Kelsie Hogue, aka Sir Babygirl, wants to make pop music that's gay as hell. The DIY diva/producer is gearing up to release her debut album in February entitled Crush On Me: a sparkly collection of frenetic bubble gum pop, unafraid to tangle itself up in the anxiety and euphoria of the modern queer experience.
Earlier this year Hogue put out a few catchy queer bangers––"Heels," "Flirting With Her," and most recently "Haunted House," plus some accompanying visuals. Though her music aims to exist outside the gender binary, Sir Babygirl draws inspiration from pop in the early aughts––a period when femininity was so on the nose, so overblown to the point of being cartoonish. This campy quality fits into Hogue's exploration of non-binary drag. Between Aguilera's husky melodrama and Britney's sexy baby affectation, there was a level of female caricature that was equal parts ridiculous and spectacular. It's in this tension between extremes that Hogue locates the persona of Sir Babygirl and forces her listener to look beyond the convenience of reductive tokenization of queer and female artists.
Surrealist synth-poppers like Charli XCX, Kim Petras, SOPHIE, and even Grimes have recently gained hype in exploring this juncture of maximalist pop paired with sleek electronica. Although those artists may have paved the way for musicians like Sir Babygirl, Hogue opts for her own particular brand of absurdist drama that takes shape around humor and performance––a tactic perhaps informed by her brief stint in comedy. Her lyrics aren't necessarily diaristic but instead distill a collection of everyday moments into a histrionic experience. Sir Babygirl harnesses your expectations, amps them up, then glitches them out in her music. The product is flashy, affirming, and wholly over the top.
We caught up with Sir Babygirl to discuss her love for Christina Aguilera, her days of meme-making, and the genesis of her bops: "It's like you're going to fucking tokenize me anyway so I'm just going to go over the top and be your little dancing gay clown."
PM: So, I just want to start off with your name: how did the moniker of Sir Babygirl come to you?
KH: Hm what a question, so many answers. I guess you can break it down in several ways. Basically, it was the result of me several years ago––I'm a very latent queer person––and it took me a long time to realize I was bisexual. Then after that I started to feel like oh what is this non-binary, what is this, who is that, who is she? I was really obsessed and getting back into my love of pop music that I feel like I grew up on and was getting really obsessed with the mythology of the pop star and it was just the ultimate, exciting imagery to me. I was playing in this hardcore band in the Boston music scene, just like yelling and angry, and it was fun, but I could not keep up with it. I was just getting more and more into pop again and into like Okay maybe I'm like a boy and a girl and something in between and all this stuff.
And then the actual inception of it was I was hanging out with this horrific ex of mine (we were dating at the time), and we were like thinking of creating a duo of ourselves and we were trying to think of really queer names and really over the top stuff and I was like Sir...baby...girl and she was just like, "that is so extra, I refuse."
Then I just filed it away, and then we broke up and several months later––I'd never written it down or anything––all of a sudden it came back into my head and I was like [gasp] that's it! I had never felt this way. I had had so many problems with my band where we could never decide on a band name. It was the first time ever where I was like I will totally back and defend the absolute bullshit name until I die. It's so stupid and so perfect for me. So, I was like all right this is it and I changed my Instagram handle before I even had any music out for a while.
I'm usually the person who is very attracted to an image or a visual and then I'll want to fill it out after. I started playing music because I saw Lisa Simpson playing the saxophone and I was like I want that, what's inside of that. So sometimes I like leading with the big idea and then filling out the little things inside.
Totally. It seems like a lot of your singles are inspired by not only early 2000s alt-rock but bigger pop stars like Britney, Christina, and Mariah. What do you think it is about that era of pop that appeals to you and why do you think you're drawn to it?
KH: I think there's a level of cartoonish that really tickles my fancy. The whole TRL era was a very formative time when I was in elementary to middle school. The music that played at school dances was just like a renaissance. It was so amazing. Everything –– hip-hop, pop, everything –– was really maximalist and cartoonish.
I started doing theatre and comedy in third grade (the same year that I started playing saxophone) so it's always been kind of a dual thing where comedy is a hidden element to my stuff and it's always intrinsically there, but I'm not really interested in forcing it. It's just kind of naturally there and I like it existing there. I'm really obsessed with Tim & Eric, Eric André, Maria Bamford, Tig Nataro, all of those absurdist surrealist comedians.
So yeah, I think that the extreme versions of femininity and masculinity at that time like Britney and Christina and everyone was just so big, and the femininity felt so extreme in a fun way.
My natural resting is that I'm very soft-butch and my neutral is very tom-boy, very like soft-butch, very just like boy. But when I want do femme, I can't do a soft femme, like that makes me nauseous. Anytime I have to work like a restaurant job and I have to do like a presentable feminine I feel so like, who am I? When I do femininity, it has to be clown, it's drag. I feel like Gaga is a great example, she's a drag queen and women being able to do that is so sick to me.
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PM: Going off of that, how much of Sir Babygirl do you think is an exaggeration or perhaps a caricatured version of yourself versus maybe a more authentic reflection? And you mentioned comedy, so what aspects of comedy goes into that performance?
Yeah for sure! I realize I didn't actually talk about gender when you asked me what Sir Babygirl stands for just because it's obvious to me but then it's like no it's not to a lot of people. I'm very obsessed with extremes and so I love extreme masculinity, extreme femininity. So, I wanted Sir, the most colonial word that's been pushed down our throats for years, and baby girl and have them meet and what is that meeting like?
I'm very interested in confrontation in general. My friends make fun of me now because I always say, "confrontation is a lost art to me." Especially with using comedy, it's a great confrontational tool that can alienate people but can also bring people in and that's super important especially with my live shows.
I think lyrically there's a lot of sarcasm and tongue-in-cheek stuff if you want to vibe on that, you can find it, but it's also hyper-serious and emotional. So, I also like playing with that. I think as a person it's really hard for me to not be making jokes. I'm very much a clown in real life and so Sir Babygirl gets to exist as both a clown and the epitome of the sad clown. I would say Sir Babygirl is the heightened clown drag queen/king.
Just growing up and experiencing learning about drag culture––which I do not in any way consider myself an expert or anything close to that at all, more an idiot really––I kind of heard about bio queens and I was like, that's really cool I like that. And I had always thought, Well I guess I could be a drag queen, when I identified as cis-female like oh I got to be a drag king and that's the only way to do it. And then I think Sir Babygirl helped me realize I want to be both and being able to do a non-binary drag, a mix of it because I can't settle on one thing.
I guess my question for you then as someone who identifies as genderqueer and bisexual, do you ever feel like there's a tokenization as a queer artist in the music industry and do you ever feel that perhaps that categorization comes with any sort of restraints or limitations or do you feel the opposite?
Great question. It's something I shout about and yell about all the time with people. Tokenization's not my problem. Any marginalized person from any identity intersection is going to be at risk or whatever of tokenization and I'm very much not into empty-signaling and just like being queer to have it as aesthetic, which I don't really know if anyone does or if people just project that on to people.
Because when you really look at every individual queer musician that's coming out now, everyone's fucking dope and everyone deserves to be there. Yeah marketing wise, some people use it more than others and there's a lot of discussion around that. But for me, I find it really freeing and I kind of like hitting people over the head with it in a comical way and using comedy to be like, I'm a gay clown, and you can't look away from that. It's like you're going to fucking tokenize me anyway so I'm just going to go over the top and be your little dancing gay clown.
I have an Instagram following that's small in number, but the people are really intense. It's that weird balance where I don't inherently think anyone really chooses to lead with their queerness but it's intrinsically there. It's a fun thing to play with and subvert expectations. There's also such a delight in the idea of being a non-binary pop star and having that hit the mainstream and having people gain access to that. I just want to make non-binary stuff more accessible instead of it being cryptic and being only for elites. There's better ways to talk about gender and sexuality that doesn't alienate people that were never given the fucking access.
You touched on your Instagram page, which I did want to ask you about since reading your interview with Karley Sciortino in SluteverSlutever. I thought it was so great and naturally needed to ask you about your memes because they are so excellent. There's no way of asking this question about memes in a way that can be taken seriously so I'm just going to go ahead and do it: Do you think that making memes and making pop music has anything in common and do you think those sorts of modalities come from a similar place in your brain or is it more compartmentalized?
Basically, I was at a point where I didn't (and still don't) have any natural kind of foot in the door with the music industry. I was looking in from the complete outside and thinking, "I want to make pop music and I know that is so fucking delusional." I couldn't really shake it, but I didn't have the means or the resources to do it.
I was living in Chicago and I had been really obsessed with femme-memers like Goth Shakira, Scariest Bug Ever. I'd just been studying them and always been hyper-obsessed with pop culture. I'm one of those little bastards that like just knows the weirdest little facts about celebrities. I wish Christina Aguilera would let me A&R her last album. She's one of my actual biggest inspos and I think vocally, she gave me some of the best voice lessons like listening to her as a kid.
So I had picked the handle Sir Babygirl and it was just a dumb account of pictures of me. Then I went to the first ever Women's March and was like this is kind of depressing and kind of weird and I don't feel comfortable here and I think a lot of other people don't either. So, I made a meme about it and people got kind of heated. I started just making some memes and the people that I was following started to take notice. I got kind of roped into the femme meme community and it actually felt directly supportive in a way that I hadn't really felt in other scenes. Since you don't have to interact with each other in three dimensional terms, you can just appreciate and support each other's work and move on.
So I had had all this mental fuckery and I made a meme one day that was specifically about bi-sexuality and it went ablaze. So once I started melding sexuality and gender with pictures of like Rihanna and pictures of Gaga, it started creating this mood board for Sir Babygirl. They are both attached as one of the healthier ways I have to deal with something. I'm so fucking precious about my goddamn music; I won't release anything unless I know it's good and it's like bitch, you don't know if it's good, you'll never know! But it's amazing because most of the time with memes I'll just get a flash then make it in five minutes and post it. It's the best kind of brain slap for me to be like bitch, don't be precious.
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So, you've been working the Sir Babygirl project for over three years and within time that you've been self-producing and recording. So, I just wanted to ask about that and if you could speak about your process and how you go about writing the songs?
It all depends. A lot of times I'll just get a hook or a fully-fleshed out beat in my head. So I'll think of a hook and then start expanding on that and then maybe get my guitar out, or piano, or I'll get my synth out and start creating a beat and do a synth-line and then I might free-style on that and do a melody line.
I'll have months where I'll just take everything in. I used to suppress a lot of things and I've gotten a little better at that. I'll have one thing really trigger something and then I'll have an emotional release and then everything that I've been thinking about for the last four months will like [retching noise] into a song.
So, I'd say that on Crush On Me, none of the songs are exclusively about one person. Lyrically, it's a conversation of moments. "Flirting With Her" is not about one her, it's about all the girls I've ever flirted with. Even though my lyrics and my process are very overtly emotional, and my writing style is fairly vulnerable, it's not always inherently diaristic. I like heightening or focusing on a concept or an emotion that I've gotten from several different experiences that I've collected and then doing a surrealist take on it.
You said you felt like if you had put your songs out a few years earlier it probably wouldn't have hit as hard. So, I'm wondering why do you think that is and where does that opinion stem from?
I mean as any opinion on music it's mostly bullshit. My gut take is that I look at the trajectory of Charli XCX. When she came out with "Vroom Vroom" in 2016, people didn't relatively care about it; it was too abrasive. Then she came out with "#1 Angel," and it was cult-embraced but it wasn't widely embraced. And it wasn't until Pop II came out that finally broke through. It's interesting to me because she's been here, she been making this stuff. I just think the abrasiveness that we're allotted wasn't as accepted a few years ago. Now SOPHIE's production influence is the current landscape as opposed to just the future––it's now the present.
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Definitely. How are you reacting to all this media press before your debut album is even out and what's your response to all of it?
It's truly bonkers. I've been doing [Sir Babygirl] since I was a senior in college in 2015. It's this weird thing where I've only been visible for the past two to three months, but I've been working away at this project for like three to three and a half years.
I got to a point where I really didn't think I was going to make music proper because I got vocal nodes. At one point, I even gave up and started doing stand-up. It's surreal because I'm a huge music nerd and I'm always the one reading these blogs, hyper-aware of what everything means in the hierarchy of press.
I feel very lucky that things are already manifesting in concrete plans. I just feel very stoked and lucky that we're at a point in pop music where people fuck with pop music. If I were to release this a couple years ago it wouldn't hit like it hits now.
It's very surreal and it's very cool because it's my dream, and when your dreams are starting to manifest it is really eerie. It's like how do you capitalize on momentum and try to move with it but also very hurry up and then wait and it's also like, who knows maybe everyone hates the album ha ha!
By the way, if it sounds like it's breaking up it's because I'm calling you from a closet, just so you know.
That's very gay of you.
Crush on Me is out February 15, 2019 on Father/Daughter Records. Pre-order it here.
Photo Eli Raskin