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Deep Diving into the Layers of Shygirl

Described as debaucherous and hedonistic, Shygirl shows us that there is a more thoughtful side to her sex-laden lyricism.

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Pursuing music in 2018, and going on to establish her collective NUXXE with friends Sega Bodega, Coucou Chloe and Oklou, the intrepid and outspoken Londoner, Shygirl, seemed to shoot pretty quickly into a bright spotlight. Her Cruel Practice EP introduced her to the world through screeching, nightmarish production juxtaposed against her sensual come-hither vocals, practices which have carried over onto her latest 2020 EP Alias. 

Through the 7 tracks of the release, Shygirl provides handles through her lyrics to swing us into her world, oftentimes raw, uninhibited yet still strangely ambiguous. “She came to fuck” in ‘SLIME’, and “Nasty, filthy moving your body” in ‘BAWDY’, to “Daddy raised a wild one/ Daddy raised a fiend” in ‘TWELVE’, inject a humourous illicitness throughout and in retrospect we see four B’s coming to life; Bovine, Bae, Bonk and Baddie, a set of Shygirl’s alter egos, each highlighting a stroke of the young artist’s characteristics. 

They’re personality traits that have led to an unapologetic, and perhaps, explicitly sexual touch to Shygirl’s work, an output that has resulted in the interpretation of her music to be debaucherous and almost hedonistic. Yet behind the curtains hides a philosophical mentality, a more meaningful and deeper thought process that slithers out through the discussion of her songs, introducing layers that one may not expect. What it shows most is the complex character which is Shygirl, both hard and soft, both with a ‘this-is-me’ attitude but also a sincere want to learn and evolve. 

Getting a chance to talk to the artist, we deep-dived into a few of her thought-processes, discussing sexuality in her lyrics, what taboo means to her and how Alias stands as a release that pulls her fans closer to understanding what her music is about.

Congratulations on your latest release Alias. How’s the week been since it’s been released?
It’s going good! It’s nice to see people receive it really well, and see what people think. I kinda kept it so close to myself for like a year now, all my friends are tired of hearing it play at my house. So it’s good to see how people are attached to it in comparison to the last EP and last singles that I had out, cause I feel like it’s different in some ways and I wasn’t sure how people would receive it, but yeah, it was interesting.

One thing I found really interesting on the release was how you explore the nature of your personality with the 4 B’s (Baddie, Bovine, Bae and Bonk). Would you say that this release for you is a means to make sense of yourself or explore those complex layers of your personality?
I think that part of it came after the music had been actually made because I kinda just let myself be open to being intuitive about the music. I didn’t really want to be too prescriptive and so I just wanted to see what happened in the room, and what I found, and what the natural desire was that came up sonically. And then once I made all the tracks I was like, “Okay, what is this saying about me right now?” It was almost a review of myself. I don’t like to overthink it when it’s happening cause there’s so many things that you end up doing subconsciously to display your growth or progression without having to do anything intentionally. 

I felt listening back to it you ended up having three different narratives or perspectives that you bounce between. I found for me, in my perception, more distinct versions of myself or like voices of perspective. Whenever I need to do something or overcome something I take on a side of myself that comes through to kind of get the job done, and that was when I looked at what ended up becoming ‘Baddie’ ‘Bovine’ ‘Bae’ and ‘Bonk’, but they didn’t even have names til the very, very end. I was just figuring out who they were and seeing them take more of a solid form as the project went on. The potential of me, and what most people are, is quite broad and no one is one person at any time. I really like playing with that idea of having an alias, saying you’re getting into different roles but really you are yourself at all times, you’re just capable of these different sides of yourself.

You often say that you make music to be understood, and I was thinking that maybe you brought out these personality traits as a way to do that. Is Alias a step closer for you to being understood by your fans?
Yeah, I think definitely in comparison to the last EP. As a project that was really an early stage of discovery for me, and I think that was the first thing that I ever made. I feel like everyone was kind of travelling with me at the time when I was discovering music, and I didn’t think I realized my potential at all on that first EP. It was really just like I was having fun. I was just like, “Omg this is what I can do with the sounds that I’m attracted to”, but I hadn’t really touched on what I could say lyrically, like the wordplay that I was able to get into in this second EP. I think there’s confidence as well that I brought into this second EP that I didn’t have in the first one. So on the first one I introduced myself properly, whereas now I feel a bit more sure of what I’m interested in giving to the public, and as much as it’s an explanation of myself to other people it’s also a reflection of myself for me, I think.

Another thing that’s interesting about this release and perhaps you in general, is that you once said your music ‘isn’t always literally about fucking’ because you sing a lot, and quite explicitly about sexual physicality.  How do you use the idea of sex in your music to create meaning?
For me it naturally does, and in my life, I love the relationships with people and what that says about where you are, what you want for yourself, what you want for others. There’s so much to be read into. Sex isn’t always about sex sometimes, even if it is just sex. So then when I’m using that in the work, it’s one of the most visceral things and it’s easy to relate to because it’s so physical. Sometimes I feel like whatever I’m going through emotionally is all-encompassing, it’s heady and it’s reckless sometimes, and those are all the things that I do associate with sex.

I’m really passionate about life and the situations I’m in, so it’s hard to see beyond the passion of the situation and that again I completely relate to sex. I find it funny for a lot of women in music, you seem to want to talk about sex or relationships or you know, there’s no end to the different angles that we can get out of it. Maybe I’m not the only one using sex as an analogy, though not everyone just assumes that we are talking about sex, why are you only taken at face value and assuming that we’re not trying to make a commentary about life and society and stuff like that. 

When you’re talking about those sexual aspects, I’ve seen a lot of people bring up the idea of taboo. What does the idea of taboo mean to you?
I definitely don’t go out thinking what’s going to be the most shocking or challenging, I’m more referencing what feels most natural for me to talk about, and what’s on my mind, and what will be the most understood when I’m trying to understand what I’m going through. There is an aspect where I’ve always had a very free and open forum for discussion with my parents and my fans, so it’s natural to talk about sex and how we feel, and what’s going on with us, and how directly it relates to our equilibrium. So I would naturally share that to the world, these are the things that I’m interested in. I’m interested in why people feel uncomfortable when they’re talking about things that are so personal like that, or you know why they feel ashamed to feel certain things or do certain things when obviously you enjoy it or naturally want to do it. There should be no shame in that conversation because you only learn more about yourself and the others around you, why can’t we talk about it? And I’ve never felt that, I’ve never really felt that shame about it. Shame about sex is probably the root of lot of evil that go on.

Overall and thinking back to your EP what’s been the favourite part from writing the songs to actually releasing them?
I think making the music has been my favourite part because I leave so much room for spontaneity and I don’t really put that much pressure on myself. I feel incredibly lucky to enjoy working with other people like that, and being able to share stuff. Especially when so many crazy things are happening in the world, like the pandemic, it seems quite frivolous at times, if I look at it like that, but it’s also so necessary, you know. In those times where you have nothing I was so thankful to have this creative comfort blanket, and I looked at a film on television or music, and it’s not just entertainment sometimes it’s actually like a lifeline when the world becomes too much. 

And to be able to contribute to that is so amazing, so I feel like that sense of wonderment and excitement, it’s still so much in the making of the music for me because I don’t know where the source of it comes from. Sometimes I’m in the studio working with someone and I’m writing a whole song without consciously thinking about anything, it’s just really intuitive. Sometimes I’m like “Wow, where did that even come from?” I don’t even know.

Bjork and Roisin Murphy are two influences of yours, they’re both pretty non-conforming and incredibly ever-changing in their music. Thinking about the artists that influence you, what are some of the characteristics that you value or respect when listening to their music?
I think they’re provocative in terms of our perception of female and female commentary. There’s a sweetness in the way that they lure you into your thinking or their way of viewing the world, and that’s maybe not what I’m trying to emulate, but what I’m subconsciously emulating, in that you think you’re being led in one direction but are being taken into another. And I think that’s the way it should be. There should be a sense of discovery and surprise, you shouldn’t feel led or directed to the sweet spot where everything is, you should feel like you discovered it yourself. Then there’s the part if you seek hard enough you’ll discover but there’s also a top layer that’s easy to access. It’s like watching a Simpsons cartoon, you know, there’s a joke you get when you’re a kid and a joke you get when you’re an adult. There’s two sides of it and through experience, you understand the actual message, and I think that’s what I always try to get in my storytelling.

What’s happening with you now after your Alias release, are you getting ready to go live in 2021?
Yeah, well it’s really weird because the last show we had was in London and I was so happy with it, it was really fun. I curated the line-up and the set design and everything. And I had finally gotten to a place where I could use my experience from my other live shows to really create the environment that I wanted, I really thought of the live shows as theatre. I’m looking forward to blending the gap to this virtual realm we’ve been living in and bring some reality to it, continuing the story in that way. But I’ve made so much music this year as well, it’s nice to be able to be thoughtful about what music will come after the EP. It feeds so much inspiration to me about what I want to give everyone next. How everyone receives Alias does temper that, does make you be like, “I don’t feel the same way about this type of vibe and I wanna move forward with this”. That’s why it’s so important to put the music out and to progress and to grow, cause without this public forum or section of it, you’re just kind of in an echo chamber.

Follow Shygirl here for more and check out her EP Alias below.

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