This story is part of Billboard’s 2022 Grammy Preview issue, highlighting the artists, issues and trends that will define awards season. Read our cover story on Halsey, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross here.
For British singer-songwriter Arlo Parks, connecting with fans onstage isn’t the only good thing about the return of live music — she also gets to play tourist. “Every single place feels completely brand new,” she says while enjoying some tacos on a sunny day in Detroit. “It feels like an adventure. I’m really excited.”
At 21 years old, Parks has plenty to be excited about. Her first U.S. tour, which wraps at the end of October, caps the kind of breakthrough year many artists dream of. In January, she released her debut album, Collapsed in Sunbeams — a collection of sparse, stirring vignettes exploring everything from alt-rock to jazz — on London-based indie label Transgressive Records. Since then, she has won some of the most prestigious honors in the U.K. music industry, including best new artist at the BRIT Awards and the annual Mercury Prize. Parks calls the recognition “fulfilling.”
“I feel like my sense of purpose is strengthened every day, just by knowing that the songs that I make in this intimate, personal way in an apartment way back in London can reach across the world,” she says. “What attracts me to records and makes me want to play them again and again is finding a piece of myself in it in some way, and to know that people have found that in my record is really flattering.”
“Against all the major-label competitors, they voted for her,” adds Beatnik Creative founder Alistair Raymond, who started managing Parks in 2018, the year she began uploading music to the BBC’s artist-discovery platform, BBC Introducing. “That was a really unifying moment.”
Though British awards shows aren’t necessarily bellwethers for stateside recognition, with such rapturous critical acclaim, the Grammys could very well be Parks’ next stop. Her team has submitted her music in three categories: best new artist, best alternative album and best rock song (for “Hurt”). Given her “genre-fluid” songwriting, as Parks puts it, finding a label that feels like home is still a novel exercise: “It would be sick to be nominated in some kind of rock category,” she says. “I’d never be like, ‘Well, no, my music’s not that because it’s this!’ It’s something that can’t quite be captured.”
Ensuring that Parks was marketed to a global audience has been a major priority for Raymond and his team. “It’s very easy for a young Black female artist coming through who has a soulful voice to be pigeonholed into soul and R&B,” he says. “It was very important for us to make sure that that didn’t happen from the get-go.”
Her approach is unlikely to change on her next album, which Parks has already begun writing, and she’s eager to take advantage of all the doors that have opened. “Being in the room with producers and artists that I’m obsessed with and making music in New York is exciting me a lot,” she says. (Her dream collaborators? Frank Ocean and Harry Styles.) “The creative horizons are what excite me the most — just pushing past where I am and finding myself in different ways.”