Unboxed Vol. 42: Rachel Chinouriri is Changing The Face of Pop

The British singer talks to BET about how a simple TikTok video transformed her music career, leading her through viral moments and genre barriers to a groundbreaking new album.

It’s 2021, and you’re scrolling through TikTok. You come across a girl lying in bed, head resting on her pillow. She’s dueted a guy playing a guitar loop and softly sings over it into her phone, “Remember I’ll always love you...” 

Rachel Chinouriri had yet to learn how that simple video would catapult her career. The song “So My Darling,” began to trend. It became the soundtrack to people’s romantic relationships, showing off their pets or loved ones who passed away. Some people wanted this impromptu acoustic version to play at their weddings. “this song feels like a final goodbye,” commented one user. “though being gone the love will always be there and never believe otherwise.” Today, the sound has over 1 million likes on the platform, and over 100,000 videos feature the song, marking the first of Chinouriri’s viral sensations.

The song “quite literally changed my life,” Chinouriri tells BET for our Unboxed series. It’s the day before her sold-out Los Angeles show at the Echoplex, and we’re talking over Zoom. She’s giddy about heading her own LA concert tomorrow, a dream that’s been coming for a long time since she was signed to a label in 2019.

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Soon after she was signed, the pandemic derailed that original dream, but Chinouriri morphed it into something even better through TikTok. While the world was locked down, she uploaded videos about her life, music, and struggles as a Black woman in the indie pop scene. People from all over the world began to root for her. “So many people have discovered me through it,” she reflects. “Sometimes labels, when it comes to getting signed, they're like, ‘well, if, if we don't know who your audience is or how to market you, you might not get signed or you might get dropped.’ To be able to almost create your own audience, it's almost like even helping people understand you more. I feel lucky in that sense.”

Fans might’ve found her through one of her viral songs like “So My Darling (Acoustic),” “All I Ever Asked,” or “The Hills,” but Chinouriri’s honesty and charm kept viewers coming back, and she began to grow a following. “We're in a time where people want to see people win,” Chinouriri says. Over two years later, those OG TikTok fans who feel like they were there from the beginning now go and see her live, and they’re willing to go to war. 

In early 2024, Chinouriri went viral again on a different social media platform: X (formerly known as Twitter). “just discovered this girl and im living,” tweeted user @yassnito in February. “this song is everything mamas.”

The attached clip from Chinouriri’s music video for “Never Need Me.” Guitar and drums drive this catchy tune about finally cutting off a toxic ex. The playful video just so happens to feature Florence Pugh. Yes, the Oscar nominee is in Chinouriri’s music video. The post garnered 68k likes and 13.5 million views.

How did it come together? “I just sent her a DM,” Chinouriri laughs. I DM’d her like a year before saying ‘Slay,’ and she never saw it.” After Pugh saw it and responded, ‘Slay,’ she added, ‘Sorry, I didn't respond to your last message,’ as if she's not incredibly famous. 

After Pugh complimented her music, Chinouriri asked, “‘Do you wanna be in my video?’ And she was like, ‘Yeah, should we hang out?’ We went for dinner a few times.” Pugh agreed to make her music video debut. 

Shocked and still in disbelief, Chinouriri fully expected the plan to fall through the day of the shoot and planned a backup actress in case Pugh didn’t show up. “We were already prepared for it,” she says, but Pugh, “Came on time, ready, with just like the best attitude. It was her first music video and it was a lot of fun.”

Chinouriri is not quite the typical pop star, but people are clearly ready to see more Black women win. This has become a rallying cry around her. 

Genre-wise, Chinouriri sits at the same table as Olivia Rodrigo and Billie Eilish. But there is a clear absence of Black stars in the genre. “There is not really a Black girl like [Rihanna or Beyoncé] in a very pop lane,” she reflects, and even those two musicians have had their public struggles with the genre.

There’s a playfulness between genres white artists are allowed that Black artists often aren’t. Why does Victoria Monét sit firmly in R&B while Ariana Grande, who sings many songs written by Monét, is considered pure pop? SZA’s genre-bending album SOS was nominated for Best Progressive R&B Album and Album of the Year at this year’s Grammys, but not Best Pop Vocal Album. And Beyoncé kicked up months of discourse after she released an entire 27-track album to prove a Black woman from Texas is qualified to sing country. 

“Being white means you can be interchangeable between things,” Chinouriri points out. “Being Black, you have to claw your way out of a bracket.”

Genres should be a playground, not a sandbox with a padlock. Just look at Post Malone, Miley Cyrus, and Justin Bieber. It shouldn’t be that serious, so why do so many Black women feel boxed in by it? 

Chinouriri hopes the industry and listeners are becoming more open to the idea of Black people in every genre. “Hopefully it will open a door for there to be more than just one” pop star, she says. “I can confidently say I'm hopefully contributing to moving the needle.”

Chinouriri’s new album, What A Devastating Turn of Events, incorporates sounds from all the music she loves. Her family moved from Zimbabwe to the UK just before she was born, and she’s inspired by music from all over the world, everything between Coldplay and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Estelle and Sugarbabes to Amy Winhouse, Lily Allen to Rihanna

While some tracks on her debut album are breezy, summer-ready ear candy, others are, well, devastating. Chinouriri’s intimate songwriting shines from front to back. “Maybe I’m over-sharing,” she sings in the opening track, but the result is an honest peek into her mind. Many songs feel like a diary entry, intimate and poetic. She shares her insecurities and fears, destructive narratives she’s learning her way out of, stories of her family and friends, and romances gone awry.

Track 6, titled “Dumb B-tch Juice,” playfully contemplates why she falls for scrubs, immediately followed by the title track describing a girl whose unplanned pregnancy leads to her untimely death. Then comes “My Blood” and “Robbed,” two quietly heartbreaking songs about a suicide attempt and a lost love.

“There is a story in telling the Black British experience and what it's like being raised,” says Chinouriri. “I hope that people maybe understand the Black British experience a bit more just by listening to the music.”

Of course, there’s pressure for her album to chart and nervousness about how it’ll be received. But, she recalls, “the younger version of me did not care about how many sales I was going to get. The younger me was like, ‘I just wanna be a musician.’ I think it's really fucking cool when artists are on stage dancing and there's a crowd, whether the crowd is 50 people or 50,000 people. I just thought it was so cool and I've worked on myself a lot to remember what I'm doing this for. I'm doing this because I can have an artistic vision, and a story to tell.”

So don’t get it twisted; Chinouriri is not just a TikTok star or a one-trick pony. She’s an artist, a vocalist, a poet, and simply waiting for the world to catch on. 

What A Devastating Turn of Events is available to stream and purchase now. 

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