Story of the Song: See it in a Boy’s Eyes by Jamelia

From The Independent archive: Robert Webb on an unexpected collaboration

Friday 12 November 2021 21:30
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<p>The R&B star was feted as the British Beyonce</p>

The R&B star was feted as the British Beyonce

Chris Martin’s band, Coldplay, were between albums and, in the front man’s words, he had “nothing to do for a week”. He phoned one of his label-mates, the R&B star Jamelia, to see if she fancied collaborating on a song. The 23-year-old Birmingham-born singer was staggered. “I’ve always been a fan of his but never did I imagine he was a fan of mine,” she said. Jamelia Davis had been signed to EMI’s Parlophone at the age of 15 and the singer, who abandoned schoolgirl thoughts of a career in psychology to write and record her own material, was now being feted as the British Beyonce. In marketing terms, it was a gamble: Coldplay’s and Jamelia’s audiences hardly overlap.

The two met in the studio. Martin worked on a delicate piano loop to fit the rhythm and pulled out some lyrics: “What’s a girl like me to do / When she don’t get a thing from you /I wanna go where you’re going to / Have to do what you have to do.” The song is, as Jamelia explained, “about a relationship where someone doesn’t speak about having a problem and you can see that they’re upset but they’re just not talking.”. The spacey, funk-driven “See it in a Boy’s Eyes” was produced by Matt Kent and Cameron McVey, who helped hone Massive Attack’s scratchy, trip-hop sound in the Nineties.

It was recorded in London at the end of 2003 for Jamelia’s second album, Thank You, and charted in the summer of 2004, backed with a video shot in Cuba. The bulk of the track is by Martin, who also pitches in with background vocals and keyboards. His input was intended to be covert, but EMI had other ideas and, given that both musicians took a writing credit, it was hardly likely to remain secret.

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