“We’re all vulnerable, even if we’re afraid to admit it. Parks teaches us to wear it like a badge of honour. Her existential shoegaze is not a remedy for modern life, it is therapy itself.”
WORDS BY ALI GRICE AND RACHEL GRICE
Gen Z are often painted in a bad light. Being born just before the noughties and just after the millennials, they have had to find their own niche somewhere between the contrasting worlds of LinkedIn and TikTok. Referred to as the snowflake generation, they have had the misfortune of inheriting a world of disarray and populist rule, only now coming of age to fight back. Their turbulent tale however, is only at the beginning, and Arlo Parks is here to travel the road with them.
Continuous protests and vigilante activism to save our climate have yielded unprecedented results, which has recently culminated in the huge youth presence at Black Lives Matter protests in the middle of a pandemic. Gen Z are finding their voice, and it’s been a long time coming. Trying to amend years of problematic and out of touch policies that have led to increased poverty rates, irreversible environmental damage and the oppression of minority ethnic groups however, is not easy. A result of this fallout is a generation riddled with higher anxiety rates, brought on by a system that thrives on overworking and underpaying its most valuable workers.
It feels as though we are stuck. Unable to action any real change to better our future and forever going in circles. But bedroom pop heroine Arlo Parks is here to remedy our woes with her honest, heady lullabies, isolating her voice as a cry for ‘Generation Anxiety’.
At the age of just 16, Parks became deeply involved with poetry, citing the likes of Nayyirah Waheed, Hanif Abdurraqib and Iain S. Thomas as influences. Now 19, her voice has blossomed far beyond poetry. Alongside youthful contemporaries cavetown and beabadoobee she has brought this new wave of solo, introspective bedroom pop to the forefront of the modern music scene.
Growing up in South West London, Parks carved out her own niche. After failing to fall into any stereotype at school she immersed herself in the poetry of Ginsberg and Jim Morrison, journalling frequently and garnering an obsession for the spoken word. This is commonly the case with some of our favourite artists. Social outcasts often seem to make the most mesmerising music.
With her dulcet rhymes and naked honesty she was flung onto the scene in 2018 with the unexpected breakout hit Cola. Teeming with ever relatable lines “I know it’s kinda dumb/ But I miss the way you dressed all punk/ With the black and the studs and the ripped up gloves/ Bet she loved your tough-guy front”, it soon became apparent that she was filling a void within the listener that they hadn’t realised was there. From here on out, the limelight refused to leave, supporting both Jordan Rakei and Hayley Williams on sold out tours in only the second year of her career.
Her success was not only due to her infectiously listenable tunes, but from her sheer maturity at such a young age. Unfazed by sudden fame she put her head down and released the Super Sad Generation EP, having signed with Transgressive Records just after finishing her A-Levels. With initial hopes of a journalism career, she had even secured a place at UCL to study English Literature, but the world had a different goal for Parks. Now label-mates with Foals, Marika Hackman, Africa Express and Flume, the future looked bright.
Although now signed to a major label renowned for transforming garage bands into modern stadium fillers, there is still something so peacefully human about Arlo Parks. Take a few minutes to sit outside with your eyes closed and listen to Eugene; Parks’ anecdote about falling in love with a girl who is falling for a different boy.
Surprisingly her token ‘soft songs’ are the culmination of influences spanning emo (Previously having name dropped The Cure’s Robert Smith and emo revolutionary Gerard Way) to Hendrix and MF Doom, carefully distilling this varied taste into her self-reflective sound. Having only been given a small tasting menu of her work through single releases, 2019’s Super Sad Generation EP gave fans and radio stations a hint of her unique poetic storytelling. I Like is a take on materialistic consumerism whilst Romantic Garbage tackles the all consuming feelings and emotions associated with falling hopelessly in love.
“If I fell in love with you
Would you bring me the moon?
Or some broken beer bottles and fresh war wounds?”
The left-field anti-pop hits reeks of existential sadness, but Arlo lets us down softly with the sultry delivery of her pillowy vocals.
Any playlist featuring Parks’ discography is bound to be named ‘Sad Bops’ or ‘Pop isn’t Dead’. Her approach to songwriting is pensive, tender and confessional, conjuring the image of lying on your unmade bed, eyes closed as your mind melts and flows into endless daydream. On 2020s Black Dog she encourages an unnamed character to leave their bedroom and figuratively ‘shake off the Black Dog’ that is depression. She sympathises with a generation that seems to only receive negative attention, and puts the struggles of mental health troubles into perspective. All of her latest releases would read as standalone poetry, put the repetitive soft guitar strumming along with a little spacey synth motif takes the whole experience to another level.
Recently collaborating with indie-pop group Easy Life on summery Sangria, and collaborating with Glass Animals on a quarantine cover of Drake’s Hotline Bling, we begin to see the potential for Parks as an anti-pop star. Her confessional poetic prose is a far cry from the club hits and dance floor fillers that have so proudly topped the charts for years, but the next Billboard number one has potential to be the antithesis of pop: quiet, affable lo-fi taking you on an emotional journey through real life. Or perhaps it is simply a new type of pop, finding its voice in this uncertain day and age. Goodbye booze, drugs and clubs, hello warm duvets, mint tea and springtime sunsets.
As with all budding flowers, there is so much more yet to be revealed. Parks has blossomed, stepping up to the plate and never straying from her roots. I get the creeping feeling we have only seen a small percentage of what Parks is capable of, and I would love to hear more of the emo and indie influences come across in whatever new releases are due.
Last month Parks was made an ambassador for the suicide prevention charity CALM. No longer a metaphorical poster child for generational anxiety but now a conscientious activist and role model. Nominated for the Dazed 100 and having already made her Glastonbury debut, her 2 year career is comparable to that of industry veterans.
We’re all vulnerable, even if we’re afraid to admit it. Parks teaches us to wear it like a badge of honour. Her existential shoegaze is not a remedy for modern life, it is therapy itself.