This summer, buzzy Berlin-based YouTube Channel COLORS posted a video of a mostly-unknown singer performing a previously unreleased track. Standing in the centre of a mint-green room with a mic hanging before her, Greentea Peng waits tentatively as the opening riff of a sitar plays. Wearing thick gold bangles, huge hoop earrings, and a ring on almost every finger, she’s also impressively inked: a throat chakra symbol atop her voice box, symbolising authenticity and speaking one’s truth. An Om symbol sits between her eyebrows. Her style is inimitably unique, but then she starts to sing, and her husky, soulful vocals captivate you immediately. You’re convinced by every word she speaks. You sit up, switch on and really listen.
“The audience definitely grew, didn’t it?”, the South London singer, birth name Aria, considers when I ask her how her life changed after the release of video that now boasts over two million views. “Pretty much overnight. A lot of people reached out and connected to that song on a deep level.” The song in question, “Downers”, is a cloudy, indefinable expression of feeling lost and isolated, even when surrounded by friends. Here, Aria is laying out her most intimate emotions for us to find solace in, a process that, I suggest, must result in a feeling of intense vulnerability. “I think it’s just important to be honest, man,” she tells me. “I don’t really know how I can lie, you know what I mean? Singing is such a personal thing. You’ve gotta feel it.”
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Full look GUCCI
Dress ERDEM, all jewellery MODEL’S OWN
It’s clear that Aria feels the words she’s singing. It’s hard to imagine her doing anything else as the effortless melodies pour out, but the path she’s on now wasn’t planned: a chance meeting with now-manager Kesh, on a beach in Mexico, came after an extended break from singing. “She was like, ‘what do you do?’, and I was like ‘nothing, man!’” She laughs as she explains how she was subsequently encouraged to return to her true vocation of music and turn it into her career. “It was a bit mad actually, how it all happened.” In 2018, the 24-year-old released her first EP, “Sensi”, comprising of six songs that wax and wane throughout different genres like compact, unpredictable bubbles of energy. On “Moonchild”, a psychedelic beat fluctuates behind Aria’s layered vocals as she sings: “It’s not money on my mind/ See I’d rather spend my time/Getting high and staying aligned.” On the hypnotic, lo-fi “Loving Kind”, she asks: “Why can’t I be alone?” through manipulated, warped vocals. Her sound is addictive, not just for the honeyed, sultry tonality of her voice, but also the connection she audibly feels to the lyrics.
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On her second EP, this year’s “Rising”, something’s changed. The production has the same DIY feel, the songs just as experimental as before, but as she explains, “you can hear I’m a bit more confident in this EP”. The name “Rising”, then, seems apt – in the year since the release of “Sensi”, Aria’s social media following has catapulted. Her performances, once held in intimate spaces, now include Boiler Room sets and, a few days prior to our chat, her own sold out EP launch party. “I guess it was me kind of rising up into myself a bit more, [and] growing,” she says of the title. “Becoming a bit more confident in the message I’m trying to portray.” On “Saturn”, the singer croons “Have you ever really loved somebody/If you don’t love yourself?”, the now-commodified notion of “self-love” being something she tells me she’s always struggled with. “I’ve had mad image issues since I was a kid, and it’s just learning to shake off that conditioning. It doesn’t really matter what I look like, but obviously us girls, we always tend to be a little bit… Don’t we?” Without needing to spell it out for each other, we immediately reach an understanding of the inescapable anxieties attached to being a woman in an image-obsessed society – an unspoken solidarity connects us. Now that she’s been thrust into the spotlight for hordes of internet dwellers to pick apart her appearance, I ask if these insecurities have intensified, and she admits “They’re still present. It’s a learning process”.
For someone who relishes honesty in her lyricism, it’s no surprise that Aria is just as upfront about other parts of her life. A quick scroll through her Instagram and you’ll notice that she is particularly vocal about social justice, politics and the climate crisis; issues that many of us feel increasingly suffocated by. I ask if she ever has any reservations about posting her political opinions so freely, but from her carefree demeanour, I’m already pretty sure I know the answer. “I don’t really care,” she confirms, “it’s all stuff that I would post about if I didn’t have bare followers, so why wouldn’t I post about it [now]? We need to talk about it, because otherwise we’re just going to sit by and see shit happen, and all complain about it but actually none of us do anything. It’s about pulling each other up”. I am, however, more taken aback when she confesses that her career goals at one point included being Prime Minister. “I used to write letters to the council all the time… I was a proper neek,” she laughs.
The relief of hearing someone with an ever-increasing platform discuss the importance of speaking out on prescient issues — while also admitting that she feels “disillusioned” with the state of the world — causes me to selfishly ask if she has any advice for those of us who feel equally helpless at the mercy of power-hungry corporations and a dying planet. “What I have to do is just tell myself it’s all love,” Aria offers. “Everything seems super imbalanced, but somehow […] everything is happening exactly how it’s meant to happen. If everyone’s trying to create a positive reality to themselves, and people around them, then hopefully shit will start getting better”. There’s a strangely calming effect to hearing someone you admire soothingly assure you that everything will be okay, especially one that speaks with such apologetic candour. I’m here for it and, as Aria’s ever-increasing popularity would suggest, so are the rest of her fans.