Members of the team behind R&B group FLO have spoken to Music Week about the trio’s breakout year.
Elspeth Merry, founder of Artists’ Way, scooped the PR Campaign trophy at the Music Week Awards in May, said that she was immediately convinced FLO would hit the big time.
“The first time I met them, they came running into our office and it was like watching a TV show unfold,” Merry said. “We did a photoshoot in a really shitty studio and they just went straight up to the rails like, ‘We’re wearing this! We’re not wearing this!’ And I thought, ‘These girls are going places.’ Their ambition and perfectionism, I haven’t seen [anything like it] in a very long time.”
Merry, together with management team Rob Harrison and UROK, oversaw a press campaign that unfolded around the release of the trio’s debut Cardboard Box EP via Island, taking in a first place finish in BBC Radio 1’s Sound Of 2023 poll and the BRITs Rising Star Award.
I haven’t seen anything like FLO's ambition and perfectionism before
“The initial plan was to get all of the pop stans on board straight away,” said Merry. “They’re an R&B girl group and I knew that [journalist] Michael Cragg, especially [liked them], I spoke to him all the time. It was about getting people on board and loving them. We had an incredible video and an incredible single, but again there hadn't been a new girl group in a decade. So I was just asking for tweets from journalists, like, ‘If you love this just tweet it,’ because Twitter was where they blew up.”
Elspeth Merry on stage at the Music Week Awards
Merry said that a key part of the press campaign was FLO’s cover appearance on NME’s 100 new music round up in January 2022.
“Rob [Harison] had mentioned this Sugababes interview where they were saying, ‘We’re so cool, we’re in the NME now,’ so getting a girl group on the cover of NME with creative and a photographer that I brought in, it was amazing,” she explained. “And then to win the Sound Of poll and the BRIT, it was a massive way to start the year.”
FLO’s Missy Elliott collaboration Fly Girl features in the new edition of Music Week, as co-writer MNEK - who is a close collaborator - tells the story of its creation in Hitmakers.
“When Rob initially showed me a video of them singing together it looked so natural, I knew from that video that they had something,” MNEK told Music Week. “I didn't know what it was, but I enjoyed them, and I enjoyed the sessions once we started having them. I love them a lot, I see so much in them and they are capable of so much.”
Looking ahead to FLO’s hotly anticipated debut album, the songwriter tipped the trio to spring a surprise.
“What’s really going to make FLO’s album their own is if they’re not trying to be the next Destiny's Child, the next Mystique or the next Sugababes, which I think everyone sometimes likes to do just to make themselves comfortable and make themselves understand what the music is,” MNEK said. “But eventually, what’s going to make them stick around is when those comparisons are able to wash away. We definitely think about keeping it R&B, but [it’s also about] pushing it forward, making it fun, catchy and worthwhile. Like, [we ask], ‘What are these girls giving you that others aren’t?’”
Merry hinted that FLO and their team will continue to work in the close-knit way that has seen them come this far.
“It’s all testament to sitting down with the girls,” Merry said. “Rob helped create the space [for them] and put them together, but the idea of a manufactured girl group, how would a new girl group form if it wasn’t on reality TV or they weren’t siblings? Rob created a beautiful home for these girls to grow and it’s been over four years now since they started. It’s three years of development. He built a wall around A&R and said, ‘We’re developing’. It goes to show that that needs to happen before you break cover.”
Merry said that Artists’ Way, which is only two years old, finding success with a young breaking act can be an example to the rest of the music industry.
“It’s about trusting in young people, trusting in their taste and that they know their art better than all of us,” she said. “It’s about listening.”