Shenell Kennedy FLO
If you're seeking out an early-2000s R&B revival, look no further than FLO.
The British girl group has already earned millions of fans — including Missy Elliott, JoJo and SZA — thanks to the infectious viral first single "Cardboard Box" from their debut EP The Lead, which dropped Friday via Island Records. Ahead of its release, members Stella Quaresma, Jorja Douglas and Renée Downer spoke to PEOPLE about coming together as FLO, creating the project and breathing new life into the nearly-desolate girl group landscape.
Before FLO's official formation in 2021, Stella, 20, was studying music in college, waiting tables at a restaurant and had already released some solo material. She already knew Renée, 19 — who was also attending university for music and working at H&M at the time — from secondary school, and they'd previously bonded over a love of singing and music.
Meanwhile, Jorja, 20, had already won a UK TV singing competition called Got What It Takes? and joined another girl group by the time manager Rob Harrison contacted the trio to audition for what would become FLO.
"It was a very… cute situation," Jorja coyly tells PEOPLE of her previous group, which was in its developmental stage and featured two other women. "And then Rob reached out to me, and I was like, 'Wow.' I could see the direction he was going in more than I could in the group I was in."
Stella and Renée knew Jorja from social media, but it wasn't until FLO's audition process that they finally saw each other in real life. After first being placed in various trial group lineups, Harrison eventually grouped all three of them together, and they quickly bonded.
"We have similar values because we were brought up by single moms, [and] we all like the same music," details Stella. "A lot of the girls in the groups didn't even know the artists me and Jorja knew, so that was just never going to work, because if you don't like that type of music, you're not going to make that type of music."
Tayla Dhyll FLO
In fact, the group clicks so well that even now, none of its members can begin to explain each other's particular strength or role within FLO. "We're all becoming one right now, but we're really collaborative in every part," says Stella.
"It's just kind of like we have a task, and between us, we just find a way to make it happen," adds Jorja. "It's second nature."
Rather than only looking to past girl groups for creative inspiration, the women of FLO hope to emulate the early-2000s R&B scene at large — partially because popular girl groups have been scarce in the UK over the past decade, especially in their preferred genre.
"We've had Little Mix, and they were incredible in the pop space. They did what they needed to do," says Jorja. "But in terms of the R&B space, I can't even remember the last time there was an R&B girl group in the UK."
Shenell Kennedy FLO
One of the trio's first-ever studio sessions with producer MNEK in early 2021 spawned "Cardboard Box," an ultra-catchy R&B song with audacious lyrics reminiscent of Beyoncé's "Irreplaceable" about kicking an ex-partner to the curb. "I'mma put your s— in a cardboard box / Changing my number, and I'm changing the locks," FLO sings on the track. "Never liked your mama, so I guess she's blocked / You may be crying but boy, I'm not."
Stella, Jorja and Renée all wanted "Cardboard Box" to be their debut single, and while their team agreed the song was great, several members felt it'd be a risky move to lead with the group's most certifiable banger before building hype with a buzz single. "We wanted to put our best foot forward, and I think we knew that was it," explains Stella.
"We knew we're capable of more," says Jorja. "If we held that song back and released it next year, I feel like it's not really in the trajectory of where we're going."
Shortly after "Cardboard Box" was released in March, a clip of its music video went viral on Twitter and has since amassed around 4 million views on the platform, earning FLO co-signs from the aforementioned R&B and hip-hop superstars as well as a dedicated fanbase along the way. The group's reluctant team members no longer wish they held the song back, though its swift success has made the stakes a little higher for their follow-up releases.
the uk girl groups are coming hard pic.twitter.com/0RG9IDR0rZ
— 𝕾𝖆𝖎𝖓𝖙 jaquanaissance. (@jaquannotjason) April 2, 2022
"We really have to be on it, and we really need to make sure we put our all into everything and make sure it's top quality," says Renée. "But it's good pressure, because you only want to do your best and become even better."
It's safe to say they've delivered in that sense, as The Lead was immediately met with ravenous fanfare on social media upon its release. Partially co-written by the trio and created over the past year, the EP's five tracks feature ear-candy melodies, silky-smooth harmonies, confident lyrics and choreography-ready production, all of which calls back to artists like Aaliyah, Brandy and Destiny's Child.
"I feel like R&B is coming back a bit more now," Stella speculates of the reason behind FLO's near-immediate success. "It's new for a lot of people, especially the younger generation. They haven't really had that growing up. Everyone likes something new and fresh, especially if it's good."
The Lead was just released into the world, but the trio has already been working on new music to come. "Our next body of work will be an album," teases Jorja.
Looking forward, the ladies of FLO have larger-than-life dreams for their career, from memorable live performances à la Beyoncé's Homecoming to Grammy awards. Perhaps it's all part of their 10-year plan?
"Ten years?!" quips Jorja. "Next year!"
"Imagine us headlining Coachella — FLO-chella!" says Renée. "Long term, I really hope we can go down in history. Girl group history."