Next Up 2020: Lola Young
Next Up is a campaign by UNILAD, celebrating some of the most exciting new and emerging music artists in the UK today.
Lola Young may live up to her name in terms of age, but don’t let that fool you – she’s had her sights set on a music career for a long time now.
Hailing from south London, the 19-year-old knew she wanted to be singer before she could even sing, finding inspiration and self-confidence in poetry before taking the leap into training as a vocalist. Having been brought up in a musical family, Lola says music has been part of her life for as long as she can remember, saying she’s been ‘singing since I could talk’, before adding: ‘Not that I was a good singer then.’
Certain it was what she wanted to do, however, Lola knew she ‘really had to learn, practice, get lessons and teach myself’ if she was going to pursue it, adding: ‘Hard work was involved when it came to me learning how to sing. People might say, ‘It sounds like you were born with that voice,’ [but] it was not the case at all.’
That sense of hard work, seemingly instilled in Lola from a very young age, led to her writing her own songs by age 11, entering singing competitions, appearing on television, and winning a national open mic competition by the time she was 13. Lola’s early success brought interest from managers and labels, and a glimpse into the music industry.
However, opting for a place at the prestigious Brit School instead, she was able to find herself ‘creatively and stylistically’, working on her craft before refining her ability as a live performer as soon as she graduated.
School is a naturally formative experience for anyone. Yet, being in an environment focused on producing performers and musicians (Adele, Amy Winehouse, Jessie J, Lolye Carner are just a few Brit School graduates, for example), something Lola so clearly was on the way to becoming, school wasn’t always the right place for her. As she says: ‘School is a difficult thing because it’s about conforming and authority. And those are two things that I’ve never really loved.’
However, she can still see the positive side, telling UNILAD:
I think it was great to be alongside like-minded people and people that got me and understood that young people aren’t just ‘young people’, they have talent and want to do things and explore things, and that was what was really great about going to Brit. The curriculum side wasn’t as interesting as I thought it was going to be, but there’s pros and cons to everything.
Despite not gelling as much with the curriculum as she might have liked, Lola says she wouldn’t change much if she went back to school to do it all over again.
Apart from, perhaps, taking it easier on her teachers:
I wouldn’t do anything differently. Well, actually, maybe. I was quite rude sometimes when I was younger, I still am sometimes without meaning to be. But when I was younger, I was bit feisty to the teachers, I probably would take that back, and maybe I would’ve concentrated a little bit more during classes.
I really wanted to be a scientist, before I realised that that’s not possible at all for someone with my level of intellect. But, yeah, I would’ve become a scientist instead of this because I feel like it’s more important than what I’m doing. No, [music] is equally as important, but I also really wanted to be a scientist.
Science’s loss is music’s gain, however. And although, with her level of hard work and determination, Lola could have been anything she wanted, she’s always known music was the route for her and, she says, would’ve ended up doing it with or without Brit School.
Speaking about where her drive comes from, Lola explained:
Home. I’m from quite a musical family, my mum used to do a bit of music, my stepdad’s a bass player, my younger sister does musical theatre, so it’s always been quite ingrained in my blood.
Lola’s musical family seems to have helped her develop an eclectic musical taste, drawing inspiration from artists as diverse as Joni Mitchell and Prince to Anderson .Paak and Frank Ocean.
As she said:
I listen to a lot of different music.
I think music is the one thing you can really delve into, and for me it’s like books or literature or physical art or whatever – there’s so much of it and it’s so important. I think a lot of people in this day and age are confused about music because they think it’s just a ‘now’ thing, whereas actually it’s been happening for decades and decades and decades.
With a wide array of influences behind her, and a background that has set Lola on the path she was seemingly destined for, the 19-year-old is fairly relaxed when it comes to what she wants to achieve in the future.
I don’t have a fixed point. I feel like there’s no fixed point to anything ever, and I feel like it’s very much a journey and a trajectory, and I don’t think there’s any end goal.
When people ask me ‘what are your goals and what are the things you want to achieve,’ I don’t really have any. I would just say I’m doing this and it’s what I want to do, and it’s what I’ve always wanted to do. And with music, I’m just trying to make people feel things.
With that in mind, Lola’s plans for this year are equally ambiguous, but focused nonetheless:
2020 is just another year really, but I guess I want real people to be listening to my music and getting a [better idea] of what I am.
I also want to create a safe space for people to listen and hear what I have to say, and hopefully there’s more things like this [interview] where I can talk about my opinions, and just get it out that I’m an artist and a musician and also a person.
Lola’s elusiveness is a deliberate tactic. With inspiration coming from all over the place, she’s determined to not be pigeonholed into any one genre or style. Rather than being boxed in, as she’s explained in the past, Lola suggests: ‘You should just make the box really big. Because, at the end of the day, when people say they want to box you [in] or pigeonhole you, it means they want to restrict you. Without sounding narcissistic, I’m not really one thing. I’m quite a few things and my music is quite a few things. And I think that’s important to remember: you’re not just one thing.’
It’s something that’s undoubtedly reflected in her music. Debut single Six Feet Under, for example, is an atmospheric but hook-filled tune, allowing space for Lola’s stark lyrics and delivery to really resonate. While Blind Love is even more stripped back, with little more than a mellow piano and barely-there backing vocals accompanying her understated vocals. Elsewhere, 3rd of Jan picks up where Mark Ronson and Amy Winehouse left off, demonstrating the 19-year-old’s ability to mix a contemporary sound with an old school, soul-inflected backing of horns, pianos and drums.
For someone who seems to have been so sure about their direction in life from such a young age – something that’s now coming to fruition – I wonder what advice Lola might give to someone who, for example, didn’t have such steadfast confidence from the outset.
I’d say you have to work hard – work hard, play hard. I think you’ve got to have your head screwed on, but also you have to believe in yourself… not necessarily believing in yourself but looking in the mirror and being like ‘OK look, this is what I am and no one’s going to be able to come around and change that because I’m so sure of myself’.
If you’re really sure of yourself, then I don’t think there’s much room for people to come in and play with that, so I think the advice I’d give is just that. And ensuring that the music you make is from your heart and not from anywhere else.
Before further adding:
I think I was always quite cocky, so it came naturally [for me], but I think it’s difficult for some people. I know that a lot of people suffer from things that mean it doesn’t come as easily for them, everyone has their thing, their default – whether it’s in their genes or just simply in their personality – which means they don’t necessarily feel like they can express themselves in a certain way.
But I think especially it’s really hard being a teenager. I’m 19, I’m technically an adult, but it’s super hard being in that space because there’s so much pressure, just from society and from various industries and even from the education system. So, I feel like it’s hard to express yourself clearly but, like I say, it’s come easily for me. I just say for other people to just, like, learn it.
With a number of critically acclaimed songs and a growing reputation as a captivating live performer already under her belt, it seems Lola’s taking her own advice and learning things her own way.
Listen to our Next Up 2020 playlist here:
Check out the other artists featured on our Next Up 2020 series here.