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It's FLO's World and We're Just Vibing In It

How these viral sensations are honouring the past and rocketing into the future

Anyone who knows me or has taken a glimpse at my Instagram stories for more than three seconds knows that I’m a card carrying FloLifer (the affectionate honorific for loyal members of the FLO fandom).

Like they say, it was love at first harmony.

21-year-old Stella Quaresma, Jorja Douglas, and 20-year-old Renée Downer have a chemistry that can’t be formulated, and their smash debut showed the world just that. Their early-2000s dancehall-inspired hit, Cardboard Box gained virality through Instagram, Twitter and TikTok in March 2022 and is currently sitting pretty at 6 million YouTube views. The song really is the sassy little sister of Beyoncé’s Irreplaceable. Co-written by the talented three, Savannah Jada and the ASCAP Vanguard Award winning-MNEK (Years & Years, Zara Larson, Kylie Minogue, Sugababes, Dua Lipa, H.E.R., Beyoncé etc.) - the latter of whom produced the song - their refreshing brand of forward thinking yet nostalgic Y2K-inspired R&B/Urban Pop was established and their subsequent releases solidified it.

Following on from their debut, they released the song and sleek music video for Immature, and their first EP The Lead in July. From the deftly placed samples of babies crying in Immature - reminiscent of innovative hitmaker Timbaland’s idiosyncratic production on Aaliyah’s Are You That Somebody - to the addicting uplift of Summertime that conjures memories of girl power anthems by Destiny’s Child, The Cheetah Girls, and 702, FLO use their influences as a guide to new sonics. The seductive innuendos, honey-soaked harmonies and stuttering staccato on Feature Me and the forlorn and contemplative atmosphere of Another Guy- Acoustic, highlight this. Their 3 voices blend into one goal: making their mark in Girl Group herstory.

Don’t just take my word for it.

Take Ezra Olaoya of Complex’s who called The Lead ‘an essential listen’, or Hype Magazine that commended the project and FLO’s overall industry presence as representing a revival of girl group sounds in the British R&B scene. The praise was continued by Kyle Denis of The Bulletin, who exulted their vocal and lyrical ‘nuance… pristine harmonies and effortless charisma’, and Tomás Mier of Rolling Stone who predicted that the EP would vault them into superstardom.

What is amazing about FLO is their considerable creative input and unmatched determination to put their vision forward. They have writing credits on three of the five tracks on The Lead, as well as their two separate 2022 releases, Not My Job and Losing You, a seasonal December ballad which has a cosy music video similar to Destiny Child’s Emotions (2001).

It wasn’t until the career solidifying The Writing’s on The Wall (1999) - which was the second album of Destiny’s Child - that Beyoncé started receiving significant production, composing and songwriting credits. This gave her the supported confidence to vocally lead, co-write, produce and arrange the entirety of Survivor (2001) with Michelle and Kelly helping her write the final track Outro (DC-3) Thank You. This arguably primed the entertainer for her inevitable solo superstardom. It wasn’t until their final album, Destiny’s Fulfilled (2004) that each member appeared to have had equal contributions in songwriting, with Beyoncé at the vocal producing helm.

In FLO’s partnership with Coach they shared their vision for the future of music, a future that will shine brighter because of them.

‘… A culture of real talent is cultivated and celebrated in the mainstream. And that mediocracy is no longer accepted as the norm.’ - Stella.

Jorja went on to acknowledge the many cultural barriers preventing this from happening like the lack of ‘representation at the highest level in the music industry.

One of the biggest battles that we have faced in the music industry is finding our voice and sticking up for ourselves. Never change what you believe in, and it will get you far.’- Renée

As aforementioned FLO and their collaborators have an encyclopedia of references and that is reflected in their dream collabs. There are the usual suspects. Trendsetters that debuted and/or dominated the airwaves in the nineties and early-noughties such as ‘Missy Elliot, Faith Evans, Mary J Blige, Brandy and Beyoncé' but then there are the new school acts like ‘Chlöe X Halle, Normani, Megan Thee Stallion, Summer Walker, SZA and Doja Cat.’

This shows that they are not simply mining nostalgia but have a deep desire to get in the metaphorical ring with their contemporaries, creating timeless bops. This is what sets them apart. Their calculated sartorial choices are stitched for the millennial memory runway. The references in their song lyrics (‘Changing my number and I’m changing the locks. Never liked your mama, so I guess she’s blocked’) and enthusiastic participation in social media trends (I Just Wanna Rock Challenge, Squirrels in My Pants Challenge, covering Chloë’s Surprise, stitching fans that create dances to their catchy hooks etc.) make it known that they are indisputable Gen Z divas.

Moreover, their willingness to make musical magic with Black American artists presents a possibility for a cross African diaspora musical exchange. With Afrobeats, Afropop and Alté holding the mainstream in a chokehold thanks to the endless work of glass ceiling breakers like Burna Boy, Wizkid, Tems, Amaarae, Yemi Alade, Shatta Wale, Tiwa Savage and many others, the world might just be ready for a British R&B explosion as well. (Black) British Invasion, anyone?

‘Always lift you up and never let you down’ - FLO, Losing You

At the end of the year, many of us get contemplative, reminiscing about what we loved and loathed about these 12 months. As I look back on this year, I’m so glad I had FLO soundtracking my experiences and making history.

In December FLO received the 2023 Brit Award for Rising Star, becoming the first girl group to do so, following in the trailblazing footsteps of Little Mix who became the first girl group to win the Brit Award for British Group in 2021 (The Spice Girls snub is criminal!). Previous winners of the Rising Star Award include Adele (2008), Florence and The Machine (2009), Emeli Sandé (2012), Sam Smith (2014) and Jorja Smith (2018).

In a statement after the momentous win, they were ‘shocked and grateful’, thanking their ‘wonderful fans and supportive families’ for making ‘a dream come true.’ In only nine months FLO have performed for Jimmy Kimmel, The MOBO Awards, The Soul Train Awards, Vevo DSCVR: Artists to Watch 2023, Later… with Jools Holland, Glamour Women of the Year Awards, graced the cover of Essence and the top of many year-end lists.

With a recent studio session with songwriter and Grammy Award Winning Superproducer Rodney Jerkins (Brandy, Beyoncé, TLC, Destiny’s Child, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, Mary J Blige, Leona Lewis, Justin Bieber, Sam Smith, SZA etc.), a plethora of industry co-signs, the attention of critics and the general public, over two million Spotify monthly listeners and two sold out shows already announced, 2023 better brace itself for FLO.

FLO emerged at the perfect time. A month before Cardboard Box, Little Mix - Britain’s preeminent Girl Group - announced a hiatus after a ten-year reign. After the release of Ungodly Hour, where they put in a compelling bid for the Queens of Quarantine Performances title, Chlöe X Halle pressed pause on their group endeavours to focus on solo aspirations. Fifth Harmony split up in 2018 on the very foreseeable red bottoms of their swansong Fifth Harmony (2017). And despite their best-efforts Boys World, June’s Diary, Love Dollhouse, GLAMOUR and countless other acts just couldn’t hack it when it came to cracking the Western Girl Group market.

FLO are crucial in this moment of drought, looking to revive the allure of Pop/R&B girl groups on both sides of the pond. In a world that is so divided, a group of three diverse black women of various shades and ethnic origins is so important. It symbolises unity and sets an important example.

We must come together not in spite of our differences, but because of them.

Renée is of Nigerian and Jamaican heritage, raised in North London and grew up listening to R&B, house and church gospel. Jorja was born in Eastern Germany and moved to Hertfordshire at eight months old and she grew up listening to R&B introduced to her by her mum, former sprinter Stephi Douglas. In 2017, she competed in and won the second series of the CBBC competition show Got What It Takes?. Stella is Mozambican and schooled in London where she attended the Sylvia Young Theatre School. There she met bandmate Renée. She grew up listening to African musical artists and her mother later introduced her to British musicians like Amy Winehouse.

Additionally, all three women were raised by single mums. Despite there being 3.0 million lone parent families in the UK in 2021, accounting for 15.4% of all UK families (Office for National Statistics), lone parent families still face significant stigma compared to their nuclear counterparts.

Seeing the gorgeous girls decked out in sophisticated black gowns, hair laid to thee gawds and beautiful makeup, proudly showing off their mums on the MOBO red carpet may have helped children in lone parent households feel less alone. It let them know that they’re not beholden to stereotypes and that their dreams are possible. All because FLO’s are coming true in front of their eyes. Also, each of the girls come from humble beginnings. Before making it, Stella worked as a waitress to pay bills, Jorja in an accountancy firm and Renée in H&M on Regent Street. In a world desperately trying to be Post-Covid-19 and suffering at the hands of the cost-of-living crisis, many are growing disillusioned with the obscene wealth and out of touch disregard that used to be part and parcel for traditional celebrity. FLO represent a relatable alternative, raising their likeability to redefining heights.

Imagine a world where little black girls get to hear FLO heating up their playlists and blazing their tv screens. Imagine a world where they can copy their dance moves in concert and watch a Black Ariel (Halle Bailey) in 4D. In 2023 we won’t have to.


This 19 year old British Nigerian writer and poet is called Emoefeoghene Akpofure Imoyin-Omene but because you’re cool, you can call him Efe, Mr Omene if you’re feeling spicy.

From an early age Efe has had an affinity towards the artistry of writing. It gave him the chance to create alternative worlds when his sometimes felt cold and confusing. Writing became his space to unleash emotions too explosive to articulate.

This love intensified during the pandemic. While most were reeling, Efe was finding healing through writing his debut novel. Ese: The Misadventures of Moving Forward- a book he affectionately labels ‘YA Romance with socially conscious and comedic twists’. It beautifully chronicles the trials, tribulations and euphoria that comes at the worldbuilding adolescent stage through the eyes of an unconventional protagonist and their diverse found family. From his work with The National Centre for Writing in their Lit From The Inside programme at 17 and publishing a zine with them, working on his school’s English Blog, Podcast and Instagram, starting the 1st Black Student Forum in Wymondham College, editing and mentoring, and using his imagination to paint possibility, the sky is too limiting for this bright star. Get ready world because Efe is.

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