PinkPantheress Talks to Bree Runway About Life After Blowing Up
PinkPantheress moves quickly. It only took uploading a 12-second TikTok clip of her track “Just a Waste” to turn her into one of the platform’s most deserved success stories. And only 19 minutes or so—the length of her vibrant debut mixtape to hell with it—to prove that she could turn almost anything, from U.K. garage breaks to emo melodies, into ear candy. One year later, the 20-year-old Brit has gone from film student to one of the brightest stars in pop, winning the prestigious BBC Sound of 2022 award earlier this year. Here, she talks to the singer and rapper Bree Runway (no stranger to the beauty of brevity) about staying grounded during her lightning-fast rise. —JESSE DORRIS
BREE RUNWAY: Congratulations on winning the BBC Sound of 2022. You were already that girl, but now you’re that girl-girl.
PINKPANTHERESS: Dude, thank you.
RUNWAY: How are you?
PINKPANTHERESS: I can’t lie. I literally didn’t go to bed. I’ve been up all night.
PINKPANTHERESS: You know when you find yourself on YouTube? Suddenly you’re just watching this, this, this—I was doing that all night.
RUNWAY: That happened to me yesterday. I was on TikTok until four in the morning. So let’s get into it. I want this to be the best interview you’ve ever done.
PINKPANTHERESS: It will be. Don’t get it twisted.
RUNWAY: So you’re 20 years old. How do you think your sound will evolve as you live more and experience more?
PINKPANTHERESS: I think it’ll evolve naturally. I don’t think it’s going to be like, “Oh, this is going to be trendy in a year, let me jump on now.” It’s going to be like, “This is what I’m feeling, this is what I’ve been listening to, let me go in that direction.”
RUNWAY: I found out about you when I was in Mexico last year. I was doing a workout at seven in the morning. Instead of focusing, I went on TikTok and ended up hearing this song called “Pain.” I was like, “I hope this isn’t one of those fake songs I can’t trace back and I’m just going to be listening to a 15-second clip.” Now I actually have an hour of “Pain” slowed down and reverbed in my favorites on YouTube. Do you think, without TikTok, you’d be where you are today?
PINKPANTHERESS: First of all, that is the cutest thing I’ve ever heard. But yeah, I wouldn’t be here without TikTok. Hell no. I didn’t have any other connects. You have these projects that are going out, but no one’s really hearing them. I tried everything. There was a point where I was like, “I want this so bad. I’m willing to use YouTube. I’m willing to use Reddit.” But TikTok, when it comes to the algorithm, is crazy. It’s not embarrassing to use an app like that. It’s very much the wave.
RUNWAY: What do you think it was about you or your sound that made people think, “Oh yeah, I love this”?
PINKPANTHERESS: A lot of the people who use the app are American. The sounds that we are so used to over here, like garage and drum-and-bass, they just don’t hear that much over there. That raw, British “I watch Skins, I’m from an estate” vibe is so unfamiliar in the States. It makes England seem like an alien planet.
RUNWAY: It does.
PINKPANTHERESS: So I feel like with everything, the British accent, the beats, they were just like, “Hold on. Wait. This is different.”
RUNWAY: Speaking of that, what does your TikTok homepage look like? I’d love to see.
PINKPANTHERESS: You know what? I don’t know. I don’t go on TikTok anymore.
RUNWAY: No way. Has there been anything you’ve had to put on hold because of your success?
PINKPANTHERESS: Yeah. University.
RUNWAY: Are you hurt by that?
PINKPANTHERESS: No. I sleep so much better at night knowing . I don’t have university.
RUNWAY: What were you studying there?
PINKPANTHERESS: I was studying film.
RUNWAY: That’s actually cool, though.
PINKPANTHERESS: It’s not bad. But it wasn’t adding anything. It’s $9K a year. Come on now.
RUNWAY: I always say go if you need to go, don’t go if you don’t need to go. That’s how I feel about uni.
PINKPANTHERESS: One hundred percent.
RUNWAY: So now that you are a poppin’ ass bitch that doesn’t have to go to university, how do you feel about all the fame? Does it frighten you? Does it excite you?
PINKPANTHERESS: It’s very exciting knowing that people are listening, people care, people are actually interested. When I came into it, not to be cringe, but I did it for the music. I wasn’t trying to have myself out there like that. But when things started picking up, it became uncontrollable. If anything, all of it has been one big learning experience. I’ve grown up more in one year than I have the last ten years.
RUNWAY: Is there anything you wish people didn’t know about you now that you’re famous? It could be, “I wish they didn’t know what I look like.”
PINKPANTHERESS: I don’t think there’s anything embarrassing. So many people had already formed an opinion or a visual image in their head of what they thought I looked like based on my voice. A lot of people thought I was white. I had to set that record straight.
RUNWAY: I thought you were a dainty little white girl. But when I met you, I was like, “Oh, this girl’s a gangster. You run the hood.”
PINKPANTHERESS: Shut up.
RUNWAY: Girl, you can tell you really grew up around some real shit. I could tell by the way you were talking. So what did an average day look like before you blew up? And what does it look like now?
PINKPANTHERESS: Before I blew up I was a uni student. I was living in halls. I’d just cruise, I’d meet up with friends. I was looking for a job, like hardcore.
RUNWAY: What were you looking for?
PINKPANTHERESS: From the age of about 13 or 14, I’ve had constant jobs. Working in a shop, working in Marks & Spencer, Claire’s, a Co-op, I’ve done it all, bruv. I like a nine-to-five. That’s what I was trying to do. But after I blew up, it started getting a little busy on the media front, having to do interviews and shoots and shit. I guess I got the job, innit? It just wasn’t the kind of job I was expecting.
RUNWAY: Now that you’ve got the job, have you noticed that people are treating you differently? Do you still have the same friends? Have you seen any shady behavior?
PINKPANTHERESS: I wouldn’t say that I’ve noticed a distinct change in people’s behavior. I think one thing that’s probably happened is that a lot of people that knew I did music but weren’t taking me seriously are now like, “Oh.” You know what I’m saying?
RUNWAY: And you’re like, “No.”
PINKPANTHERESS: I’m like, “Get out of my face.” But my friends haven’t changed. I arrived in London with the same group of friends I’ve had since year seven. When I say I keep my circle small, it’s true. I don’t tend to go out and meet people. But people around me, they’ve been cool. They really respect me, which is nice.
RUNWAY: That’s so great to hear. A piece of advice that I will give you as you continue to grow and shine and be amazing is keep that energy. And also understand that the brighter you get, the more moths are going to be attracted to the light. So keep your crew small, and don’t get lost in anything. Because I think you’re a very, very, very amazing girl. You’re on some different shit.
PINKPANTHERESS: You’re killing me. You’re going to make me cry.
RUNWAY: But speaking of different, do you feel any pressure from the industry to conform? Because you are doing something different, and so far you haven’t compromised. Do you feel like at some point you’re going to have to shake hands with people and with certain sounds or moves that you don’t want to make in order to excel?
PINKPANTHERESS: I feel like I can crack under pressure a little bit. Maybe in one alternative reality, I’d say yes. But the only reason I’m saying no is because it’s worked well so far. I ain’t saying this with arrogance, this is just a matter of fact—when I started making music, I was in my bedroom by myself. There was no label. No one was telling me, “You should try this.” And people just ended up liking it, innit? That’s not me saying I reject any type of professional input. As well as my own volition, advice is what got me to where I am now. I take it on when I can. That being said, I think for sure there’ll be moments when I’m like, “You know what? This one A&R, this one publicist, this one whoever, they snapped. They told me what I needed to know.” But for right now I’m not really cracking under pressure to follow a certain sound or trend. I’m just going with it.
RUNWAY: That’s amazing. I love to hear that because I’m the same sort of bitch, honey. Is there any moral or value within yourself that you feel like you’re never going to compromise on?
PINKPANTHERESS: I think it would probably be my integrity. That’s so important to me. Musical integrity, but also social integrity. Like, I’m not going to be caught with this person in this room because I want to paint a certain picture or explore a narrative. No. If I’m in a picture with Bree Runway, it’s because I love Bree Runway.
RUNWAY: So basically you don’t ever want to be on no fake shit?
PINKPANTHERESS: I’m always on my real.
RUNWAY: I could tell when I met you. And also, if I didn’t fuck with you, I would not be scrambling for a picture. People literally have to beg me to go and do certain things with certain people, because I always just keep to myself. It’s not that I can’t celebrate someone. But forcing things just to say you was there? No.
PINKPANTHERESS: It makes me cringe.
RUNWAY: Speaking of cringe, top three things that make you cringe.
PINKPANTHERESS: One thing about me, and maybe you can relate, I have got icks. The top three things that make me cringe will probably be in the ick list. The ick list is very specific.
RUNWAY: I’m dying to know.
PINKPANTHERESS: I hate to be this person, but they all revolve around a boy. Nothing makes me cringe but men. I’m not even joking. Imagine you’re in a mall and your boyfriend, or your partner, is carrying a tray of food to your table. That’s a big ick.
RUNWAY: What about it? The tray?
PINKPANTHERESS: It’s everything. Why are you holding a tray of food? Why are you bringing it to my table?
RUNWAY: I think it depends on the way he’s holding it.
PINKPANTHERESS: It does, doesn’t it? But realistically, they’re not going to be holding it in that cool waiter style, like with the one hand. They’re going to be holding it with two hands.
PINKPANTHERESS: Name dropping also makes me cringe. That’s something that actually has only become apparent within this job.
RUNWAY: You remind me of me. I’m going to ask you some random shit. Why are your songs so short? This is coming from a fellow short-song bitch herself.
PINKPANTHERESS: This is the pot calling the kettle black, my friend. I can’t speak for you, but for me, and maybe for a lot of other people who do it, like Tierra Whack, it’s literally just because once I reach a certain quota, or an amount of melodies in one song, I’m not going to jam-pack it till it’s bursting. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do and leave. That being said, I do absolutely hear the argument that says, “You need to flesh it out more. It needs to be a bit longer. I want to hear more. I don’t want to have to keep replaying it.” I get it completely. It’s just not my style.
RUNWAY: Who’s the most famous person that you’ve FaceTimed?
PINKPANTHERESS: You ain’t finna make me drop any names just like I was saying I don’t want to do. Let me just give you a person I’ve texted or messaged, because I don’t do phone calls. The most interesting person, I’d say, is Billie Eilish. I don’t like name dropping, innit, but just for the culture, it was a lovely moment because she’s just another young female doing her thing.
RUNWAY: We love Billie. What’s the sort of shit you do when you’re bored?
PINKPANTHERESS: I download endless apps.
RUNWAY: What type of apps?
PINKPANTHERESS: Games. What do you think I’m doing during this interview? I’m fully playing a game right now. I like watching films. Not to be a basic bitch, but I can watch three films in a day if I wanted to.
RUNWAY: I want to get like you.
PINKPANTHERESS: What do you do when you’re bored?
RUNWAY: I put on fake concerts.
RUNWAY: I put on my AirPods, grab the hot sauce from my pantry, and then leave the bathroom light on as the back-light so I can see my silhouette in the mirror. I’ve got one last question for you.
RUNWAY: What do you think your twenties will look like? Is there anything about your career that frightens you? Is there anything that you’re excited about?
PINKPANTHERESS: I’m hoping for success. Obviously, I’m comfortable in a lot of aspects. I’m happy with where I am music-wise, career-wise. But I’m like, “Hold on. I’ve actually got so much work I still need to do.” I just want my hard work to pay off. I obviously want clichéd shit, like happiness and love. If I’m scared of anything, it’s feeling too comfortable and watching things slip from underneath. What about you? What’s happening this year?
RUNWAY: I’m feeling like I’m going to be aggressive about what I deserve.
PINKPANTHERESS: This is your year. I’ve been saying it for so long.
RUNWAY: Alexa, please play PinkPantheress, “Pain,” because that’s what’s also going to be applying, honey. Pain.
PINKPANTHERESS: Your songs are some of the best-written pop songs that I’ve heard come out in recent times. And I don’t listen to pop like that. That’s why I’m a big stan, because I’m like, “Hold on. The writing abilities, the lyricism going on here. I haven’t heard anything in the same category.” I don’t know, Bree, I’m smelling it.
RUNWAY: I’m smelling it too, honey. I’m going to see your ass at the top.
Hair And Makeup: Karla Q Leon Using Fenty Beauty
Set Design: Lydia Chan At New School
Production: Kit Pak-Poy At Artworld Agency
Manicure: Edyta Betka Using The Gelbottle
Photography Assistants: Neil Bennett, Austin Fischer, And Okus Milsom
Fashion Assistant: Oliver Broughton
Hair And Makeup Assistants: Cheryl Basko And Ceren Yilmaz
Set Design Assistant: Evelyn Tsang
Post-Production: The Hand Of God