Nothing can resist the pull of a black hole – and not many can resist the gravitas of Griff, the pop universe’s newest bright star. Her January single ‘Black Hole’ made an early bid for track of the year, and that was before she won the Rising Star award at the 2021 BRITS, where her confident performance catapulted her into the UK charts and into the backstage arms of her biggest fan, Taylor Swift.
‘Black Hole’, a kind of Gen-Z rework of Kim Wilde’s ‘Cambodia’, heads up Griff’s debut mixtape, ‘One Foot In Front Of The Other’, a seven-track project that expands and contracts to accommodate both big pop ambition and small moments of emotional vulnerability.
For a time after her BRITS performance (you’d never guess Griff has just a handful of live shows under her belt), pieces of the stage backdrop were available to buy as merch, giving some idea of Griff’s determination to do things a bit differently. She makes her own dresses and took tightrope-walking lessons for the mixtape’s artwork. She taught herself production as a teenager in sleep Hertfordshire, and instead of going to university like everybody else, released an EP, 2019’s ‘Mirror Talk’.
With women making up just 2% of music producers, Griff felt compelled to self-produce much of ‘One Foot In Front Of The Other’, creating “a raw, emotional and unpolished body of work”. She’s a natural at slipping glorious pop hooks into a minimal, lo-fi bedroom style. The doomy pre-chorus synths on ‘Black Hole’ exploit the song’s relatively slender production, to leave you gasping for a bigger noise. In doing so, the track captures how sizeable heartbreak feels in the moment, and how melodramatic it can seem in hindsight.
The mixtape progresses in a similar way: giant and tiny emotions, clicky, synced beats, dustings of synth, vocals that relay modern-day anxiety. The title track provides an anthem for rebuilding a life after lockdown: “I didn’t think I’d get back up / I didn’t think I’d be alright again”. Deep breaths, big wide world now. Meanwhile, lyrics like, “it’s not that I don’t feel a thing, ‘cause I do / it’s that I’ve gotten used to trying not to” (echoing that classic Bob Dylan line, “I’ve never gotten used to it / I’ve just learned to turn it off”) carry the right balance of simplicity and intimacy suited to a huge pop tune.
For Griff’s eyes are on a shinier prize. At times, the mixtape’s production feels too thin to properly contain her abilities and ambition. Behind the DIY bedroom approach, she gives big names a run for their money. Friendship gets the Carly Rae Jepsen treatment on ‘Shade Of Yellow’ (“I will keep riding my bike, riding my bike, riding my bike, riding my bike to you”), there’s a Maggie Rogers bounce to ‘Dreams’, and she can count Julia Michaels as a writing equal throughout. Strong closer ‘Walk’, grand synths lying low in a snappy mix, suggests that like MUNA, Griff knows a place she can go.
And that place is all-out pop stardom. An interim offering between a Really Big Single and a Really Big Album, the mixtape’s title is perfect. ‘One Foot In Front Of The Other’ suggests a beginner’s hesitancy amid unfavourable odds, but it also suggests there’s a destination and purpose in mind: to conquer the universe, black hole style.