Spread Love: Songwriter Wynter Gordon on Honesty, Money and Music

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One night when Wynter Gordon (@wyntergordon) was out at a club, she became certain she was an angel. “I kept saying, ‘Come inside my love bubble,’” she recalls, giggling. “I was convinced my main job was to be kind. I wanna be one of those people who are always about spreading love and the truth.”

That’s not just lip service. She speaks openly about the bout of “insane” anxiety she had in January that landed her in therapy, and though she often is assumed to be a model, she brushes off compliments by crediting good lighting and angles. Plus, she says, “I think some of my best selfies show my eyes when they’re very happy, very pleasant — a pleasant soul and good energy.” Her slick 2011 debut, With the Music I Die, which pulses with fist-pumping club anthems, was so successful her former label pressed her to continue making dance music. Instead, she took a sharp left turn. Her recently released EP Five Needle is folky, and lays bare the hurt and pain she experienced during the demise of a decade-long romantic relationship. Even in conversation over the phone, she’s frank and unapologetic. (To wit: She went to a gun range for the first time in Nicaragua and the experience made her anti-gun control. “People kill people. Guns don’t kill people. I could kill someone with a plastic fork if I wanted to.”)

“I wanna be the big sister who’s honest about sex, about money, life, love, period,” she says. “I wanna be more truthful about the pains I’m going through. There’s beauty in flaws and pain.”

She experienced those pangs early. As a child growing up in Jamaica, Queens, she went to a mostly white school, and was often teased for being black. She and her siblings weren’t allowed to listen to the radio or anything that didn’t have “Godly” lyrics, and not knowing rap songs didn’t help her popularity. But that all changed when she was accepted to Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. (Fun fact: Nicki Minaj was a senior when Wynter was a freshman.) There, her steady diet of classical music at home came in handy.

It also gave her a leg up in the music industry. Within a couple years of graduating, she was tapped to write for Mary J. Blige’s 2005 album The Breakthrough. Soon, she was working for Flo Rida, J. Lo and a slew of others, and became known in the industry as the “Melody Girl.” “[Classical music] just made me more open to different sounds. My ear is very strange in terms of the way I form melodies in my head,” she says. “I can sing over a track and give you over 200 melodies like I’m from Africa or India.”

Writing songs in every genre from trap to country, she gradually found her own artistic interests straying. Besides, she doesn’t drink, smoke or do drugs, and being the only sober person in the club late night after late night was a drag.

“I did make a lot of money doing it, I traveled the world. But there was something fighting that inside me. I didn’t wanna be a cookie-cutter pop star. I wanted to be able to use my voice,” she says. “I felt like every show I was either lip-syncing, or screaming my voice out to kids who were on drugs. It wasn’t what I dreamed about. So I stopped.”

Proudly declaring herself to be “100 percent a nerd,” she ditched club life and dug into learning about Africa and her culture and feeling secure about being a black woman in America. “A lot of my visuals and sounds are very tribal African — very natural things,” she explains. “I created a lot of tribal jewelry — this whole hippie-slash-Afro element. I wanted to show people you could be proud and stylish and classy and own it.”

Even as she explores different sides of her musical personality, dance is never far from her heart. Recently, she stumbled upon some old-school club kids playing music and boogieing in the park. “I wanted them to feel like they’re still cool. I needed to show love,” she says. She jumped right in the middle, enveloping them in her love bubble.

—Rebecca Haithcoat for Instagram @music