Arlo Parks is only 20 years old, but London’s latest rising music star has already managed to make her mark on the genre of R&B-tinged bedroom pop. In 2018, she was studying English literature at University College London and writing poetry, a pastime she has practiced since age 10, when she picked up an acoustic guitar and started to experiment with songwriting. “I was playing around with it, and it just … I don’t know, it was one of those lightning-bolt moments,” she says. The result was “Cola,” a swingy, brooding plea to a former lover. She signed with Transgressive Records, and released two EPs, “Super Sad Generation” and “Sophie,” in quick succession.
Parks’s songs detail the tumultuous highs and lows that characterize coming of age. Her single “Black Dog,” named after Winston Churchill’s metaphor for despair, was written in 2019, but released during an especially trying period of lockdown. NME declared it “the year’s most devastating song.” It has struck a chord with listeners around the world, even though she won’t be performing it live as much as she might like, given that her tour is temporarily on hold. “When you’re onstage and you can see people giving you that energy back, it just feels so rewarding,” she says.
Parks’s songs detail the tumultuous highs and lows that characterize coming of age.
Parks, born Anaïs Oluwatoyin Estelle Marinho, grew up in South London. She cites her multicultural upbringing from a French-born, Chadian mother and a Nigerian father as the genesis of her musical style. “I think the French side influenced my storytelling—a lot of the songs are story-based,” she says. “The rhythms and the chord progressions of what my dad was playing influenced me as well.” Parks’s love for music was also fueled by an uncle’s extensive record collection, which introduced her to a diverse range of artists ranging from Sade and Tracy Chapman to Bob Dylan and Grandmaster Flash.
Now Parks is taking advantage of the downtime to work on her first full-length album. “I did actually have a massive creative burst,” she says. “And the idea of writing a novel is something that’s always been in the back of my mind.”
Elena Clavarino is an Associate Editor for Air Mail