GLOW Artist Arlo Parks Is Inspired by Vulnerability, Personal Connection, and Queer Representation

Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Arlo Parks’s 2021 debut, Collapsed In Sunbeams, is a tender and raw plea from the artist to listeners. But what fans of honest ballads like “Hurt” and “Eugene” may not realize is that Arlo is a self-proclaimed extrovert with a “frantic approach to creativity” who is constantly in motion. 

Arlo’s energy for her passions has been at the fore recently, as she revealed news of her upcoming sophomore album, My Soft Machine, the same week that she was named one of Spotify’s GLOW Spotlight artists. GLOW is our new global music program celebrating and amplifying LGBTQIA+ artists and creators. At launch, we supported Arlo on-platform with a dedicated hub and flagship GLOW playlist, and off-platform via billboards and other takeovers. And our commitment to the artist, and to equity in audio, will continue year-round.

With her latest single, “Weightless,” the London native leans a little more heavily toward her deep love of techno, electronic music, and nightlife culture. “I taught myself to DJ, and I’m inspired by a lot of dance music, actually,” the artist told For the Record. “I feel like it’s a perfect intersection of queerness and music that makes you move—that marriage is super organic.” 

Tell us about your journey into music. How did you find your voice?

I started playing piano when I was very young. That developed into learning to play the guitar a little bit and falling in love with bands like Deftones, My Chemical Romance, and Smashing Pumpkins. I fell in love with the energy of these people who were smashing into each other onstage. Around the same time, I also discovered the more gentle use of guitars with people like Phoebe Bridgers, Elliott Smith, Nick Drake, and Jeff Buckley and seeing how deeply emotionally profound music could be as a medium. 

So, those two things’ colliding led me to teach myself how to produce on GarageBand and just make terrible little demos in my bedroom and in my closet. Making music in the closet turned into making music in the studio. And now I’ve been doing music full-time since I was about 17, so about five years.

How has your music changed as you’ve gotten older?

Over time, I’ve become more brave, more vulnerable. I think honestly, it’s just from having lived more life, becoming more assertive in the studio, and picking up more skills and balancing it with the advice from the people around me. I feel like my approach to writing itself has been quite consistent. I’m often struck by melodies in the middle of the night or at the most inconvenient times and voice-noting those, reading excessively, and mining my lyrics from poetry. 

How does your queer identity influence your music or your songwriting? 

My queer identity has always made its way into my music because it’s who I am. And I’ve always written about love and finding myself in the world and coming of age. I feel like music was also treated as a journal for me, and it was a way that I processed the world around me and became more comfortable and confident with who I was. I’m also super inspired by queer artists, as well as books and films. 

Who are some of those artists?

SOPHIE. Beverly Glenn-Copeland. Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, Julien Baker—that boygenius release has sent me into a frenzy. Another major one was Syd from The Internet because she had her own sense of style, her own sense of confidence and presence in herself. The fact that she was a producer who was active and leading the group—I was really inspired by her when I was a kid. 

How does music empower queer communities?

Music builds connection, and a lot of queer people find real comfort in their chosen family. I feel like music really serves to build that, especially in spaces like queer clubs, and especially in London. Many queer kids really find themselves on nights out when they’re finally surrounded by people who they can relate to who they feel close to. And I feel like music is so vital in that dance culture, but music also serves as representation. 

I remember the first time that I heard somebody singing a song about being queer and using pronouns that I felt I could apply to love stories that I had been through, and then also wanting to give that back to people. A big part of encouraging people is just making them feel less alone, and it’s a really powerful tool for empowerment too. 

What do you hope people take away from your music?

I would hope that people feel confident in being vulnerable, because of how vulnerable I am. That’s what I learned from my favorite artists, from listening to “Speed Trials” by Elliott Smith. And I want it to be something that acts as a companion through life, when they’re in the car or bus on their way to work, or hanging out with friends. More softness, that’s what I want. 

Why do you think it’s important to have a program like GLOW that amplifies LGBTQIA+ voices?

What makes a difference is when young people feel like they’re seeing people like them amplified and lifted up into the mainstream—seeing people on billboards and TV and being queer and being happy and making art that a lot of people like. Seeing that was so important to me growing up. I imagine having Heartstopper as a 13- or 14-year-old and what that would have meant to me as a teenager. 

I feel like also the fact that GLOW is amplifying such a range of different queer artists. And there is a sense of variety and acceptance of the fact that there is nuance even within the larger umbrella of queer artistry, that there are so many different people making so many different things. Having that for young people is super important, and long may it continue. 

What’s one piece of advice that you got as a young person that has stuck with you? 

It sounds harsh, but stay with me: At the beginning, nobody cares yet, right? In that anonymity and in that lack of people seeing you; that is when you truly have time to grow. Because you can nurture your craft without people having eyes on you. So in the beginning, nobody cares—and that’s okay.

Catch Arlo on our flagship GLOW playlist as well as Alternative Pride.