NME Radar: Breakout

GRACEY: The BRIT-nominated pop riser using science to redefine success

From a Paramore cover band to an almost-disastrous vocal injury, the road to next week's BRITs ceremony – where she's nominated for Song of The Year – has been a bumpy but fulfilling one

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

You get the sense that GRACEY has been planning for a night like The BRITs her entire career. She grew up hooked on the ceremony, listening to every compilation CD of the nominees and watching the Gallaghers’ chaotic acceptance speeches. The seeds were sown nice and early.

But she wanted to do it on her own terms, especially after a stint studying musical theatre at the affiliated BRITs School didn’t pan out: “When I got there, I knew it wasn’t really for me,” GRACEY tells NME. She kept her head down, mastered her songwriting skills in her bedroom and caught the ear of songwriting powerhouses Xenomania (responsible for pretty much all of Girls Aloud’s hits), soon landing credits with Jonas Blue, Rita Ora, Raye and more.

Now her song ‘Don’t Need Love’ is up for Best British Single at next week’s BRITs ceremony (May 11), competing with Harry Styles, Dua Lipa and more. Her mum wants to wave her off “like it’s prom”, she laughs, wondering out loud whether they can rock up to the red carpet in a pink Hummer limo.

It’s affirmation of those songwriting skills she worked so hard on – but it was partly out of her control. In 2019, she was required surgery to deal with vocal nodules (non-cancerous growths on vocals chords) and was unable to tour around the release of her first EP ‘Imposter Syndrome’ – not ideal for an artist on the cusp of a breakthrough: “I had everything on paper, but my confidence and drive to be ‘I want this is for me,’ just wasn’t there.” Completely losing her voice, she also realised “how much I used writing as a tool to work my shit out.”

GRACEY’s follow-up EP ‘The Art Of Closure’ channels that pain through dance-ready euphoria; think Lorde’s ‘Green Light’ or Robyn’s ‘Dancing On My Own’ with some sprinkles of garage and house too. Her moment is, perhaps, finally here – no wonder she’s eyeing up a Hummer for the big night.

With less than a week before the ceremony, GRACEY chats about her BRIT nom, staying grounded and quantifying success as an emerging artist in 2021.

Let’s start with your BRITs journey, when did that become part of your grand plan?

“My dad has bought every single BRITs compilation CD, so we’d always play that in the car. It’s something that I always had as one of my main aims and it was absolutely insane to get that news. I was in the studio with [‘Got You Covered’ collaborators] Billen Ted, and 220 Kid FaceTimed us. It’s the last thing you expected someone to say, so, instant cry was the reaction.”

Is the prestige of the awards something that was instilled while you were at The BRIT School?

“I think for the music kids maybe more so than everyone else, but for instance all the Year 12 students got to go on a school trip to the BRITs every year. When the artists get on the red carpet, all of the people lining up there are the BRITs School kids. I remember standing and watching Taylor Swift walk in, and I remember seeing Rita Ora too, then skip to two years later and we have a song together.”

What were some of your other early ambitions?

“When I started writing music I loved the songwriting process, so I was like ‘I’m going to write a song for Katy Perry.’ I’ve always thought the ‘Teenage Dream’ album is just the most outstanding pop star era ever and my main aim was to try and write a song as good as ‘Teenage Dream’. Before I got into music, going to live shows as a kid, I would always imagine what it would be like performing at big venues and festivals because whenever I’d go to one I’d get a buzz like nothing else.”

You haven’t really had the chance to do many live shows, how important is it for you to be able get on stage and sing? 

“I think it makes you feel like music is real, and for me music is all about connecting with people and hearing the roar of a crowd. Even if it’s just a small room you get to see people react to what you’ve made. And as a fan, there’s no better feeling than standing at the front of a crowd and screaming your favourite song.”

Gwen Stefani posted your lockdown-inspired rework of “The Sweet Escape” to her Instagram story, are you a big fan?

“She was my person when I was younger, so I was floored. I think she’s so strong, she just is who she is. She’s such an amazing performer and was the lead in No Doubt and when I was younger I was the frontwoman in a band, it was called Disgrace. It was basically me trying to be Gwen Stefani singing ‘I’m Just A Girl’. We would do gigs at fairs in our area. don’t think we ever even wrote anything for that band – it was just me doing covers the whole night, Paramore or Gwen.”

GRACEY
Credit: Samuel Ibram

“If I ease up and if I say I’ve done really well then I won’t keep pushing myself”

How does it feel to be out there now as a solo artist?

“I was absolutely petrified the first year of my career. I don’t know if it is because I lost my voice and I wasn’t able to do a live show, but listening to [debut EP] ‘Imposter Syndrome’ now it’s clear I really did not see my own worth and then [follow-up EP] ‘The Art Of Closure’ was me discovering that, and saying ‘fuck everything else I’m doing this because I love it. I have people messaging me being like, ‘this got me through my breakup’, so being brave was worth it, because it’s connected with someone.”

What’s it been like to see new people flock to you online?

“It’s been so lovely. Obviously, the pandemic is so lonely. I always feel like Twitter is our group chat. I think like Instagram lives are always really fucking sick, you see that people are there because they’re connecting with what you’re saying. A lot of them are becoming friends with each other too, it feels like a really safe part of the internet. It’s such an alien thing to try and get your head around at first, but genuinely it feels like a group of mates hanging out and I always get so excited to share what’s going on with them. It’s the kind of excitement you get when you have good news and you just wanna tell your mum.”

With a BRIT Award nom so early in your career, how do you think about measuring success?

“It’s such a weird duality. My mum always says to me we need to celebrate more; she’s the queen of popping the champagne because we just don’t celebrate enough. My mentality for a lot of my life has always been that if I ease up and if I say I’ve done really well then I won’t keep pushing myself. I think a lot of artists and the people I surround myself with have that similar mentality. And I think it’s quite a dangerous one.

I’m actually doing this online Yale course in The Science of Well-Being. Professor Laurie Santos talks about hedonic adaptation, which is where humans get used to things and our baseline happiness doesn’t change unless we actively try to be grateful for things and really stay in the moment and shit like that. My idea of success as a child was having a nomination and as soon as you get that you go ‘now I need to get this and this and this.’

Now, my measure of success is just allowing myself to feel happy and content in what I’m doing in the moment. I’ve definitely had moments where I’ve been so worried about the future that I haven’t even enjoyed what I’m doing. Success is doing what I love and continuing to grow as an artist too.”

So what’s next in the growth of GRACEY? 

“Moving forward from ‘The Art of Closure’ I feel so different as a person. I go to therapy every week and it helps me figure shit out and it inspires me a crazy amount. I’ll go into the studio like ‘I want to write this because this is how I’m feeling and I want this to be reflected in my music.’

That’s why I started writing songs for my best mates, like ‘Got You Covered’. It’s about celebrating friendship because romantic love is not the only kind of love in the world. ‘Got You Covered’ is Phase One of ‘era three’ for me; I’m just gonna go fucking in. I’m not afraid of tempo. I’m not afraid to try new things, but lyrically and melodically it will always be very me, so that gives you that freedom to play around.”

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