- Words Rosie Byers
- Photography Cal McIntyre
- Fashion Kamran Rajput assisted by Karran Rajani
- Hair Charles Stanley assisted by Emma Jones using Sam McKnight
- Makeup Michelle Dacillo with Anomaly Projects using Glossier
- Production and Creative Direction Nura Abdela
- Photographer Representation Digital Picnic
- Gaffer Alex Butler
- Spark Charlie Wiles
- Location Wolf & Badger Studios
BRIT Rising Star winner, Griff, speaks to Notion about her new mixtape, her surreal shout out from Taylor Swift, the importance of producing her own music, and why she just wants to write the best, most honest pop songs she can.
In the artwork for Griff’s debut mixtape One Foot In Front Of The Other, she balances, crouched in ballet slippers with her arms outstretched, on a tightrope in the sky. Both vulnerable and untouchable, she avoids our gaze from below — eyes fixed firmly ahead.
“It’s that sense of you could fall at any moment,” Griff says, and for an artist approaching a defining turning point in their career, the image resonates. A few weeks after we speak she’ll perform at the Brits — pushed back from its usual February date to 11th May — where she’ll pick up the Rising Star Award, and exactly a month later, One Foot In Front Of The Other is set for release on 11th June. If we’re being superstitious, the 11.11 synchronicity feels like the work of fate, a wish on a phone screen clock come true.
But with her fate firmly in her own hands and all eyes on her, Griff’s been dealing with the pressure by shutting out the background noise and never looking too far ahead — a mindset she gravitates back to throughout our conversation. On the prospect of starting work on her debut album: “There’s definitely pressure, but I just try not to think about it.” She knows she’s writing for a vast new audience now, but: “In the moment when I’m writing songs, I just block it out.” Even the impact of her Brit Award win hasn’t fully sunk in: “It still doesn’t really feel real. When you look at all the other people that have got it before, it just feels a bit silly that I’ve managed to get myself on that list.” In a world constantly demanding the next new thing from its artists, Griff seems to have found a way to focus on the present — even if she’s still struggling to process the magnitude of the moment she’s in.
- Dress Thomas James Jackson
This sense of easing into the new and unknown is something she’s been experiencing in her personal life as well. “When I was listening to [the mixtape] the whole way through, it definitely felt like a sense of trying to figure out where you are in the world and coming to the end of adolescence. Being cautious — whether it’s falling in love, or whether it’s figuring out who you are,” she says of the project’s title, lifted from its mantra-like single of the same name. “This song, “One Foot In Front Of The Other”, gives me that picture of a kid learning to walk again, or someone on a tightrope. That’s why the imagery is there for the mixtape. It’s that revelation of ‘I’m probably going to make loads of mistakes’, or ‘I can’t really think too far ahead’. All you can do is look at what you’ve got in your hand and just do one foot in front of the other. That’s the only way you kind of keep yourself sane.”
Living at home with her family through lockdown helped Griff stay grounded in herself, but put an unforgiving magnifying glass on her relationships at the same time. “Even though I’ve lived at home my whole life, I’ve been out all the time and always out in London. I was like, ‘Oh shit. I’m like at home,’” she laughs, setting the scene for the period of introspection she worked through making the mixtape. “That, in itself, probably highlights to me that even though I’ve lived at home for so much of my life, there are so many gaps in the relationships with so many people in my family. When you reflect on that it can pour itself into love songs or heartbreak songs, so that was really influential.”
Like 2020’s “Good Stuff” — a bittersweet ballad written about the grief she feels when the children her parents foster move on to new homes — One Foot In Front Of The Other explores the universal challenges of adapting to endings and new beginnings, with lyrics that could apply equally to her inner world, home life or her relationships outside of it. Her current favourite song, “Shade of Yellow”, written a few weeks ago and slipped into the tracklist at the last minute, captures the messy crossover of all three: “It essentially is a love song, but it’s almost about trying to escape from home and finding safety in a lot of other different places.”
At a time when escaping from home has been pretty much impossible, Griff has been finding clarity in writing, and her new music pulls us in to experience the thrill of catharsis in full force. With vivid lyrics and bulletproof hooks, emotion surges through every track on One Foot In Front Of The Other, building intensity to destabilising heights but pulling it back to find her balance every time. It’s the kind of euphoric, dancing-through-heartache pop mastered by artists like Robyn, music that anchors itself in memories in a way that, like the recent re release of Taylor Swift’s Fearless, can plunge you back into your feelings years later with just a few chords.
- Dress Cecilie Bahnsen
Having grown up primarily listening to soul and R&B, the 2008 original is an album Griff remembers as a turning point in her relationship with music: “When I was like eight years old, my cousin gave me this iPod and it had Taylor Swift’s Fearless album on it — suddenly it was major chords and relatable lyrics and all these beautiful, big pop melodies that everyone could sing. I think there was a euphoria in that.”
In a full circle moment at the end of last year, Swift responded to Griff and Maisie Peters’ cover of Folklore’s “exile” on Twitter: ‘I’m a huge fan of these two already but seeing them create magic in the studio together just makes me even more excited to hear what they do in the future — absolutely love this, what a gift’. Basically the best early Christmas present her eight year-old self could have imagined, Griff couldn’t believe it. “It doesn’t feel real. You’re like, ‘These are just words on a screen…’”
Alongside Swift, Griff loves Haim and Lorde (“she did left-field pop well and created her whole world around what she did”) as well as Phoebe Bridgers, Julia Michaels and Jon Bellion as songwriters. Like all of them, she has developed a sound that’s distinctively hers and instantly recognisable. Her identity as an artist is visually cohesive too, and from her album artwork to building stage sets and the clothing she makes, Griff’s approach is DIY. Drawn to creating fantastical visuals made from real materials, it’s scaled up, high contrast, “a bit larger than life.”
- Dress Florentina Leitner
In the studio she’s equally hands-on and always has been, but is particularly proud of producing the majority of One Foot In Front Of The Other herself. She hopes it feels real and raw, something more than glossy manufactured pop, but also that we start to see more girls producing in an industry that traditionally hasn’t let them in.
Griff is quick to acknowledge such a small percentage of producers are women (like 2% small, according to her latest press release), but beyond giving credit where it’s due, people act shocked by her skills in a way they probably wouldn’t if she were male. “When I first came into music, I didn’t realise it was a big deal until I was sitting down with label execs and they were like, ‘Check her out! She produces as well!’ she mocks. “I was like, ‘What? Yeah, so?’”
“And then secretly, I think I’ve probably found a bit of pride and a bit of an ego stroke in it. What’s also sad is, because it is so competitive, I found when people do make a big deal about it it’s also weirdly nice, to be totally honest. Because it makes you feel different and special, you know? You feel like you’re the only one and there’s a uniqueness to it. So I think that’s just the honest, human side of it, but then it definitely shouldn’t be a big deal. It just should be more common. I don’t know how we should begin to bridge the gap and it’s obviously such a big conversation, but we do need to see more girls producing.”
- Dress Philosophy
- Bodysuit Kenzo
- Tights Jonathon Aston
As her influence grows — and considering the trajectory of previous Rising Star winners, it’s about to skyrocket — Griff wants to lead by example with the hope it will have a wider impact. “I probably get a bit overwhelmed to think I’m going to go in and change the industry, so I’m just trying to action those things within my own project, and hopefully as my own project becomes more successful that will influence people,” she says, referencing the lack of women at the top and the hundreds of middle-aged men she’s had to impress to get this far. “I don’t know if I can change the whole industry, but if I can make sure that what’s in my hand is the way I need it to be, that my project is the way I want to see the rest of the industry operating, then that will hopefully be able to do something.” One foot in front of the other.
While the music industry is being held accountable to change, slowly, from the inside, it’s being shaped more than ever by external powers — we’re all sick of talking about TikTok, but its influence is growing and Griff is on the fence about it. “It’s fucked, isn’t it?” she laughs. “I’m trying not to hate on it because it’s obviously sticking around longer than being just a fad, so we have to all adapt. I think this is what it must have been like when streaming started being a thing — just seeing all these gatekeeper people not knowing what to do and suddenly losing their shit. At the beginning of lockdown, everyone was like, ‘You need to be on TikTok. Just be on it! I don’t know what you need to do, but just do it’. I was like, ‘Everyone just get off my back.’
“Again, I’m trying not to hate it. I don’t know if that’s the way that we make and see the best music be successful. Do you know what I mean? It feels like things are becoming trendy and coming and going, and it doesn’t feel like it’s real, lasting, iconic, timeless music… I hate that I have to be on it, but you just do, and you have to figure out your own way of being on it that’s not completely soul- destroying.”
- Dress Steve O Smith
Griff isn’t interested in posing behind a pop star persona, not in real life and definitely not on TikTok. But don’t mistake her detachment from the hype around her for passivity — Griff is in full command of her world, and she decides what we see of it. “I want people to know that I try to write the best, honest pop songs I can. That I’m really trying to be in control of everything I do as well,” she asserts. “I’m trying to be really in control of my visuals, my music — and I mean the detail of every single thing that I do.”
She tells me she wasn’t ready to drop a debut album this year — mainly because she wants it to “come out and do fucking well, to be brutally honest” — and over the next few months, it’s where her eyes will be tentatively looking to next. But the process — of swallowing the fear, starting from scratch, questioning everything, finally finishing a project but sitting on it for a year before the adrenaline rush of its release — is what Griff says drives her, and the high is always worth the hard work. “It fully takes you on a whole rollercoaster of emotions,” she explains animatedly, “and I think that, in itself, is actually quite addictive. You’re just always trying to beat your last one.”
The 11th rolls around, and the Brit Awards is a rollercoaster in itself. Between a whirlwind of red carpet questioning and another shout out from Taylor Swift in her Global Icon Award acceptance speech (this time in the same breath as Selena Gomez, Ed Sheeran and Zoë Kravitz), Griff turned the pressure of putting on a show to a room packed with her idols into the performance of her life. Absorbing the new weight of her success outside the four walls of her bedroom for the first time, all while wearing a dress she made and singing a song she wrote in that same room, in many ways it was a crashing back to earth — a night to stop, take stock and take in the applause before shooting off into the stratosphere.