The opinion of others no longer concerns inkPantheress. Initially, at the age of 19, she released her lo-fi breakout songs “Break it Off” and “Pain” on TikTok anonymously, fearing judgment. However, after nearly three years, the 22-year-old now has a different perspective. She no longer cares about opinions or how people see her.
Approaching the demands of fame with indifference can be freeing for an artist, but the musician is concerned that it may be evolving into complete apathy. She questions, “How did I go from caring deeply to not caring at all?” with a touch of worry. “At times, I sit in my room and fear that I have lost the ability to care. While it may seem desirable to some, it can ultimately be detrimental.” How so? “I recognize the importance of caring and presenting myself well. I am striving to find a balance.”
We are currently at the office of her music label in east London, discussing her first album Heaven Knows. She is dressed casually in muted tones, wearing jeans, a T-shirt, and grey boots. She is known for her signature handbag, often bringing it with her on stage. A TikTok user shared a video of her performing with the handbag and captioned it, “When you have a concert at 8 but need to run errands at 9.” PinkPantheress describes her style as “young auntie”, but she is still in the early stages of developing her unique look. She admits to being shy and doesn’t feel that she can be easily categorized or branded.
PinkPantheress, who prefers to keep her real name private, may come across as shy. She tends to avoid making direct eye contact, frequently checks her phone, and occasionally yawns (which I’ve been told is due to her busy schedule in preparation for 2024, so I don’t take it personally). However, her voice is confident and her delivery is dry and serious, which is a stark contrast to her sweet and airy singing voice.
PinkPantheress is very clear about her identity when it comes to music. She gained popularity on TikTok in 2021 with a string of viral songs and her success has been swift. She was named the top artist on the BBC’s Sound of 2022 list, her collaboration with New York rapper Ice Spice on the remix of “Boy’s a Liar” went platinum in February and reached No. 3 on the US charts, and her song “Angel” was featured on the Barbie soundtrack this summer. “Heaven Knows” is a significant moment in her career, giving her the chance to prove that she is more than just a one-hit wonder. She hopes that her music will push boundaries and stand out.
The modern pop genre is characterized by her selective and diverse approach. Her songs are heavily influenced by drum’n’bass and 2-step garage, which initially captivated audiences. However, her latest album, Heaven Knows, incorporates more guitars, strings, and gothic keys. The track Nice to Meet You samples Gold by Spandau Ballet, while Mosquito has a bossa nova feel. According to the artist, the album’s theme revolves around love, loss, and life. She wanted the listener to be able to recall memories of a loved one or someone they have lost while listening. Overall, she aimed to evoke a sense of depletion and sadness, making the album’s release during winter and close to Halloween perfect timing.
Melancholy is a fundamental element of PinkPantheress’s music. Her songs are filled with sorrowful synths and lyrics that express feelings of hopelessness and sorrow. Her 2021 mixtape, titled “To Hell With It,” includes tracks such as “Nineteen,” which features the line: “Some days when I’m feeling down, I just drop myself to the floor / It’s okay if it hurts, because I can’t feel pain anymore.” The New Yorker described the mixtape as “a captivating mix of dreams and nightmares.”
PinkPantheress was born in Bath in 2001 but grew up in Kent. Her mother is Kenyan and works as a caregiver, while her father is English and works as a statistics professor. Being one of the few Black students in her school was challenging, but she has always felt a strong connection to her African roots. Despite others telling her that being mixed-race should make her feel confused about her identity, she identifies more with her mother and has always been clear about who she is.
She relocated to London and joined the University of the Arts with the intention of pursuing film studies. However, she eventually decided to leave the program. She explains, “The pandemic rendered it pointless anyway.” She had initially aspired to become a film editor, but upon learning how competitive the industry is, she lost confidence in her abilities. She states, “If I can’t excel at something, I am not interested in pursuing it. There were classmates who were much more skilled than me in editing.”
From a young age, she had a passion for music. Her parents exposed her to a variety of artists such as Queen, Michael Jackson, and African music. She received piano lessons during her childhood and was influenced by her brother, a sound engineer who created experimental music. She was first introduced to the music scene in Canterbury through her friends, who also introduced her to production programs while taking her to shows in London. After finding her film degree unfulfilling, she turned back to music and began sharing her songs on TikTok. She remembers feeling a sense of urgency and determination to pursue music, feeling as though she owed it to herself.
She created the majority of her initial pieces by teaching herself how to create beats on GarageBand when she was 17 years old. “At first, I struggled with producing from scratch, so I needed something to build off of,” she explained, referring to her frequent use of samples. “I even used a sample from Linkin Park once. My goal was for people to listen to their music while also listening to mine, creating a synergy between two artists.”
Her musical style is a blend of her diverse influences from growing up. She draws inspiration from various genres such as K-pop, emo, and rap, and combines elements from each to create her own unique sound. Some of her favorite artists include Steve Lacy, Kaytranada (who co-produced her song Do You Miss Me), Kendrick Lamar, Baby Keem, Chloe Bailey, and Amaarae. Lily Allen’s signature sound has also influenced her. Developing a distinct sound that sets her apart and allows listeners to easily recognize her work has always been her goal.
In her earlier TikTok uploads, she would conceal her identity by adding text or other elements, like “Day 2 of sharing my song until someone takes notice.” While she desired recognition, she also didn’t want anyone she knew to recognize her actions. She even went as far as blocking her friends from viewing her TikTok page. Protecting her privacy was a top priority, which explains why she only started revealing her face in TikTok videos the following summer and why she still chooses to use a fake name.
PinkPantheress quickly discovered a successful formula. Her dreamy singing, combined with breakbeat loops, resonated with listeners and her music became popular on the internet. Her song “Just for Me,” released on August 13, 2021, was featured in over 2.2 million videos on the app. TikTok praised it as the “breakout track of the summer.” Central Cee sampled it on “Obsessed With You” and Coldplay covered it on BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge. PinkPantheress shares, “When my single ‘Pain’ started gaining popularity on TikTok, my friend thought it sounded like me, but I denied it. I lied to her.” She continues, “Then I realized, why am I lying? She didn’t think it was a big deal, and neither did anyone else. Using music for TikTok wasn’t a big thing back then.”
Many popular musicians, such as Lil Nas X and Olivia Rodrigo, gained recognition through TikTok. However, the app has faced backlash for promoting unoriginal content and prioritizing catchy, fast-paced music.
However, PinkPantheress remains unbothered by her beginnings. She states, “I have never let the association with TikTok and my rise to fame affect me too much. I have always recognized that I am more than just a product of the app. Right from the start, I was determined not to be labeled as a novelty artist,” she explains. “It’s also quite refreshing to see a British individual succeeding in this realm. It seems like Americans always have these huge breakthrough moments, so it’s quite rare for it to be someone from the UK.”
Achieving instant success, particularly as an individual who accomplished it all independently from her university dorm room without any support from a record label, is extremely rare. And on top of that, she is a Black woman. In the UK, there is a well-known lack of support for Black female musicians; as Laura Mvula stated: “There has been a narrative pushed that Black women do not have the ability to sell records.” When PinkPantheress’s songs first began gaining popularity, many assumed she was white, but when she revealed her face, her triumph demonstrated that Black women can also be in high demand.
PinkPantheress states that the music industry has not been successful for a long time. We discuss her journey to success, which was not common but not accidental either. She observed how American artists like Lil Nas X and Doja Cat utilized their internet fame to establish sustainable music careers. PinkPantheress did not want to go through long processes and sought a quick way to achieve her goals. Her distinct British sound helped her stand out and the rise of UK rap and drill on social media created the perfect timing for her arrival, as there was a growing interest in British music.
Despite her accomplishments, she still has a lingering sense of needing validation. “Each time I reach a new level, I feel the need to demonstrate that I am a dedicated artist,” she explains. “Even with the success of ‘Boy’s a Liar,’ I feel the pressure to show that I am capable of writing.”
In November 2022, “Boy’s a Liar,” a dance-pop song with hints of chiptune and a Jersey club-style rhythm, was released. A remix featuring Ice Spice helped the song reach new levels of popularity, making it the most-streamed track by both artists to date. PinkPanthress expresses surprise at the song’s success, stating, “I didn’t anticipate it becoming my most popular song. I thought it would gain traction on the internet, not on the radio.”
What are her thoughts on “Boy’s a Liar” and the remix? Her response is straightforward: “They’re not very good.” Interestingly, she notes that the songs she doesn’t consider her best tend to be more successful. “I Must Apologise”, from her mixtape “To Hell With It”, is her personal favorite. As for her new album, she has already determined which songs will do well and which won’t. I mention that I enjoyed the mellow R&B vibes of “Internet Baby”, but she dismisses it as “not very good” as well. However, she does have a soft spot for her song “Angel” from the Barbie movie. “It was a blast. I was thrilled to be asked and I had so much fun meeting the director and Mark Ronson. I even got to go on set.”
PinkPantheress is a member of a new generation of artists who possess an understanding of algorithmic mechanisms, the concept of virality, and the influence of streaming. However, for her, it goes beyond just numbers. While she quickly gained 23 million monthly listeners on Spotify and went from being an obscure, almost mythical avatar to a well-known figure, it all stems from her genuine love for music and her ambition to be a trailblazer. Although her upcoming album may showcase a surprising change in tone, it serves as evidence that PinkPantheress will continue to pave her own path. “I believe that music today is so…,” she rolls her eyes and mimics gagging, “when I release new songs, I always strive to exceed people’s expectations of me as an artist and challenge what they have come to expect from music.”
The release of Heaven Knows is now available.