You’ve been hearing Rita Ora‘s voice for years, even if you didn’t know it. As a featured vocalist on U.K. hits like DJ Fresh’s 2012 track “Hot Right Now,” a host on America’s Next Top Model and the singer on the current Fifty Shades Freed collaboration “For You” with Liam Payne, Ora is a fixture of the pop landscape. But her life as a pop star is miles, both literally and figuratively, from where she got her start. Born in a war-torn Kosovo in 1990, her parents made the choice to move their family to the U.K. when she was just a child.
For her new song “Proud,” Ora looked to fan-submitted stories shared online with the Open Mic Project to create an uplifting anthem that celebrates overcoming adversity. “It’s about acceptance, individuality, giving people a platform to share their stories,” she explains of the collaboration, which draws inspiration from topics ranging from reflections on body positivity to finding a place to belong.
For Ora, who has been singing professionally for eight years but is only now releasing her second studio album, the song and the body of work to come marks a shift toward getting her voice out in the way she wants to be heard. “I’m 27 now,” she tells TIME. “When I was 18, I was like, ‘I just want to put music out.’ And that’s what happened.” But, she remembers, she didn’t necessarily get the credit she deserved, or have the agency to make choices about how she would be received. That’s no longer the case.
Below, she talks to TIME about making “Proud,” coming into her own as a woman in the music industry and the power of patience.