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Griff ‘Vertigo’ review: The true arrival of a superb new pop star

This powerful debut will surely rank among the year's best pop records.

4.0 rating

By Will Richards

Griff (Picture: Press)

As Griff recently explained to Rolling Stone UK, Griff’s debut album vertigo was created with her brain “completely frazzled” from a post-pandemic touring rush that included stadium shows with Coldplay, Ed Sheeran and Dua Lipa. In among those flashes of intensity, the prodigiously talented 23-year-old decamped to Airbnbs across Europe to put these whiplash-like feelings into a debut album full of emotional breakthroughs and nimble production. 

After breaking through with Top 20 single ‘Black Hole’ and mixtape One Foot in Front of the Other in 2021, the songwriter and producer called herself a reluctant pop star while simultaneously proving an inability to stop writing irresistible earworms. After growing up on a diet of Taylor Swift and Sia, she makes music that often swerves just left of mainstream radio pop, but with the power to Trojan-horse itself to those levels regardless. There’s also the personality and perspective here to make her a fully formed artist. 

Released in three volumes, vertigo shows the full breadth of this ambition and talent. The album is anchored by its lead single and title track, a song that epitomises the emotional intensity of its creation. “You’re scared of love, well, aren’t we all?” she says to an unsure lover in one of countless zingers that pepper the album, showing Griff as an unfailingly honest and clever songwriter. Whether she’s retreating from the spotlight on ‘Into the Walls’ or giving an emotional kiss-off to someone not ready for commitment on ‘Astronaut’ (“You said you needed space / Go on then, astronaut”), the feelings here are complicated and not sugar-coated, becoming all the more powerful for the fact. 

If ‘Black Hole’ was Griff’s big pop breakthrough, the next step should be secured by ‘Miss Me Too’, vertigo’s ecstatic centrepiece. A song about mourning old versions of yourself that are shed when exiting a relationship or moving on in your life, Griff tackles the subject with eagerness and energy as well as sadness. “I drunk the drinks, I shook the hands / And I believed the plan,” she reflects before the song gallops into an unstoppable chorus that recalls Swift as well as Lorde, her closest pop star sibling in terms of tone and mood. On ‘Miss Me Too’, Griff transmits these feelings with just as much care and power as the Kiwi, and it becomes her very own ‘Green Light’. 

While One Foot in Front of the Other was almost entirely self-produced, Griff slowly and carefully welcomes others into her circle on vertigo. Mura Masa’s fingerprints are clearly heard on the wonky ‘Cycles’, while Congee — aka Sam Tsang — has co-writer credits on a host of songs. Griff still very much steers the ship, though, and her production is an irreplaceable part of the music. Like Lorde, wails of backing vocals pop in and out of the mix throughout, turning ‘Tears for Fun’ into an exhilarating rollercoaster. “The deepest cuts, they heal so slow,” she sings on the track’s pounding chorus. “I hope they do, but what if they don’t?” Throughout, vertigo doesn’t settle for easy resolutions or tidy narrative arcs. Instead, it sees Griff working through it all with all the honesty and pain that comes alongside, solidifying her as a superb and unique new pop star.