The rest is still unwritten
Singer Natasha Bedingfield is making her musical return, 15 years after the release of Unwritten.
By Alex Green
Some 15 years after Natasha Bedingfield burst into the public consciousness with Unwritten, the British R&B vocalist is making a return. Her sound is different, changed by a decade in America, and her political and social views have been amplified by the birth of her son. For a time Natasha Bedingfield dominated British culture.
Her voice, a soothing combination of grace and soulful heft, was everywhere - blasting from radios, accompanying advertisements, even as the soundtrack US teen dramas such as The Hills. From the release of her three-time platinum debut album Unwritten in 2004, it was impossible to escape Bedingfield.
But in 2012, after a spate of commercially unimpressive albums and one scrapped effort, she disappeared from the spotlight. California may be an ocean away from Haywards Heath - the West Sussex town she grew up in - but it's where Bedingfield finally rediscovered her voice. "The UK is still my home but there is a huge songwriting community out in LA and there's a lot of Brits out here. I think maybe it's the sunshine," she says with a sharp, warm laugh.
The R&B singer is speaking down the phone from the Los Angeles home she shares with her businessman husband Matt Robinson, their two Pomeranian dogs and their son. "I've lived here for nine or 10 years now and I have always felt quite inspired," she says. "I've been in the studio every day. I've written hundreds of songs."
While she may not have released an original album since 2010's Strip Me, Bedingfield has certainly kept herself busy. She's sold more than 10 million albums and 10 million singles worldwide. Now aged 37, she has redirected her songwriting prowess into studio work for some of the music industry's most famous stars. This appears to have given her a new sense of purpose. Paul McCartney, Nicki Minaj, Bruno Mars, Stevie Wonder, Lil Wayne and Sheryl Crow count among her collaborators. She also worked on Cheryl's comeback single, Love Made Me Do It. But while critics praised the song, it fell flat in the charts, only reaching number 19 in the UK before dropping to number 48 a week later.
No matter. Since her last album, Bedingfield has performed for the United Nations and appeared as a guest judge on New Zealand's X Factor alongside her brother Daniel - of Gotta Get Thru This fame. Her life has also been turned upside down by the birth of her son, Solomon, who is now 20 months old. Motherhood, she says, altered her perception of life.
"It's quite amazing," she explains. "I feel like I don't care about the things I used to care about because I have to get over my own stuff. I have to get over my insecurities because I am now not just living for myself. It's been incredible to go back into the studio and be on stage. I feel quite different. I feel like I don't have anything to prove. I just feel joy. I brought him (Solomon) up on stage with me the other day. It was a song called King Of The World and it is about how I love the way he makes me feel. I like how I become around him."
Being pregnant, however, did not stop her from touring. Bedingfield kept her pregnancy secret when she went on the road with Train in 2017. She adds: "That was a big change for me, to become a mum and just having a being who is completely dependent on me but bringing so much joy as well." But motherhood is only one reason for Bedingfield's decision to release a comeback album. The other is Linda Perry, the veteran record producer behind hits by the likes of Christina Aguilera, Gwen Stefani and Pink.
"The key to why I am releasing an album now is because I have found the producer," she says. Bedingfield said she had been craving a producer who she could build a real relationship with. She likens their chemistry to Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson, who together crafted much of the seminal Back To Black, or Taylor Swift and songwriter Max Martin. Bedingfield is clearly transfixed by the silent players behind the stars in the spotlight.
She also recently made headlines when she penned a new version of her hit Unwritten to serve as the theme for a reboot of The Hills. She says she is comfortable with the popular US reality TV show's legacy and has no qualms with being forever associated with it. "The Hills is such a momentous thing to be part of and my song became very much tied to it. I made a new version of Unwritten because I felt it was worth celebrating. It was a moment and in a way it kick-started the whole Kardashian thing. It's part of culture. When Vogue puts Kim Kardashian on the cover, it's part of where we are at right now. It's part of our history."
But despite being tied to the show, Bedingfield admits she is not a die-hard fan. Comedy and shows such as Netflix's hit revival of Queer Eye are more her preference. "I've just never been a big reality TV watcher. I love comedy. That's what I like." She pauses, laughs, then adds: "Reality shows? I feel like my life is real enough. My life could be a reality show but it would be too real, you know? It's funny isn't it. Instagram is like the new reality TV in my opinion."
Recent single Kick It is a fun, soulful slice of pop goodness which hides a darker message. "Something always turns ugly / Someone always gets mean," she sings. Is it online trolls she fears? Or something more wide-reaching? "I'm very much about human rights in general," she says. "I'm appalled to see our countries handling the refugee crisis not very well. They're just not figuring it out. It's funny how history keeps repeating itself. You read about the Holocaust and how we are horrified about it. But then it's interesting to see that people haven't learnt and we end up doing the same things."
And like many musicians, Bedingfield feels the need to do what she can. She adds: "I see this microphone in front of my face every day and I think: 'Man, I better be doing something to help other people as well, not just building my own career'." As she returns to the spotlight after some seven years away, she might just have the chance.
Natasha Bedingfield's fourth album Roll With Me is out now.