AAt the start of 2022, Finn Askew hit the refresh button. For the self-taught singer/rapper, producer and multi-instrumentalist, the previous two years had been a whirlwind of multicontinental viral fame, major labels – the 20-year-old was previously signed to Polydor – and performing live (or virtually ), all in the midst of a global pandemic. The catalyst had been his concise and sharp debut single, the R&B tinged ‘Roses’ – a runaway hit on the intricacies of love and distance – which topped the charts in Thailand in early 2020 after Taeyong of K-pop group NCT posted the song to his Instagram Story.
The track continued to reach even greater heights throughout the ensuing year, surpassing 50 million streams and appearing on Askew’s debut EP, 2021’s “Peach,” which preceded the EP. “Tokyo” influenced by rock. But for Askew, who got into transplanting as a teenager playing pub shows in his rural hometown of Wellington, Somerset, going back to his DIY beginnings has become essential to realizing his potential. He left his label six months ago, but speaking to NME on Zoom today, he says the new music he’s been working on has been “a leap in self-discovery”. He adds, “Even being with the label was a beautiful thing, but I have a new, more positive energy now.”
So when ‘Roses’ unexpectedly got a second wind earlier this year, Askew was determined to make the most of it and further establish himself as a cutting-edge, brilliantly independent artist. In February, Jungkook of BTS who dominates the world shared the song via his social networks, which caused Askew’s name to evolve on Twitter in Korea. Although the track’s success would once again have struck like a thunderclap, Askew is convinced that “everything happens for a reason”.
With thousands of curious new fans around the world behind him, Askew is pushing his creativity into bold new places – starting with a brand new live show for his first appearance at Brighton’s The Great Escape this week (May 12). Before his performance, he spoke to us about his connection to his global fandom, what it means to be a rockstar in 2022, and his personal growth through his upcoming music.
How’s it been to watch ‘Roses’ continue to thrive two years after its breakthrough?
“I wrote it when I was 16, and I really never thought I was going to release the song because I didn’t think much of it initially. The longevity was crazy; it was the song the most streamed song in Thailand for three consecutive months, and it also picked up millions of streams in other Southeast Asian countries. I’m really happy that people are still buzzing with the song, and I don’t think really not that the traction will slow down, ever.
How does it feel to be famous on a continent you’ve never visited before?
“My friend is in Thailand at the moment, and he messaged me saying he saw me on TV – that would never happen to me in the UK! I’m pretty well known in South Asia. South East; I feel like I might even get arrested in the street. I’m really grateful for the love, but in England no one knows who I am; I’m still an up-and-coming artist, so it was the weirdest way to start my career. It’s like, ‘Why am I jumping there, but not at home?’
“When Elton John played me [on his radio show], he explained how he also broke into Asia and North America early in his career. Sometimes I feel like I’m working backwards; you would have thought that I would have wanted to take over the UK first, but I started to explode on the other side of the world! It was nice to hear he had the same situation, though.
Having started out as a handyman, what’s it like to join a major?
“If it was the right decision for me, I’m not sure. There was no hesitation, however; at that point, that’s where I felt like I had to go, but I think I should have released some of my older music as an independent artist before taking that big step. I was very young and naive when it came to navigating labels, so I wish I had a little more time to experiment with my sound before jumping into the deep end. I have no regrets; I just needed a moment to understand what I wanted as an artist.
You previously described your music videos as “movies”. Why is the visual side of your work so important to you?
“I work with a lot of talented people, so to call my music videos anything other than a movie would be unjustifiable. With the new music I have coming up, I want to explore other setups, such as performance videos or taken live, because I don’t think we even need traditional music videos anymore. Often it’s just a financial ploy; unless you get a lot of views, you won’t get much out of it. -thing, so I’m more interested in thinking about different approaches in which I can invest my time and resources.
What encouraged your interest in American rap as a teenager?
“I met some SoundCloud rappers a few years ago like Juice WRLD and Lil Peep because those artists kept popping up on my [Instagram] feed and I would listen to them and say, ‘Yo, this shit is sick’. I love British genres of music, but I’ve always been more inclined to listen to American rap. The artists I mentioned became some of my biggest inspirations, so it was losing them all within a few years. [to drug-related causes] was really difficult; it made me think about my career, like, ‘How am I going to do things differently?’ »
Do you think we will ever see a resurgence of the SoundCloud rap movement?
“I think it’s coming back right now, stronger than ever. I still love the SoundCloud and underground scenes a lot, but the youngest and hottest rappers coming out today are recording on BandLab. I listen to kids from America and they’re so young, but their music is so sick; for example, there is this guy called Cl4pers that’s crazy good. I also think that this new wave of artists is different from the previous era; everything seems much healthier.
“You can be a rapper and still be a rock star, it’s about how you perceive yourself and how you deliver a message through your music”
You met one of your greatest inspirations, Post Malonebehind the scenes of Reading Party Last year. What did this experience mean to you?
“I didn’t really believe this was happening until it was all over. His team came to see my set, which was amazing; a few hours later, he was right in front of me backstage! Obviously, I didn’t come across as a fanboy, but I told him that his music shaped me into the artist I am today. It meant a lot to me to meet my idol, and what I also admire about him is that he is in no way filtered. No matter what kind of music he does, he’s a fucking rockstar.
Do you think the traditional definition of a rock star is changing then?
“For me, being a rockstar isn’t just about the music, you don’t have to be in a band to be one. Take Travis Scott, for example; you can be a rapper and still be a rock star it’s about how you perceive yourself and how you convey a message through your music and how you play with your voice and melodies . I definitely think I’m more of a rock star than a pop star.
Are there any plans for a debut album in the near future?
“I feel like I’m not even thinking about the album. I am absolutely in no rush. This is a huge thing to consider; you can only do your first album once, and I want mine to be number one, obviously. Every piece of music I put out right now has to be amazing – that’s all that matters. But more importantly, I finally found myself as an artist; if you had asked me this question a year ago, I would have told you that I couldn’t even dream of making an album. My new music, however, is 100% next level – and I want to keep progressing.