If you’re looking for a story about how a burgeoning superstar barged her way to the top of the pop pile through sheer force of spirit, you’ll be pleased to meet singer, songwriter and chancer extraordinaire Hannah Jane Lewis. “A few years back I had no idea how anything worked,” she laughs today. “I was writing the songs myself, I sorted my own photo shoots, I didn’t even have a manager when I contacted labels. I’d just email them pretending I knew what I was talking about — they’d be like, ‘great, we can't wait to see you and your manager’, then I’d turn up by myself and try to bluff my way through.”
She did a pretty good job. By 2016 an independently-released, electro-influenced EP was attracting plaudits from a diverse array of tastemakers including The Line Of Best Fit, Clash and Popjustice; having now signed with Polydor Hannah’s about to turn an exciting corner after marrying her own songwriting to a string of handpicked collaborators, among them Jim Eliot (Foxes, Ellie Goulding), Tom Aspaul (Karen Harding, AlunaGeorge) and Cutfather (Demi Lovato, Pussycat Dolls). Among the new tracks you’ll find ‘Raincheck’, written about Hannah’s own habit of playing cards close to her chest in relationships (“and keeping the other person on their toes so you can stay ahead of the game”), along with ‘Last Cigarette’, which was inspired by one of her friends’ attempts to quit cigarettes and a troublesome guy at the same time.
Having grown up in both the UK and America Hannah has been inspired by a broad range of artists and styles, from classic UK pop to the likes of Katy Perry, Carly Rae Jepsen and Taylor Swift, via her passion for styles like country and R&B. “I’m influenced by my US upbringing, but that’s brought to life through the prism of UK pop sensibilities,” she explains. “I'm somewhere between the two — for me, the important thing is to learn from all my favourite artists but make sure I sound like nobody but myself, and wrap it all up in a big ball of pink glittery colourful energy.”
Hannah’s story begins in the not very pink, glittery, colourful or energetic county of Surrey, her home situated in the middle of some woods where feelings of remoteness allowed her imagination to run wild. When Hannah was 14, her parents decided the entire family would move to Florida. There were family friends in the US, but for Hannah leaving behind her own friends, and her own life, wasn’t easy. “It was super hard and a massive adjustment,” she recalls today. “I went from an all-girls school where nobody even wore make-up into the full-on, co-ed US high school atmosphere you see in teen films. I remember the first day of school I walked into the cafeteria and had absolutely no idea what to do — it was the classic lunch break situation you see in films with everyone sitting in their groups. It was all too much. I decided to eat in the bathroom.”
Hannah opted for a two-pronged attack: she’d play up her strangeness (“I was the token English girl and something of a novelty”) and at the same time she immersed herself in high school life, and became a cheerleader. It worked: “I threw myself into some things so I could fit in, and found that in other areas I’d be welcomed precisely because I didn’t fit in.” Following high school she was accepted at NYU’s prestigious Tisch School of The Arts at NYU, whose alumni include Lady Gaga. Relocating to East Village was another massive upheaval, and presented Hannah with another challenge to retain her own identity. “I always used to watch The X Factor,” she recalls today, “and when they’d go to home towns I’d just think, if I was on it, there'd be no home town to go to. I didn't have any strong foundations anywhere. I'd have no idea where home was.”
Hannah graduated early, moved back to the UK and embraced the pop she’d loved all her life. To make ends meet she’d dress up as Disney princesses and travel the country belting out songs at kids’ birthday parties (“it's hard on your voice, all that shouting at kids”). Flashforward to 2017: Hannah’s bluff-based strategy to getting signed, and the well-received 2016 EP that came with it, have led to a deal with Polydor, proper actual management and sessions with a carefully curated group of collaborators including Lostboy, The Union, Nicole Blair and Lauren Aquilina.
Hannah’s currently putting the finishing touches to an album whose lyrics and very existence tell a valuable story about defiance and the importance of forging your own path, combined with a celebration of the ups, the downs and all the bits in between that come with being young in the 2010s.
Couple those tracks with Hannah’s own inspiring, international journey to the precipice of pop stardom and you’ve got a headstrong and irresistible pop package that’s set to explode in 2018. “When I was growing up and I knew I wanted to be a singer, my parents never once told me that I needed to have a Plan B,” Hannah recalls. That passion and vision is now totally evident in Hannah’s music, imagery and videos. “I’ve never considered doing anything else,” Hannah insists. “I’ve taken it this far — and when I think about what comes next, nothing seemed too far-fetched.”