On the title single from her new album, Champion, Bishop Briggs proclaims: 'Thought I was weak, but baby I'm strong/little did I know/I'm a champion'. The song, a love letter to the strength found in vulnerability, is a strong forecast for the rest of the album.
Briggs, born Sarah Grace McLaughlin in London to a Scottish family, took her stage name from her family’s roots in the town of Bishopbriggs. The surprisingly tender genesis of her name gives you some insight into her work; Briggs tends to sneak touching, candid themes into in-your-face, often trap-inflected alternative pop tracks.
Opening track I Still Love You begins with slightly distorted piano that’s soon joined by a trap beat, relying almost solely on Briggs’ impressive, soul-inspired vocals and showcasing her range in just a little over a minute. Briggs is perhaps best known for alt-pop like River, which, with its explosive chorus and catchy beat, managed to hit alternative charts across the globe.
But where Briggs excels on Champion is in the moments where all that is stripped back. On Someone Else, with little but a piano and backing vocals, Briggs laments that 'All I wanna do is be alone/write a song, by myself/all I wanna do is be alone/lose my phone, be someone else'. It’s both utterly believable and a powerful catharsis, both for the listener and Briggs herself. Her talent lies in her ability to navigate and express her most difficult emotions.
Briggs first realised she wanted to be a performer when, as a child, she sang in public at a Tokyo karaoke bar. After learning to write her own songs at the age of just seven, she committed herself to performance and honing her craft. Her influences, which she got from her parents, range from Aretha Franklin to Led Zeppelin. That lyric-and-vocals-first approach to music makes her somewhat unique right now; while her songs are bolstered by beats, making them eminently listenable, it’s clear that they’re a vehicle for her real passions.
Of course, huge tracks are still present on Champion. Can You Hear Me Now? seems set to be a massive hit; with deceptively melodic vocals leading into a heavy chorus, it’s impossible to forget. Jekyll & Hide, the heaviest song on the record, is an impressive collage of influences: opening with an organ, Briggs sings eerily about a changeable partner over an industrial goth-inspired instrumental track.
Briggs’ debut album, Church of Scars, was released just last year through Island Records. A unique record full of religious references and heartache, Briggs has said that her intention was to stay transparent with her music going forward. True to her word, Champion marks less a departure from Church, rather a firming of the themes that she’d already started to explore.
My Shine is perhaps one of the poppiest songs on the record, shaped by a repetitive beat, yet it’s still a vehicle for her words and voice. An honest exploration of a toxic relationship, she sings: 'Hated that you smoked, but I lit cigarettes for you/told me I was crazy until I believed it too'. The song is fun, too, featuring 90s-style drums and a quasi-rap verse on which she yells, 'God forbid, I talk like that to you'. Her venom and genuine emotion is palpable.
At just 27, Briggs’ career is already enviable, but she’s nowhere near done yet. Endorsed by rock artists, she’s been billed alongside huge acts at festivals, headlined her own tour, and been featured on soundtracks. Still, it’s clear that she’s unlikely to conform to any models of mainstream success. Boldly shaving her signature hairstyle in support of a friend with cancer, Briggs’ distinctive look of a bald head and immaculate makeup is entirely unforgettable.
On Champion, she’s starting to cement what’s likely to become her signature musical style, too: powerful vocals teamed with vicious yet vulnerable lyrics, laying herself bare while refusing to tone herself down.