The UK is, all of a sudden, brimming over with young, hugely talented female singer-songwriters of colour (think Arlo Parks and Joy Crookes), and Griff, the 20-year-old bedroom-pop sensation and Hertfordshire-born child of one Jamaican and one Chinese parent is no exception – or is she?
Most up-and-coming performers will channel a laid-back vibe for their early shows: stripped-back stage sets, just-me-my-guitar-and-the-mic-type affairs. But the performance values of last night’s gig suggested a calculating brain (in the best way) behind Griff’s signature mile-long ponytail. If the lights, props, merry-go-round of instrument changes, dramatic live voice-overs, and ever-circling cameras told us anything, it was that this is someone preparing for pop stardom.
Two years ago, absolutely no one had heard of Griff (right now, she’s right on the cusp of breaking through to mainstream name recognition). But in 2019, she released an EP, The Mirror Talk, got signed by Warner Records, wrote a song for Disney, and picked up her first Radio 1 play from Annie Mac, all while studying for A-levels. In 2021, she dropped her first album, One Foot In Front Of The Other, and then iced the cake with a Brit Rising Star Award.
Last night’s sold-out Shepherd’s Bush Empire show was the final leg of her first tour and her first ever major London gig. If she hadn’t told us, you would never have guessed. Dressed – in a loose white A-line dress, frothy skirt and stompy black boots – to command attention, she swanned and spun around the stage as though it was her bedroom, riffing easily with the student-heavy, cheerfully hyperactive crowd. “I just spilled water all down myself. That was graceful” she informed us at one point, in her slightly husky but unmistakable teenage twang. Later, spotting a superfan in the front row, she hopped down into the pit for a selfie. “Mate, we haven’t got all day” she chided him cheerfully. This is a woman who oozes confidence.
The set itself was deftly constructed: floor-pounding break-up belters like Black Hole and One Night (soon to feature, I would hazard, in every mainstream nightclub mix in the country) were diluted by mournful, keyboard-led ballads. Half-way through Earl Grey Tea, a gleefully specific but nonetheless poignant tale of someone too risk averse to fall in love (You’re so scared of dying slowly/Why aren’t you scared of dying lonely?) I turned to find my best friend blinking away tears.
My favourite of Griff’s songs are not the overtly passionate ones: she writes brilliantly about the snuggly, unremarkable joys of contented relationships. Walk is a celebration of all the little things about someone that make you fall in love with them: “the way that you land when you fall/And how you get up regardless”. In Shades of Yellow, a lovely ode to the lamp in a boyfriend/girlfriend/friend’s bedroom, the crowd covered their phone lights in strips of yellow tissue paper, passed around at the start, and showered the stage with a hundred pin-pricks of sunshine. It was a gorgeous moment.
Strangely, though, the music is the least exciting thing about Griff. Earwormily memorable and lyrically thoughtful as it is, she’s writing within the confines of pop, not breaking new ground. But that is precisely why people will love her – and that’s before we get to the astonishing performance presence. In five years time, Griff will be playing stadium shows flanked by back-up dancers and with a costume change every third song. I’m calling it now.