Gay Times Magazine

Arlo Parks

This Londoner is the cinematic storytelle­r of her generation.

- Photograph­y Jakub Koziel / / Fashion Umar Sarwar / / Words Sam Damshenas Hair & Makeup Sven Bayerbach at Carol Hayes Management using Clarins Fashion Assistant Solly Warner

This Londoner is the cinematic storytelle­r of her generation, transformi­ng gritty and honest subject matter into soul-drenched sounds.

Has there ever been an artist that has summed up the confused and dysfunctio­nal British teen experience as perfectly as Arlo Parks? Sure, television series Skins did a pretty great job - although they dramatized it a bit too much with fan-favourite characters being bludgeoned to death with baseball bats, trampled by buses and all that. But with lyrics such as, “When did we get so skinny? / Start doing ketamine on the weekends / Getting wasted at the station / Trying to keep our friends from death,” Arlo has become the go-to voice of a new generation of anxietyrid­den teens who will never be able to afford a house (in London, anyway), have grown up in a more inclusive society thanks to same-sex marriage and a Black president, and learn more about politics, sex and tax on their iPhone X’s than they do in school. “The people who listen to my music are naturally emotional and sensitive,” Arlo tells us over the phone, knackered but optimistic after playing her last (sold-out!) show from her first headline European tour. “I’ve had people saying my songs have helped them through times of anxiety or helped them when they were alone. My music is so open and personal that it invites those same kinds of open people in.”

A self-confessed tomboy, Arlo stru‘led with her identity growing up, describing herself at school as a loner and the “black kid who can’t dance for shit, listens to emo music and currently has a crush on some girl in my Spanish class.” Raised in South London, half Nigerian, a quarter Chadian and a quarter French, Arlo was fluent in French before English. To overcome her insecuriti­es, she would write short stories, create fantasy worlds and put her thoughts into journals; later becoming obsessed with poets such as Chet Baker, Ginsberg, Jim Morrison and Sylvia Plath, the latter of which has heavily inspired her songwritin­g today. “It’s the rawness of her work, the darkness of it,” she tells us. “The Bell Jar particular­ly. I found it so tragic, but so gorgeous. She’s one of those people that makes you feel heartbreak.” Arlo says she discovered her love for music around the age of 10 or 11, thanks to her father’s passion for jazz musicians such as Child’s Fingers and Marlon Davies, as well as her mother’s love for the high priest of pop, Prince. When she became a music connoisseu­r herself, she developed an affinity to pop-punk slash rock bands like My Chemical Romance, Good Charlotte and Arctic Monkeys, with later obsessions including artists Kendrick Lamar, Sufjan Stevens and Earl Sweatshirt; experiment­al musicians with honest, biographic­al elements. “I always felt like an outsider,” she admits. “Not completely, but I always felt slightly outside the bubble. And I guess at some point, I realised that I could never fit the mould and that translated to my music. I write about how I feel in an authentic way, I don’t filter myself that much.”

By the time Arlo was 17, she had come out as bisexual - which she says was a “spontaneou­s decision, just another part of my world” - shaved her head and put her confession­al words to music. She had written a whole album’s worth of material... at 17. In 2018, she finally emerged on the scene with her lo-fi debut single, Cola, giving fans a first taste of her abstract and poetic lyricism. “Lead me to my own devices, it’s better when your Coca Cola eyes are outta my face. I checked your phone and no surprises, she’s grinnin’ from ear to ear in a purple haze,’’ she sings on the mid-tempo track. It received widespread acclaim for her lush vocals and euphoric production, cementing Arlo as an early favourite among critics - and pop superstar Lily Allen, who made it one of her top five tracks on Apple Music. With the coming-of-age anthem Super Sad Generation, which addressed the anxiety and depression within her age group (the aforementi­oned ketamine lyrics), Sophie, a vulnerable slow jam about her lack of confidence in her craft (“I’m just a kid / I suffocate and slip / I hate that we’re all sick”) and Romantic Garbage, a delicate love anthem (“I am di‘ing your aesthetic / I look pathetic beside you / A little magnetic / I wanna put my problems inside you”), Arlo continued to generate buzz within the industry. Her authentici­ty and lack of fear with discussing mental health, social media and despair for the future cemented her as a “poet laureate” and the supreme storytelle­r of Generation Z. However, Arlo states that a lot of her songs aren’t specific to her own experience­s and are, like we said earlier, abstract, because she wants listeners to “apply their own feelings and own lives to the song. It helps people bounce their own ideas and thoughts off the song, so it’s not hyper-specific. In some of them, I’m writing about the way it’s affected friends.” She mentions Second Guessing, from her sophomore EP, as an example. Lyrics include: “Eating Parma Violets / On the way back from therapy / Bleeding out on a velvet couch / They’re kinda worried about me.”

Although she acknowledg­es that “talking about mental health in general is quite a sensitive subject,” it’s never been a second thought for Arlo. With depression rates more prevalent than ever in young people and suicide the third leading cause of death in 15-19-year-olds, the star aims to use her platform to dismantle stigma around mental health - and to let her fans feel less alone. She opens up: “It was an easy decision for me to speak about it. Everyone knows someone who stru‘les with mental health or stru‘les with it themselves, so it’s important to be open about it.” Arlo highlights our toxic ‘like-for-like’ age as a core problem: “The forced perfection on social media is affecting teenagers, especially when you’re a teenager and you don’t know what you want to be. You’re a bit insecure and you’re having all these images coming at you... it’s quite stressful.”

As a member of Generation Z, Arlo is part of a new flux of millenials who are much more open when it comes to, not just mental health, but sexuality and gender identity. Growing up, they witnessed the historic legalisati­on of gay marriage, coming out journeys of their favourite fictional characters and queer celebritie­s living their truths more than ever before. We still have a long way to go, obviously, but there’s no denying her generation were raised in a society

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