The Future: Arlo Parks

The west London singer is on her way to becoming an icon of the “super-sad generation”

Uncertainty, angst and heartbreak are the subject matter of 19-year-old singer, songwriter and poet Arlo Parks. Like the title of her rst EP, “Super Sad Generation”, Arlo’s heartfelt music expresses the concerns of a peer group trying to make their way in the modern world amid challenges that range from the pressures of social media and the internet to the confusing, bewildering and intoxicating experience that is adolescence. “When did we get so skinny? / Start doing ketamine on weekends / Getting wasted at the station / And trying to keep our friends from death?” she sings in one song. “Bite your nails and sell your Ritalin,” she advises in another.

In person, Arlo is full of the frank, poetic honesty that has made her confessional style of bedroom pop the soundtrack to 2020 for so many already (her fans include actress Jodie Comer, Annie Mac and Lily Allen). On a rainy Tuesday morning, she was happy to discuss the future, social media, and not being a role model.

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I’ve lived in the same house my whole life. I grew up in Hammersmith, west London. My dad is Nigerian and my mum is half-French, half from Chad, so I grew up speaking French before English. There was lots of music at home, a lot of jazz – Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, and Prince and Whitney Houston.

I feel like French music has really had an impact on my art because there is a lot of storytelling and this sense of being witty in songs. I really try to explore this, and the idea of writing story- and image-based lyrics. Growing up in London, you are exposed to so many different types of music and people.

Not sure about that. Around where I live, there’s not that much going on.

Yeah, definitely. I’m still living at home. I’ve started doing a lot of traveling and stuff, so it’s nice to have a home base.

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It was overwhelming, I was shook. You know when you’re used to doing everything for yourself, like making music and writing, and then suddenly everyone has their eyes on you. I kind of just had to roll with it and adapt quickly. It’s my team and my mates that keep me grounded. My friends are like my blanket – they keep me warm and stop it feeling like a foggy storm.

Poetry. A poet called Gwendolyn Brooks. I was also really into the beats when I was younger – poets like Allen Ginsberg. I really liked the manic stuff – it was really free, and when I was teen, I really liked that. And books like Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut – it’s about the end of the world but told in a real sarcastic way. It really gave me perspective. But also old poetry, like really fucking old romantic poetry or Chinese and Japanese haikus – anything really.

I’ve been able to access a lot more information. There are a lot of different places where I can pull stuff from musically and I’m just able to see a lot more happening online that I wouldn’t have if I didn’t have Instagram. But there’s also the pressure and the fakeness on Instagram, and this is obviously something I talk about in my music, as I see it affecting the people around me. The expectations and seeking approval from who? Like, all these random people?

I don’t really know what I’m doing. I can’t be the voice of reason, you know. I haven’t really thought about it. I guess I like to think that people who listen to my music, especially the younger people, can see me as a good influence. I don’t want to see myself as a role model or the voice of anything, I’m just telling stories.

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All the crazy stuff that’s going to come out in, like, 100 years. I just think about all the art, music and films that are going to be made, things that we can’t even conceptualise yet.

I try not to think about it too much, but we seem to be splitting people up. We have FaceTime and Instagram – you don’t have to see your friends in person any more. It’s that lack of connection that is scary. People are becoming islands.

It’s always scary to talk about something that is personal and close to your life. I heard once that if you make a piece of art and it has the opportunity to help someone, it becomes your duty to put it out. If I’m being honest and putting out art that could help someone else, then it’s all worth it. My music is emotional, right? I would hate to avoid speaking about something just because I was scared.

It’s a part of who I am but it is not a defining factor. I’ve been lucky that my parents have been accepting, and everyone around me. I never really got much shit for it. I want people who define themselves in a certain way to see me as me, but it’s not the only interesting thing about me.

Hmm, I guess, but I saw Syd tha Kyd from the internet. I never thought about it so much, and just because it hasn’t been navigated that much before doesn’t mean I should avoid it.

Be careful who you listen to and don’t look for external validation all the time. If it feels right to you, do it. Don’t say a piece of art is good just because someone else tells you that it’s good.

WordsElla Kenny
photography assistantsBEN DUAH and TATJANA GALIC