Photo: Lauren Harris

Rachel Chinouriri

In the mid to late 2000s, a wave of female artists from the UK took center stage and set the bar for the next generation of stars. From Amy Winehouse’s unparalleled jazz vocals and candid lyrics to Lily Allen’s tongue-n-cheek yet thought-provoking songs to Adele’s heartfelt ballads and M.I.A.’s politically-centered music, the British music scene has always taken pride in its songwriters. 

With their influence embedded in today’s musicians, we have a new legion of women who will leave their stamp on the future generation to come, whether that be hyper-pop princess PinkPantheress and her nostalgic blend of dance and UK garage, Dua Lipa’s main pop girl energy, or soulful singer RAYE with her jazz-leaning vocals and storytelling. However, there’s another name to add to the mix; indie pop and alternative rising star Rachel Chinouriri whose time to shine has been many years in the making. After putting in the groundwork for many years, all eyes are on the 25-year-old former BRIT School student as she arrives with her highly-anticipated debut album, What a Devastating Turn of Events. Based on a culmination of the experiences, challenges, and joys of Chinouriri’s life so far, the 14-track body of work is the most refreshing debut album of 2024.

“I feel very ready for it to come out,” she tells EUPHORIA. a little under two weeks before its release. “I’ve been doing music since I was 17 and now I’m 25, so that’s nearly 10 years. The pandemic came just as I got signed and then so many things have happened where I haven’t been able to put on an album. I think just to actually get to a point where I am able to put one out, I feel really grateful. However, I am over it. I’m like, it needs to come out.” On the other hand, Chinouriri recognizes that it’s bittersweet. While eager for the album to drop, she knows she’ll be onto the next in no time. “I’m trying to really absorb how I feel every day and journal and be grateful for these times because I know when it gets busier I’m gonna be like, ‘Oh God, I wished for these days!'”

What a Devastating Turn of Events is Chinouriri’s personal journey to discovering what home is. Born in Croydon, South London, to Zimbabwean parents, she admits that being raised in the UK by African immigrants made her feel like she didn’t belong there. Despite the hardships, Chinouriri is looking on the positive side of things and credits being a proud Zimbabwean for helping her become the woman she is today. Compared to some of her previous noteworthy material that focused on relationships and ex-boyfriends, Chinouriri wanted listeners to get a deeper sense of who she was with her debut. “It’s almost like my personal life started reflecting what’s happening in my music because I had such chaotic-ships and relationships. And then when I started working on myself from within, like almost from the ground upwards, I then realized I attracted way nicer men, so I didn’t really have terrible men stories to write about anymore,” she says with a laugh. 

The creative process for What a Devastating Turn of Events began two and a half years ago, but came to a “natural stop” when she realized she had come out to the other side from the trauma. “I think the person I am now versus the person who I was then is really different,” she says. “I used to have a lot of anxiety. I used to panic a lot. I would say to some degree I would have excuses for everything maybe ’cause of the trauma that I had. But I hit a point where when I started writing the album I felt really calm. I was kind of like, ‘Well, if this album is about trauma, I no longer have any more trauma to write about.'” Chinouriri figured she was in a different headspace when she left LA to finish off the album in the UK. “I had a really life-changing experience in the countryside with my friends. I was like, ‘Okay, I think this is the end of this chapter because I’ve hit a point where I feel like nothing matters,'” she says.

During early promotion for the album, Chinouriri admitted that her parents hadn’t heard the more serious, hard-hitting songs. Months later, this is still the case. “I think my parents don’t really, I don’t wanna say they don’t understand what I do, because now they definitely do, but my parents’ sense of what music is has always been music that makes you dance and move about,” she explains. “With my mom, I don’t think she comprehends the poetry, melody, lyrics, and stories. So I hope that when she sits down and listens to the album, maybe she will really hear what I’m saying.” Chinouriri adds. “I know she has a rough idea about what everything’s about. She’s always like, ‘Don’t write too much about our family’ [laughs].”

Photo: Lauren Harris

Two particular songs Chinouriri is skeptical of her mom hearing are “I Hate Myself” and the album title track, the latter telling the story of a female family member of a similar age who took her own life. “She was there when it was happening because it happened in Zimbabwe. I know she was really devastated but my mom processes grief in a very interesting way because she’s a child soldier, so her idea of grief is a bit different,” she says. “It’s hard to tell that story and make it public because my family and parents are not really public people, so I guess that would be the only reason why I was concerned about it. But then I performed it in front of her live and she thought that it was great.”

As she’s gotten older, Chinouriri reveals that her relationship with her parents has changed. “Even with the stuff I thought would’ve got me in trouble when I was younger,” she adds. “She’s like, ‘No, express how you feel.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh okay, well, this is how I feel!'” However, on the moody “I Hate Myself,” it’s understandable why her mother wouldn’t want to hear her daughter repeatedly sing, “I hate myself, I hate my skin.” “It’s a topic that she never knew that I was dealing with,” Chinouriri says. “She never wants any of her kids to feel like they hate themselves so she might feel maybe a bit bad that she wasn’t able to be there for me at the time. But I also never told her at the time.”

Another album highlight is “The Hills,” a grungey, almost Skunk Anansie-infused track that is both celebratory and sad. Written about feeling out of place in LA, Chinouriri discovered that the UK is where she feels most at home. As one of the last songs written for the album, it felt full circle when one of the first songs penned for the project was about her wanting to find the answer. To make things ameliorate, its Jake Erland-directed visual is an ode to Lily Allen’s 2006 “LDN” video. “I’ve been wanting to do a video like that for years. I was like this, ‘This lady here, she did something with this and I would love to do something inspired by it,'” she says. “It was just pouring with rain instead [laughs].”

In the years she’s been making music, happy songs haven’t really been a part of Chinouriri’s repertoire. It’s something she’s started to become aware of and is now concerned about. “I think this is why my next phase of music will be interesting,” she says. “I’ve written everything about my life previously and all the pressures and now I’m dealing with the lifestyle of a musician in a really healthy way. I go to therapy every week and work out all the time. I don’t drink. I have done a lot of things to make sure I keep sane because I’ve seen what happens if you don’t. I feel like I’m in such a good place that I’m concerned about what I’m gonna write about because it might not really mean anything. Although, I’m so excited to get into it because maybe not everything has to be so negative and dark.”

Not all the songs on Chinouriri’s album are doom and gloom, however. There are definitely some lighter-hearted moments to get stuck into. One is “It Is What It Is,” a whistley indie pop tune that details her feeling of annoyance with an ex. At the same time, the song honors her friendships while featuring voice notes from her industry gal pals Mae Muller, Olivia Dean, and Cat Burns. There is also “Dumb Bitch Juice” about the questionable decisions made while dating and the anthemic banger “Never Need Me” about leaving someone so both people can move forward and grow.

As anticipation for the album has continued to grow over the past few months, Chinouriri’s career has started to reach new heights and even catch the attention of Adele who gave her a shoutout on stage in Las Vegas, and Game of Thrones actor Sophie Turner who shared “All I Ever Asked” to her Instagram Story. A moment she regards as game-changing is when she spoke out on social media in 2022 about being unfairly pigeonholed due to her race. As an evolving alternative, indie pop artist, Chinouriri was labeled everything from urban, soul, R&B, and hip-hop for being Black. “You see my color before you hear my music,” she stated, adding, “I’m honest with my music, this is just one thing that always scares me.” The post didn’t go under the radar and the outcome was both positive and supportive. 

“Spotify, Apple Music, all these digital streaming services spoke to me and they changed the playlists that my song was in. Within about a month, I’d gone from 200,000 monthly listeners to a million,” she says. “I’d been doing me for five or six years and the fact that within a month of being put into the right placement, my music could be heard by a million people, which was mind-blowing.”

Recalling that the only Black British women she could see herself in within the indie genre growing up were V V Brown and Shingai Shoniwa from the Noisettes, Chinouriri is proud that there is a lot more representation for the next generation of aspiring Black indie women who’ll follow in her footsteps. She’s also glad the conversation of being a minority within the genre continues to be a topic of discussion. “I think about it all the time because I think there was a point where I would always get asked about it and I was like, ‘Well, this is annoying because if someone went to a white artist and asked them what’s it like being white in the industry, it would be a strange question. But then I was also like, ‘Well the reason why that question doesn’t exist is because discrimination has played a part for Black people. And at the end of the day, I am Black and this is my skin. As normal as it feels to me, we didn’t put ourselves in this position,” she says.

Chinouriri continues: “There are people before us who have fought so hard for us to even be in a position where we can speak about it. In the early 2000s, there wasn’t a social media for Black artists to just write how they felt. But now seeing that it doesn’t have to feel as much of a burden, it is actually more the fact that I’m being asked about it by publications. I’ve now turned it into an active group of people who want to change the narrative versus it being an annoying question. To be asked about it so that people can read it and gain knowledge feels a bit like a privilege. Every time I get an interview and I get asked about this, I’m glad the conversation is coming up because it means everyone wants to take part in the change. It feels a lot easier when white people can help you take part in that change. Sometimes when it’s all Black faces saying the same thing, it’s not heard the same way. When white people are able to write it into their articles and speak about it and understand it, it feels like you’ve been really seen and heard. It’s just a beautiful thing to see the music industry and press be so welcoming and allowing our voices to be heard.”

Photo: Lauren Harries

With the album soon to be in fans’ hands, Chinouriri wants listeners to acknowledge the importance of time. “It might sound a bit dark but I just want people to always remember that life is short but time is really slow. You have to kind of think about how much of your time you wanna spend on things because time is actually more valuable than money. You can lose all the money in the world and go completely broke and you can find five pounds on the floor and get it back. You can’t pick up an extra five minutes of time anywhere, no matter how hard you try,” she says.

“I think after I wrote the songs and had the album, I was like, ‘Wow, I wasted so much time beating myself up about things which essentially was to either please other people or was because of other people.’ And now I’m just grateful that I’ve been able to turn it into a project that I can put out. But in my personal life, I’m now like, ‘How much time do I wanna spend doing certain things?’ If I die tomorrow, I wanna spend all my time with my friends and my family and tell people I love them all the time.”

As Chinouriri prepares to go on tour to promote the record, she’s already thinking about the follow-up to What a Devastating Turn of Events: “I’m excited to start writing a second album. I’ve kind of got the itch to go back to the studio when last year I actually was like, ‘I don’t want to go back to the studio at all.’ But now I have this thing where I really wanna go.”