Arlo Parks’ breath-taking debut single ‘Cola’ dropped recently to widespread acclaim, immediately reaching #1 on Hype Machine’s Popular Chart and receiving early radio play from Huw Stephens on BBC Radio 1, BBC Introducing, Jamz Supernova on BBC 1Xtra and Maz Tappuni on his Radio X Communion show, as well as nods from Independent, The Line of Best Fit, Dummy and Mahogany. Now she shares the beautiful accompanying video, which was directed by Ruby Brown (Dahlia Sleeps, Wølffe). The single is a tender, poetic and confessional introduction to an artist who holds such promise. At just eighteen, the young London based singer demonstrates soul beyond her years, and with ‘Cola’ the submissive tones of her powerful voice are laid atop slow guitar melodies that beckon you to stop what you’re doing and just listen. The track is written about bad love – in her words, “Cola is a reminder that betrayal is inevitable when it comes to pretty people that think flowers fix everything”.
On a personal level, Parks struggled with her identity growing up; a self-confessed tomboy who was super sensitive and “uncool”, she says it was like “I’m a black kid who can’t dance for shit, listens to emo music and currently has a crush on some girl in my Spanish class.” By the time she reached 17, she shaved her head, figured out she was bisexual and produced/wrote an album’s worth of material.
Growing up in South West London, half Nigerian, a quarter Chadian and a quarter French, Arlo Parks learned to speak French before English. A quiet child, she’d write short stories and create fantasy worlds, later journaling and then obsessing over spoken word poetry, reading American poets such as Ginsberg and Jim Morrison and watching old Chet Baker performances on YouTube. These days she references Nayyirah Waheed, Hanif Abdurraqib and Iain S. Thomas as her favourite modern poets, and it is clear that their works are as influential on her songwriting as any musician. Books too, such as The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath and Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. Parks says, “the way Murakami writes in that book is how I aspire to write my songs; gritty and sensitive and human.”
Fela Kuti’s ‘Water’ and Otis Redding’s ‘Sittin On The Dock Of The Bay’ soundtracked Arlo Parks’ childhood, but it was aged around 13 that she discovered King Krule; an artist who would heavily influence the music she writes today. Later listening to more hip-hop (from Kendrick Lamar and Earl Sweatshirt to the more confessional sounds of Loyle Carner) and rock (Jimi Hendrix, Shilpa Ray and David Bowie), as well as the subdued, pained sounds of Keaton Henson, Sufjan Stevens and Julien Baker, Parks explains, “I would write stories so detailed you could taste them, while maintaining the energy and life of the hip-hop I loved.” There’s a visual, almost cinematic quality to her writing too, which is born from her love of horror films, streetwear and abstract art.
‘Cola’ is the first taster of the body of work she’s been working on over the past 12 months, but it won’t be the last. Arlo Parks has reached the point of self-discovery, and it’s only a matter of time before the world discovers her too.