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How Kenya Grace’s ‘Strangers’ Came After She ‘Seriously Considered Giving Up Music’

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This week, Kenya Grace’s global smash “Strangers” ascended to No. 1 on Hot Dance/Electronic Songs, marking the first time in the chart’s 10-year history that it’s been led by a track solely written, produced and sung by a woman.

Not bad for a song the 25-year-old artist wrote three months ago in her bedroom in Chandler’s Ford, England. A dreamy, sort of ominous ode to meeting people on dating apps who then ghost, “Strangers” marks a sort of belated pop breakthrough moment for drum’n’bass, the longstanding electronic genre that’s currently one of dance music’s backbone sounds, particularly in Grace’s native U.K.

“It’s really a huge part of young people’s lives here,” Grace tells Billboard over Zoom.

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The song is also a milestone moment for Major Recordings, the flagship dance label from Warner Records that launched earlier this year. “I wrote ‘Strangers’ a week after I signed with them,” Grace says with a laugh.

“Strangers” is currently sitting at No. 71 on the Billboard Hot 100 (dated Oct. 21) and is also in the top position on the Dance/Electronic Streaming Songs and Dance/Electronic Digital Song Sales charts for a fifth and third week, respectively.

Below, Grace tells Billboard how she created her breakthrough hit.

How did “Strangers” come together?

I wrote it about two months ago in my room. I didn’t think too much into the full song, but I made a video of just the chorus. Nothing else existed at that point. I posted it on Instagram and TikTok and people seemed to really like it. I always find that I can write the chorus quickly, and then, like a week after, I get back into the head space and write the rest of the song. I finished writing, and then we worked on the production for a bit and got it mixed and mastered. We released it soon after that. It has been really fast.

How long did it take you to finish it?

It was pretty fast. I always find I can write the chorus really quickly. Then, like a week after, I get back into the headspace and write the rest of the song. Probably a week later, I finished writing [“Strangers”], and then we worked on the production for a bit and then got it mixed and mastered.

And it’s all happening in your bedroom. Paint a picture of that space.

It’s just a tiny room; I live in the countryside, in a tiny town an hour outside of London. My room is a really average room. The amazing thing about my house, though, is my window overlooks the woods. So I think that’s helpful with the deep thoughts or whatever.

The track has been hugely successful on TikTok. What’s your relationship with social media?

My favorite thing to do is make beat videos. I love writing a mini song and then making all the drum loops and everything, so TikTok and Instagram are like my perfect places. It has been a crazy year because last year, I seriously considered giving up music. Then, I posted a video on TikTok, and it changed my whole life. My socials are really different now — I think that’s the biggest thing, just the amount of people, the amount of love. It has blown my mind.

How do you feel about bringing drum’n’bass further into the mainstream?

It wasn’t a goal, [but] I really love dance music in general. Drum’n’bass is the first thing I went out to; it’s what all my friends go out to. It’s really a huge part of young people’s lives in the U.K. Liquid drum’n’bass I especially love — it’s basically a more emotional version of drum’n’bass. Like dance music, but a very soft version. I love that so much. I feel like it goes well with my voice. 

Are the lyrics based on actual events?

It’s a mixture of stuff that’s happened to me, stuff that’s happened to my friends and things I’ve noticed around me. It’s so common, in this day and age, that you’ll see someone for a bit, and you’ll speak all the time and then randomly one day, you just never speak again. It happens so much with Tinder and Hinge and things like that. It’s so easy to just give up and swipe on to the next person. It’s basically about that. It’s happened to me. It’s happened to all my friends.

What do your friends and family think about everything that’s going on for you?

My family is still in shock, to be honest. It’s just crazy. None of us have ever experienced anything like this, on this level. One of my friends said there was an article in the U.K. [Official Charts] — it was like, me versus Doja Cat. My friends were like, “Kenya Grace challenging Doja Cat? This sentence should not exist!” I was just like, “Yeah, I don’t know how it exists.” It’s so crazy.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Oct. 7, 2023, issue of Billboard.

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