Hearing Dinah Jane reflect on her whirlwind 2019 feels like reminiscing with an old friend. Our phone call—where we discussed her triumphant solo entrance into R&B—felt like a warm reunion. In truth, our conversation had been a long time coming.
At 15, Jane auditioned for singing competition The X Factor, joined multi-Platinum girl group Fifth Harmony, and positioned herself for solo superstardom, eventually taking over airwaves with some of the most successful pop records of the decade (“Work from Home” and “Worth It”).
I first encountered Jane as she was touring with the group on their Reflection Tour in 2015. The general-admission venue was barely large enough to hold the 1,500-person crowd. Fifth Harmony’s elaborate choreography and vocal prowess deserved a much larger audience, which they ultimately achieved.
Seven years later, Jane, now 22, is an ascendant solo artist with a staggering six-song arsenal—and room to breathe life into her solo career, built upon formula-breaking R&B. Her solo material is more than a simple foray into the R&B world; it’s an homage to her musical lineage.
“R&B was my first love,” Jane reveals. “My mom introduced me to Whitney Houston and Brandy because she had an old-school style. When she had me, she was around 19, so we had a strong friendship and relationship. She always put me on something she was into.”
Jane grew up surrounded by music in a four-bedroom home in California with 23 other family members. She recalls regularly overhearing her mother singing records like Brian McKnight’s “Back at One.”
Jane’s mother, the oldest sibling among her aunts and uncles, served as the “musical director” for her siblings’ church group, leading them in harmonies throughout the house. More than any other item from her adolescence, Jane recalls her mother’s Whitney Houston piano songbook.
“I knew every record because of that songbook,” Jane says. “Every household we’d go to always had a piano and my family would carry a bag of songbooks. Whitney Houston was one of them.”
Jane’s exposure to classics at such a young age proved to be the driving force behind her now one-year-old solo career, which she hopes is a reflection of the breadth of her talent. Her small-but-mighty catalog showcases everything from ‘90s and ’00s-era cuts like “Heard It All Before,” an ode to a Sunshine Anderson track of the same name, to more club-centric bangers like her debut single “Bottled Up.”
In simplest terms, Jane doesn’t want to operate in any single dimension.
“I just get bored with the usual formula of like, OK, the artist comes in here, this is where the rapper comes in after the second verse,” Jane remarks of her impassioned new single “SZNS” with Brooklyn rapper A Boogie Wit da Hoodie, in which she opts for a duet with the rapper. “I wanted to break what was expected.”
It would be difficult for Dinah Jane not to experiment with her sound, which is something she learned from her tenure with Fifth Harmony. “I was exposed to so much with Fifth Harmony,” Jane says. “We did pop; we lightly did R&B and hip-hop together. [2017 single] ‘Angel’ had that rap texture Fifth Harmony never touched [before]. It was kind of like, ‘Let’s expose ourselves to different things that are out there to see what we’re capable of or what’s more comfortable for us.’”
Jane continues: “And that’s what music is about. You have to try other styles and not be one-dimensional. As an artist, it’s so important to try everything to see what’s meant for you.”
But Dinah Jane never questioned what was meant for her.
When it came time for Jane to decide which solo record to debut with in 2018, the obvious choice was “Bottled Up,” featuring her good friend Ty Dolla $ign. The track served as a tropical-influenced introduction to Jane’s newfound independence.
Jane reflects on the September 2018 release, coupled with a performance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, as one of her more rewarding career moments: “I remember walking to L.A. [Reid]’s office and telling him, ‘This is the song.’ There were no other songs I could see myself dropping for my first image as a solo artist.”
As for “SZNS,” Jane reveals the track is meant to serve as a conversation between herself and A Boogie, rather than a ballad with a disconnected rap verse.
“I wanted to make it a duet and make people feel like I’m telling a story that would really happen in real life with their loved one,” Jane says.
On the phone, Dinah Jane seems more proud of the fact she’s touring the country off of less than an album to her name than any of her other successes. She isn’t intimidated, either. She is embracing the pressure.
“People are starving; they want to know what’s the next move; they want more music,” she says. “It just makes me want to hurry and drop an album just for them.”
There is currently no set release date for Jane’s solo debut, but the album is slated to arrive in 2020, and according to the artist, will touch on her Polynesian culture.
“It’s always been a thing for me to recognize my culture in a modern way,” she concludes. “That’s something I will share with consistency from here on out.”