As Griff Spins, She Also Soars

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As Griff Spins, She Also SoarsCourtesy of Griff

Griff can’t stop getting gifts from fans. In the span of her two-hour set at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City in February, she’s already accepted three different items, and even more of her supporters are pining to hand her some goodies. This is common for the British rising star, I soon learn. After the show, fans gather to hand her more and more trinkets, drawings, and notes. The adoration doesn’t stop at presents; during one of Griff’s past shows, someone dressed up in an astronaut costume in reference to her song of the same name. “What a legend,” Griff says of that particular fan. “I got started [performing live] in COVID, so it’s still quite strange to tangibly see people show up that know every lyric and are so passionate about these songs. It’s really cool.”

Her songs are emotionally autobiographical, too. Sarah Griffiths, known by her stage name Griff, grew up in England. Her father is the son of Jamaican immigrants and works in information technology, and her mom, who is Chinese, came to the United Kingdom during the Vietnam war. They are foster parents, meaning Griff always had new siblings running around, in addition to her two biological older brothers. She grew up in the Christian church, where she often was moved by the music. “Worship songs are some of the most beautiful and oldest and most lasting songs because they think there’s something to be said for just a melody that a whole group of people can sing,” she tells me at the Chelsea Hotel a day before her show. “I always could see the purpose of music in a bigger way.”

While growing up in a predominantly white suburb of London, Griff often felt like she was “on the outside” due to her mixed race and began writing music as a symptom of loneliness. For a while, the 23-year-old thought her business cards would read songwriter, not pop star. “I never saw these as my songs,” she says. “It was always just an outlet and a bit of therapy. It gave me confidence.”

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Courtesy of Griff

Griff began releasing music on social media and was later signed to Warner Records in 2019. The moment Griff caught the music world’s attention was with her 2021 single “Black Hole” and the mixtape that came shortly after, One Foot in Front of the Other. She soon performed on Late Night With Seth Meyers and earned the Brit Award for Rising Star in 2021. The evening of the ceremony, she performed “Black Hole” with an Ed-Sheeran like loop track. This was her first live show.

About a year later, Griff found herself on tour with some of the greats. She quickly caught the attention of Dua Lipa (“She works hard, man,” Griff says), Coldplay (“You’re never going to see a hundred thousand people in a room like that experiencing such joy and all united in one song.”) and yes, Ed Sheeran, who shares her love of the sonic loop (“He’s the most down-to-earth famous person you’ll ever meet.”). Essentially, Griff went from her bedroom to stadiums in just a few years.

“I think my [U.S.] tour will come, but I spent so long on the road on these big supports,” she says. “I just haven’t been in the room with people who actually know my songs in a very long time. I wanted to give some fans the opportunity to sing some of our favorite songs.” That opportunity came earlier this year with two U.S. shows—one at the iconic Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles, and the intimate Le Poisson Rouge in New York. Both shows sold out in minutes.

In a world where British pop acts sometimes struggle to make it in the American market, the attendance at Griff’s shows makes it clear she is poised to be an anomaly. As she performs in New York, her electricity is palpable, from the way her wispy, red dress catches light on stage, to the crowd’s high energy. Fans scream back their favorite lyrics from “Shade of Yellow” and vibrate to the bouncy-energy of “Walk.”

Midway through the show, Griff paints a giant swirl on a backdrop that matches a swirl of hair on her head—a visual throughline for her Vertigo era, the multi-part venture spanning multiple EPs. “The spirals have become a real symbol for this project,” she explains.

Griff’s image is highly curated. She sometimes designs her own clothes, a personal passion she’d like to dive into further, and she also finds her hair to be central to her work. She has a balled ponytail that night, resembling a rosary. “I’ve got very, very textual Afro hair,” she says. “The beauty industry is not up to speed yet really on how to nourish Black hair, and so I thought if I just do something consistent, at least I can rock up to set anywhere and just know that this is what I’m doing and it’s a look and there’s less risk of someone just cinching off my hair.”

She continues, “I think also the most beautiful thing about Black hair is that you can afford to be more sculptural with it because it molds into so many different textures. That’s why being more architectural with it is fun to me, and I think it plays into a surreal fashion imagery that I love.”

“Vertigo” served as the lead single from Vert1go Vol. 1, which arrived in 2023, and it will continue to anchor the series. “I think that the term refers to more of an emotional state to me and this idea of spinning and dizziness and feeling upside down,” she says. “I feel like that’s a feeling you go through in adolescence and heartbreak. I think that’s what’s underpinning all of these songs is this feeling of floating and not quite finding your balance and figuring that out in the lyrics.”

The next part in the Vertigo series drops tomorrow, Ver2igo Vol. 2. Instead of releasing a full album at once, Griff decided to release this project in segments and chapters, allowing her fans time to sit with the songs. The second entry into the Vertigo franchise feels lighter than the first. It’s more jubilant and dancy, but still brings the whizzing planetarium pop Griff sound. It feels as if we’re embarking on a musical novella with Griff. “Volume two has a dash of euphoria, and I do think the music after that also has more of that. There’s an arc,” Griff says, alluding to a possible part three. “I’m a new artist and I love all of these songs so much that I want people to be able to process each song.”

At her show, she performs a then-unreleased song from Ver2igo Vol. 2, “Miss Me Too,” which served as the lead single to the project. The focused silence of the crowd is deafening, everyone seemingly awestruck by the high-energy hit being played in front of them. “Miss Me Too,” which has since been released on streaming, has seen some success on TikTok, and “Cycles,” which she teased during her recently concluded Europe tour, is getting rave reviews from fans as well. This spells good news for the pop star, as TikTok and Instagram Reels become more and more important for music streams. “I think it’s such an amazing discovery tool, but I constantly feel on the back of it, to be honest,” she says of the platforms. “You go through so much work, making the music, writing the lyrics, finishing it, mixing it, putting visuals together for it, putting the live show together. It’s almost all redundant unless you’re putting something really compelling out on TikTok as well. I do think music is suffering because of it.”

Griff did have some more social media success a few months back. After releasing “Vertigo,” she got some love from an idol of hers: Taylor Swift, who shared the song in her Instagram story. “Damn Griff, I love this one,” Swift captioned the post. Griff, who had only met the Grammy winner once, had no idea the post was coming. She was sitting at her dinner table and her phone exploded, no warning in sight.

Perhaps the most serendipitous part of that post was that Griff wrote “Vertigo” in the home of Imogen Heap (who wrote the 1989 track “Clean” with Swift). In her house, there was a Polaroid of Swift and one of the Grammys she won for 1989. “They just kind of sprinkled a blessing of songwriting energy in that room,” Griff says, saying the song somewhat inspired her most recent hit, “Miss Me Too.” Swift’s post was a true stamp of approval for Griff, who describes herself as a Swifite (her dream surprise song pairing at The Eras Tour, for which she doesn’t have tickets quite yet, is “Our Song” and “Hey Stephen”). “I’m very grateful to her,” Griff says. “She doesn’t have to do that at all.”

Swift and Griff have something else in common, too, besides a mutual respect. They both put every piece of themselves and who they are into their work. That’s clear as Griff closes out her set in New York, sweat and glitter glistening on her fans’ noses. Her music strikes a nerve, and for Griff, she’s ready to follow wherever it takes her. “Music and creative stuff are such weird things that you kind of just have to be at the mercy of wherever where it may take you,” she says. “I haven’t put too many expectations on this yet, other than just put out all this music and really hope it resonates with people.”

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