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Meet Kenya Grace, the singer behind viral smash ‘Strangers’

The singer is currently top of the UK charts with a dance smash created alone in her bedroom. Rolling Stone UK meets the singer aiming to outlast her viral moment...

By Will Richards

Kenya Grace
Kenya Grace. (Picture: Hannah Diamond)

Kenya Grace entered an elite club of just two when her single ‘Strangers’ hit the top of the UK singles chart in October. The track became just the second song entirely written and produced by a British female solo artist to hit number one. The other person to have achieved this feat? Kate Bush.

The song is a smouldering account of being ghosted on dating apps, set over skittering production that draws from garage, dubstep and dance. “How can we say that this is love when it goes like this?” she sings, speaking to society at large while sharing her specific experience. Since its release, it has also gone to the top of the Billboard Dance/Electronic Songs chart, the first track entirely produced and performed by a woman to ever do so.

‘Strangers’, as with every Kenya Grace song so far, was written and recorded entirely in her Hampshire bedroom, where she first started making music as a teenager. Inspired by the likes of Flume, Disclosure and AlunaGeorge, she used a mix of her natural intuition and YouTube tutorials to become a master of music software package Logic. “I do like working on my own, to be honest, and I will probably always at least make the first demo of any song by myself,” she explains from Paris, where she is halfway through her first-ever tour.

After Grace pieces together tunes in her bedroom — chords often come first, with a beat next and then lyrics on top — she has tended to release them quickly and without a second thought. ‘Strangers’ hit the internet just a month after it was written. “I hate making people wait!” she smiles. “I love being free with [my] socials and, like, just posting stuff, whatever it is that I make that week. ‘Strangers’ came out really fast, which was great.

“It’s been the craziest thing that’s ever happened to me,” she says, reflecting on the tune’s success, “and the best thing as well. It’s just been insane — I’m very grateful.” On her debut tour, she’s seen the real-life manifestation of this success. “Sometimes people on Instagram and TikTok don’t feel like actual people, so when you meet them in real life, it feels a lot more real.” 

As well as her formative electronic influences, Grace is a musical peer of PinkPantheress. There are also plenty of similarities to the conversational, charismatic songwriting of Lily Allen in her work. Asked whether she considers herself primarily a producer, songwriter or both, Grace shrugs and plays down the importance of labels. The two terms feel equally applicable, though; her songs are far from just lyrics put on top of beats, and the tracks could have their dance-led dressing removed and stand strong as stripped-back, singer- songwriter tunes.

Following ‘Strangers’ is the ecstatic new single ‘Only in My Mind’, a track even catchier and more immediate than the chart-topper. With the promise of a bigger body of work on the way, it shows the next steps of an artist interested in building longevity, not simply a viral moment. As for the future, Grace is contemplating moving out of home and entertains ideas of collaboration and studio-based work. Despite these doors now being open to her, she feels drawn back to her comfortable and creatively stimulating origins, and there’s something irreplaceable and special about the songs being created purely inside the mind — and bedroom — of this intriguing new voice in British music.