There are few issues extra integral to the adolescent daydream of being a pop star than conceptualising a music video the place you look sizzling whereas an electrical fan blows by means of your hair. On the set of her new single ‘That Woman’, Bree Runway’s legs are straddling a robust white motorbike, her ombre wig flying again from her angular and contemplative face as she basks within the breeze. It’s nonetheless too tame for her. “Fuck me up. I wish to really feel like I’m driving by means of the West Finish,” she calls to a close-by assistant. She then asks for her physique — which is almost naked save for a customized two-piece outfit common from a small variety of black belts — to be oiled up. The digital camera begins rolling and she or he goes full throttle, rapping: “For those who dangerous and you realize it, higher present out, lady” to the digital camera. She punctuates every phrase of the bar by gyrating up and down on the seat: “It’s. Simply. Like. No matter.”
Bree Runway — actual title Brenda Mensah — makes it look straightforward. Her kaleidoscopic imaginative and prescient is due partly to the truth that she is a toddler of the music channel technology. “Flicking from MTV all the best way to the white rock channels like Kerrang! confirmed me what you’re supposed to present. Appears to be like should be served. Nothing I noticed was boring. Since I used to be a child, I knew that if you’re on this place to be a pop star you wanted to wow,” she explains.
As a teen, Mensah cherished mavericks like Girl Gaga a lot that she emulated the musician by sporting one glove and holding a teacup as a trend assertion. Her mum loved 80s ballads by the likes of Phil Collins and Queen, whereas her dad was an enormous fan of older Ghanaian highlife music with textured instrumentation. The West African hotspot has turn into a celebration haven for Black Brits recalling the glory days of Ayia Napa at Christmas, however Mensah returns there to really feel centred and discover inspiration (“I’m used to it feeling like dwelling or a resting place, not Ibiza”). Absorbing all these totally different influences additionally imbued the singer-songwriter with a starvation for selection. By taking a business music efficiency diploma at London’s College of Westminster, Mensah realized find out how to develop her expertise in addition to the intricacies of instrumentation and composition. All of that is evident in how she throws the kitchen sink at her EPs and albums by experimenting with each sound from hyperpop and digital beats to lure and adrenaline-inducing electrical guitar, rapping, singing and writing.
A eager viewer of the Bree Runway Instagram and YouTube channel would additionally discover that she’s consistently modelling new standout seems to be with a technicolour vary of wigs, excessive stiletto manicures and enviable high-fashion outfits to dwell as much as her stage title. “I gown for my temper and my temper is at all times a bit sprint of stripper, energy silhouettes, and wanting to face out,” Mensah says. She posed in an electric-blue cut-out gown with Naomi Campbell on the Off-White present at Paris Style Week, designed a denim two-piece for her journey to New York, and has worn ensembles from thrilling rising designers like Chet Lo and Leeann Huang. If you prime this all off with high-octane dance routines not often seen from UK pop stars, you will need to ask your self: who the hell is doing it like our Breakthrough Award-winner, Bree Runway?
The 29-year-old is totally conscious that she naturally possesses a creative dexterity that different acts rent entire groups to create. As we sit in a restaurant a brief stroll from her east London dwelling, Mensah tells me that she spends hours attempting to manifest a imaginative and prescient of her profession as Bree Runway. “I moodboard my entire life on my iPad, I put myself on the centre and have a spider popping out of my title and take into consideration how I can organise every thing to be wonderful round me. I make notes about how I wish to look, and particularly how I wish to really feel.” As for the upcoming music, she has some soul-baring collaborations coming with Stormzy and Khalid, however there’s a unique sound elsewhere on the EP: “It’s extra aggressive, extra vibrant, harmful guitars. Foolish!”
It’s been a pivotal couple of years. In 2020, the album 2000SAND4EVA dropped. ‘APESHIT’, she says, is a music that embodies her essentially the most, because it flips from bombastic bars on the verses to attractive vocals on the bridge. It’s daring, chaotic and playful. There’s a reverence for the previous that additionally in some way catapults us into the long run. Even in lockdown she saved the momentum going by filming the video for ‘DAMN DANIEL’ in her lounge. Bree Runway was dubbed the Sound of 2021 by the BBC and Greatest New Worldwide Act on the BET Awards whereas additionally being nominated for the Rising Star award at the BRITs.
It additionally grew to become clear that Bree Runway is your favorite artists’ inspiration. Mensah reels off a couple of of these names: “I used to be simply with Lil Nas X, who advised me he’s an enormous fan, Megan [Thee Stallion], Doja Cat, Cardi goes out of her method to rejoice me, and Kehlani says I ought to really feel mega for what I’m doing. SZA mentioned ‘Any person Like You’ means rather a lot to her. I’m like, ‘Oh my God, how do you guys up there see me?’” She additionally collaborated together with her idol Gaga on a rework of ‘Babylon’ on the Daybreak of Chromatica remix album, and enlisted one other hero, Missy Elliott, to rap on ‘ATM’. “Folks saved seeing movies of me and saying, ‘I didn’t know Missy had a high-quality daughter,’” she laughs. “She noticed it and she or he advised me to maintain doing my factor.”
“I moodboard my entire life on my iPad”
— Bree Runway
There are various parallels between Brenda Mensah and the VMA Video Vanguard Award-winner. Missy Elliott was at all times a proficient scholar, to the extent that she would fail on function to slot in with the opposite youngsters. Rising up in Hackney, and attending Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Faculty in Islington, Mensah’s teenagers had been robust. She tells me she too dimmed her shine in school as she was bullied for being too totally different. Pupils made her really feel annoying for the truth that she might sing and dance — although this did earn her the chance of performing for Michelle Obama when she visited pupils in 2009. The then First Girl referred to as her a “star”. Mensaheven felt dangerous that her hair was lengthy and full. She was impressed by Missy Elliott’s lyrics and surreal visuals that celebrated being voluptuous, darkish, weird and exquisite. In Missy’s first Rolling Stone interview in 1997, she mentioned her ostentatious persona helps her shake off her shy character. Equally, Mensah says she may be coy. “Brenda generally can’t even take being checked out on the road by a man. She’ll be like, ‘What’s the issue?’ Forgetting that she’s simply fairly. It’s the schoolchild in me.”
Shehas been frank about the truth that she now loudly celebrates her hue as a result of she was made to really feel like her darkish pores and skin was a hindrance. At 9 years previous, she tried bleaching and broken her pores and skin. “I acquired uninterested in feeling ugly,” she says. “Strolling previous bus stops with Black boys from different faculties wasn’t at all times good.” However in the end, she appears like the truth that she by no means fitted the mould gave her the liberty to interrupt out of it. It’s satisfying being celebrated for all of the issues she was teased for: “Being bizarre and darkish is actually my promoting level,” she states.
After her tour ended with a sold-out present in New York earlier this 12 months, Mensahreturned to London and took 4 months off. “I wasn’t current or vigorous being Brenda. Brenda felt deserted,” she says. “I knew find out how to act when the digital camera comes on, however I additionally felt like a li’l child who wanted to be carried round in a Louis Vuitton bag,” she confides. The break allowed Mensah to take inventory of her life in its entirety, reflecting on what she wasn’t having fun with about her profession. “I found a lot about myself, my artistry, my enterprise and sure buildings that work for me and that don’t. It’s actually helped me.” She started to do some soul-searching.
Persevering with with that theme, I ask whether or not she would moderately be the very best participant on a workforce that at all times loses, or the worst participant on a workforce that at all times wins?
“The perfect participant on the workforce that’s dropping is doing the job correctly. I don’t wish to simply get by, I don’t like chopping corners,” she says. “I’m not at all times different folks’s profession or feeling jealous.” She’s additionally by no means been bitter about what stage she’s at in her imaginative and prescient. In 2017, Mensah was working in retail at Christian Louboutin till her ardour for music began to get in the best way of her having the ability to decide to shifts on the forward-planning rota. When she give up, she was “piss poor” so she began doing cloakroom shifts, waitressing and hospitality at weddings the place you get “handled like shit” by managers. “I’d be that individual on the employees workforce that has a blue tick on Instagram and folks can be like, ‘Wait, aren’t you—?’ and also you’re like, ‘Sure, I’m, however I don’t have the cash proper now.’ Then I’d swap wigs from black to blue as a result of I’m going to Rihanna’s celebration afterwards. There’s nothing I’ve had straightforward, I’m a grafter.”
“Being bizarre and darkish is my promoting level”
— Bree Runway
A recurring remark from followers on her movies is that Bree Runway ought to already be a family title and isn’t getting her dues. It’s a marvel she doesn’t really feel oppressed by their impression of the place she needs to be. “Conversations round me deserving extra don’t shake me as a result of I’ve come up to now, and I simply care about whether or not I’m extra profitable than yesterday. I do know it’s as a result of they love me, however every thing will occur in due time. Why would we wish to rush this journey? It’s thrilling. I don’t wish to have one hit and performed,” she says. For her, an artist’s improvement is essential and as Bree Runway, Mensah is having fun with the evolution of bringing “O2 area vitality” to any room of any measurement.
“I attempt to not settle for a doomsville narrative round colourism,” she says. “The ‘Bree isn’t the place she needs to be as a result of she’s darkish pores and skin’ factor — I don’t actually like to just accept that. I’ve a really delusional way of thinking that comes from my religion. I’m doing one thing totally different regardless of what I seem like. And if we’re going off seems to be, I’m sizzling, so no matter.”
Her spectacular work ethic signifies that Mensah solely comes dwelling to place her bag down and sleep earlier than leaving once more with out taking it in (“my balcony view is wonderful”). She clearly takes satisfaction in the place she lives now. Her high-rise block is grand and stands in stark distinction to her beginnings rising up close to what press dubbed the “homicide mile”. “Hackney was harmful. It might go from sunshine to rain actually shortly, within the sense that you possibly can be outdoors taking part in with your mates and then you definitely look over the balcony within the estates and there’s a frickin’ shoot-out occurring downstairs… but it surely’s not like that anymore,” she says casually. I’m cautious of fuelling the played-out rags-to-riches narrative typically gleefully repeated when speaking about Black artists. “If my dad was wealthy, I’d personal that and be comfortable, but it surely’s wanting like I’m the primary individual in my household that’s going to dwell this kind of way of life. We are able to’t assist that that’s our actuality… however journalists are obsessive about that shit,” she laughs.
Artistic persons are way more more likely to dwell in chaos in response to analysis, so I’m not truly allowed to see the residence. “I might have allow you to in earlier than however there’s so many bins in there from video shoots and I don’t have the vitality to scrub,” she says. Throughout her day off, Mensah tried to show her dwelling right into a sanctuary and Marie Kondo’ed the place eliminating previous garments (“I did a automotive boot sale at Princess Could in Dalston and let issues go like for the low low, I bought a Dior bag for £80”) and practised feng shui.
Mensah typically drops God into dialog as if he’s a private pal that’s on pace dial — which, if you’re spiritual, I suppose he’s. As we stroll round her neighbourhood, Mensah reveals that she prays over all her possessions. Classic gadgets want extra prayer than others as a result of they’ve had a earlier proprietor and a unique life that you just aren’t aware of. “Particularly jewelry, that’s essential. You put on necklaces subsequent to your coronary heart,” she says.
“I don’t lack love; I’m not searching for it in determined locations. I’ve it from God, I’ve it from household, I’ve it from my followers”
— Bree Runway
She focuses on spirituality as she typically finds mortal males disappointing. “I really feel that it simply must be price doing. I don’t lack love; I’m not searching for it in determined locations. I’ve it from God, I’ve it from household, I’ve it from my followers,” she explains. That’s why there’s a lack of affection songs in her catalogue because the lyrics are normally declarations of self love, like in ‘Sizzling Sizzling’, directions on tracks like ‘LITTLE NOKIA’ (“throw him within the dustbin”), and allegorical tales of males to keep away from on ‘X2C’ (“Who’s that lady in your Instagram feedback?/Put my gloves on, I’mma battle”). A key believer of manifesting by placing pen to paper, ‘Any person Like You’ is actually a callout for the person she needs she had. The unique observe is a transferring ballad with Phil Collins-esque drums the place Mensah reveals her unbelievable vocal vary hitting excessive octaves in a saccharine tone earlier than giving method to a extra full-bodied cry to indicate her craving.
Mensah explains that the final time she was truly in love was “many, a few years in the past”. For those who’re trying to turn into Mr Runway, she has a reasonably clear thought on what it will take. “I wish to meet a man that is aware of themselves, that isn’t a slave to materials issues. I’ve numerous garments however that’s as a result of I’m obsessed with trend — it’s to not impress. ‘I really like the silhouette of that, or the buckles actually match this bag.’ That’s so totally different to, ‘I don’t really feel like a person so I’m gonna put on this chain.’ It’s giving insecurity and I’m giving massive D vitality amongst my female vitality,” Mensah provides. “I’m searching for that needle-in-the-haystack man. I wish to be in a love that makes me really feel like I wish to do life once more simply so I can expertise extra of this individual. Till then, I’ll simply give attention to myself, wanting sizzling and lasering my vag.”
As one of many UK’s solely avant-garde pop stars consistently attempting to interrupt the mould, Bree Runway is rightly incomes nods from business titans and her burgeoning fan base. And, regardless of Mensah’s off-duty pop star disguise of a black hoodie (together with her blue wig solely poking out barely), eyes hidden behind glasses, and sans-manicure nails, she’s additionally simply been recognised by the waitresses within the restaurant behind us. “Don’t look now however that lady over there simply confirmed her pal my Instagram web page and I noticed the entire thing,” she says whereas wanting down. We proceed chatting, keenly conscious of the rising viewers to our dialog. There isn’t a subject we will cowl that doesn’t turn into an instance of her self-love, her thirst for originality, her unrivalled ardour. “I’m wonderful in each single method all the way down to the contents of my soul and the vitality that I present males,” Mensah proclaims. “Males are excessive not even from having intercourse with me, simply hanging out with me, they’re like, ‘Oh my God, I really like this lady.’ I imply that humbly as effectively. I’m simply such a very good vibe. I do know myself. I didn’t purchase a persona off the web — there’s numerous ladies like that. So, when guys come throughout me, they’re tremendous obsessive about me, they love me the fuck down… and I don’t blame them.” Neither will we.
Taken from the December/January 2023 challenge of Rolling Stone UK. Buy it online here. On UK newsstands from Thursday 10 November 2022.
Style: Joseph Kocharian
Styling: Holly Wooden
Hair: Seraiah Artistry
Make-up: Tomi Ajayi
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