Exciting news –
19-year-old Griff has always stood out from the crowd. Growing up in Kings Langley; a quiet, quintessentially English Village in Hertfordshire, as the daughter of a Chinese mother and a Jamaican father, she rarely met anybody who looked like her. As a child she yearned to fit in; straightening her hair and making an effort to talk and dress like those around her; but by her late teenage years, Griff realised that being different was her super-power…
“When I was younger, I often felt like I was never Black enough to be Black or Chinese enough to be Chinese; you’re in this weird middle-ground. As I’ve grown older, and actually over lockdown especially, I’ve definitely taken a lot of time to reflect on my identity. Seeing the Black Lives Matter movement really erupt forced me to ask myself questions; “How does this affect me? How do I identify? I always knew I stuck out like a sore thumb, and I think that’s maybe what’s eventually made me so comfortable with wanting to be different, especially with music; I never looked or did the same as anyone else, so why start now?”
It’s that innate sense of independence that kicked off Griff’s music career in the first place. “Growing up in a village, you go round to your friends’ houses, but there’s no real scene,” she explains. “There aren’t cool clubs or cafes, so after school I would just go home and listen to music.” It was at home that she fell in love with the smart song-writing and powerhouse vocals of Taylor Swift, Lorde and Haim as well as the musicians her Dad, a keen gospel singer, used to play around the house; artists like Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin.
Griff was just eleven when she started making music. She borrowed her brother’s Logic software, beginning a long process of teaching herself how to record and produce her own songs, completely self-sufficiently. Learning to make music became addictive, and it also provided her an outlet to process her emotions when life felt particularly tough. Griff’s parents are foster carers, and for as long as she can remember, she’s grown up alongside not just her two biological brothers, but a revolving door of foster children. While the experience taught her a lot about the world, it could also be overwhelming at points. Through music, Griff found a kind of solace; creating raw and ruminative pop songs from the privacy of her bedroom.
One of these was Good Stuff; a poignant and heartfelt ballad she released earlier this year. “Why’d you leave me with the good stuff, babe / And forget about the mess we made?” she asks, with powerful and honeyed vocals that sound much older than her nineteen years. While it could easily be about a break-up; the tell-tale donning of rose-tinted glasses where an ex is concerned, Griff wrote Good Stuff as a way of processing her relationship with the foster children who would live with her, become part of the family, but ultimately always leave to go to new homes and start new lives.
“It was rooted in a conversation with my family about how, even though we probably had really, really hard times with all our foster kids, you only remember the best memories”. Despite writing the song about a unique element of her own life, Good Stuff has clearly resonated with a much wider audience. “A lot of people messaged me saying how it helped them through a break-up or a difficult time; I think it’s so cool that other people can relate to my experiences as a human being.”
It’s this kind of connection and community that motivates Griff as an artist. Her father introduced her to gospel songs, and when Griff joined Hillsong – a modern Evangelical church with a big emphasis on music as a form of worship – she began performing regularly. “From a young age I saw how music is so much more than just something you hear on the radio. People connect to it spiritually, it has healing powers and I’ve always loved that.” she says, “when I write, I like having the same uplifting quality ; a sense of hope that comes with the music. I think that comes from being in church, where music is used in this anthemic, powerful way.”
After years honing and perfecting her craft alone, Griff began to start playing some of her own songs to other musicians she had met at Hillsong. Impressed by her songwriting and powerful vocals, they introduced her to industry contacts, and she quickly picked up a management deal at just thirteen, though she quietly waited several years, not releasing music until she knew herself as a person and artist. By the age of sixteen Griff was ready to flex her creative artistry and appealing to the contacts she’d met along the way, she started booking studio sessions; while also revising for her A-levels.
She was still at school when she released her debut single Mirror Talk, a rousing yet unflinchingly honest ode to overcoming anxiety and the need to “make up with yourself”. “That song is about feeling a bit shit” Griff admits. “I wrote it when I was sixteen, and I think when you are a teenage girl, hormones are so heightened and every difficult thing feels like the end of the world. It’s about taking time to just be by yourself, to listen to music and read…to talk to yourself in the mirror.” With Gen-Z, Mirror Talk found a devoted audience who flocked to pop’s new rising star; one who straddled soul and R&B influences, and approached every track with a unique sense of honesty and creativity.
In pairing her powerful teenage emotions and experiences with her stripped back, DIY production style, Griff has successfully created a pocket of pop that is as raw and honest as it is dancefloor ready. In the same way that Robyn brought heartbreak to the dancefloor with Dancing on My Own, Griff never shies away from making party songs out of painful moments. “I love to tap into relationships that aren’t necessarily romantic” she says, citing mental health and foster care as just some of the themes from which she’s drawn inspiration. Against the lush synths and dreamy melodies of Say It Again she celebrates the importance of female friendship, especially given the struggles that young women face. “There’s so much pressure on teenage girls, I’ve seen my friends suffer from eating disorders and depression. When you’re young and you see those girls everyday at school, they’re your sisters”.
After a long period of introspection and reflection, Griff has successfully created her own world from scratch – and now she’s ready to let the rest of the world in. Having signed to Warner Music, Griff’s ‘Mirror Talk’ EP was released to widespread acclaim in 2019 (just as she compled her A-Levels). In 2020, even a pandemic could not stop Griff’s growth: under lockdown she released two hugely acclaimed singles, ‘Forgive Myself’ (complete with a video shot at home on her iPhone), and ‘Say It Again’, before being nominated for an Ivor Novello Award (their first Rising Star catageory). Collaborations followed with electronic duo Honne (1,000,000 X Better) and producer Zedd (on his single, ‘Inside Out’), as Griff continued to work hard on new music.
Griff then closed out 2020 with two more pinch-yourself moments. She took over the Tate Modern for her second ever London show, framing the singer, producer, DIY fashion designer and future-pop-star as the world-class talent that she is. Dressed in Gucci, Griff’s dynamic set was filmed in one shot, with the performance documented by life-drawers she approached from 2BorNot2B: a BIPOC collective whose images were live-streamed and projected during the set. The vast brutalism of the Tate space proved to be the perfect playground for Griff’s rawly fantastical output to date – the central bed and curtain nodding towards both the traditions of life-drawing, but also the audience at home (not to mention the bedroom-pop star at the centre of it all).
Griff was then unveiled as the voice behind Disney’s first ever Christmas ad campaign. Disney’s three-minute animated short tells the touching story of a grandmother, her granddaughter and the family traditions that connect them through the years. The campaign marks a 40-year partnership with children’s charity Make-A-Wish®, and featured an especially-recorded new track, ‘Love Is A Compass’, performed by Griff. The ad has since broken records, surpassing 70 million + views in a couple of weeks (Disney’s most reactive post to date), and securing Griff her first charting single. “I was excited to get involved in Disney’s Christmas campaign, in support of Make-A-Wish®. The lyrics of the track and the storytelling in the advert are powerful, and important. The theme of family and loved ones are so front of mind for many of us – especially this Christmas.”
2021 looks set to be another transformative one for Griff. She began the year in the top 5 of the BBC’s prestigious Sound of 2021 poll (as well as landing tips from the likes of MTV, Amazon Music and more), was hailed by Taylor Swift on social media, and dropped brand new single ‘Black Hole’. An instant dark-pop anthem, ‘Black Hole’ sees Griff head further down the rabbit-hole of modern teenage life in her own, already-distinct style. “I wrote this song as a bittersweet heartbreak track. I actually love how melodramatic it is, as there’s obviously not “a big black hole where my heart used to be”, but the melodrama of the lyrics – over a really interesting beat – keeps the song fun, and not too serious.” ‘Black Hole’ arrived alongside another striking new visual from Griff, examining a past-relationship through a surreal, ‘Alice in Wonderland’-esque journey from the sewing room into self-discovery…
Already, Griff’s is a fully-encompassing world which encompasses everything from producing tracks to set design. She makes her own clothes – as profiled on Vogue’s Inside the Wardrobe series – and range from Griff sewing a top out of lace curtains to creating a satin turquoise blue suit for her very first headline show. (Griff and her best friend even made their own prom dresses when they left school last year). In both sound and vision, Griff’s trademark is – already – immediately identifiable: right down to the waves she’s making with her hair, which is worn in a signature bubble ponytail curled round her body. Unusually for such a young artist, in everything she touches Griff’s creative choices form part of an electic universe that she, solely, is in charge of. “It would be so easy to just put a pair of fishnet tights and a crop top, but I’m trying to keep doing whatever it feels like no one else is doing” Griff says. “I want to create my own field, and my own world of pop”.