In her final few weeks at school, 19-year-old Sarah Griffiths – who makes emotional electropop as Griff – got very good at lying. Despite having recently signed a major-label record deal, she told teachers chasing university applications that she was taking a gap year. “I just didn’t like the idea of talking about [being an artist],” she says. “I didn’t want people to think it was a hobby – I was serious about it.”
It is fair to say everyone knows now. While 2019’s excellent Mirror Talk EP – released four months after her A-levels – laid the foundations, 2020’s windswept, piano-based weepie Good Stuff (19m Spotify plays and rising) saw her land high-profile collabs with the producer Zedd (tear-stained dance track Inside Out) and Disney, singing its Christmas-advert ballad Love Is a Compass. A nomination for an Ivor Novello rising star award was followed by a spectacular livestream from London’s Tate Modern, before she finished fifth on the BBC Sound of 2021 poll. “My proudest moment so far,” she beams.
Superstardom seemed a long way off growing up in the sleepy village of Kings Langley in Hertfordshire. “Being half-Jamaican and half-Chinese, as a family we stood out like a sore thumb,” she says. “I’ve always felt a little bit different. But music has helped me embrace that. Now I can’t think of anything worse than being like everyone else.” That musical journey was aided by a mix of Taylor Swift (Griffiths learned to play Swift’s 2008 album Fearless when she was nine), Sundays spent at church, and her parents’ thoughts regarding timewasting. “They were like: ‘No TV in the week, do something practical, learn something,’ so I gravitated towards music.”
After teaching herself production using her brother’s copy of the music software Logic, a handful of early homemade demos caught the attention of a manager before she landed a record deal with Warners three years ago. “I didn’t know what a record deal was so I kept them waiting for a year – I wanted to finish school.” In fact, she started using her textiles A-level immediately, eschewing designer labels in favour of her own self-made outfits in early photoshoots. “I just love creating things,” she says of her DIY ethos. “I enjoy the challenge of envisioning something in your head and then making it come to life.”
Her next single, the gloriously melodramatic electropop rocket Black Hole, is perhaps the best example of her ability to explode the mundane. “I don’t have trouble being brutally honest with my lyrics,” she says. It’s a skill she learned from that early obsession with Swift – who, in full-circle news, recently tweeted she was a Griff fan – and she’s aiming for a similar level of fame. “Of course I want to reach the masses,” she says. “That’s what pop music is for.”
Black Hole is out on Monday 18 January