Calling All GIRLI Girlies

Calling All GIRLI Girlies

Introduction by Bailey Richards / Photography and interview by Justin Atkins

Calling all GIRLI girlies.

Since dropping "So You Think You Can Fuck With Me Do Ya?" at age 17, the now 24-year-old artist has come a long way stylistically. She’s cycled through eras, each defined by unique visual and sonic aesthetics — her hot pink hair the only constant. Now cut into a mullet, the London-born singer’s hair isn’t the only thing electric about her.

Her most recent EP may be called Damsel in Distress, but GIRLI is anything but. She is unapologetically badass, even when opening up in songs like “Dysmorphia” and “I Don’t Like Myself,” and yearning in “More Than a Friend,” her most popular song to date. In another song from the five-track EP, she describes herself as “ruthless," which she embodies on both the EP’s cover and other visuals.

Grappling with insecurities, being cheated on, crushing on a friend — Damsel in Distress describes familiar and relatable experiences that are given new life through GIRLI’s lens as both a bisexual woman and as someone newly in control of her image and sound.

Finally able to be her authentic self, PAPER sat down with GIRLI to talk about her achievements, inspirations and more.

You’ve have had some major accomplishments this past year. You recently hit one million Spotify monthly listeners, reached 100,000 YouTube subscriptions and completed an 18 city tour across the UK for your Damsel in Distress EP. So how was playing live shows different now that you're independent versus when you were signed?

The Damsel in Distress tour was the first time I felt so authentically myself when touring. This recent tour was amazing because I was able to do everything my way. It was so rewarding. My whole crew was women and nonbinary folk driving my van, very DIY. My first record deal I signed when I was very young and didn't really understand what I was getting into. All touring was funded by the label, meaning they would have a lot of opinions. It didn’t feel like my tour and I felt a bit like a puppet.

Having your creative control back must be very liberating. Your fans were truly fed during this EP release. There’s a music video or visualizer for every song on Damsel in Distress. What's your philosophy around making visuals to pair with your music?

As I get older and as GIRLI develops and changes, morphs into different things, I see myself way more as a visual artist. It was so important for me to have a separate artwork for each song. I want these songs to each have their own identity. When you have an opportunity to create something extra, why wouldn't you make it fucking crazy and weird and cool?

The song "More Than a Friend" describes a female friend becoming a new romantic and sexual interest. How true to life are the events of the song? Do they describe a real life experience?

Oh yeah, completely. They describe a real life event with a real life person who definitely knows the song is about them. I thought I had managed to hide that fact, but I didn’t. [Laughs] A lot of the time people will hear the song and think that I'm singing about my current girlfriend, but actually, the song is about someone who was my friend where we didn't end up getting together because it was always this question of, "Are they queer? Do they like me?" You know, like [agh].

I ended up telling them how I felt and they didn't feel the same. I like that people can translate the song to be relevant to them and things that are happening in their lives as well, which is always what I'm trying to do. And funnily enough, the person it's about told me how much they loved the song.

Do you ever get nervous about making songs about people who are close to you?

Yeah, definitely. I was nervous when I released that song, but also thinking, “Oh, she'll never know,” and she so did. I get nervous especially because a lot of the time I'm inspired by difficult situations and don’t want to offend or upset people by writing my songs about them. I feel like a big part of the GIRLI brand is that my songs are horrifically relatable and honest. I think anyone around me sort of knows that I write about everything, so no one is safe.

Do you consider yourself a confident person and what gives you confidence?

Am I confident? that’s a question I ask myself. I think I can be, but I think I also lack confidence a lot. I'm trying to figure out how to make it 90% confidence, 10% self-doubt. Writing music that I love and playing shows gives me confidence, feeling like I'm in my element. Honestly, sometimes when I have the most confidence is when I'm blaring my own unreleased demos in my AirPods just walking around London, feeling like I'm going to change the world with my music.

The song "I Don't Like Myself" is a personal favorite from this EP.

When I wrote this song, I remember not really liking it. I wrote it and thought it's, whatever. Then I listened to it a few weeks after and was like, “This is sick.” I felt really proud of the lyrics because I've never been able to fully capture that feeling of social media making me hate myself. I just wish that I could love myself more.

One of the lyrics of this song is, "Looking at the girls with the bigger butts.” Would you ever do a cosmetic procedure?

What's funny about that line is I did end up going for that particular part of my body just because it rhymed. I really like my bum, that is an inaccurate lyric. I also remember when I was a teenager, I’d go to clubs and be so overwhelmed by how I thought every girl in there was hotter than me. It used to ruin my nights out because I would feel so insecure. Cosmetic procedure? I feel like people have the right to do whatever they want to their bodies, as long as it's their choice. I think for me, probably not.

I feel the same. I love a person with a big beautiful plastic face as a visual, but for myself probably not. It's quite common for British singers to Americanize their accents when singing. Has it ever been a consideration for you?

My accent just goes on its own little journey sometimes because my Mum's English and my Dad's Australian. I grew up in London, but I think some kind of Aussie element affects how I pronounce some things. When I started releasing music as GIRLI, I was really determined to have my English accent in there. If I turn my voice American, then I feel like I would just sound like everybody else.

How has your style has evolved since the beginning of your career?

My style definitely changes with my music. When I started, I was influenced by PC music, hyperpop, Harajuku and later on '70s punk and Y2K style.

Early on, you were referred to as PC Music adjacent. How did you approach differentiating your sound?

I was definitely inspired by PC Music and hyperpop at the start of GIRLI. I started wanting to have more of an edge to my voice and I didn't want to autotune myself as much. I am still inspired by it in certain ways melodically because the pop melodies are just so good, but I've moved away from it to a more live sound rather than a processed sound.

Everyone needs a force that they can match up with. Who is your dream future collaboration?

Purely because it would be a 360 moment, Tegan and Sara. They're the band who made me want to make music and they helped me so much with coming out and figuring out my sexuality. They were the soundtrack to my teenage years and they were in my headphones when I had no one, basically. I actually asked them to be on a remix of "More Than a Friend" and they couldn't because they've been finishing their album, but that would have been iconic.

You’re very open about your sexuality and gender expression. What are some of the most inclusive spaces in the UK?

One of my favorite nights out is an amazing space, Pussy Palace in London, with such sick music. I went to an amazing festival in London a few weeks ago called Risen Festival with all women and nonbinary DJ’s. That was sick, I loved that.

When shooting the images for this, there was a moment where you said, "Oh my God, I've never seen my body look this good."

Yeah, that was beautiful. I've struggled with body dysmorphia since I was a teenager and photoshoots always made me really nervous. There was a time I wasn't telling anyone I was struggling with with my body image, so I would just suffer in silence. This shoot just made me realize how far I've come because I would never have put a bikini on a few years ago, and felt comfortable and confident. It was one of those shoots where I thought, "Wow, No one's photographed me like this."

Photography: Justin Atkins
Hair and makeup: Tom Easto
Nails: Megan Thomas
Styling: Mariamu Fundi
Styling assistants: Debora Tonet and Saba Ibrahim