Culture

We Need to Talk About Griff

Fresh out of suburbia and loved by Taylor Swift, meet the 20-year-old singer-songwriter who is about to soundtrack your summer

By Ata-Owaji Victor

15 May 2021
G

riff's story begins in the Hertfordshire town of Kings Langley. A place where, “there's nothing to do,” she grins - her joyous smile lighting up my Zoom screen. Griff is on a high having performed at (and owned) this year's BRIT awards. “It's just shops, pubs and old people - which is probably why I spent a lot of my childhood making songs.”

On the night, Griff was awarded the prestigious Rising Star Award (an accolade previously held by Adele and Sam Smith), and is already attracting attention of the industry's heavy hitters. After being sent a bouquet of flowers mere hours before her peformance by none other than Taylor Swift, Griff leans back into her chair, and says that the music industry is ready for the change that she wants to bring...

Singer-songwriter Griff on the red carpet at her first Brits Awards
Image by The Brits 2021

‘As an artist, producer and a writer, I want to see the industry investing in young women...’

“The most important thing is to give them time to grow and develop what they want to say. There is no point signing us if someone is just going to put words in our mouths and clothes on our body. We have to figure out a way to be patient because it takes years to develop an artist.”

‘Women in the music industry are still looked at as a product to be sold...’

“That's why we still don’t see that many producing their own stuff – only about 2% of producers are women. If you're a girl, and you’re creative, it's like, ‘OK, well, you’re either good enough to be an artist or we’re not interested in you’.

“They want you to fit into their mould; if not, then they’re not really going to invest that much time into making you a producer or writer.”

“From about 15, when I started meeting publishers, record labels, and going into studio sessions, it was always a male executive giving me the pitch and telling me why I should sign with them. It needs to change and I think it’s happening, but it takes time to wean out all the older mindsets.”

‘As a mixed-race woman, I sometimes sit in this space of not feeling Black enough to be Black and not Asian enough to be Asian’

‘I was always writing songs, always singing – but I never believed it could be an accessible thing...’

“When I got to my late teens, I was very fortunate to start doing sessions with producers. From that, I started networking a bit more and more opportunities presented themselves.

“I just decided to work really hard – not that I ever believed it would actually happen – but then it did. I don’t think I believed it until I got my record deal. I thought I’d just go to university and do something else. I ended up throwing 150% of myself into music even when I didn’t realise it.”

‘My Chinese side is very survival-led – we get it done and hustle...’

“That is where my work ethic is probably from. Even in school, my mum would say: “You’re there to get grades and if you get friends, that’s a bonus”.

“My Jamaican side fuels my creativity. Black music has been really influential to me. My dad’s taste in soul and R’n’B is definitely what influenced me early on. Black music taps into hardship and emotion, and manages to articulate all of that pain and express it though music in a real and tangible way.”

Griff pictured with her Dad

‘Being half-Jamaican and half-Chinese, growing up in a predominantly white area, I wanted to have the features of a white girl...’

“For me, that looked like straightening my hair. I hit puberty when I was about eight, and was always worried that my lips were too big, that I had big legs, and I was fat.

“Black people just have different body types and features, but I wasn't surrounded by Black people so I didn't know that. Instead, I was like, ‘I need to diet more’ and even now I still feel more comfortable with straight hair than I do with having natural hair.

“I still have a lot to unpack about beauty ideals. I always looked at my heritage as something that wasn't beautiful because, growing up, I was always a minority.”

‘As a mixed-race woman, I sometimes sit in this space of not feeling Black enough to be Black and not Asian enough to be Asian...’

“For most white people, it's maybe erupted as something new, but for us, we’re all just tired. It’s come to a breaking point, with both the Asian hate and BLM. I’ve been really reflective and realised how much I neglected both sides of my heritage because I grew up in a really white area.

“As a child, you know that being more white – whatever that means – is just how you're going to get by, fit in at school and make sure teachers like you to make sure you get good grades. It wasn't a conscious realisation of racism, but that in itself is systemic racism.”

A young Griff with her Dad and brothers enjoying some time at the beach

‘My go-to getting ready music would usually be something up-tempo or Taylor Swift...’

“However, when I was at the O2 rehearsing it was so overwhelming, all such a new experience so I didn’t want to listen to any songs. When I’m performing, I don’t want to listen to anyone else singing, so I put on classical music instead - some Ólafur Arnalds and Ludovico Einaudi.”

‘The BRITs came around too quickly for me to change my skincare and beauty regime...’

“It was my first one, so I don't really know how it goes. I have been using a lot of Dr Sebagh skincare though, the repair serum, the cleanser, the moisture, and I also use the hyaluronic acid serum from The Ordinary.

“Nails wise, I just went to my local on the high street and on my hair, I'm using a hydrating mask because I get a really dry scalp. I’ve sprayed apple cider vinegar and coconut oil on the roots before putting on my Shea Moisture Deep Conditioning Mask.”

‘My performance makeup look was natural because it's my first one, so there isn’t a Griff beauty look to reinvent yet...’

“For the red carpet, we accidentally went a bit MET Gala with a look that was quite ethereal and dramatic. I had this big crystal headpiece, so my hair was straight as the headpiece structure had so much volume.

“I played with lots of ideas with my make-up artist, Michelle Dacillo. She used a glue gun to create these little droplets that are almost like real tears and stuck them on with eyelash glue

“Creatively, I find a lot of inspiration on Instagram - I use it like Pinterest. When I’m looking for new creative ideas for a music video or an outfit, I’ll go to my saved folder on Instagram first.”

The Short Stack

Griff shares her experience as a teen in the music industry, what’s shaped her life, and the thinking behind her dramatic hair and ethereal beauty for the BRITs.

By Ata-Owaji Victor

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