Queen Naija titled her debut album Missunderstood because that's how she felt most of her life. "My logic, my way of thinking, sometimes people don't get my humor," the 25-year-old artist tells EW. "People just don't understand me at all as a human being."
That misunderstanding appeared after she and her ex-husband began posting videos to YouTube in 2015, and continued as she found success as a musician. Having a public life meant more people having more opinions, and it was a lot to contend with, even as the Michigan-born R&B singer hit No. 1 on the U.S. Adult R&B charts with her debut single, "Medicine." The commentary intensified after Naija delayed her first full-length album. Now that it's arrived, she's excited for fans to hear the results of her hard work. "I just want to tell people to give it a chance," she says of the chart-topping release. "All you have to do is turn on your car or, you know, when you lay down, put on headphones, just hear me out."
We spoke to Queen about making Missunderstood, collaborating with her peers, and what she has planned next.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You start the album with an intro of clips of criticism, following by track "Too Much to Say." What do you want to say with your debut album?
QUEEN NAIJA: I'm just really trying to say that I'm more than a girl that's been just cheated on. I've been heartbroken, but I've been through more than that, and all of those things built me. I've remained the same throughout my whole life; I had the same heart no matter what I've been through. I also want people to recognize my versatility and talent.
I grew up on soul music — I love it — and I think when I released "Medicine," to a lot of people, maybe it wasn't "real R&B." I'm a much better writer than I am a speaker, and I was making a statement about my previous relationship and it blew up. I'm really trying to make my mark here and let people know I really do this. I'm not just no one-hit wonder. I'm a girl that has a lot of control of my music and the way it's produced and instruments used, the harmonies, and the melodies. I have that stuff [down] to a T because I have an ear for music, and that's who I am.
You share a lot about yourself in your music. Can you share how your life inspired some other tracks on Missunderstood?
Definitely, "Pretend" was one of those tracks that [was] really personal to me. I've been through so much, and I'm a sensitive person, and it's not fair for people who aren't genuine, who smile in my face and behind my back say something different. I have always been a super-nice girl, and I only want the same in return. So that goes for any relationship: family, friend, or significant other. I just want people to know that they shouldn't pretend, because it's unfair to do that to someone. It's something I thought people could relate to that I've experienced throughout my life.
Speaking of "Pretend," the music video struck me because it was powerful to see the stages of your life from working as a security guard to becoming a mother to being an artist. What was shooting the video like?
The song is already emotional for me. It was a good experience because I was able to go back into my life and think about how far God has brought me. As I put on each outfit, I could relive those moments of where I was once and how I stepped into where I am now. When you ask how my experience was, it was good. It was good because I got to see my growth, and I got to showcase my growth in such a simple way. I didn't have to do too much to tell a story. One backdrop means that my heart has been in the same place this whole time, throughout my life. I am the same person, I'm a girl who has gone through life in different phases.
How did the process of working on Missunderstood compare to your past singles and EP?
When I first got signed, I already had songs written. The momentum was there, so I released the EP as soon as I could. It went super-well, especially for my first project. People were saying I fell off for two years, saying that I was a one-hit wonder and that I didn't have it, so at first I was trying to hurry up because I didn't want people to forget about me. I had to step back and save myself from myself. This is my debut album; it has to be cohesive, it has to have no skips, and you have to prove to yourself that you can release a strong album. I'm trying to outdo myself, and at first I was trying to prove myself. I made so many songs that I could probably have three albums. My first batch of songs was me trying to prove that I am versatile, but it was so versatile that it was all over the place. While I was waiting on my features, I wrote more songs to make it cohesive. The more I wrote, the better I got. I was super-confident in the end. I have a problem with patience, and taking my time with the album helped me learn about patience and how good things can turn out if you wait.
I wanted to highlight "Butterflies Part 2." How does the new song relate to the first one from your EP? How does your growth between the songs come through?
Well, I wrote the first "Butterflies" initially when I was on a new journey in life, falling in love with someone new. I came from a broken marriage, and I didn't think nobody else could love me or show me how to love myself. My confidence grew; it's what happens when someone builds you instead of breaks you. "Butterflies" is about me falling in love, but also being scared too, because I've been through heartbreak. I'm willing to take the rest because I see the potential.
Two years later, I can't get the song off my heart. First of all, the melody is so heart-wrenching to me, I love it, I love the acoustic guitar. I wanted to take that same song and sample it to continue on my story. We're not in the honeymoon phase anymore, but I'm still in love and I still get those butterflies. We're not perfect, but this man still brings me joy. "Butterflies Part 2" is really like reassurance to my significant other and the whole world. Everyone that loved the first one probably wants to know what's going on now.
The collaborations on your album are really interesting. What drew you to these artists specifically, and what was working with them like?
When I chose the features, I really listened to the beat of the song, the melody, and thought about who would sound good on it. Russ sounds like he could be on "Without You." Sure enough, when he heard the song, he was down and thought it was a classic. We meshed well together. Me and Lucky Daye, we worked so well together in the studio, the chemistry was amazing. I let him take the lead, he was the first person to do his verse, and it sounded so good that I didn't touch it. Kiana Lede is underrated, and she's incredible, her vocal ability is amazing. She sings great live, makes great music, and she actually puts soul in her music. It was a perfect blend, our voices together. Even with the rapping features. I was trying to get someone else on "Bitter." Mulatto hopped on last minute, and it was not meant for anyone else to be on it. I was trying to knock it out at first, trying to get all the big names. Sometimes you just try to aim too high, and I feel like it would have drowned my album out when I wanted to show people what I can do. I'm happy with how the features ended up working with artists who are also coming up because they sound great on my album.
What's next for you?
Definitely a deluxe album. Everybody's doing a deluxe, and I definitely want to give people more — I don't know, maybe like five or six songs. I would love to be consistent with singles and collabs with other artists in between creating my sophomore album. I don't want to leave you guys another two years. I would like to drop an album every year. I would like to create my studio and maybe one day have my own label.