FLO, aka 19 and 20-year-olds Renée, Stella and Jorja, are fresh on the scene with a singular mission: to bring back feel-good girl group music. The trio’s debut single, the MNEK-produced ‘Cardboard Box’, released last month, is slick and sassy, stuffed with gorgeous group harmonies and playful one-liners: “Never liked your momma, so I guess she’s blocked / You may be crying, but boy, I’m not”, they sing in the chorus.
Its accompanying music video, which has nearly 900,000 hits, is reminiscent of the cool, understated visuals from the likes of TLC’s ‘Unpretty’ and the Sugababes’ ‘Overload’. It also effortlessly feeds into the current Y2K renaissance – a revival of the styles and sounds from the early 2000s, and a practice we’ve seen in the work of other rising artists like PinkPantheress and Olivia Rodrigo.
They’re also building up an audience of Flowers – a potential fanbase name for their loyal 120,000 TikTok followers – after a year of uploading covers of hits from the likes of Jazmine Sullivan and Lauryn Hill, engaging in Q&As and participating in viral challenges, showing each of the personalities that make up FLO. For Jorja, engaging with fans is just as important as sharing their music: “Take the Spice Girls for example, it wasn’t just about the singing, you knew each of their personalities. As creatives, we really want to show who we are, too,” she tells NME.
Their currently-untitled debut EP, due this summer, pulls from classic R&B and and hip-hop sounds, including old-school favourites such as Destiny’s Child and TLC, as well as contemporary powerhouses like the Grammy-winning H.E.R. The five tracks explore tales of downbeat exes, girls’ nights out, and sultry moments. By proudly embracing their femininity and sexuality, in both their band identity and across the EP, FLO empower themselves and their girlfriends.
Renée and Stella have known each other since the age of five, both having grown up together in the performing arts. They met Jorja two years ago, who, despite being a late addition to FLO, elevates group’s natural chemistry. “We have that sense of togetherness and friendship that girl groups need. It came to us authentically, so we’re really lucky,” she says.
When NME meets the girls at their London studio, they’re preparing for a photoshoot. Jorja is braiding Stella’s hair into a slick-back ponytail braid, with Renée handing over slips of hair to be added in. Hair packets strewn across the floor, Eco-Styler gel tubs, thin combs and hair ties lying about – it’s a scene similar to every Black girl’s bedroom at some point. But it’s also the perfect embodiment of what FLO is planning to bring to the table: good vibes, refreshing music and a celebration of being unapologetically Black.
NME sat down with FLO to chat working with MNEK, their shared love for late ‘90s R&B sounds, and how it feels to be navigating the music industry as the newest girl group on the block.
NME: There’s a lack of major girl groups at the moment, particularly as Little Mix are currently on their farewell tour. How does it feel to be starting out without many peers?
Renée: “We kind of stay in our lane, we wouldn’t say there’s competition because that’s not for us to look at. We want to focus on bettering ourselves and being the best we can be.”
Stella: “I’m glad we’ve had each other and not been on our own. It’s a relief to see the single doing so well, especially since it’s our breakout song. We’re so happy with the reception it’s had.”
Jorja: “There’s a lack of girl groups I guess because it’s hard putting girls together as the chemistry is not easy to find. We haven’t had to sell our friendship or force it to come across authentically, as for us it comes so naturally.”
You worked with MNEK on ‘Cardboard Box’, who has previously teamed up with huge pop stars such as Dua Lipa. What was that experience like?
Stella: “It was more about watching him do his craft and taking it in. He wanted us to be our best, melody and writing wise. He’s Jorja’s biggest inspiration as well!”
Jorja: “I look up to him as he’s so talented and humble. Some writers have taken control of sessions and taken things in their direction, but he doesn’t. He gives us creative reign over the music. He’ll ask us what we think of something and we’re like, ‘Duh! It’s great’”.
The EP notably pulls inspiration from the sounds of ‘90s and early 2000s R&B. What connects you to that era?
Renée: “My mum would play really good music in the car or when cleaning on Sundays, you know, the sounds of that era were all around us when we were young. I’ve grown up around [that music], it was one of my first loves. My uncle is also a producer and rapper, and he motivates me as someone who’s been in this industry for the long run.”
What was the writing process for your forthcoming EP like?
Renée: “This was our first time away, writing and working with people we love on a whole catalogue of songs and just making really good music. We loved it – we want to do a writing camp at least twice a year.”
Jorja: “It’s nice to be away from everyday life and be in the zone of making feel good music. You get into the rhythm of it, it’s amazing.”
Stella: “Each song is like a moment in our lives, each song represents something different. Some are on par with each other but none are the same.”
“We want to bring female empowerment to a new generation of young women” – Stella
Navigating the music industry both as newcomers and an all-Black girl group must be daunting. How have you developed the confidence to stick to your vision?
Renée: “As three young Black women, one thing that’s important when you get signed to a label and have to do what people say, is to remember to be strong. We’re not going to be pushed over or go with someone else’s decision without believing in it ourselves. Know that you can say no and do what you genuinely believe in – and it will be successful. That’s something I really believe in with my whole heart.”
Stella: “There were some decisions that we really had to push for with the EP and it paid off – the reception so far has been great. It’s all about trusting your instinct, and [making music] is an experience, and we’re learning a lot.”
How important is it for you to promote female empowerment through your music?
Stella: “We all grew up with strong women in our lives, and were surrounded by music with that sense of female empowerment, so we want to bring that to a new generation of young women. It’s important to bring it back.”
Jorja: “We also pull inspiration from each other. Since working with each other more, I think, ‘What would Renée do? What would Stella do?’ We’re always writing songs for ourselves, so it’s important for it to come from each of our experiences.”
How do you deal with rising tensions in the group? What keeps you all grounded?
Jorja: “We’ve had no big arguments; we’re mature, and we understand people’s emotions and how to communicate even when our views are different. We talk about it if something comes up but if it does, it’s normally a creative difference. We are gentle with each other since most issues can be out of our hands. We might have discrepancies but it’s never towards each other.”
What can we expect from FLO in the future?
Renée: “Since girl groups are basically non-existent right now, we have a chance to really make music that people can feel and relate to and bring back that sound. We want to sell out arenas and just completely take over!”
FLO’s latest single ‘Cardboard Box’ is out now. Their debut EP will follow this summer