Organic chemistry. An infectious online presence. Music video vixens outfitted in Diesel and Jean Paul Gaultier. FLO has all the makings of a successful girl group, with sultry vocals reminiscent of the early 2000s sound die-hard R&B fans miss. Before their first album had even been released, Renée Downer, Stella Quaresma and Jorja Douglas were on their way to becoming household names.
Following their first televised performance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” on Oct. 6, the ladies of FLO left New York City and returned to the United Kingdom.
The R&B girl group’s debut single, “Cardboard Box,” has already reached 10 million streams in six months.
Since the release of their EP “The Lead” in September and their latest track “Not My Job,” Downer, Quaresma and Douglas have been working around the clock: performing at the Moth Club London, recording “Later… with Jools Holland,” and more. While the 20-year-old songbirds deserve a celebratory break, they’re laser-focused on honing their craft.
“We’ve got a singing lesson,” Douglas told HuffPost, peering into her iPhone’s front-facing camera from their Mill Hill-based recording studio. “I can’t even remember much of [the ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live!’ performance]. I think, naturally, there were nerves because we knew what we were doing. But it was a really nice environment. We weren’t made to feel nervous.”
Their nerves were assuaged by the countless fans in attendance who knew every lyric of the song, mouthing it alongside them. Written in November 2019, “Cardboard Box” was released in March, amassing 27,000 likes on TikTok, spawning countless duets and stitches on the social media platform, and reproducing a remix that has been used in over 1.1 million videos. “The Lead” has garnered over 25 million streams so far.
“There wasn’t really a period of time where [“Cardboard Box”] was doing nothing. I think we knew the impact it was going to have; that’s why we wanted to release it so bad. The label wanted us to release a different song,” Douglas said. “We wanted to put our best foot forward, and they were able to get on board with that. It was the best decision we could have made because, obviously, it went viral.”
“Worthy heirs” to Destiny’s Child and TLC’s legacy, they’ve been credited by Pitchfork with “ending the R&B girl group drought.” Apart from their natural chemistry, FLO’s seamless arrangements, pitch-perfect harmonies and vocal depth prove that maybe, the genre isn’t dead. In fact, Gen Z could revive R&B by studying its earliest pioneers.
“We are really shaping our music,” Douglas said. “We’re trying to control the narrative. In most of our music, we write and we’re very a part of the process — the production, the writing, the melodies and the harmonies. We try to be across all of it to really make sure that FLO is us, which I think is different from the other group I was in.”
Though FLO’s meteoric online rise makes it seem like the trio was an overnight success, the group has been many years in the making.
Music has been a constant thread in Quaresma, Downer and Douglas’ lives, citing inspiration from “the greats like Beyoncé, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Brandy, Faith Evans.” Quaresma, raised in Mozambique until she was 5 years old, recalls dancing with her cousins and delving into singing upon moving to the U.K. Meanwhile, Downer remembers being a notorious back-seat singer.
“[My mum] always listened to the best music. One of my earliest memories is her driving me to school, and she would just play Rihanna and Mary J. Blige,” Downer said. “We would literally pour our hearts out in the car. I feel like my love of music stems from my mom, and she surrounded me with that growing up.”
Growing up in London, Downer and Quaresma attended secondary school and university together. It would be years before they connected with Douglas in person. In 2017, Douglas won the British talent television show “Got What It Takes,” wowing judges with her soulful rendition of Adele’s “When We Were Young” at age 14.
“My mum had to put this bunny costume on and hop around on a space hopper to try and win carrots so I could sing in the sing-off,” Douglas laughed, reflecting on her time on the show. “But it was fun. Me and these two [other] girls, we formed a really close relationship, then I was in a girl group with them.”
But that was short-lived. Trusting her intuition, Douglas felt she wanted to be in a different collective. Douglas, Quaresma and Downer were connected on social media — so they knew of one another — but they developed chemistry at an audition.