I recently imagined what my ideal [safe] place would look like. Who would be allowed in? What would make it mine? But if ever there was a sound to drift down the corridor, welcoming me into my space, reminding me that I’m home? It would be Arlo Parks.
Parks, born in West London is already a dream girl doing freeing things. Formerly on track to study English Literature, this avid reader, poet and queer artist of Nigerian, Chadian and French descent unite the facets of her identity with intent and integrity in the music she creates. At 18, she debuted her EP, Super Sad Generation through her first single Cola. At 19, she toured with Loyle Carner and in 2020 was set to accompany Paramore frontwoman, Hayley Williams on her North American tour before the year’s lockdown.
Over the past three years, she has garnered enough attention to earn her a space in BBC’s Sound of 2020 and NME top 100. Her talent has been recognised by Michelle Obama and celebrated as one of the hottest records of 2020. On January 29th, she released her debut album Collapsed in Sunbeams and has since appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon upon completing a 6 week Artist in Residence slot with the BBC radio. It’s worth noting that Parks is only 20. Her album is a deep dive into who she is, a soft voice that crosses a generational gap reminding all who listen that it will all be okay.
My induction began with Cola. Parks sings ‘Leave me to my own devices/ It’s better when your coca-cola eyes are out of my face’, reminiscing the bittersweet memories of a lost love who wronged her. At the time, I was struggling with my final year of university, my crippling mental health in the pandemic and the sinking realisation that the job market was and still is, in the shits. She sang of an ending, but it’s the softness of her voice, laden with pure vulnerability and honesty that made even an end seem warm. By the time I heard Eugene, a ballad on the pain of unrequited love, I knew she was the one. I found this to be the common denominator in her work, her willingness to be herself, to explore her pain, tears, fears as well as her ability to console herself and me, with the pockets of goodness in life. I came across her feature on Easy Life’s Sangria proof that not only does she do well on her own, but she also soars and elevates those around her. Parks’ voice is the most calming presence that calls me home, giving me mental peace of mind and the space to explore myself and my feelings. This is the power Arlo Parks has.
Collapsed in Sunbeams gives a voice to the spirited bliss and struggles of growing up in the most comforting and realistic way possible, a key trademark of Gen Z. Equally, as a bisexual Black woman, she sits at multiple intersections and reognises she is already a role model. She aims ‘to show people that it’s okay.’ She’s referred to her coming out as freeing, an element that manifests in her music and adds to the safety listeners feel in it. Even for those unable to come out or express themselves of their accord, Parks is there in the best way she knows how. Her intimacy in her music is also evident in the way she interacts with her fans, frequently hosting call-ins, and Youtube lives. This closeness she displays makes it even easier to absorb the seriousness of her subject matter. We lean into the darkness she doesn’t shy away from because it’s a reality for a lot of people. This is the case in Black Dog which NME described as ‘the most devastating song of the year’. She describes a friend’s depressive episode, ‘I would do anything to get you out your room/ It’s so cruel what your mind can do for no reason’. This came days before George Floyd’s death and the sanctioned violence and policing of Black people, a prologue to our fatigue, chronicling our collective trauma. Last year more than ever, saw a rise in impacted mental health, eating disorders and suicide ideation.
Globally, the Black community continues to suffer but more so those at intersections of gender, sexuality, disability and class. This speaks to the loss of Oluwatoyin Salau, Elijah McClain, Breonna Taylor, Toni McDade and Nina Pop. The failure in the sanctity of life like those of Shukri Abdi and Tina Ezekwe. We continue to observe reminders that worldwide, Black people are suffering, we really are not okay and Parks knows this. We remember the ongoing Continental violence of Nigeria’s End Sars protests, Ghana’s queer community crackdown, Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis, gender-based violence in Namibia as well as anti-government and police brutality protests in Angola. It’s important to understand, to dispel the stigma that people do not necessarily want to die (although people do) but many of us just want the pain to stop. Arlo Parks carries in her voice that knowingness and yet it lifts me up and just carries me. A comfort in uncertain times.
A lot of this comfort comes from her cadence. She sounds like the thing of dreams, delivering words with a smooth silkiness that speaks to care and love. She is the cool breeze of a summer night that touches on your scalp and makes you feel like it’s all going to be okay and even when she’s not sure, just listening to her is enough. Exploring darker matter on her song Hurt, the focal Charlie drinks ‘til his eyes burned/ And forgot to eat his lunch/ Pain was built into his body/ Heart so soft it hurt to be.’ For many, like Charlie, life continues to suck and coping mechanisms become something more. Her voice carries itself above the din of inner turmoil to remind her listeners, to remind me that things will be okay. She echoes this throughout in Hope, a call to support and to commune in the ways we can, when we can. Parks – like many of us- knows how hard it is, how crippling and stifling loneliness is, especially in light of the global pandemic. Music has always been a gateway to healing especially when words fail us or intruding thoughts take over our minds. She reminds those who will listen that we’re not alone, things will indeed be okay. I find this so comforting because indeed that’s my mantra, it’ll be okay, frankly because I must believe it will. It’s nice to know that Parks thinks so too, and when she sings, telling me she understands, I believe. And when she tells me it won’t hurt so much forever; she makes it easier to accept that too.
Most importantly, she carries in her voice the gentleness and softness of someone that cares. I cannot express how much so many of us need that. I listen to Arlo Parks because her voice is the light caress of a friend tucking you to sleep. The knowingness of safety in the hands of someone you care about and someone that cares deeply for you. She is the gracious goodness of a friend, the epitome of that which we need. She calls me to a place I want to call home. A door opening to the safe comfort of a place that’s mine and until I get there, she beckons me closer to the place I want to be.