June 14, 2021
Culture & Music
Glossy Gen-Z sleek with a bedroom pop edge, Griff’s powerful voice, bobbled ponytail and small-town groundedness are as unique as the woman behind them. At just 20, the singer’s rawly catchy tunes have catapulted her into the charts, adding an edge to the pop realm. Just eight months before I spoke to Griff for this feature, I profiled her for the first time in PUSS PUSS. It was mid-2020 and she had been spending lockdown producing pop in the spare room of her family home in the English village of Kings Langley. A year on in the pandemic, I chatted to Griff again, just before she won the Brit Award for rising star. Her new EP’s out in June, but she’s already made waves; her song Good Stuff has more than 25 million plays on Spotify and her collabs with the likes of Zedd and Ninho are wildly successful. She’s heading up, up, up.
Stephanie Uhart knitted dress, COS sheer knit top, Falke socks
Gucci dress, socks & loafers, Griff’s own jewellery worn throughout
India Hendrikse: Hi! How are you? What’s been going on for you lately?
Griff: Hello! I’m good. I’ve been finishing my EP really. Collating all the songs I wrote last year and picking out the best ones and opening them up again, finishing them off. It feels like I’ve made something that feels like a whole and real body of work.
IH: Has lockdown made making music harder?
G: Yeah, definitely. But I think it forces me to make music, ‘cause I just come in here and shut off. I’ve got a spare room which I set up as a studio and it’s where I make everything from.
IH: You were nominated for the Brit Award [Griff has since gone on to win this award after this interview] and the Ivor Novello Rising Star Award in 2020, plus you performed at the Tate Modern for a virtual show. It was a big year, all things considered!What have been some career highlights over this period of time?
G: There have been so many. Well, the Ivor Novello nomination was definitely pretty crazy, ‘cause it was the first proper professional awards that I’ve ever been involved in. I look up to so many songwriters and have heard so many that I love win these awards and I never, ever imagined that it would be something that I’d get, at least this early on. And then definitely the BBC sound polls, because as a kid I’d always look at the sound polls and try and discover music from that, and then now this Brit nomination is definitely a standout.
IH: How have you found inspiration over the past year? It’s been a difficult time for everyone in a myriad of ways, but when you’re having to write songs, where do the ideas come from?
G: It’s definitely been hard to find inspiration. It’s definitely made me more reflective of myself and how I’m feeling towards my future and my life right now. I think I’ve just had to look a bit more inward to find inspiration. And there’s some days where it just doesn’t come, and some days where I do feel inspired, and I think I’ve just ridden that wave. Trying not to get too down with everything. I think the minute that you get too downtrodden is the minute you lose inspiration because you feel like there’s no reason for you to write a song. So it has been about staying optimistic about everything.
Rejina Pyo top & skirt, organza puff sleeved top made by Griff, Falke socks, Ugo Paulon shoes
IH: With so many young emerging pop artists, how do you try and stay true to yourself and authentic and not be swayed by the masses?
G: It’s my biggest fear to put out stuff that sounds and looks like other people’s. So I think I look at what everyone else is doing and hopefully try and do the opposite or do something completely different, because I think otherwise there’s just no point because you end up being another pop girl that’s forgotten about. I try and stay consistent across everything I do. It’s great to collaborate with other creatives on my team but I think it’s important for me to be involved in the video direction and in the stage direction and all those kind of details, because then it means things will be true for me and be unique.
IH: How would you describe your sense of fashion and style at the moment?
G: At the moment, it’s not too serious, it’s playful. It has elements of fantasy in it. I think there’s a difference between when I’m dressing for every day and if I’m on a photoshoot or performing. I like to think that when I’m Griff instead of Sarah, it’s a lot more elevated and there are elements of fantasy.
IH: Is Griff almost a persona you switch on?
G: I think personality-wise no, it’d be too exhausting to drag around two different characters. It’s more just that everything I am already, I can afford to be more dramatic with when it comes to being an artist, so it’s more that I’m elevating everything that I already am. Being more intentional about the way things look and stuff.
IH: Your signature bubble ponytail would be too much work through all of lockdown, I’m sure.
G: Right!? Like I love it, and I would go down to the shops in it, but it’s also not practical at all.
IH: You grew up in Kings Langley. Do you feel that living in a smalltown environment pushed you to get out of your comfort zone more?
G: I think there’s definitely something to be said for it being so boring, there being nothing to do. So all it felt like I could do to pass time as a kid was make music, and there was a part of me that craved creativity and wanted to satisfy this other bit in me. Growing up in a small town, everyone was white, middle-aged or very middle-class, and we were the only Black-Chinese family in the area, so we always stuck out like a sore thumb. I always looked so different to all my friends in school so I think there was definitely a part of me that was unsatisfied, so I think I definitely used music to delve into that other side of me, for sure.
Kenzo veiled hat & sandals, Molly Goddard dress
Ami Paris shirt, knitted vest, shorts, trench coat & shoes
IH: Has your Jamaican and Chinese heritage had a big influence in your life?
G: It’s a big question, but sadly half my life I rejected the fact that I was half Jamaican half Chinese, because I just wanted to be white. When Black Lives Matter was blowing up last year, I didn’t even know how I felt because I’m like, ‘I’ve grown up around white people, but I’m not white’. But for most of my life, I rejected my whole heritage because it’s that subtle racism of thinking I was just going to get on easier if I toned down all those parts of my heritage. So through my early life it was definitely that, but now I’m trying to embrace it a little bit more, when it comes down to my hair or my parents’ food… Black music has influenced so much creativity and I think my dad’s had such a role with playing me soul and R&B music and educating me with so many iconic Black artists.
IH: Who are some of your favourite artists? Who are you listening to at the moment?
G: I’ve always looked up to and always go back to Taylor Swift, she was my first pop music icon and I love her songwriting. I also look up to Lorde a lot, and Haim… Whitney Houston and Stevie Wonder spoke for me.
IH: An incredibly talented mix. You recently turned 20, right? How did that feel, ending your teenage years?
G: It feels horrific getting older, I hate my birthdays! But I definitely didn’t realise that even with this EP, there are a lot of themes of adolescence and trying to figure out this new adult world I guess I’m stepping into. So I definitely feel turning 20 was a big coming of age moment for me.
IH: And finally, what can we expect from your new EP?
G: I’ve heard it every day, so I have no idea what it sounds like to a fresh ear. But I’ve been told by people who have heard it that it does definitely feel like a development from my old stuff. There’s a difference for me between songs that I write 100 percent myself and the songs that I work with other people on. So I think there’s a nice balance between those ones that I do myself which are definitely more raw and the production’s a bit weirder and the ones that I work with other producers on which is fun, satisfying pop. I think there’s a rounded body of work where there’s something for everyone, hopefully.
Simone Rocha blouse, Paula Canovas del Vas trousers, Falke socks, Ugo Paulon shoes