If Griff’s new project One Foot in Front of the Other is proof of one thing, it’s that the 20-year-old singer is ready to be noticed and adored by fans of pop on a global scale. The British singer of Jamaican and Chinese heritage, born Sarah Faith Griffiths, debuted in 2019 with her single ‘Mirror Talk’; the release of an EP of the same name followed soon afterwards. Two short years into her music career, Griff has managed to break through – in the middle of a pandemic, no less – and win the Brit Rising Star Award. Her new mixtape, a meditation on love in all its stages and forms, showcases the skill and distinctiveness that earned her this title.
“Now and then/ Your name comes up in conversation with my friends,” announces Griff with a soft vibrato on the introductory track ‘Black Hole’, as bouncy synths and invigorating drums flood the background. Honest, straightforward, and tinged with nostalgia, the dark pop anthem builds a solid foundation for the remaining project: despondent in tone yet energetic and inviting in execution. While the chorus isn’t particularly lyrically original, its dramatic nature perfectly encapsulates the whirlwind of emotion that goes hand in hand with a broken heart. Echoing ideas voiced in Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘enough for you’, Griff expresses bitter disappointment and mourns her lost sense of self, belting longingly: “Without a trace/ You disappeared and took some of me with you, babe.”
If the opening song explores the aching emptiness following an absorbing romance, then the title track is the flip side of the coin, a confident ode to the blossoming stages of recovery following heartbreak, when every hesitant but remedial step taken feels like walking a tightrope; a nod to the mixtape’s black and white cover. The ensuing ‘Shade of Yellow’ forgets heartbreak altogether, turning its attention, instead, on the gentle elation felt when in the company of ‘your person’, whether friend or lover, that embodies unreserved acceptance and safety. The track itself radiates warmth, with a comforting, dreamy feeling evoked by mixing slow synths and Griff’s grounded voice, which occasionally ascends into falsettos.
In contrast to her other love-centered songs, which often place Griff in the victim’s position, ‘Heart of Gold’ stems from a place of crushing self-doubt as the singer takes on the role of someone who doesn’t feel good enough for their romantic interest. Comparing their heart of gold to her own, which is “more like stone,” Griff justifies her distance and apathy, as the accompanying synth becomes more mellow and spaced out in the second verse: “It’s not that I don’t feel a thing ’cause I do/ It’s that I’ve gotten used to tryin’ not to/ So, I might not have the right reaction.” Inspired by the minimal production of Lorde’s ‘Royals’, the track is built almost exclusively on drums, vocals, and light claps juxtaposing the darker subject matter.
Following the uplifting but somewhat forgettable ‘Remembering My Dreams’, the record’s most lyrically compelling and unique track, ‘Earl Grey Tea’, may surprise listeners towards the end of the mixtape with its stripped-back, unembellished nature. Moving away from booming melodies and typical relationship conundrums, Griff dives into themes of anxiety, intimacy, and mortality. The young artist sings about a loved one drinking Earl Grey tea in hopes of evading cancer, inspired by her own dad. The most poignant lyrics emerge at the end of the chorus, as Griff cries achingly: “You’re so scared of dying slowly/ But why aren’t you as scared of dying lonely?”. Swimming in soft keyboard chords, the track is a plea for healthy priorities; a welcome reminder to see our individual lives from a wider perspective and show appreciation to those who care for us unconditionally. Like the rest of the mixtape, it stands as a testament to the quiet power of vulnerability.