it, but things didn’t come easy for Ora, her parents, and her sister. "That word (refugee) carries a lot of prejudice," Ora told The Evening Standard. "But it also made us determined to survive. When you put anyone into an alien environment, where other people aren’t completely comfortable with them being there, they are automatically going to be defensive."
To make ends meet, her father, at one point, worked two jobs. He eventually was able send Ora to private school, where she felt like the only student who didn’t come from money. "All these kids were Louis Vuittoned out," Ora told The Guardian, "and I was there with the same backpack for six years. But I didn’t care." Nor should she have.
Puberty came early — too early
Ora isn’t shy about showing off her curves. She’s been known to flaunt her figure in outfits that show more than a little skin, including the controversial white blazer with nothing underneath that she wore on BBC’s The One Show. But Ora — who’s been the face of Tezenis lingerie — wasn’t always so comfortable in her skin. She told Grazia that she detested maturing earlier than her peers at age 14 — particularly because she attended a musical theater school and had to wear unforgiving leotards.
What changed? "I was the first one to have t**s and I hated them until the hottest guy fancied me and then I liked them," Ora told the magazine, adding that she’d grown to embrace her body as she got older. But apparently she had to give herself a pep talk to get to this point. "You have to come to terms with loving your body," Ora explained to Cosmopolitan. "Stand naked in front of the mirror and say, ‘I’m f***ing sexy.’ That’s where it starts."
Gwen Stefani wannabe
It’s no secret that Gwen Stefani had a big influence on Ora. She’s quick to credit the No Doubt frontwoman in interviews, telling People that she fell in love with red lipstick after seeing Stefani on TV when she was 13: "I was like, ‘Who is that? That’s what I want to do." But it wasn’t just Stefani’s lips that she wanted to replicate. The "first thing [she] did when [she] left school was buy a bottle of hair bleach" and dye her black hair a Stefani-like blonde, as she shared in an interview with Grazia (via Contact Music).
Ora said she went through a punk phase that included ripped T-shirts and "fake rings that made my fingers go green." And to drive the rebellious point home, she apparently didn’t do a whole lot of bathing. "I wouldn’t be smelling that great," she told Marie Claire. Fortunately, Ora grew out of that phase, except for the hair and lipstick part. That stuck.
"What am I doing here?"
It was clear from an early age that Rita Ora had talent. The challenge was to find an outlet for that talent, other than just her school’s choir and plays. There was an audition for BBC’s Eurovision, but Ora, who was 16 years old at the time, realized that performing on the show just wasn’t for her, and she ditched the singing competition before the results were read. "Right from the start I was, like, ‘What am I doing here?’" Ora told The Evening Standard.
There were other music gigs along the way, including a role in a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang musical that wasn’t a good fit and features on a pair of Craig David songs for which she is forever grateful. An online following ensued and that’s when record companies began to approach her, including the label she eventually signed with: Jay-Z’s Roc Nation.
The waiting is the hardest part
Once she got signed to Roc Nation, Ora figured she would release her debut album right away and then next thing you know she’d be sitting down with Oprah (via Complex). But things didn’t quite work out that way. She and Roc Nation scrapped the first album she recorded, forcing her to start over, according to her interview with The Evening Standard. Her long-awaited debut album, Ora, wouldn’t hit shelves until 2012. Maybe Jay Z and co. were onto something with the whole waiting a ridiculously long time thing. Ora went platinum and featured three No. 1 singles in the UK (via the British Phonographic Industry).
To Complex, Ora admitted that the process caused "a lot of frustration," but she chose to look on the bright side, claiming that the wait allowed her to find herself. "I have more things to talk about now than I did then," she said. "If I played you a song when I was 18 and I played you a song now, they’d be two completely different periods of my life and two completely different stories." Little did Ora know that waiting would become a common theme during her time at Roc Nation.
Mixing business with pleasure
It’s been hard for Rita Ora to keep her private life, well, private — especially since she’s dated public figures. She’s been linked to a laundry list of bold names, including Bruno Mars and A$AP Rocky. But it’s two relationships in particular that have received the most attention because they seem to have ended on less-than-amicable terms.
Ex Rob Kardashian made an unflattering accusation in 2012 when he wrote in a since-deleted tweet (via Us Weekly), "She cheated on me with nearly 20 dudes while we were together." Ora responded by telling News.com.au, in so many words, that she never believed they were official, and she accused him of "creating myths."
DJ Calvin Harris, with whom Ora had recorded songs like "I Will Never Let You Down" for her second album, was reportedly so bitter about their 2014 break up (via E! News) that he pulled those tracks from the record. She told Marie Claire, "I don’t know if it was because business was mixed with personal or what." We’re going to go out on a limb and guess that maybe had something to do with it.
Music takes a backseat, but not by choice
Unable to release a follow-up album to her first record due to record label headaches, Ora found other ways to put her name out there. Most notably, she scored a small role in the Fifty Shades trilogy as Christian Grey’s sister (via Elle). Reality TV fans saw Ora become a judge on the UK versions of The Voice and The X-Factor in 2015 and host America’s Next Top Model in 2016. She also dabbled in modeling, landing endorsement deals with Madonna’s Material Girl line in 2013 and Adidas in 2014.
In other words, Ora did everything but the thing she most wanted to do. "You know, I couldn’t be putting music out, and I had these offers coming over to me, so why wouldn’t I take them?" she told Noisey. "What else would I have done?" Sounds like she made the right call. The Sun reported that Ora pulled in £3 million in 2016 despite not having released new music.
"But is it fulfilling for me?" she told The Guardian, referring to her side gigs. "That’s the question."
The story behind Ora’s first of many tattoos is that there really is no story. Using her sister’s ID because she was underage, Ora and her friend got star tattoos because, as she told iHeartRadio, a star "doesn’t really mean anything, so you can put a meaning behind it." Ora told Complex that she never bothered to get the star, located on her hip, removed because, hey, "it’s a memory."
It wouldn’t be Ora’s last regrettable tattoo. She covered up a feather tattoo stretching across her arm and hand with a rose tattoo. To be fair, regrets are almost inevitable when you have as many tattoos as Ora does (she put the number at 28 in that 2017 iHeartRadio interview). There are plenty of tats on her body she does like, however, including the pin-up girl on her abdomen and a small tattoo of Saturn on her right forearm. "I thought it was the prettiest planet," she said.
Designers came calling
Ora’s wardrobe leaned heavily on vintage clothing early on in her music career. She made a habit of shopping at second-hand stores for her outfits, not so much by choice but out of necessity. "I was in a stage where I didn’t have that many options," she told Radio.com. "I worked with what I had." But once Ora’s career picked up and she started walking red carpets, fashion designers came calling in hopes of getting her to wear (and promote) their brands.
Now Ora has significantly more options to work with and she’s certainly taking full advantage. Asked by Vanity Fair about her favorite fashion designers and brands, Ora mentioned Roberto Cavalli, Marchesa, and Maison Martin Margiela to name a few. She hasn’t completely left the vintage stores and her rebellious side behind, however. "I’ve always been wearing crazy looks," Ora told Clash. "People think that they can’t wear that stuff and I have this thing in me where I just have to show people that I can wear it." Some might argue that Ora hasn’t always succeeded in that goal, but there’s no denying she keeps things interesting.
Roc-king the boat
Ora was done waiting for her record label to give her second album the green light in 2015. It was time for action. She filed a lawsuit against Roc Nation stating she wasn’t receiving the support she needed and wanted out from her contract, as reported by The Guardian. Ora told Marie Claire, "There have been times at night where I want to pull my hair out and just put my music out for free on the Internet and just say f*** everybody." Roc Nation countered with a $2.3 million suit of its own, claiming Ora still owed them albums.
Sounds messy, right? Ora claimed it wasn’t and that the two sides were able to settle their differences without heading to court. She did her best to put a positive spin on the whole thing, telling The Guardian, "It could have been bad, but it was very respectful. It was one of the easiest separations ever." Ora would later accuse Roc Nation of sexism in an interview with The Times (via the Daily Mail).
Rising from the ashes
For a sense of how Rita Ora was feeling after she left Roc Nation and signed with Atlantic Records UK in 2016 (via Billboard), look no further than the name of her 2018 sophomore album, Phoenix. Ora told W magazine that, like the Phoenix, she had "evolved" and become a new version of herself. The album proved Ora still has a future in music, if there was any doubt, with some singles reaching the top 10 on the UK singles chart.
Best of all, it doesn’t sound like fans will have to wait another few years for a follow-up album this time around. "I feel like now the groove is in," Ora told Nylon. "I’m not gonna stop, and I’m just gonna keep making loads of music." She added that she will "probably" get to work on another album as soon as 2019, but, as we’ve learned from Ora’s career, plans can always change.