Rapper Missy Elliott who recently collaborated with Flo.

Flo: New fly girls of British R&B get Missy Elliott co-sign

The craze for western pop groups seems to have died down in recent years. While K-pop collectives like BTS, Blackpink, and Twice continue to storm up the charts globally with every release, the American and British music markets have lacked the home-grown outfits that dominated the hearts and minds of teenage fans in the 2000s and early 2010s. The dissolution of One Direction in 2016 left a boy band-shaped gulf that has yet to be filled and though their The X Factor compatriots Little Mix lasted longer, only going on hiatus last year, record labels haven’t been scrambling to push a new generation of loveable pop idols into the big leagues. There is one new girl group, however, that might be able to usher in a new wave of western pop power.

Flo is a three-piece British girl group which formed in 2019. The group consists of Stella Quaresma from Kingston upon Thames, Jorja Douglas from Hertfordshire, and Renée Downer from North London. The trio signed with Island Records ahead of the release of their breakthrough single and are poised to make a splash on the UK charts with their upcoming debut album.

Flo have all the makings of a modern powerhouse girl group akin to Little Mix or the Saturdays, filling a niche that has been empty for a while.

Flo have already made a substantial mark on the music industry in the year since their debut single “Cardboard Box”, produced by MNEK, dropped. July saw the release of their first extended play, The Lead, which Rolling Stone predicted was “sure to launch the three girls into R&B stardom”, comparing their style to that of TLC. Flo made their television debut in October 2022 when they performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and performed at their first award show, the MOBO Awards, a month later. In December 2022 they received the Rising Star Award at the Brits. A few weeks later they won the BBC’s Sound of 2023 poll, an annual survey of up-and-coming talent whose past winners include Adele, Sam Smith, Ellie Goulding, and PinkPantheress. They are the first girl group to achieve both in the same year.

The future is looking bright for this trio judging by the co-signs they have received from prominent artists in the UK and beyond. R&B powerhouses like SZA and Victoria Monét have shown appreciation for the group on social media but their collaborative partners are even more impressive. Chart-topping rapper Stormzy featured Flo on a remix of his top-ten single “Hide & Seek” in January 2023. Their most recent single “Fly Girl”, released on 23 March, not only interpolates Missy Elliott’s iconic hit “Work It” but also includes a verse from the acclaimed rapper. Missy’s bombastic presence seems to have had an impact since “Fly Girl” accrued over 1 million Spotify streams on its release day, becoming the group’s first single to achieve this. The song also became the group’s first top 40 single, debuting at number 38 on the UK Singles Chart.

Some fans might be concerned that Flo are simply attempting to cash in on nostalgia by interpolating a Missy classic and getting her on board as a featured artist. After all this strategy has produced chart-topping hits on both sides of the Atlantic in the past year, seen in Nicki Minaj’s sampling of “Super Freak” on her creatively-titled reimagining “Super Freaky Girl” and David Guetta and Bebe Rexha’s appropriation of Eiffel 65’s iconic dance hit “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” on “I’m Good (Blue)”. Many music journalists and commentators have raised concerns that it has become all too easy to ride an iconic sample straight to the summit of the charts, especially in the era of easily recognisable melodies becoming viral TikTok hits at the drop of a hat. Flo’s methodology on “Fly Girl” is definitely in a similar vein to these recent sample-heavy singles, drawing its title and chorus from an iconic “Work It” line: “if you’re a fly girl, get your hair done / get a pedicure, get your hair did”. However, the trio add their own flavour to the Missy classic and Elliott’s rap verse feels like she’s providing a fresh take on material she first rapped about two decades ago. Additionally and most crucially, unlike “Super Freaky Girl”, “I’m Good (Blue)”, and about a million other recent hits, “Fly Girl” does not simply take the instrumental of an existing hit song and insert new lyrics over the top. The song’s beat is entirely original, co-produced by Flo’s frequent musical partner MNEK. The breezy and flirtatious guitar adds a new dimension to the original hypnotic synths of Missy’s “Work It” rather than cashing in on a recognisable bassline.

Flo have all the makings of a modern powerhouse girl group akin to Little Mix or the Saturdays, filling a niche that has been empty for a while. Their focus on R&B allows them to stand apart from their western predecessors or their peers in K-pop, making their work feel fresh and unique. With the backing of some of the biggest names in music both in Britain and across the pond, if “Fly Girl” is anything to go by, Flo are gearing up to reach the very top of the stratosphere of western popular music.

Image credit: Atlantic Records via a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Image description: Missy Elliott, 2015.