Lola Young: the distinctly south London star breaking America

‘This Wasn’t Meant For You Anyway’ presents an uncompromising, unpredictable artist who’s finding success Stateside by being entirely herself

It’s Sunday night in Los Angeles, but inside Silver Lake’s Echoplex venue, there are no signs of the crowd quietly winding down for a new week. Instead, the 800 people crammed into the space are hollering Lola Young’s name at the top of their lungs, lovingly and excitedly trying to bring her back on stage. It’s the final night of the south Londoner’s US tour, and she’s just popped backstage for a breather following a set that’s rapturously received. Throughout, the words are screamed back at her so loudly you’d think the crowd was mic’ed up too, and the end of every song is greeted by a cacophony of floor-rumbling applause and cheers.

Lola Young on The Cover of NME (2024), photo by Ashley Osborn
Lola Young on The Cover of NME. Credit: Ashley Osborn for NME

“It was amazing,” Young reflects two days later, sitting on a charcoal grey couch in a pale blue house a stone’s throw away from the venue. The space, which belongs to producer Solomonophonic (real name Jared Solomon), who worked with Young on her new album, is filled with synths, wires and other instruments, all scattered around the room. In her seat, she grins and takes a puff on the vape in her hand. “That’s all I wanted. It’s the best thing ever to know that they love it, although it’s kind of a weird experience because I can’t hear myself. I’m like, ‘Fucking hell, you guys really love the songs’.”

The story has been much the same across the rest of the singer-songwriter’s latest, sold-out trek across America. Right now, it feels like the 23-year-old is on the cusp of achieving something in the country that many British artists find impossible: breaking America. It’s where her biggest live and streaming audience is currently, and her growth Stateside doesn’t look like it’s slowing down anytime soon – a curious fact, given just how distinctly British she sounds. On each song, her south London accent rasps and crackles, drawing out her words in a way that you might assume would sound alien to those thousands of miles away from the Thames estuary.

“I think that may be why Americans like [the music] – because it’s so British and it’s different,” she reasons. She points to some of her lyrics like ‘Messy’’s “and you hate the fucking lot”. It’s simple but could easily get lost in translation on this side of the pond. As she repeats the line, the Californian Solomonophonic – who’s sat opposite her – proves this very point. “I thought [the lyric] was ‘hate the Lord’…” he admits as Young bursts into uncontrollable laughter. “You and Conor [Dickinson] and Will [Brown, Young’s live band who also worked on this album] seemed so confident, so I thought, ‘This has to be some shit I’m not on’.”

“The album is gritty, real and raw. That’s what I want to be”

Making it to this point with the US in her grasp and her long-awaited first full-length release finally a reality has been a game of trial and successful error for Young. The Croydon-born musician released her debut single ‘6 Feet Under’ all the way back in 2019 and, within two years, was nominated for the BRITs Rising Star award for her emotive R&B-tinged pop that had positioned her as the next Adele. That same year, she was chosen to sing in the annual John Lewis Christmas advert, covering Giorgio Moroder and Philip Oakley’s ‘Together In Electric Dreams’. Young’s version reimagined the ’80s synth-pop cut as a choir-backed piece of wintry piano-pop.

Ask her if she still connects with the artist she was back in those early years, and she responds immediately and emphatically: “No, not at all.” Her issue, she says, is she didn’t know who she was back then and was thrown into a room with “a lot of cooks” who didn’t understand who she was either. “When I don’t know who I am, no one else is gonna be able to find that for me,” Young reasons, careful to add that she’s “not throwing shade” to anyone she did work with at the time.

“You know, I’m deleting some songs off Spotify for sure,” she announces, shifting in her seat as she surveys the ripple of surprise that flows around the room. “I don’t have regrets, but I’m not happy with some stuff I’ve released. If I was to look at all the work I’ve done and go, ‘This is all fucking incredible’, I’d be sick in the head. Not everything is, and that’s OK.” She declines to share which songs exactly she’s referring to, but explains those she wants to erase just “don’t feel like me, so I don’t want people to hear them”.

Lola Young (2024), photo by Ashley Osborn
Credit: Ashley Osborn for NME

Young’s sound has changed drastically in the last few years as she’s discovered more of her true, current identity. On last year’s ‘My Mind Wanders And Sometimes Leaves Completely’, she ditched the safe, indistinctive sounds she’d been mining previously in favour of something spacier and airier – flashes of trip-hop, electronics, soul and more wrapped up in cool, lo-fi pop. ‘This Wasn’t Meant For You Anyway’ – which NME gave a five-star review – takes things into livelier territory, via funk grooves (‘Big Brown Eyes’), raw punk riffs (‘Wish You Were Dead’), weird, warped beats (‘Fuck’) and, very occasionally, more tender, acoustic moments (‘You Noticed’).

“I wasn’t tired of making this shitty R&B,” she says of her evolution, her blunt choice of words suggesting otherwise. “But I was in a space where nothing was working, and I wasn’t really feeling inspired by anything.” Two things helped her unlock a new path – coming to LA and getting into the studio with Solomonophonic, and cutting her formerly long, sleek locks into a choppy mullet.

“When I don’t know who I am, no one else is gonna be able to find that for me”

“It actually did help,” she says of the latter, cackling and throwing herself back on the couch in amusement. “The person who was cutting it wouldn’t really go too mullet-y, and then I was like…” She mimes hacking at her head with a pair of scissors. “After that, the album formed. It definitely helped just being a little bit more eccentric and shit. Making a drastic change with anything can have a domino effect.”

More traditionally, her choice of producer played a big part in making her comfortable enough to write this record. The house NME has been invited to hang out in today is not the exact space where the pair made ‘This Wasn’t Meant For You Anyway’ – that’s next door and is now Solomonophonic’s residence – but it recreates that room. “It was very kooky as fuck, but it felt homely,” Young explains.

She wanted to work with the producer because of his production work for Remi Wolf, and once they met, the pair found a mutual understanding of how they wanted sessions to be. “We don’t need to deep dive [into my lyrics]. In the past, I’ve had people [in the studio] ask me, ‘What are you saying by that? How are you feeling?’” Young says, voice dripping with disdain. “You don’t know me well enough to ask me that question! Jared will let me be, I’ll let Jared be, and we’ll just run around the room and have a great time.”

Lola Young (2024), photo by Ashley Osborn
Credit: Ashley Osborn for NME

It’s easy to see why Young would be uncomfortable being quizzed on her writing by the strangers she’s been tasked to make a song with. This album is bracingly, unflinchingly honest, sharing intimate thoughts and details of her romantic encounters while being afraid to admit her own flaws, as well as those of the former partners she writes about.

On ‘Wish U Were Dead’, she first asks someone to “fuck me nice” but later recounts things getting nastily physical: “I throw a punch / You call me a cunt.” The strutting ‘Messy’, meanwhile, encapsulates the struggle of trying to mould yourself into a person that pleases your partner. “’Cause I’m too messy / And then I’m too fucking clean,” she sighs in the chorus. “You told me, ‘Get a job’ / And you ask where the hell I’ve been.” “That’s just what you have to do [in songwriting],” she shrugs. “I think any artist where [they’re] not honest [in their lyrics], you see straight through.”

Young credits Solomonophonic with how “unconventional” and “new” her album sounds (“Shut the fuck up,” he retorts with an eye roll), recalling hours they spent jamming on his “strange concoction of synths”. The likes of ‘Messy’, ‘Crush’ and ‘Good Books’ were created from these jams, the pair turning small chunks of what had flowed out of them into loops that form the basis of the tracks.

“Making a drastic change with anything can have a domino effect”

During the writing and recording process, Young switched off all other music and kept her mind free of references. “I’ve done that before – gone into the studio and been like, ‘Let’s make something in the essence of Cigarettes After Sex’,” she says. “We ended up making the worst song I’ve ever made. That clearly doesn’t work.”

The contrasting approach of ‘This Wasn’t Made For You Anyway’ and the fact this album contains Young’s best work yet reinforces her point. It sounds completely inspired and marks her out as something separate from the pop peers she’s been compared to in the past. She might have the sharp-tongued honesty and soul of Amy Winehouse and the attitude-filled London swagger of early Lily Allen, but Young’s album puts her in her own world, one that’s looser, edgier and more brilliantly chaotic.

Lola Young (2024), photo by Ashley Osborn
Credit: Ashley Osborn for NME

The reaction to her recent releases in the US and online is proof that allowing herself to leave behind the sound that had given her that first spark of success was the right choice. Kylie Jenner and Bella Hadid helped ‘My Mind Wanders…’’s ‘Don’t Hate Me’ go viral last year. Each single from this record, too, seems to have brought new famous faces out of the woodwork, all declaring their love and support for Young, from SZA and Snoop Dogg to Michael Stipe and Tyler, The Creator. “Snoop Dogg was obviously quite insane,” she remembers, scrolling through each co-sign in her head. “Pretty much all of them [were]. When you have another artist who’s good [saying they like you], it’s like, ‘Maybe I’m not that bad’.”

As ‘This Wasn’t Meant For You Anyway’ finally makes its way into the world, Young can expect a lot more validation coming her way soon. Although she connects more with this latest work than some of her previous releases, she’s aware that might not always be the case. “I’ve learned that songs are perfect for you when you’ve written them, and then they’re gonna connect with people, but, for you, it changes,” she explains matter-of-factly.

Right now, though, as she prepares to leave LA and head home, she’s happy with where she’s at: “The album is gritty, real and raw. It’s honest and that’s what I want to be and what I am at the moment.”

Lola Young’s ‘This Wasn’t Meant For You Anyway’ is out now via Island Records

Listen to Lola Young’s exclusive playlist to accompany The Cover below on Spotify and here on Apple Music

Words: Rhian Daly
Photography: Ashley Osborn
Cake: Maggie Overbaugh
Label: Island Records

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