Behind-the-scenes with the London-born singer-songwriter on the set of her first music video 'Growing'.
24 year old JGrrey stands in front of a microphone in the studios of ‘Colors Berlin’, a thriving YouTube channel responsible for memorable live sessions from Mac Demarco, Little Simz and Goldlink. Her forest green tracksuit makes her stand out from the pastel blue tones of the wall behind her. She opens her mouth and begins to sing the dreamy soul melodies of her song, “Don’t Fade”. An internet hit is born.
The performance would go on to be a breakthrough for the South London singer-songwriter, amassing over 1.4million views in less than 6 months.
She describes her sound as “smoky” and “mellow”, and is inspired by everyone from Cypress Hill to Lauryn Hill.
“That song only came about because they hit me up to do that session,” says JGrrey when we meet in the New Era HQ in central London. “I wrote it before I went out there. I don’t really know what it’s about to be honest. Well I do… It’s just personal experience.”
Her explanations for songs may remain cryptic for now, but the feelings her music evokes are clear as day. She describes her sound as “smoky” and “mellow”, and is inspired by everyone from Cypress Hill to Lauryn Hill. All those references seem just about right when listening to her most recent single, “Ready 2 Die”. It might sound like a morbid name for a song, but it’s actually a smooth jam that sounds like a musical crystallisation of that Uber ride you take after a house party, as the sun begins to rise over an empty city and the post-session afterglow makes everything outside the window look wondrous, alien and strange.
Apart from her dad being a DJ, JGrrey doesn’t come from an overly musical family. That said, her mum always dreamed of her being a star. “She really wanted me to do stage school: dancing and acting,” she says. “I was a tomboy when I was younger, so I wasn't exactly there with jazz hands ready, but the one thing I did enjoy the most was singing.”
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If anyone ever dares spell her name without two Rs, it causes uproar in the Instagram comments section.
The two Rs in her name come from necessity more than artistic licence. When she went on Instagram looking to set up the account “JGrey” she found that the nearest option left was “JGrrey”, so she took it. Soon her friends were calling her “Double R”. By the time her music started dropping and her following had exploded, the two Rs became an object of fascination amongst her fans. If anyone ever dares spell her name without two Rs, it causes uproar in the Instagram comments section.
As we talk, it’s hard for your eyes not to be drawn to the many tattoos that adorn her hands, arms and legs. The numbers 1994 (her date of birth) are inked across her fingers and there’s a buddha in there somewhere too. She even has the word “world” on the inside of her hand because, obviously: “The world in the palm of my hand. Don’t copy it,” she laughs. Elsewhere there’s her lucky number 13, and also a dedication to Wu Tang Clan on her ankle. “None of them have a cool story really,” she smiles, “I just like them and thought it would be cool if they were on me forever.”
“If it wasn't for Manga [St Hilare], I would never have even been in a studio or taken myself seriously as like a singer or songwriter.”
She isn’t directly inspired by the UK rap or grime scene, but she’s close to those in it and has collaborated on tracks with both Manga St Hilare and Bonkaz. Both MCs played a big role in her deciding to first pursue music. “If it wasn't for Manga, I would never have even been in a studio or taken myself seriously as like a singer or songwriter,” she says. “Same for Bonkaz. They brought me round the studio and were like, ‘Oh you can sing.’ It gave me the belief in myself to be like: Yo, I can do this.”
Outside of music, she’s obsessed with plants. At home, she has over 40 different types, making her bedroom, bathroom and living room look like cosy greenhouses. In fact, she’s even subtly incorporated it into the themes and visuals of her next single, “Growing”. “It’s a song I wrote with a guy called Ed Thomas,” she explains. “I think it is one of the best songs I’ve worked on so far. It’s about growing physically and spiritually, mentally, adapting to situations, figuring stuff out. I’m 24 now, so I’m learning a lot more about things I wouldn’t have considered when I was 18.”
She plans to shoot the video for “Growing” a few days after we meet. She doesn’t want to give too much away, but says it will involve a very young co-star who will be playing a mini-version of JGrrey, which at least explains why she’s been asking around for children’s caps. “Me and my mini-me are going to wear matching outfits and be best friends,” she smiles. “I'm really excited about it, it's going to be so cool.”