Superstar In The Making: Arlo Parks Shines In ‘Sunbeams’

Arlo Parks recalls coming home from attending her first concert as a fan – a show by rapper Loyle Carner at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire when she was 15 – and writing in her journal, “I just saw my first ever show at Shepherd’s Bush, and I think maybe I want to be a musician, maybe this is what I want to do.” 

The 20-year-old British singer/songwriter and poet is now set to headline the 2,000-capacity venue Nov. 3-4 in support of her gorgeous debut album, marking the biggest gig of her career. 
“Now that I’m playing it twice is really special,” the expansive indie-pop artist tells Pollstar from her childhood home in London while sitting in the same chair she wrote a few tracks of Collapsed in Sunbeams, which was released in late January.
“Those last two songs, ‘Bluish’ and ‘Porta 400,’ started as demos I just did in my bedroom,” Parks says. “And that’s where I spent a lot of time journaling. Journals kind of provided the source material for the record, so, I feel like it came to life in this bedroom.” 
Although the pandemic has prevented her from venturing far from the U.K., her career has bloomed like a wildflower, with countless opportunities as her enchanting, vulnerable music has continued to earn accolades and high-profile fans. And she just announced – and sold out – her first run of U.S. headline dates.
Recent awards include being named “One to Watch” in 2020 by the AIM Independent Music Awards and the “Introducing Artist of the Year” in 2020 by the BBC. In February, the Artist & Manager Awards announced that Parks and her manager Ali Raymond would be honored as Breakthrough Artist & Manager for their achievements in 2020. Michelle Obama included Parks’ single “Eugene” in a playlist she shared in August and Billie Eilish namedropped Parks as one of her favorite artists of the moment in an October interview with Vanity Fair. In late January, Apple Music named Parks as its latest Up Next artist.   
Parks, who is half Nigerian, a quarter Chadian and a quarter French, grew up in South West London and learned to speak French before English. Born Anaïs Oluwatoyin Estelle Marinho, she chose her stage moniker after being inspired by King Krule and Frank Ocean. She initially saw herself as a writer and her passion for words remains. Her lyrical voice, with its endearing British accent, dances from word to word of her sensitive lyrics that are filled with vivid imagery. 


Arlo Parks
– Arlo Parks performs on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” on March 1, 2021. Photo via TAWBOX

“I started writing short stories when I was about 7 or 8 and I only started writing songs when I was 14 or 15, so for a big part of my life it was just all about the words,” Parks says. “And I think that’s still kind of the focus of my music, even the way that I approach it now.”   
After submitting demos to BBC Music’s “Introducing” platform, Parks landed her first interview with BBC Radio 1 DJ Jess Iszatt, who introduced her to Raymond and her team at Beatnik Creative. 
“I first met her when she was 17 years old and it was very clear from the start that we had a really special artist on our hands,” Sarah Rodriguez at Beatnik Creative says, calling it a “a no-brainer, really” to work with Parks. “Her demos were all self-produced, incredibly honest and vulnerable, and showcased her talent as a poet as well as a composer. I was blown away by her encyclopedic knowledge of music, literature and film, as well as her impressive work ethic.”
Beatnik Creative’s main focus was introducing Parks to the world, starting with releasing her two EPs, 2019’s Super Sad Generation and Sophie, on their management label, which Rodriguez notes “helped showcase Arlo Parks not just as a soulful, R&B artist but also lofi indie/bedroom pop, reflecting the true breadth of her musical influences, from The Smiths to Julia Jacklin, MF Doom to Tyler, the Creator. Building a visual identity was also an important aspect of this, as Arlo also gets inspired by her love of cinema – David Lynch, Wes Anderson, Xavier Dolan – and photography (Ren Hang, Wolfgang Tillmans).” 
UTA agents Steve Nickolls and Christian Bernhardt came on board after a French promoter tipped them off about her first single, 2018’s “Cola.” While it was the early days of her career, Nickolls says they instinctually knew they wanted to work with Parks.  
Following her first European headline tour in early 2020, Parks had more than 30 festival appearances scheduled throughout Europe, along with her debut tour dates booked in North America including a SXSW set and a full tour supporting Paramore’s Hayley Williams in May and June. Of course, COVID brought all that to a halt. 
“It was a hard pill to swallow, but set the tone for our 2020 strategy, which was all about silver linings,” Rodriguez says. “Shows were cancelled but suddenly it created valuable time for Arlo to write her debut album without the pressure of touring. As the world stopped, it almost felt like her music and its overall message of empathy and togetherness was suddenly what people needed to hear.”
The album represents both a snapshot in time of creativity during the pandemic and serves as a time capsule of Parks’ adolescence and her coming of age. She notes that by using her old journals as source material, she returned to passages she’d written to document conversations or moments and got to examine things that felt important or like the end of the world. 
Reflecting on how she still relates to her 13-year-old self, Parks says, “In a lot of ways the core of me is kind of the same in terms of, you know, my heart, like the fact that I’m sensitive, that I’m interested in writing and words and the fact that I’m quite extroverted and a social human being. But I think I’ve grown up a lot since then, just by experiencing life, by experiencing those first loves and losses and moments of disappointment and moments of joy.”
Collapsed In Sunbeams begins with its title track, a 55-second spoken word poem that sets the mood with Parks’ comforting voice narrating a dreamy scene dotted with simple pleasures and intense feelings: “I see myself ablazed with joy, sleepy eyed / Feeding your cat or slicing artichoke hearts / I see myself sitting beside you,?elbows?touching,?hurt and terribly?quiet / The turquoise in?my ring matches the deep blue cramp of everything.”


The track also helps make the case for the album as a complete collection of songs and piece of artwork rather than singles – though the album features six catchy singles released between February 2020 and January 2021: “Eugene,” “Black Dog,” “Hurt” “Green Eyes” “Caroline” and “Hope.” 
Parks draws inspiration from a range of musical genres, artists and writers. For this particular album, she points to Radiohead, Portishead, Solange, Mitski and Phoebe Bridgers, along with writers Zadie Smith, Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, Eileen Myles and Joan Didion.
She wrote and recorded the majority of the album with songwriter and record producer Gianluca Buccellati (whose credits include Lana Del Rey), as they rented Airbnbs and threw themselves “into the bubble of the record.” The duo spent two weeks eating loads of pasta, drinking tons of lemon tea from a nearby Vietnamese store and “writing all day, every day,” with further inspiration from watching Studio Ghibli films.
Arlo Parks
Alex Kurunis – Arlo Parks
Collapsed In Sunbeams is named after a line in the Zadie Smith novel “On Beauty.” Parks explains, “For me, it had a sense of bittersweetness. The idea of the sun being this healing force, what keeps us alive. And just down to the simplest level, when the sun is out, everything feels a bit lighter. And then, the idea of being somehow overwhelmed by emotion and you’re not sure whether that’s positive or negative because collapsing can be in joy or misery. And I like how ambiguous that felt.”
The duality between dark and light is woven throughout the collection of songs. The introspective songs feature a series of vignettes and stories of herself and her pals packed with emotions and cultural references. In “Eugene” the openly bisexual Parks sings about falling in love with a friend who is dating a mean guy, recalling memories of Taco Bell and reading Sylvia Plath, while in “Black Dog” Parks desperately tries to cheer up a friend with depression: “I’d lick the grief right off your lips / You do your eyes like Robert Smith.”
Even songs dripping with sadness – like “Hurt,” which tells the story of a guy named Charlie who drinks too much and forgets to eat his lunch – still have optimistic messages. In “Hope,” Parks declares “You’re not alone like you think you are.”
While in-person touring has been on hold, Parks has managed to promote her new music with multiple TV appearances and a spot on NPR’s Tiny Desk (Home) Concerts. In June she stopped by Worthy Farm to take part in the “Glastonbury Experience” – which aired on the BBC on TV, radio and online – performing a stripped-down version of “Black Dog,” accompanied by a guitarist who stood six feet away. She joined Phoebe Bridgers in covering Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees” for BBC Radio 1 Piano Sessions Show and landed her own one-hour variety show special on Amazon. 
Outside of music, other highlights during the time include appearing in a short film for Gucci, co-directed by Gus Van Sant, and being named an ambassador for the UK-based anti-suicide nonprofit CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably). 
“We haven’t gone heavy on the livestreams so far,” UTA’s Nickolls says. “There were moments of acoustic performances, poetry, and Q&As for different markets around the release of her album Collapsed In Sunbeams, and we did one PPV event as part of a DIY mag weekender event last year. However, there have been so many special TV moments – Fallon, Kimmel, and The Graham Norton Show in the UK – and an Amazon Prime ‘Tonight with Arlo Parks’ special that have provided fans with lots of great opportunities to see her play live. “We are continuing to explore possibilities for market-specific streamed shows in countries such as Japan and China, where she may not be able to travel given COVID-19 restrictions.”
Rodriguez adds, “Geo-targeted live streams can be great when it’s physically impossible for an artist to visit the market. For Australia and Japan in particular, where Arlo hasn’t played a show yet, it can make a real difference to sell some tickets, and puts her in a great position for when the world opens again and she can finally play a show there.”
Parks has stayed connected with fans by sharing film recommendations, music she’s been listening to and poems on social media. She’s also set up a phone number where fans can call and leave voicemails about their days, pieces of art or podcasts, what makes them feel joyful – adding that what she’s going to do with them is “still a secret.” 
Parks has also been hosting Zooms with dozens of fans where she’ll do “a little Q&A and I’ll read some poems and we’ll just have a chat.”   
“I love watching my favorite artists doing live-streams but at the same time, I feel like there’s something about playing gigs in person that can’t really be recreated,” Parks says. “There’s something about experiencing music in that collective way, feeling the bass in your feet … shouting lyrics along with everybody there and everybody just forgetting whatever issues they had going on outside of that room.”
Her team hopes she’ll be able to play the U.K. and Europe this summer and she just announced her long-awaited debut in the U.S. with two shows in Brooklyn Sept. 21-22 and two in Los Angeles Oct. 14-15. The gigs quickly sold out, with more U.S. dates to come.
 “For the US we had two introductory shows booked at Baby’s All Right in NYC and The Moroccan Lounge in L.A. that sadly had to be postponed until fall 2021. The next step was going to be a small club tour hitting all major markets and a few secondaries. Since we pushed these events back to later this year, we have actually added a couple of larger shows, since those initial shows had already sold out before the pandemic hit,” UTA’s Bernhardt says. “Ultimately, for all territories our approach was and continues to be very grassroots. We want to grow her career as organically as possible by giving her fans the opportunity to discover her on their own and experience her live shows in very intimate settings. We’ve received offers for much larger rooms, but we feel it is important to build her touring strategy from the ground up.”
He adds that UTA is working on booking a larger theater spring 2022 US tour, and they’ll also be focusing on festival performances. She is already scheduled to perform at some festivals in the U.S. and Europe this year, including BUKU, Shaky Knees and Firefly. 
Arlo Parks
TAWBOX – Arlo Parks
performs on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon March 1, 2021.
“She is backed by a great young band with talented players who are effortlessly cool,” Bernhardt says. “As you’d expect from a lyricist as empathetic as she is, her connection to her audience is very strong. For her first U.K. tour, she wrote a poem about every city she played and recited it during the shows. The crowds were so speechless that you could have heard a pin drop in the venues.” 
Parks recalls playing her first show in 2017 at The Basement Door in the London borough of Richmond upon Thames.  
“I just played it with a few friends of mine, actually the same person I went to that Shepherd’s Bush gig with, who’s my best friend. She was on bass and then a few other guys from school playing the other instruments. And I literally had no idea what I was doing about it. Like, I didn’t know what soundcheck was. I didn’t know that guitars could have pedals, that you didn’t just walk up and start singing. 
“There’s something really innocent about the way I approached those first shows. And I think that’s an energy I’m trying to maintain in a way. … Every single show, you know, you have a different energy in the crowd. You have a different feeling within yourself. The size of the room is different. The country may be different. So I try to approach each one as if it’s new.”  
Parks’ upcoming plans include moving out of her parents’ house once the world starts to open up a bit and continuing to work with her team on expanding her career. She notes, “There are other avenues that I want to explore in my work, whether that’s writing a book, whether that’s acting.”
Whatever comes next Parks will stay true to herself and her guiding purpose in life. 
“I just feel like it’s about helping people, as cheesy as that sounds, in whatever capacity I can, whether it comes in an unconscious sense as well,” Parks says. “When I’m writing my songs, I’m writing about my life and I’m not really thinking too much about the people outside of that. It’s more about personally processing things that I’ve been through. And unconsciously I’ve managed to create things that help people out all over the world, and that’s beautiful in itself. So helping people and just encouraging kindness in people as well.”