“I don’t know if I consider myself brave although I was pretty scared about doing it,” says Croydon singer-songwriter Florieme about filming her video for Lady Sings the Blues. Opening with the distinctive buzz of electric clippers, she sings directly to the camera while shaving off her remaining hair.
The 23-year-old BRIT School graduate, whose real name is Whitnie Parks, began struggling with the effects of alopecia during her second year studying music at the University of Surrey. “I originally thought I had just pulled some of my hair out, then I noticed bald patches throughout the rest of my head and it really freaked me out.”
Her debut EP, Between the Lines, delivers a melting pot of contemporary R&B, soul, and jazz sounds fused with funk-inspired rhythms. Following her tracks released last February came dynamic music videos that radiate messages of courage, self-expression, and empowerment.
The Lady Sings the Blues video makes a bold statement, projecting ideas of self-acceptance and promoting awareness for the autoimmune condition. She says: “It was me taking back control over something I effectively have had no control over for the last three years of my life.”
Florieme thought her battle with alopecia had ended when her curly locks began to grow back. Then last year it returned causing bald patches to appear on the front of her head. “My hair was too short to hide it so the whole head- shave idea came into play,” she says.
She feels lucky now that it has almost all grown back again however she says: “I don’t know when or if it will fall out again.”
While Florieme exudes confidence in her creative choices, the decision to shave her head did not come easy: “I remember thinking ‘What if I have a weird head?’ or ‘What if it doesn’t suit me?’ I was pretty scared about doing it. I just think that you’ve got to do what you can if you want to make a difference.”
She was seconds away from shaving her head alone in her bathroom when the video concept came to her: “I was literally sat on the toilet and I thought ‘No, I have to do something bigger.’ So I texted my go-to video producer Gerald Boye and told him the idea and he jumped on board.”
Released in September of last year, the Lady Sings the Blues video is not only a platform for encouraging self-empowerment, it is also used as a fundraiser for Alopecia UK, a charity that offers support to people with alopecia and funds research for treatment and cures.
The video spreads awareness but also encourages other people with alopecia to embrace the poetic mantra posted on Florieme’s website: “I am not my hair. It does not define me. I wear my patches with pride.”
Florieme says: “People are quite quick to point out issues in themselves and the world and then feel too insignificant to do anything about it. I did something that anyone could do to show that it’s not about being the best singer or painter, but about using what you have to make the differences you want to make.”
In February she released the video for Your Soul, which illustrates the complexity of an abusive relationship.
Featuring a couple celebrating with friends at a party in the first half, the video transitions to a tense altercation between the couple, highlighting how abuse can hide in plain sight. “It’s about raising awareness for domestic violence in the most understandable and relatable way possible. Particularly for those of the younger generation.”
Florieme has sent the video off to be used by charities and an organisation in Wales has implemented the video as a learning tool in their programme that teaches schoolchildren about domestic violence.
Besides her EP and intimate gigs throughout London, Florieme says she is most proud of how much she’s grown as an artist and person: “I’ve jumped from the hell that was a Croydon secondary school to the world of BRIT School where I learnt about my art, then jumped completely out of my comfort zone to a music degree at university”
She makes it clear that her musical journey and life experiences have given her an understanding of who she is when she says: “I will always be a girl from Croydon.”
Lyrically and melodically her music is not as obviously heavy as the themes depicted in her videos. “I pride myself in being able to fit really serious things into songs without people really realising what they’re about.”
With two EP’s and multiple videos in the works, Florieme assures that she will always raise awareness for important issues through her music. “It would be silly for me to complain about things if I wasn’t trying to do something about them. I’m using what I’m good at and enjoy to stand up for what I believe.”