Music Week is teaming up with YouTube Music for the Women In Music Awards in October - Black History Month - with a content series and webinar event, Young, Gifted And Black: Women In Music. Here, Adenike Adenitire meets Griff...
Griff is one busy lady. But then an acclaimed mixtape, a coveted gig as the voice of a Disney Christmas advert, co-writing with Hailee Steinfeld and a much sought-after BRIT Award will do that for you.
And that has been the trajectory of the 20-year-old singer, songwriter, and producer’s career since signing to Warner Records in 2019. As she continues her journey, the destination is already looking like pop superstardom.
Griff, real name Sarah Faith Griffiths, who grew up in Hertfordshire, was also recently named as YouTube Music’s newest Artist On The Rise, a recognition she “feels so honoured” by, having grown up watching her favourite videos on the platform.
However, when asked about that much-anticipated debut album, her response once again points to her current in-demand status. “God knows,” she laughs. “When I'm allowed to write one.”
After some pushing, she says the best bet is next year, but thankfully there is plenty to keep fans occupied until then with an impending European tour, and her mixtape, One Foot In Front Of The Other, still basking in being one of this year’s hottest music releases...
What was your first introduction to music?
“I think it started in church for me. I mean, I was born and raised in church, so it's all I've known since I was really young, but I started to take more of an interest in music at age 13 or 14. Having live music every week at church, I think I fell in love with it. Naturally, you get a lot of musicians in church and that's how I started meeting musicians, and they'd introduce me to their friends.”
So at what age did you feel like, 'Okay, this could be a career for me', when did it get serious?
“I don't know, I was pursuing it quite hard, trying my best to network wherever and be in the studio since I was about 12. I don't know if I ever fully thought it could be a career. I think I only realised it could be a career when I signed my record deal, because I think I knew the chances are so slim, and just because you're working with someone it doesn't mean anything is going to come of it. I think I knew the music industry was quite a difficult place, so I never got my hopes up until I was fully signed.”
Your lyrics from songs such as Good Stuff have really been acclaimed in terms of just how vulnerable they are, have you always been like that?
“I think so. I was never conscious that I was baring my soul. I think as a songwriter it's just what you do, and it's how you get the best, most honest songs. I just think there's such a purpose if you want to take on songwriting, or any kind of creative writing, you've got to be honest. And I think the best art comes from when it comes from a real place, and there's no point if it's fake or half-hearted. I only ever really get the best or most unique songs when I am honest with it, so it was never really something I thought about, you know?”
Early this year you won the BRIT for Rising Star, how was that?
“Yeah, it definitely caught me by surprise. I didn't even realise we were running for the award. And especially after the year we've had. How's it affected me? It's weird, on one hand you try not to think about it and just carry on because obviously we don't do what we do for awards. Though, if you get them, it's great, and if you don't, you carry on. But I think you can't deny the kind of pressures that come with it. And I don't think pressures are a tangible thing. It's very subtle. But suddenly, everyone recognises you more as the breadwinner, or whatever. And there's a lot more pressure to strike while the iron is hot and keep going.”
If you could go back to the beginning of your career before being signed and you could give yourself a piece of advice, what would that be?
“Hmm. I would just say enjoy creating and freedom, and then be patient because things are going to take a lot longer than you think.”
Do you think there's anything that gets in the way of women progressing in the music industry?
“Yeah, of course, there is a lot of work to be done. I think there's two sides of the coin with this: creativity, and then the business side as well. I think obviously I'm more experienced in the creative side, I produce my own music and that was always such a rare thing for people as you don't see girls producing. I think as a female creative you get used to going into these rooms making music with men always on the desk. Because the music industry is still predominantly controlled by men as well, I think we're so trained to look at a young girl’s talent, and just push her to be the product to be sold.”
As well producing your own music, do you have as much as a hand in your fashion and style, which is quite distinct, where do you get your inspiration?
“I don't know. It all definitely comes from me. I've always been quite ambitious, and I know what I want things to visually look like and sound like, and I don't think I'm ever that 100% happy with everything. But I think we always strive to make things feel more unique or more interesting than what's already out there. But I have a whole team around me that helps me. It takes an army to break an artist.”
How would you describe your music personally?
“I used to be scared of the word ‘pop’. But it is pop. It's honest DIY pop.”
How has your mixed Chinese and Jamaican heritage added to your art and your music?
“On a practical level, my dad was very aware that we were black kids growing up in a white neighbourhood and he loved music. So one of the ways he found important in passing on his heritage was through music, and so he only ever really played black artists – we were always listening to soul and R&B. And, then because we did grow up in a white neighbourhood, I was always very used to sticking out and being really different. In a weird way, I think that has given me a lot of confidence and refuge in music, because you don't feel that confident in any other areas when you're in school, whenever you look different.”
You sang the song, Love is a Compass, for a Disney Christmas advert last year, that must have been a trip?
“Yeah, that was quite surreal especially in the UK, as Christmas adverts are a very big thing. I didn't really grow up watching Disney, so I didn’t have that childhood attachment to it, but it was just a mad opportunity, especially in lockdown. As a new artist, to have such a big brand recognise me and what I was doing, I felt very honoured and blessed, and I didn't want to mess it up.”
Stay tuned to musicweek.com for more interviews during Black History Month as part of Young Gifted And Black: Women In Music x YouTube Music. And click here for our YouTube channel.
Words by Adenike Adenitire