“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind the last few months,” Sarah Faith Griffiths, the pop artist known as Griff, tells Billboard during a Zoom call in early July. Griff is not being hyperbolic: since the start of 2021, the 20-year-old has had her profile expand exponentially, scoring her first U.K. accolades and chart achievements thanks to a handful of spellbinding pop tracks.
The daughter of Jamaican and Chinese parents, Griff was raised outside of London, taught herself how to make music, signed a label deal in 2019 and released her debut mixtape, One Foot in Front of the Other, last month. The songs contain sensual textures and wide, unrelenting hooks: “Shade of Yellow” wobbles forward as a yearning for peace, while the title track is built as a chant of self-determination after a crushing blow, multiple voices coalescing into a chest-thumping whole.
During a conversation with Billboard, Griff discussed her first project, getting shouted out by Taylor Swift and what she has planned next. Here are five reasons why Griff is a pop newcomer worth fully embracing:
1. She’s a triple threat, as an artist/writer/producer.
“I still think songwriting is the thing that I love most,” says Griff, who wrote or co-wrote all seven songs on One Foot in Front of the Other and has a production credit on six of the tracks. Originally conceiving of herself as a songwriter for other artists when she was a teen, Griff says that she quickly changed course while meeting with record labels anxious to bring her on board. “I was being offered publishing deals, but also record deals,” she explains. “They’re telling me that they want to put down money and sign me as a developing artist, and that’s a huge thing to say no to.”
After signing to Warner Records two years ago, Griff began releasing a series of singles, including the spacious stomp-along “Mirror Talk” and the contemplative piano ballad “Good Stuff”; she reached an artistic and commercial peak last January with “Black Hole,” a pristine breakup single that became Griff’s first top 20 hit in the U.K. As she worked on the songs for her debut mixtape in lockdown, Griff also polished her approach to production for the project, which began with looking up YouTube tutorials as a teenager.
Production influences for the mixtape were wide-ranging: “A song like ‘Shade of Yellow,’ it was like, me turning on my Imogen Heap brain,” she explains. “I was listening to a lot of Imogen Heap, and getting the vocoder out. Lorde was a big [influence] — ‘Heart of Gold,’ for me it wasn’t a version of ‘Royals,’ but I’ve always loved ‘Royals’ because it was just drums and vocals, basically. And so ‘Heart of Gold’ is basically just drums and vocals. Haim was a big inspiration, too. But I just try and use odd sounds, percussive elements and orchestral sounds.”
2. …Er, make that a quadruple threat — she’s a seamstress too.
That stunning gown Griff rocked at the 2021 Brit Awards? It was created by the artist herself, who designs many of her own clothes — although she admits that she’s trying to step away from the sewing machine as her schedule fills up. “When I started doing photoshoots, I was making every single thing — now I just need to pick and choose the right moments,” she says. “I don’t know why I give myself so much work to do. Like, two nights before the f–king Brits, I’m there with a sewing machine, sewing away and thinking, You could just get a dress, why are you doing this?”
For Griff, sewing is another fulfilling hobby that she doesn’t want to shut off as her music career takes off. “I’m not the best seamstress in the world, but it’s another enjoyable creative process,” she explains. Griff learned how to sew in textile class, picking up the basic techniques in school before elaborating upon them on her own. The singer is still in touch with her textiles teacher: “I’m always like, ‘You need to come to a show! Let’s go for drinks!’” she says with a laugh.
3. She’s the latest U.K. rising star (literally).
Ahead of the 2021 Brit Awards in May, Griff was named this year’s recipient of the rising star award, a critics’ choice honor that originated in 2008. The list of previous honorees of the rising star award, which Griff won over Rina Sawayama and Pa Salieu, includes some of the biggest British pop artists of the past decade: Adele, Sam Smith, Ellie Goulding and Florence and the Machine.
“I don’t know how I made it on that list, and I definitely feel the pressure,” Griff admits. “Sometimes when I think about it, I’m excited, and sometimes, I get impostor syndrome. You want to live up to everything. One hundred percent the pressure’s real, but I just try not to think about it.” At the Brit Awards, where Griff performed “Black Hole,” meeting Taylor Swift and Haim in person helped ease the pressure a bit. “I was a bit nervous to be the new girl coming up to people’s tables and being like, ‘Hi!’” Griff says. “Taylor sent flowers, which was really nice. And we got to hang out after the show in her dressing room, so that was pretty crazy.”
4. She’s got Taylor Swift shouting out her music, too.
“I’m so in awe of Griff- you GOTTA go listen to the EXCELLENT Shade of Yellow solo written and produced by Griff,” Taylor Swift posted on her Instagram story on June 18, the day One Foot in Front of the Other was released. One month after meeting Swift at the Brit Awards, the pop superstar’s co-sign of her debut project gave Griff a much-needed shot of confidence.
“I was so down that morning, just really anxious,” she explains. “Like, ’S–t, it’s out. I can’t tell if it’s good or bad anymore, because I’ve heard it so many times.’” Reading Swift’s message about “Shade of Yellow” allowed the singer-songwriter to exhale. “I was like, ‘Oh, okay. It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks. Taylor likes it.’”
5. She’s already looking ahead to her next project, and first tour.
Griff says that the songs of One Foot in Front of the Other were created almost entirely in lockdown, sitting alone in her music room at her childhood home. “Honestly, it was so uninspiring — it was like the worst thing for writing, because suddenly I was just alone but not inspired, so then you’re kind of just driving yourself insane,” she says. Less than a month removed from her debut project, Griff says she’ll spend the next few months preparing for her first proper tour of Europe and the U.K. — which kicks off in earnest on Oct. 20 in Dublin, after she performed a few spot dates, including a livestream from the Tate Modern in London, last year.
Then, she says, “I think I’ve got to write an album! Which is terrifying. So I need to get to some kind of headspace to write again.” Although that writing process might look different than the creation of One Foot in Front of the Other, Griff says, “There’s still a lot more work to do.”