Arlo Parks: Voice of a Generation

Featured Image: Clash Magazine

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Arlo Parks has a notably gentle voice. In a striking way, it is pretty, soft, and rather captivating. With two EPs in her discography and several singles, the London-based singer has recently seen her popularity grow with some great musical achievements. In August, she performed her most recent single ‘Hurt’, which serves as a reminder that pain is temporary, for COLORS Studios on YouTube. Then, in September, she gave an intimate Tiny Desk performance for NPR Music from her home. Arlo Parks is on the rise and making a name for herself in the music industry, with NME calling her hit ‘Black Dog’ the most searingly honest song they’ve heard all year.

Sometimes it seems like you won’t survive this. 
And honestly, it’s terrifying
. Let’s go to the corner store and buy some fruit. 
I would do anything to get you out of your room. 
Just take your medicine and eat your food
. I would do anything to get you out of your room. It’s so cruel, what your mind can do for no reason
. – Black Dog by Arlo Parks

Arlo Parks — real name Anaïs Marinho — is a twenty-year-old indie-pop Black British singer and poet from South West London. Her songs are simplistically-written tales that explore the highs and lows of life and all that comes with it, including love, relationships, and mental health, largely drawn from the lived experiences of Generation Z. Parks is open about her own experiences with these issues — in 2019’s ‘Sophie’, she sings that she’s still denying that she is ‘anxious as f*ck.’

She names the records her father would play during her childhood as what first got her into music. Jazz was his frequent choice, to which Parks is still clearly attached — her debut EP, ‘Super Sad Generation’, has been described as ‘four tracks of jazz-infused lo-fi confessional pop.’ Since signing to Transgressive Records, following the release of her debut single ‘Cola’ in 2018, Parks has gone on to release several other songs that are equally as tender and honest.

‘Super Sad Generation’ Cover

Parks has been a writer since childhood, and recalls writing on the weekends and making up stories in an interview with NME from earlier this year. The delicate nature of her music can be easily explained by her own sensitivity. She calls herself an empath — someone capable of sensing and understanding the emotions of other people. In fact, the first song she ever wrote was written for one of her friends, as a way to cheer them up as they were going through a difficult time with their parents. Since her earliest days as a songwriter, her music has resonated with people and helped them with their problems.

What I personally admire about Arlo Parks is how she delivers her music with care, painting stories of love and, at times, pain. It seems that she does it with ease. This artistic skill of hers is particularly evident in ‘Eugene’, which is the first song of hers I ever heard. ‘Eugene’ is about Parks’ friendship with another woman, which gets complicated by Parks’ feelings for her. The music video, directed by The Coyle-Larner Brothers, goes hand-in-hand with the song in telling this story of love and loss.

Two women in pastel outfits seem enamoured with one another. They spend their days reading Sylvia Plath and taking photos. At night, they cuddle and eat popcorn as they watch movies in the dim light of the television screen. As per the lyrics, they have been ‘best buds since thirteen’, but Parks has been ‘a little bit off’ recently, as she has fallen ‘half in love’ with her close friend, who is busy crying over Eugene. A distance soon grows between them and their shared bed splits into two with jagged edges, reminiscent of puzzle pieces. Parks’ friend now shares her bed with a man (presumably Eugene) and does the same activities that she used to do with Parks with him. Just as it seems the two women have gone their separate ways for good, she leaves Eugene alone in their bed to crawl into Parks’ own, and they smile at each other as the video ends.

Image from the ‘Eugene’ music video

I feel grateful for artists like Arlo Parks — those who manage to make such charming songs about subjects we often find difficult to talk about in our everyday lives. Candid and sincere, her music feels transgressive and transformative. What sets Parks apart is that while she does not glamourise these hard-hitting topics, her soft-spoken delivery and warm demeanour cushion any harshness. This musical juxtaposition is what makes her unique and ultimately characterises her as an artist.

I find Parks personally relatable for so many reasons. She’s young — younger than me in fact — Black, bisexual, and from South London. She is also a writer, who has a way with words that so many find enchanting. She writes about queer love, about how it feels when it’s good, and when it’s bad, about the days we can’t get out of bed and how the pain feels everlasting. With her melodic voice and straightforward lyrics, Arlo Parks makes music for our ‘Super Sad Generation’, as we ‘try to keep our friends from death’, one song at a time.

You can follow Arlo Parks on Instagram and Twitter, or check out her website.