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Fashion and Lifestyle – Take It Back To The Start: Griff Interviewed

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Fashion and Lifestyle – BRIT winner on her breakthrough year, representation, and why we need more women in the studio…An unwavering tastemaker, Griff is pushing beyond the bounds of emotional electro-pop to achieve something greater — the 20-year-old British singer-songwriter is gracefully carving out her legacy.
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Until recently, Sarah Griffiths had been quietly claiming her territory among the pop greats. The young star has amassed a dedicated fanbase, pulled a top spot in the BBC Sounds of 2021 poll, and won the BRITS 2021 Rising Star Award. Now, away from the chaos of online comments, the artist is cooped up in the studio making headway on her upcoming mixtape and reflecting on her career breakthroughs. “It honestly doesn’t feel real. I’m experiencing all these incredible things from my bedroom, it’s a bit of an odd thing,” she laughs over the video call. More than anything, Griff is grateful to those who kept believing in her project: “We’ve put in a lot of work over the past year trying to break through and I think we were determined to keep releasing music and now it has caught people’s attention, it’s really fulfilling.”
As the pandemic ground things to a halt, the Hertfordshire-born creative found herself back home in her quaint village in southern England. She admits adjusting to home life has been “really hard”, but resolute as ever, Griff is eager to make it work. “As creatives, we’re used to having just day to day life stimulating us and inspiring us, but I think it’s been an incredible challenge to just figure out how to stay inspired and creative”.
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Keeping intuitively engaged in the arts is a constant when it comes to Griff. A conqueror of music production, writing, and fashion, the rising star’s journey captures the image of a young woman coming into her own under the gaze of effortful, melodramatic pop. No matter what eclectic, heartfelt swelling spectacle the singer convincing pulls off next — she confesses to “actually never having my heart broken — the likes of ‘Black Hole’ stands as a shimmering, playful example of open-ended penmanship that ushers in layered meanings to the mundane; “It’s up to interpretation as to how much you want to look into it or if you just want to dance to it.”
Emotional accessibility is something that permeates Griff’s work. A quick listen to her previous hits ‘Good Stuff’ and ‘Love Is A Compass’ showcases the singer’s knack for creating her self-described “emotional, uplifting pop”. If anything, the trailblazing musician embodies the mature, moody melodies and confident style found in her female favourites. “When I look at Taylor Swift, I don’t know if anyone was speaking to being a young girl in such an honest, profound way which was inspiring for me,” she explains. “I think it’s a similar thing with Lorde. I love how she has managed to do pop, but keep it left. It’s the same with HAIM as well; it’s got that really strong girl power feel as they’re in complete control of all their music — it’s really authentic.”
Inspired by the intimate sounds of styles of her most appreciated pop acts, the Taylor Swift-approved artist has established her songwriting ethos. “I think the best songs come from when you bare your soul a little bit. I don’t think I can put anything out that doesn’t feel like it’s authentic to me.”
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Authenticity has been vital to Griff’s growing platform, but the singer has had to juggle self-sacrifice to reckon with her new reality of stardom. The 20-year-old star has found breaking into the industry a sobering experience. “I don’t think I envisioned getting into music that it would be more about being an influencer — it never stops when it comes to social media,” she says. “It’s so competitive and I find it really, really hard. I don’t think anyone appreciates how horrible it is. You’re demanded to put out something every day and people are looking into your likes and comments and then comparing it to all your other like peers – it’s really fucking weird.”
Despite her initial social media reservations, the singer-songwriter became a hit on TikTok thanks to her ingenious, hugely colourful challenges. Balancing the life of an artist-influencer-designer has come at a cost, but it has still given Griff the time to call out what really matters — industry sexism. “You see so many comments that don’t understand that sexism and racism are ingrained in what we do,” she says, visibly frustrated. “As a girl producer, I never thought about it once I started getting into studios. I’ve never gone into a studio session where there’s a girl producing.”
Griff’s video which caused a stir online highlighted only two per cent of music producers women, while less than one per cent of producers were women of colour. Mindful of the stats, Griff is determined to challenge the cultural attitudes inside the industry. “When thinking about it as a whole picture, I get a bit overwhelmed like how on earth do I change it? It’s really important for me to make sure I’m not letting other people take control of my music if they don’t need to. With my next mixtape coming out, at least half of the production was done by me.”
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Wading through her most formative years as an artist – signing to music behemoths Warner Brothers aged 19 to securing a breakthrough BRIT Award a year later – Griff is self-aware of her situation. So, when our conversation naturally turns to the controversy of award shows, the singer all too knowingly nods, smiling. “I think everyone knows these things are political but for some reason, we’re still addicted to engaging in it. Even though we all know it’s bullshit, I’m still over the moon that I won a BRIT Award,” she tells me.
Pausing to think, the singer picks on the much-debated criticism of award industry tokenism. “It’s a weird double-sided coin and with tokenism. I get that these institutions have been run for years and are now experiencing this rapid increase in progressive thought of this new generation and are trying to catch up, so when they try and catch up it feels like tokenism and I have grace for that,” she adds.
But, for the 20-year-old creative, award shows aren’t her defining line. If anything, they’re quite the opposite. “As an artist, I never got into it to win a Grammy or win a BRIT, so I don’t hold any of it that close. If you are part of it it’s fucking incredible but if you’re not, it doesn’t change the fact that I’m still trying to do what I do regardless of it.” She adds: “There’s still a long way to go, but I’m encouraged by how much change I’ve experienced. The fact that with my nominations for the BRITS included Pa Salieu, Rina Sawayama, and me who’s half Jamaican and half Chinese. We get frustrated. It’s slow but it is changing.”
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As our coveted award ceremonies become increasingly contested by onlookers and dejected artists, many turn to the question of personal privilege to redress equality in the artistic playing field. “When you’re a person of colour who has grown up around middle-class white people your whole life, I’m conscious of it. I know that I’ve grown up within a certain level of privilege. But also, I don’t have the privilege because I’m half Jamaican and half Chinese, especially given the Black Lives Matter movement and Asian hate recently,” Griff reflects. “It’s shocking how many people would look at my heritage now and still not be okay with it, but, at the same time, I’ve grown up in a middle-class area. I’m standing on the shoulders of a lot of sacrifices that my mum, as a refugee, has given.”
In doing so, Griff is honouring herself and her unfolding legacy by keeping “in control” of her art. “I’m definitely aware of where I am and I’m trying to do what I do and inspire people. I hope, in doing that for myself, it does inspire other young girls and we don’t dwell on how fucked society is rather than getting out there and changing it. If we sit here and say there’s no Asian representation or no Black representation then you’re never going to see it. Until you put your head down and work at what you do, then you will be the person that’s representing.”
Griff’s pursuit of success is one rooted in a dedication to being uniquely herself. The upcoming mixtape, ‘One Foot In Front Of The Other’, is emblematic of this very graft. With the backdrop of the studio and the faint soundtrack of fresh music hissing from a near speaker, it’s a fitting setting for the star to animatedly share the details of her next project. The singer reveals it’s a body of work earnestly exploring young adolescence, her anchored relationship with faith, and her new directions. So, away from the grandeur and glimmering melodrama, I ask the rising star Griff who she truly is. She candidly replies: “I’m just a young girl trying to figure out life and trying to write honest, emotional, uplifting pop songs.”
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‘One Foot In Front Of The Other’ will be released on June 11th.
Words: Zoya Raza-Sheikh
Photography: Ollie Adegboye
Fashion: Kamran Rajput
Hair: Tomomi Roppongi
Make Up: Chynara Kojoeva
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