Belgian folk-reggae singer Selah Sue says she had an unusually happy childhood. A tomboy, Sue wore the same baggy T-shirts as her brother, and she was quite popular with her schoolmates.
She never studied herself in the mirror. Then puberty hit and everything changed.
She says, “Suddenly, bam! I got breasts, I got a figure, and it was the hardest time of my life. I had very low self-esteem, and I thought I was the most ugly, stupid person in the world.”
But insecurities provided some great songwriting inspiration for the budding guitarist, born Sanne Putseys — hence the ebullient, frank ditties on her debut album, “Selah Sue,” including “Crazy Vibes,” “Peace of Mind” and the breakthrough overseas smash “Ragamuffin” — which she’ll tout in town tonight.
“That’s the only thing I wrote about on this album — every song is about learning to accept who I was,” Sue says.
“Because when I was depressed, I was really lost in myself and just not social anymore, so it was really an internal struggle.”
Sue, who’s seen a therapist since she was 16, says it was the only way she found emotional stability.
The troubled teen learned a lot from those sessions — like how to channel her frustration into emotive lyrics and guitar chords.
Having given up on her first love — ballet — she realized she had a goal again: assembling enough songs for a full-length album.
“My shrink says it works, writing things down,” she says. “I think he could make a book out of all the letters I sent him! But it’s just therapeutic, to put it down on paper — that’s what’s really worked out for me.”
Sue is no longer afraid of appearing vulnerable. She bares her soul in the touching acoustic tribute “Mommy.”
“My mother really deserved a song, because she was a really important person for me during those dark days,” she says. “But she’s really proud, and more focused on ‘Is my child happy?’ as opposed to, ‘Oh, my child wrote a song about me!’ And she always cries when she hears the song, which is exactly what I wanted.”
Thinking her head was too big in proportion to her hair, the self-declared ugly duckling developed the sweeping bouffant that’s become her swanlike signature.
“Then Chanel discovered me, so they give me free makeup and clothes for shows,” she says.
What reflection does the bombshell see in her mirror today? “Sometimes I still wake up and feel like the most ugly person there is,” she says. “And sometimes I think, ‘Yeah, you’re really OK!’ So it’s not as extreme as it was … .”