Selah Sue

Music Features Selah Sue

Hometown: Leefdaal, Belgium
Album: Selah Sue
For Fans Of: Adele, Amy Winehouse, Lauryn Hill

As Belgian neo-soul diva Selah Sue recalls, her childhood was a deliriously happy one. Even with the awkward birth name of Sanne Putseys, she was enormously popular—always noticed by the boys but on great BFF terms with the girls, too—and she had something she was quite good at: ballet, for which she’d rigorously trained since age 6. Then she hit 14, and everything fell apart.

Currently, Sue is a gorgeous, bouffant-haired fashion plate who’s been courted by posh houses like Chanel and Acne, all after only one album—her Lauryn Hill-inspired R&B/reggae self-titled debut, featuring overseas smashes like the jittery “Ragamuffin.” She’s a calm, cool and collected 23 now. But only a few years ago, she sank into such deep, dark depression she couldn’t see any way out of it. “Suddenly, from one day to another, I was just tired of doing the ballet and all the exercises,” she sighs. So she simply quit. “And I never thought about it again.”

Sue picked up guitar instead, but by then it was too late. When she looked in the mirror, she was disgusted by what she saw. She thought her head was too big in proportion to her hair, so she started dying it every color imaginable, then shaving one side of her skull, then the other. Nothing worked. “Then I got breasts when I was 14, which is pretty late,” she says. “Before that, I was wearing T-shirts like my brother, and I never looked in the mirror. Then suddenly, Bam! I got breasts and I got a figure, and that really screwed me up. Puberty was the hardest time of my life—I had very low self-esteem, and I thought I was the most ugly, stupid person in the world.”

Sue’s mother grew so worried, she enrolled her daughter in therapy; On Sue’s debut, she duly thanks her for her concern with the touching acoustic ballad “Mommy,” which brings her parent to tears every time she hears it. “I’ve been going to a therapist since I was 16, and I still go, but now it’s only once every four months or something,” she notes. “Now it’s stable, it’s stabilized. But I really needed it—I needed it to sort things out for myself.”

Therapy taught this tortured soul to, well, stop torturing herself so much—to have clear-cut, attainable goals in mind (like recording an album). To capture in writing the roiling emotions she was experiencing. And to exorcise those demons from her system through artistic pursuits. Sue mastered acoustic six-string by strumming along to Lauryn Hill’s Unplugged album, then began penning songs as catharsis. And you can hear it in her soul-baring sonnets “Crazy Vibes,” “Peace of Mind” and “Crazy Sufferin Style,” she adds. “That’s the only thing I wrote about on my first album—every song is about learning to accept who I was.”

What reflection does Sue see in the mirror these days? “Well, it’s not as extreme as it was,” she allows. “But sometimes I still wake up and feel like the most ugly person there is. And other times I think ‘Yeah! You’re really sort of…sort of okay!’”

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