Have you ever felt that the algorithm is trying to tell you something? An iPad is installed on the Shoreditch studio wall, which plays Y2K R&B anthems from a Spotify themed playlist, songs so ubiquitous that they almost seem like a genetic code: Destiny’s Child, Rihanna, Mary J Blige. But as the playlist continues, it throws up something new: a light harmony between the three vocalists, both nostalgic and fresh. The keepers of those heavenly sounds? They’re right here in the room, laughing and imitating their own voices. Meet George, Renee and Stella, also known as your favorite new girl group FLO.
To say that FLO had a busy debut year in 2022 would be an understatement. Their three-year development, created by Universal Records Imprint Listen Generator in 2019, is no different from the K-Pop model honing artistic skills through careful behind-the-scenes training. Since Little Mix, there hasn’t been a single British girl group with their international crossover potential already attracting huge online armies of eager fans desperate to document their meteoric rise.
However, FLO’s sound is pure R&B; channeling the Sugababes’ “Overload” line and Beyonce’s iconic “box to the left” lyricism, their debut single “Cardboard Box” went incredibly viral, avoiding the cheating ex with such panache that Missy Elliott, Kelly Rowland and SZA all shouted them out as the ones to watch.
Proving that lightning can strike more than once, the singles “Immature” and “Not My Job” only intensified the furore. Since NME spoke to the band in April for their first ever interview, they have appeared on Later with Jools Holland and Jimmy Kimmel Live! Rising Star Award, the first band to do this.
While each girl has her own personality, FLO’s strength really lies in their harmonious friendship. While historical women’s groups could assign themselves nicknames or specific roles from the very beginning, the balance of FLO follows the trajectory of Girls Aloud or Eternal, believing that there is strength in feelings of equal collectivity. Millennials love them because they evoke a fair dose of nostalgia for the noughties; Generation Z gravitates towards them as contemporaries, refreshing a sound that may have fallen out of the mainstream in recent years.
“When [the band] eventually got together, we had the same vibe, and it was just the right thing to do.” – Stella
Having released only six original songs and many wonderful covers that formed their first social fans, FLO have become a vessel on which listeners can pin their hopes for a bright future of British R&B. There could be no other choice to top the 2023 edition of The NME 100, an impressive list of all the most exciting new artists on the planet.
However, right now FLO is three girls who are in their early twenties, in their comfortable clothes, sitting calmly and patiently amid a storm of hairstyles, makeup and wardrobe. The trip to our final shoot in London has been postponed due to snowfall, and everything is going a few hours late. Wading through the chaos, NME finds a moment with each of the girls in every possible pause, trying to understand what it means to be part of one of the most talked about new groups in the world.
First, Stella Quaresma, greeting NME a few seconds after effortlessly coping with her solo part of the photo shoot. Growing up in Mozambique before returning to the UK at the age of five, she attributes her diverse love of music to her mom. “She was always recording CDs, making playlists. There were Rihanna and Beyonce, but she also listened to a lot of songs by Amy Winehouse, Dido, Otis Redding. Etta James was my favorite performance — whenever I was at a wedding or anywhere else, my family would say, “Stella, sing ‘Finally’!” she laughs.
Being an avid viewer of the CBBC show “School for Stars” as a teenager, Stella became fixated on the idea of attending an art-oriented school. After convincing her mom to let her audition, she ended up in the London institution of the Italia Conti show. “And it was basically like that. When I got there, I realized that I dance no better than many people, but I…” — a cheeky smile appears, — “I sing quite well.”
Later, Stella enrolled in the College of Arts and Music of East London, where she met Renee, a casual friend, whom she did not yet know that she would also be hired by the Universal girl group. “At first, George and I were placed with two other girls, and Renee was placed in another group, but I think it was good to have something that we could compare. When we all eventually got together, we had the same chemistry, the same atmosphere, and it was just right.”
After three years of hard work, the speed with which everything happens constantly brings fresh surprises. “It sounds so deep, but I haven’t even gotten to the point where I can imagine all these artists that I’m obsessed with, they like us,” she says. “It was reported in the newspapers yesterday that Beyonce is considering the possibility of our support at concerts in the UK as part of her Renaissance tour… this is the first time I’ve heard about it! It’s just crazy things happening all the time—things I couldn’t even think of.”
“When people see the greatness of three young black women… praise our leadership, but praise us as well.” – Renee
Completing her own shoot, George Douglas carefully makes her way across the room in high heels, following strict style instructions to move carefully in her snow-white mini dress. Getting used to filming, she said, was the biggest challenge of their journey. “I didn’t know how many people were doing this,” she says, looking around the room. “At the beginning I really hated it and never thought the photos were good, but I’m getting more confident about it. With filming, even music videos, there is no more worry. Live performances are a separate story…”
The daughter of former Olympic sprinter Stephie Douglas, Georgie’s high standards may be a family trait, but are also based on her competitive singing experience. In 2017, a 14-year-old girl overcame her childhood shyness and took part in the CBBC children’s song contest Got What It Takes (which she eventually won by singing Adele’s song “When We Were Young”). Later, Renee’s bandmate will call her the Queen of Harmony FLO. “Any note you can think of, she’ll pull it out of your ears, out of your ass, anywhere.” As an independent vocal group, sonic excellence is FLO’s bread and butter, and there are always ways to improve.
“Yes, we are very critical of ourselves,” Renee nods. “We really want to sing live and do choreography, but I’d rather do one thing than be too out of breath to sing, or be too preoccupied to remember everything.” According to her, performing at Jools Holland in November “was so much fun because we just sat there and could focus on the vocals.” Jimmy Kimmel’s performance in October? “We [were] shitting ourselves!” AND MOBO? “Did you see our faces at the end of the performance? It was HOT. a mess.”
While “hot mess” can be a little harsh, being a unit makes it easier to laugh at awkward moments on stage that can happen to any band. Knowing Stella and Renee beforehand via Instagram, George fondly recalls the day they all “naturally came together” together, proving to her manager that they were the perfect final trio. “Instead of trying to get random girls to start a relationship, this difficult part has already been done.”
Now their bond has reached the level of sisterhood; during a recent trip to Los Angeles, each girl got a “3” tattoo to mark their adventure together. “What I like most about Rena is that she is very selfless,” says George. “Everything I need her help with, she’s there. Stella has her humor; things like that where you can just look at each other in a certain way and just laugh. All three of us, we’re just picking each other up.”
When NME catches up with Renee Downer, it becomes clear that she has always been the last piece of the FLO puzzle. A gentle, gentle speaker with the poise of a pageant queen, she ends every thought on a note of graceful positivity, clearly grateful for everything so far. But she is also a smart self-defender, with an astute sense of how special FLO can become. Like other girls, she studied singing, dancing and acting, but a trip to her very first concert — the Beyonce Formation world tour — strengthened her decision to focus on making music. “You’re not going to do something like that and leave wanting to become a singer. But that’s the best thing about music; you play, you dance, you have to be a complete set to really be a star.”
“I think PinkPantheress is really cool; I’d like both of our worlds to merge together.” – Renee
This star package, as Renee put it, meant direct participation in FLO from the very beginning, refuting the assumption that women’s groups are simply inferior to the business plans of older Svengali men. “Everyone who works with us is great, but we struggle to be involved in everything. Right from our EP [The Lead 2021], we made a presentation to show the label: “This is what we want to release, this is what it will look like, this is the schedule.” When people see the greatness of three young black women… praise our leadership, but praise us as well.”
Rene says that this feeling of irreconcilable femininity, irreconcilable femininity, is the passion that feeds the whole lyrical spirit of FLO. “We were all mostly raised by single mothers, and this independence is inherent in us. I believe very strongly in such phrases: “Yes, I love you, but if you leave me tomorrow, I will find a way to recover.” girls like us. Whatever you’ve been through, you’ll get over it, you’ll get over it, you’ll be a bad bitch. Period!”
Two days later, NME meets the girls gathered together at Zoom again. The feverish, excitable energy of the shooting day was replaced by polite fatigue, delicately hiding yawning under manicure and muttering apologies. They have every right to be exhausted; not only did they release their latest single for 2022, the epic ballad “Losing You”, but they also learned that in addition to their BRIT, they topped the BBC Sound Of… poll, releasing a stream of fresh interviews and promotional opportunities.
If 2022 was their big introduction to the world, then 2023 will be the year when FLO enters the stratosphere. Throughout it all, they insist that this early hype is “motivating” rather than exerting pressure. — We just don’t think about it. Renee laughs. “People were saying, ‘Oh, your music is nostalgic but fresh,’ and that’s great! We grew up listening to the R&B that our moms played to us, but of course we have our own generation and our peers. Whatever sounds good, we just keep going.”
While each FLO track really has its own significance — punchy, “No Scrubs”-esque “Not My Job”, total girly trip-shimmering “Summertime” — their unifying message is one of fun, alternating beats. young flirting and personality research. Like their sense of style, the songs are created more playful than outright obscene: “Yes, a little sparse, but with an element of class,” says George. “That’s one thing I’m happy with; people always say we look our age, not too sexy. Very Y2K, low fit, super shortened stuff… just cute!”
They have started to build a network of people they can trust, fellow performers who are helping to redefine British R&B. Recently, independent pop star RAYE recently offered the girls solidarity by inviting them to her home if, according to Georgie, they ever need a “trauma dump.”
Stella liked the work of an old classmate and NME 100 graduate Tendai (“He’s so talented; I’d like to go through his brains”), while all three girls struck up a close relationship with Bella, whose debut EP “Adultsville’ strikes the same chord associated with Generation Z. “She’s definitely doing it for British girls,” smiles Renee. “I am so glad that now we have a relationship with her and we can grow together with her. I can’t wait for the day when she gets flowers all over the world because she’s really special.”
Similarly, a recent personal invitation to appear at a PinkPantheress session in the Boiler Room caused some potential collaborations to buzz, allowing the girls to break free and experience a different kind of intimate and personal performance. “That night we met for the first time, but she’s definitely the person I could work with,” says Renee. “I think the style she brings back is really cool; I’d like both of our worlds to merge together.”
“The three of us, we’re just picking each other up.” – George
Meanwhile, however, thoughts returned to their own performances. Their debut headlining performances at London’s Here at Outernet and Manchester’s New Century Hall in March will sell out in less than a minute and will be a real strengthening moment when fans will be able to fully experience the FLO universe for the first time. Forever striving for perfection, they have ordered treadmills so they can practice singing during cardio, and they also work with a live band, which is part of their quest to make things as “real” as possible.
There’s also the small matter of their debut album. While they experimented with legendary American producers like Darkchild (Brandi, Monica, Whitney Houston), they also stayed close to homegrown producer-artist MNEK (Little Mix, Mabel, Beyoncé), whose alchemical look was there from the very beginning. beginning. The album is expected to be released in late 2023, and it will be a natural follow-up to their debut EP “The Lead”. “There’s still a lot of FLO in their rhythm and blues, but we’re trying to touch on some sharper topics,” says George.
Of the unfinished tracks that NME was lucky enough to hear, there are two that immediately stand out. One super-cheerful, self-referential pop track seems destined for TikTok’s own dance trend, and the other — which is currently slated as their next single — interpolates hip-hop classics, returning to the sounds that influenced their growing up.
“When we heard it, we thought it was such a cool idea,” says Stella. “We added more lyrics, and it seemed to me that this is a really cool next step. In a sense, it’s the “big sister of Cardboard Box”; a fusion of R&B and pop music that the masses will like, but hopefully our fans will like it too.”
Whatever the outcome, they can rely on this core fan base to help them spread the word. Nicknamed the FLOlifers, the level of fan activity they generate on Twitter and TikTok is unusual for the band at this stage, indicating how much they have captured the cultural mood. “From the very beginning, they were just the best,” says Renee. “They clap back if someone comes for us, and they are always there. To be honest, I do not know where they have so much time! Everything we do, they tweet. I do not know how they know all this…”
The ambassadors of the generation learning the language of self-love, the culture of the camp and their adult life, in which everything happens by itself, the potential of FLO seems as high as their heels. Their harmony may be the utter perfectionism of a pop star, but they have a welcoming warmth that only the most beloved of women’s groups truly capture; the feeling that this is a club that you can not only look up to, but also belong to.
“If you are a supporter of FLO, then you are part of our world,” says Rene. “Especially with the people who joined our journey so early, we were able to make great connections, and now we just want everyone to be as involved as possible and be a part of it.” Deeply in control of their fate, who wouldn’t want to be on their side?
Read the full list of NME 100 2023 here.
Styling by Kirsty Stewart ( @kstewartstylist )
Styling assistants: Caitriona Oladapo, Katie McCormick
Makeup by Jasmine Hamilton ( @lovehughmua ), Saba Khan ( @thefacefairy )
Hair by Mell’Rose ( @mellroselondon ), Aliyah Willoughby ( @aaliyahthegoat_ )
Jorja: Dion Lee (via Selfridges)
Renee: Miaou (via Selfridges)
Stella: Luis de Javier (via Selfridges)
Jewellery by Emma Walton and Shaun Leane
Jorja, Renée and Stella are all wearing 1xBlue
Jewellery by Emma Walton and Shaun Leane