Each month, The Ringer’s Logan Murdock will profile up-and-coming artists from around the music landscape. And each month, he’ll put you on notice about the future of that landscape. Tap in.
Arlo Parks can write anywhere—in a journal, at the park in her native London, or even on a bus. One night when she was 17, she wrote all of the lyrics for her 2019 song “Super Sad Generation” on the back of a napkin after a party. The practice started during adolescence, when her family fed her creativity with literature and soul records and she first became inspired to write songs. But it’s evolved into a rising music career that can position Parks, 20, as Generation Z’s next star.
Parks’s debut album, Collapsed in Sunbeams, released January 29, is an ode to her demographic cohort, from its vulnerability to its sheer introspection. Tracks like “Black Dog” and “Caroline” tell the story of her peer group while “Hope” and “Hurt” offer the promise that things will get better. In total, the record—mostly recorded during the pandemic—combines every bit of emotion quarantine brings out. Take the chorus to “Hurt”:
I know you can’t let go, of anything at the moment
Just know it won’t hurt so
Won’t hurt so much forever
Won’t hurt so much
Won’t hurt so much forever
Won’t hurt so much
Won’t hurt so much
Her love for storytelling came with the encouragement of her parents. While neither were writers, they frequently played her audiobooks, which inspired her to write some of her own. She says she began telling short stories at age 7. At 12, a piece inspired by Bonnie and Clyde got picked up by a local publisher, who included it in a short series.
“I didn’t know where it came from,” she says by phone. “But I just started noting down, creating these fantasy worlds, like writing stories about being a spy, or going to Australia. I didn’t know where it came from. I guess I had a very active imagination, and then it kind of evolved into something that was therapeutic.”
While writing is one method of solace, her current profession was inspired by Frank Ocean. Specifically, Channel Orange. The album’s layered lyrics and subject matter liberated her from any genre restraints. She saw that she could promote storytelling, which ultimately pushed her to carve out a career of her own.
“I think that record just told me ‘You can make whatever you want,’” she said. “‘You can create these collages of all the different genres that you listen to in your bedroom.’ Also, just introducing me to the fact that music can be so moving. I remember the album being such an emotional one for me and soundtracking for these moments. And I wanted to do that for other people.”
She began doing that in 2018, submitting demos to BBC Music’s “Introducing” platform geared toward promoting underground artists. Later that year, she released “Cola,” which tells the story of someone coming to grips with letting go of a cheating partner:
So take your orchids
I loved you to death
And now I don’t really care
’Cause you’re runnin’ ’round over there
The song led to a record deal with Transgressive Records and the release of the critically acclaimed EP Super Sad Generation in 2019. Things were looking up. She released a few singles in anticipation of her debut full-length project and headlined a tour. But then COVID-19 struck, cutting her tour short and adding yet another roadblock for the generation she speaks about.
But the isolation provided room to test her creativity. She started the process in a rented Airbnb on London’s East End with her producer, Gianluca Buccellati, for a two-week block session. Early on, she says she felt her creativity was hindered in part because she was pressing to be perfect, thus thwarting any chance of success.
“I definitely found myself, on days where I wasn’t writing or it wasn’t sounding right, there was this immediate sense of frustration,” she remembers. “Or being like, ‘Why isn’t it coming to me?’”
The conundrum taught her that to write about her life experience, she had to do what she’d always done: live her life. Shifting her mindset resulted in a new structure. Each morning she’d wake up around 10:30 a.m., make some tea, record melodies on voice memos, make her “world famous” chorizo pasta, then walk along the canal in Hackney. If she suffered a bout of writer’s block, she’d watch Miyazaki films like Tales From Earthsea and Spirited Away or play Al Green, Otis Redding, and Minnie Riperton to calm her nerves.
“I think for me, particularly, I’m somebody who thrives off those moments of stillness,” she said. “I get inspired through just sitting and being bored. So I found it almost a kind of secret blessing to be able to have this time to just sit and think about the messages that I wanted to put into this project, and just have the space to experiment.”
What resulted was living documentation of the perils of the pandemic. Moreover, it seemed to speak for a generation living under yet another catastrophic world event. Generation Z is coming of age during a pandemic, a historic financial crisis, and a worldwide social justice uprising. While one of the most educated generations in human history, they’re suffering from mental health issues at record rates. During the pandemic, more than seven in 10 Gen Zers reported bouts of depression. Given that Parks released a record titled Super Sad Generation, one would assume she’s attempting to speak for her peers. When asked, Parks initially dismissed the notion.
“I think that’s where my music is often misconstrued because I don’t feel like I’m speaking for anybody,” she says. “I feel like I’m speaking about experiences that people my age maybe relate to, but … generations are made of individuals, right?”
Further prodding, including bringing up the title of her first EP, softened her stance.
“I feel like everyone in my generation has their own separate view of the world, and their own separate dreams and goals,” she says. “And I guess, to me, I wanted to write in a way that was open. And maybe that’s something that I see more in my generation than past ones. That transparency, when it comes to expression and talking about identity.”
Now, as she’s sequestered back in her London crib, still with her parents, she’s still writing in any environment possible with the same goal she’s always had: to be a vulnerable voice for those who don’t have one.
“I hope to write songs that they feel like they see their stories in, and hopefully just make people feel good when they listen to my tunes,” she says. “That’s the ultimate goal.”
A rundown of some of the new rap and R&B that should be on your radar.
Listening to Ali on wax is like seeing your cool cousin every year at the family reunion. He’s lit, charismatic, and you wish you could be around the vibes every day. His latest single, “Keemy Casanova,” builds off a sample from a 1984 One Way song, but ends up sounding like an ode to the P-Funk/Bootsy Collins–era of the 1970s with a hip-hop twist. He talks about pimpin’, eating charcuterie, and jive turkeys all while being a member of Rihanna’s Navy. Ali has a slick mouthpiece and will probably take your significant other with ease.
Reflective music is always welcome on the New Hype, and jacob shows why. His latest EP, Water for Plants, provides the perfect soundtrack for a quarantine lifestyle. It’s layered, contemplative, and even comforting at times. jacob is new to the music industry, breaking through on Stereotype’s EDM single “Young Ray Charles.” However, his latest project may inspire you to go on a hike or walk along the beach and think about how you’re going to be a better person.
Point blank: Hues’s voice is intoxicating. Her subject matter is even more revealing. Her debut project, Hue, is a 24-minute audio diary that demands respect. Standout track “snakes x elephants” explores the revealing moments before a breakup—how love can’t ever overcome a shaky foundation and how one has to accept when it’s time to move on. Hues is a force, and you will be hearing her name more as she continues to release more music.