NME Radar: Breakout

Bree Runway: Hackney hero mastering the art of the quarantine music video

The genre-bending star had big plans for the year scuppered – but with some ingenuity and a fierce DIY spirit, she's used lockdown to push her creativity into bold new places

Each week in Breakout, we talk to the emerging stars blowing up right now – whether it be a huge viral moment, killer new track or an eye-popping video – these are the rising artists certain to dominate the near future

Despite, y’know, all of this, Hackney’s Bree Runway has found a way to push through in the year 2020. She’s had cosigns from Missy Elliott, Amine and now Doja Cat, as well as growing her own base of fans and keeping them fed with ambitious songs and videos throughout lockdown.

Firstly there was the bass-heavy ‘APESHIT’ earlier this year, then she dabbled with ‘90s R&B on ‘Damn Daniel’ and teamed-up with Rina Sawayama on the remix of the British pop star’s slinky ‘XS’. Now there’s ‘Gucci’ and its striking video, a celebration of Black Girl Magic with Bree piloting a kaleidoscopic journey laced with striking and metallic looks, underpinned luxury and grandeur. It is a song, after all, about designer clobber.

It’s not been easy to reach a point of such strident creativity, though, “in the first days of lockdown I was overwhelmed”, she says. But despite this setback, Bree’s made it clear that she’s forging her own narrative, mastering the art of the “quarantine music video” in her lockdown releases and solidifying her reputation as one of the UK’s most versatile – and creative – musicians and entertainers.

She tells NME about how lockdown has been for her and the tribulations that inevitably arise as a musical trailblazer.

The lockdown period has forced you to go back to your DIY roots. Has the been rewarding in a way?

“It was hard when I realised that I couldn’t shoot the ‘Damn Daniel’ video the way I wanted to because of lockdown. It was going to be like a mini-movie and we were even going to get Yung Baby Tate to come down from Atlanta, but when I realised this wasn’t going to happen in that way, I sat on my bed and started crying and I thought ‘everything is going to go downhill from here’. I knew how excited everyone was over ‘APESHIT’, and I just didn’t know what to do. But then I remembered that, really, this is how I started. I’ve done this DIY stuff before, the only difference was that now I had more knowledge, experience and ideas. It could only be good. So I got my thinking cap on and created a space in my living room and shot the video there.”

‘Gucci’ is an upbeat anthem detailing how you deserve the finer things in life. Were there any hesitations about releasing a song like this given the current climate?

“Not at all. I wanted a piece of work that I could look back at and remember that, although lockdown has been crazy for me and the Black community, there was still a moment where I felt amazing. At one point in lockdown, Black issues were at the forefront and everything was in your face. The racists were jumping out, the performative allyship was jumping out, everything was driving me nuts. It was hard for me to remember how special I was, so I wanted to make something that I could look back on and be like, ‘oh go, girl, you are a diamond honey!’”

Considering your diverse catalogue – and fanbase – is there pressure to ensure that every release sounds different to the last?

“I don’t feel pressured at all. It’s natural for me to step into the studio and come out with a country, rock, or trap song. I’d feel pressured if I was focused on making songs that gave me high streams or something, but I don’t think about those kinds of things. Throughout my journey, I just want to continue to showcase the different sides of me. Everything I do is easy if I have that logic. Right now, all I care about is my fanbase, and they’re amazing. It’s shocking at this point to have the kind of fans that I have.”

There’s some high-profile fans, too. You recently teamed up with Amine on his new track ‘Pressure in My Palms’ come about?

“Amine found out about me when I dropped the song ‘2ON’. He commented on my clip saying that it was fire, asking to do a session with me. So, when I got to his studio, he asked me, “do you want to rap or sing today?” After telling him that I wanted to sing, he said he had a song in mind. I got in the booth and freestyled on a track, and it made the cut! He said that he didn’t expect me to be funny and assumed I’d be cocky. I think it’s because my style is very different, so people don’t know what to expect from me.”

Credit: Fraser Taylor

Lockdown has been crazy for me and the Black community, but with ‘Gucci’ I wanted to capture that there was still a moment where I felt amazing

You’ve collaborated with an array of women on all your work at every level – is having that representation important to you? 

“Absolutely! I love collaborating with other women – it’s like I’m bringing two different worlds together to fuck it up. To me, collaborating with other women is almost like when you meet a girl in the bathroom and scream about how much you love each other’s hair. Everyone’s sound is so different, which creates something special when you mix it together.”

Before lockdown you said that you were hoping to do a headline show this year, but obviously the pandemic has changed things. Has it made you rethink some of the plans?

“It’s made me feel really sad. I can’t believe this is how the year has gone. Everything had been building up so nicely and it would have been great to connect with people in real life. When I do finally have a headline show, I want to focus on fashion and theatrics, bringing what I do now to the stage.”

You’ve developed a strong following in the US, but is the UK as receptive to your music? 

“As a British black women doing something outside the norm, definitely not. If it wasn’t for America, I honestly don’t know if I’d be where I am today. It’s the Americans that circulate my stuff on the internet. I feel bad for anyone trying to do something different over here. Even on social media, I’ll post something creative or different and someone from the UK will comment on something insignificant like my outfit. It’s such a problem over here, people can be very rude and judgemental. Bullying online and causing a ruckus has become so normalised now – this country has got to do better.”

In light of this, do you feel a pressure to conform to what’s popular over here to appeal to the UK crowd?

“I don’t feel the need to create a version of my music to fit in anywhere. But here, they like a certain thing, sounds like drill, grime and afro-swing. I’m afraid I can’t give them that. Maybe I’ll do it in the future, but I’m not forcing it. In ‘Gucci’ I said, “Stay causing damage / In my own lane these bitches got traffic”, and that’s it. I’m not in a congested lane when I’m just doing me. I’m creating my own path, and no one can stand in my way.”

Bree Runway’s new single ‘Gucci’ is out now