Flo: Our music is about standing up for yourself and being a strong woman

Alex Green, PA Acting Deputy Entertainment Editor

Jorja Douglas, Stella Quaresma and Renee Downer, aka Flo, have had quite the year.

Since the release of their viral hit Cardboard Box in March 2022, they have claimed the Brits rising star award, become the first girl group to win the influential BBC Radio 1 Sound of 2023 poll and racked up hundreds of thousands of followers online.

That's not to mention their dazzling TV appearances on the likes of Jimmy Kimmel Live! and propensity for sparking TikTok trends.

“We have our own goals,” says Douglas backstage at the BBC's Maida Vale studios, where the trio are about the perform.

“No matter what happens we make sure we stay on track with our goals.

“But these things are encouraging.

“They are motivating for us to keep going.

“I think our goals are so big that they are a bit further into the future, honestly.”

Downer adds with a laugh: “A promising future, right?”

The group are about to perform in front of cameras and an intimate crowd alongside other artists who featured on the BBC poll list – Cat Burns, Biig Piig and more.

They are clearly excited, talking over one another and finishing each other's sentences.

Flo, all in their early 20s, formed three years ago when childhood friends Downer and Quaresma met Douglas at an audition after being scouted.

Downer and Quaresma were students at the Sylvia Young Theatre School in London, while Douglas had competed in a CBBC talent show.

It was clear from the off they had chemistry.

“We have the same kind of morals,” says Douglas.

“We have the same humour. We basically have the same everything.

“We were all raised by single mums so we just have the same values and the whole independence.

“We're literally like the same person so that helps.”

After three years of quiet work they released their debut EP, The Lead, which showed off their vocal chops and contained hooks and melodies galore.

Then there was Cardboard Box, produced by Little Mix and Dua Lipa-collaborator MNEK – the first song they wrote together as a group.

With a refrain that goes “you may be crying, but boy I'm not”, the breakout anthem won praise from rapper Missy Elliott, American singer SZA and former Destiny's Child member Kelly Rowland, who visited them in a studio session in LA early last year.

“Standing up for yourself and being a strong woman,” says Douglas, when asked about the message behind their music.

“Not letting men or women or people who maybe think they have more power than you using that and abusing that.

“Staying strong is one of the main morals.”

Their music and lyrics may reference the chart-dominating R&B of Sugababes, Beyonce and TLC, but Flo say they are carving their own path.

Downer says the music they have produced so far has been instinctual.

“I feel like because we think in a certain way, that's what we create,” she explains.

“So we don't really go and say, ‘We're going to make a song about powerful women' or whatever.

“If that's what we're feeling in the moment that's what we will make, so it's just quite an honest thing.”

Yes, artists such as Beyonce provide musical inspiration for the group.

But they are also role models who have managed to remain authentic throughout their careers.

“(It is) more about the standard that they held themselves to in terms of the singing and the dancing and the looks, and just the everything,” says Quaresma.

“That is where we kind of want to be.”

The group are entering the music industry with fresh eyes. It can be a cut-throat world. Is there anything they want to change?

“I feel like the art is leading (us),” says Quaresma.

“I think that always goes well.

“Or more collaborations – as much as it is meant to be like one big happy team, it's definitely more like us v them.

“So to eliminate that would be a big step in the right direction.

“Like actually, not pretend. Actually.”

Things are not slowing down for the group.

In November they performed to thousands during the Mobo Awards at London's Wembley Arena, delivering glittering renditions of Cardboard Box and Immature.

And in early January, the group featured on a remix of Stormzy's track Hide & Seek, from his recent album This Is What I Mean.

Flo said on social media at the time that this was their first feature on a single and they “couldn't be prouder to jump on this beautiful track”.

So what's next for the group?

A debut album is in the works alongside regular collaborator MNEK and a host of others.

There has been a writing camp and they spent time in the studio with producer Darkchild, whose credits include Destiny's Child and Michael Jackson, but the record is still in its early stages.

“We have just started the album situation,” says Downer.

“But we are definitely going to go to America and work and see what's happening over there.”

– Flo were the winners of the BBC Radio 1 Sound of 2023 poll.