As I wait to be patched through to Freya Ridings, who is currently sitting in some venue’s greenroom somewhere in England, holding music plays over the speaker. And it’s not your typical lite jazz—it’s Ridings’s latest single, “You Mean the World to Me.” The fact that it’s her record label doing the connecting probably has something to do with this, but it certainly feels like a sign of things to come. In the next few months, you won’t be able to go anywhere without hearing Ridings.
Born in North London, Ridings, now 24, was always a musical child. “I was brought up in a bohemian household where my dad plays guitar and my mom plays piano just because they love it,” she said. Her struggles with dyslexia in elementary school only further fostered the passion, albeit in a roundabout way. “All of my music teachers gave up on me one by one because I couldn’t read music,” she said. “I basically started getting into songwriting because I wanted to learn songs but nobody would teach me. I was 9 and I thought of it as a way of escaping because I hated school so much. I was tall and a redhead and dyslexic, so I went off to the piano room and would sing the stories you would normally tell your friends.” Still, it was just a hobby for the preteen, until she stumbled upon an open mic for teenagers at a local coffee shop. She was just 11, technically too young to enter, but that didn’t stop her. “I was so tall they didn’t know,” she recalled. “I don’t know what came over me, but I played two songs that I’d written in my bedroom and felt a wave come over me.”
That was it. For the past decade, Ridings has focused on her music, enrolling in London’s famed BRIT School, whose alumni include Adele, Amy Winehouse, Imogen Heap, Jessie J, and Kate Nash, among others. It was there that Ridings honed her sound: soulful, confessional songs heightened by her deep and rangy voice. After school, Ridings began working on her first album, now due out this June. At the time, she expected it to be “this indie thing for a very few people.” Then, the immensely popular British reality show Love Island played her song “Lost Without You” in an episode, and, as Ridings puts, that’s when “things got crazy.”
“Shows have started selling out instantly, which is quite different because before I was struggling to get, like, five friends to come watch me at a pub,” she said. The crowds changed too. “Before, they’re like, ‘Play Ed Sheeran,’—and I love Ed Sheeran, but to now have people come to the show and know this song because of Love Island was very surreal. It was an unbelievable reaction. It was, like, six months in the top 10. We went platinum. These things do not happen. Me and my mom were just watching the charts like, ‘Why isn’t it stopping?’ And now I’ve got a platinum disc in my bedroom.”
Ridings’s fan base continued to grow after the July 2018 episode aired, and it hasn’t stopped since. In January, she booked her first stateside late-night appearance, performing on The Late Late Show With James Corden. “I actually adore him,” she said. “For him to ask me on the show, it was such an honor. We had the best time. I’m obsessed with American talk shows. It was very surreal—I was like, I’ve seen this sofa.” In February, she performed at Richard Quinn’s London Fashion Week show. And just last week, she released her official EP, You Mean the World to Me, and the music video for the lead single of the same name, directed by the Game of Thrones star Lena Headey and starring Maisie Williams. “Lena Headey got in touch with us because she loved the song,” Ridings explained. “It was so random. She was getting into directing and music videos, and then she brought on Maisie Williams. It was a real dream team of powerful women. It was such a fun three-day shoot. We shot at a manor house in North London, and it was freezing because it was in December. And it was a very emotional shoot. I met Maisie in the morning, and within two hours she was fully in my arms, crying. It was so weird, but at the same time really beautiful.”
And while she has her own fans now, Ridings is most certainly still a fangirl in her own right, particularly of those songwriters who have come before her, like Florence Welch and Adele—which is to say, she doesn’t mind your comparisons. “It’s absolutely mental,” she said. “They are my complete idols. I have so much respect for them because I know now how much strength and bravery it takes to put your soul out there every single night. They are absolutely wild and beautiful, and I adore them to the grave. I would love to have a proper chat with them one day.”
Or perhaps they could make a redheaded Brit superband?
“Oh, my God. I’d die.”