South East London artist, Shygirl, is the shapeshifting lyricist and producer embracing all things uncomfortable and taboo.
It’s the morning after the night of the online launch of “Freak”, the first single off her upcoming Alias EP, and Shygirl is in a good mood. “I’m a bit hungover because we partied last night. It always feels like it’s like my birthday when I put a single out—I’m like ‘oh it’s a me day!’” she laughs over the phone from the North London flat she moved into recently.
Produced by long-time friend and collaborator Sega Bodega, a fellow member of cybernetic club collective NUXXE, Freak sees an animated doll version of the artist writhing around in viscous pastel-coloured slime as she purrs the explicit bars that she has become known for over Bogeda’s warped, pulsing beat. Opening with the assertion she “Won’t meet ever your mum/ but your daddy’s on the phone”, we are instantly introduced to the sexually liberated party girl Baddie, one of the four personas being introduced to us over the course of the EP.
Alias is Shygirl’s first full release since 2018’S Cruel Practice EP: 5 tracks of gurning, anxious beats and deadpan, icy vocals where she explored her real-life feelings and experiences through assertive role-play. Since then, she has released a handful of singles, including cocksure anthems BB and the film-noiresque “Uckers”. Creatively, her forthcoming EP continues this exploration of her multifaceted identity, using digitally rendered “aliases” to better embody the amplified elements of her personality. “I think it’s easier to understand the different genres that I’m blending when I give them a real form as these characters”, she explains. “They all have such full lives, and it’s nice to explore that within the visuals of music to further give life to the environments I’m creating.”
- Faux fur dome hat LEEANN HUANG X BENNY ANDALLO
- Knit jumper and top MCQ
- Face piece LAURA ESTRADA JEWELRY
What have you been up to during lockdown?
I was lucky enough not to be too affected by anything in terms of my health or financially—it happened to be a good period for me to chill out. I’d been touring a lot before then; doing shows and also working on the EP, so I hadn’t really had a minute to gather myself. The first couple months of quarantine was an emotional rollercoaster—you don’t realise how many coping mechanisms you have until you don’t have them anymore. Travelling for me had been such a routine and had helped me break up my life—not having it was like “it’s just day… and then it’s night”.
It was a good time to experiment using Zoom to work with new producers [like] Oscar Scheller, who I made Tasty with. That was a late addition to the EP but I think it ties everything a little bit better. We got into such a good pattern working together over Zoom that I actually ended up making a lot of music, and I think that was just from giving myself time to not make anything and having the energy. You realise the things that you miss, and that’s some of the energy that went into this track—it’s fast-paced and fun and vocally upbeat, which is different to a lot of the stuff that I’d been working on previously. There was a hopefulness at one point in quarantine, that feeling of ‘OK when this is over we’re gonna have the best party ever’, and I felt an urge to create that with the music.
A lot of your sound and aesthetic are very much rooted in the club, both as a space and as a concept. What has it been like without that, and how have you tried to recreate the club in lockdown?
It’s not so much the club as the gathering—my house would always be where the after-party was even if I didn’t go to the actual party. I love being able to hang out with friends—even when I’m not feeling particularly social I like being the host or the orchestrator of the social environment. I like knowing that I’ve brought everyone together in the room, or that you’re in proximity to the people that you love. Not having that in quarantine was crazy—there was that one week when everyone was on Houseparty, and then everyone was on Zoom, but then eventually you just log off and you’re sitting in your room by yourself.
The EP is called Alias. You embody a variety of different characters in your music…
Shygirl as a moniker started off as such a loose thing; I never really had big ambitions for it because I stumbled into it almost. Even using the term alias, I thought it was interesting because I don’t actually see [Shygirl] as an alias, because I am that person. Shy is very much a period of my life that I’m sitting in right now. It’s almost like method acting—you’re just in it. I’m fully exploring that and I’m finding out that Shygirl has different sides as well. That’s kind of what the EP is about—how that reflects sonically. I think everyone is multifaceted, and that oftentimes we sell ourselves short by condensing that. I wanted to introduce myself in a way that I think is easy to digest and also how I think about things.
A lot of your visuals and social media presence make use of imagery and language usually associated with sex workers, such as in the Nasty video. Do you think sex positivity is a big part of who you are?
Definitely. I found myself through my sexual experiences. I think a lot of the world’s issues lie in shame around talking about really natural things like sex and relationships—something that is so intrinsic in our life has been decided by society to be shame and taboo. That doesn’t feel right to me; something about it just didn’t assimilate. Naturally, I want to be able to push that with my imagery, but there’s more to it than that. Sex is an easy analogy; it’s something that is automatically implied and inferred towards me. I use it, because it will be used regardless, but actually the things I’m talking about and addressing are my feelings beyond sex—how I feel about myself, if I felt angry or sad. Especially with anger, it’s a lot easier to use sexual terminology because some of it is violent sounding language. In my older tracks I used a lot of slang from drill, but [because it was] coming from me it was immediately [seen as] sexual. I think that’s a big part of my story—as a woman I’ve been sexualized since I was like 12 or 13. It’s something you grapple with growing up before you’re even ready, so I think it’s powerful for me to be able to have ownership of it. I found so much of my creativity through something that was thrust upon me.
How did you start making music?
I’d always loved writing but I never wrote songs. I was good with words—if anyone needed help with writing anything they’d come to me because it was something I enjoyed, but I never really found a place for it until Sega [Bodega] wanted to try a few things out.
When we started doing that, I was like ‘I really like this, it feels natural!’ I wasn’t coming into it really thinking that I want to make a song, and I think that’s what helped. We just made something that was true to us without thinking about it. I always thought about music as something technical where you’re trying to hit a note or achieve something in particular, and that didn’t really fit with me. Now I just see it as an extension of something creative that I’m doing, the same way I used to do mixed media art or take a picture. It’s just a tool to express myself, and I think that had never really been shown to me in that way when I was younger.
You’ve worked almost exclusively with Sega Bodega until now, but this EP sees you work with some new producers, including 3 producers (Sega Bodega, SOPHIE, and Kai Whitson) on Slime. Has your musical process changed at all?
That’s the first track I’ve made with so many producers on it… that whole process was really interesting. We were all actually in the room together; there were a lot of egos! But it was fun, it was good. I have really genuine relationships with the people I work with. I’ve been working with a lot more producers than usual, but a lot of them I’ve known since before I was making music. I like personal relationships—I couldn’t just sit in a room and work with anyone—you’ve got to get on with them and be able to show yourself creatively.
SOPHIE and Arca are geniuses to me. They’re both really beautiful people inside and out—I feel really lucky to share their presence. I get a lot of people’s energy, and that does affect what you access in yourself. How I think about a situation I’m trying to write about is affected by who I’m in the room with at that time, and how they’re making me think about things. I’m still open to seeing what happens in the room at the moment; I’m not really restricting myself too much about how I like to work, but it’s just about being open.
What inspires you?
I think my absolute biggest inspiration is definitely my relationships. I always have someone I’m crushing on, or some situation. Secondary to that I would say, again, SOPHIE and Arca—it’s really interesting working with two hugely talented trans women. A lot of my friends are trans, and there’s something so hugely vulnerable about that experience from what I can see. I feel like I’m learning so much about life from them and the way they’re treated by society. Studying humans kind of inspires how I look at myself: what I do and how I treat people, and how privileged I am in my experience—to be able to talk about the things that I talk about and to turn things on their head.
Horror is a recurring theme in your work. Rude warped the infamous score to the Psycho shower scene, whilst Uckers uses a drawn-out scream sample as the base of the beat. Is violence something you’re drawn to?
I think everyone is. It’s almost all the same to me: the scary stuff or the cutesy stuff or the sexy stuff, it’s all just things I like. I’m also saying I’m not ashamed to be liking this stuff. Everyone likes to be a bit thrilled, whether that’s through more vanilla sexual stuff or a scream in the night.
How is this EP different to your previous work?
If you imagine when you begin to learn a language, you’re saying the things you want to say but you’re not saying them as well as you’d want. The longer you speak that language you get better at it and that’s what the second EP is basically. I’m touching on the same themes as before but I didn’t know the vocabulary, and now I know more and I can express myself better. I personally feel like it worked really well as a project—I got what I wanted from it, even just in the making of it. It’s interesting to see how it will be received, which will be a happy by-product at this point because I’m happy already.
Your sound and the language you use to express yourself in your music is archetypal London. How do you think growing up here has inspired your sound?
It raised me. My parents are both working-class Londoners and I grew up reading a lot. Books but also reading slang stories like Keisha Da Sket out loud off people’s Sony Ericsson’s. I just really enjoy language in all its forms, and having a vast vocabulary includes slang. I don’t often get to use it [anymore] because I’ve got a lot of international friends now so it dropped out of my vernacular a bit. I feel like I can run with it a little bit more in the music because I love a double entendre, I love versatile meanings, bending language to your will. Sometimes I’m saying really personal shit that I don’t want to be so personal—I want to remove myself a little bit. Slang is really helpful with that; it really shaped me and how I express myself.
What’s your dream post-lockdown party?
I’m into open spaces now. I miss free parties—when I was at university [in Bristol] we used to have loads of free parties in the woods. I think that would be a nice renaissance of the party, if post-corona we got out more and had parties outside. I love an illegal rave, when people were talking about clubs closing down I was like well the music’s not gonna stop because it’s a necessity. People cannot exist without that expression, it’s so physical to be able to go somewhere and dance… or not dance! Sometimes you’re in your house and you’re like a caged bird and you have to get out—I think everyone understood that feeling more than ever in quarantine. There should be some compassion for people to party; it’s such an innocent thing to go out and express yourself physically.
Finally, you always have glowing skin. What’s the skincare routine?
One thing I swear by is Charlotte Tilbury Magic night cream—it is actually magic. But apart from that I think the answer is partying a lot. Just sweat out all the toxins. Be sweaty!