Bishop Briggs is sinking to the bottom of a body of water. Her face is obscured as she submerges under the ripples, but you can tell it’s her by her double buns. A rimshot rings out—it doesn’t sound like a snare drum, but like someone banging on a door that’s been chained shut—and as the sound resounds, Briggs’ face appears on the screen.
This is the opening shot of the video for “River,” the 24-year-old singer’s biggest single. When we see Briggs, she is wearing round glasses and her ever-present choker, and a washed-out effect is employed to the video giving it an eerie effect. Briggs begins to convulse like a demon in Jacob’s Ladder.
“The director for that was Jungle George, and he’s such a visionary,” Briggs tells me. “Whenever we’re together, I feel like it’s the goth kids sitting in the cafeteria just coming up with these dark concepts and dreary visuals.”
The video’s Lynchian aesthetic, which features Briggs donning a bag over her head à la The Elephant Man, is a clear indicator that Bishop may be a pop star in search of a widespread audience, but that it is the audience who will have to adjust to Briggs’ vision and not the other way around. She is authentically uncompromisingly herself.
Briggs co-wrote “River” with her producers and bandmates Mark Jackson and Ian Brendon Scott. The song is about a passionate yet tempestuous relationship on the brink of destruction. This energy is realized by Briggs’ vocal performance during the emotional chorus in which she belts, “Shut your mouth, baby stand and deliver / Holy hands, ooh they make me a sinner.”
When I ask Bishop what moment in her career she’s most proud of, she cites writing “River.” It was the first time she collaborated with Jackson and Scott, and she sensed right away that they had created something special.
“There was no one excited about us. We were just in this little room. No one had heard of us, but it was a moment I was really proud of because it was something we had accomplished together, and I could have only have hoped that good things would come from it,” Briggs said.
Her hopes came true. “River” moved up to the number one spot on Hype Machine’s popular charts and reached number two on Spotify’s Global Viral 50. Six months later, and Bishop Briggs was making her television debut on The Tonight Show with the song. Briggs was all energy during the performance, hopping around the stage, never letting on that she was channeling her anxious energy into excitement.
“I want to say I’ve never been so nervous, but I did just play the Rose Bowl, so that was very nerve-racking as well. But it was just another surreal moment,” Briggs said of playing The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. “This year has been a complete whirlwind, and everyone that I have met—especially the whole Jimmy Fallon experience—was super kind and supportive, which I think helps my nerves but ultimately, of course, the nerves won.”
As if playing Fallon weren’t a big enough milestone, Briggs also just finished touring with Coldplay, hence the Rose Bowl appearance. Before the shows, band members would crowd around a communal ping-pong table, which is where Briggs first bumped into Coldplay singer Chris Martin.
“I was heading out to the stage, and that was my first time meeting [Martin], and he was so genuine. I think it’s always really crazy when someone like him says, ‘thanks so much for doing this,’ because you’re just like, ‘What?’ This is a huge dream come true for me, so to [work alongside] someone that down to earth and someone that’s made such a huge imprint on the alternative world is a huge blessing,” Briggs said.
Bishop’s music could be described as alternative in its amalgamation of elements from hip-hop, electronica, and pop, but she herself describes it as trap-soul. This is an apt description for her most recent track, “Pray (Empty Gun).” The song’s triple hi-hats and sampled beat point toward trap, while her vocals resonate the pain palpable in her early Motown influences such as Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding.
The lyrics to “Pray (Empty Gun)” are drawn from Briggs’ own experience in which she was hurt, but instead of striking back, she chooses to take the higher ground and pray for the one who hurt her.
“I think your initial reaction to any kind of betrayal or sadness is to react with anger, and I wanted to write this song as a reminder that generally with situations, I never react with anger; I always react with sadness, which is something very true about me,” Brigg said. “So when I wrote this song, I wanted it to be that same expression of sending someone positivity no matter how negatively they have impacted you and hurt you.”
Briggs mentions that her music isn’t very happy, and that she has always been drawn to darkness, but that she channels these feelings to be her most vulnerable self in her songwriting.
“It’s who you are when the door’s closed behind you, and I think that more than anything is the part of me that I truly never show anyone except for in my writing. And this whole thing, in a way, is an outlet for me,” Briggs said.
However, being vulnerable isn’t always easy when you know millions of people are going to be hearing you bear your soul. Luckily, Briggs has developed a tactic that stops her from censoring herself.
“The best technique that I’ve done this far, and has never really changed, is that I pretend that no one will hear [my music],” she said. “I pretend that it will just stay in the little four corners of the room I’m in, and no one will hear it, and then by the time the song is actually released I can express it the way I’m hoping to express it.”
Inspiring others to write as well is something Briggs hopes fans get out of her live show. In the fall, she’ll be back on the road, this time with Icelandic rock band Kaleo. A debut album is forthcoming, though an exact date hasn’t been decided yet.
Throughout our chat, I am struck by how earnestly Bishop loves making music. It seems to be her main priority. All the notoriety and opportunities she’s worked toward seem ancillary to the joy writing and performing bring her.
For my final question, I ask Briggs something relatively open-ended: where would you like to see yourself in a year? She could have said on the stage at the Grammys or in studio with Brittany Howard from Alabama Shakes—a band Briggs cites as an —but those are the career highlights Bishop surely will have if she continues truly believing answers like the one she gave me:
“In a year, I’d like to see myself still creating, because I think if I’m doing music and I’m still writing, then ultimately that’s when I’m happiest.”