With her concoction of upbeat melodies and taboo-shattering lyrics, GIRLI proved to be one of 2017’s most exciting and forward-thinking break-out artists. We caught up with Camden’s former young MP to speak about subverting preconceptions and political correctness.
The word ‘girly’ often provokes thoughts of the certain characteristics that are appropriate to a girl, and the additional connotations that the word harnesses can often be used in a derogative manner. But Milly Toomey, better known as the upbeat, politically-charged music maker, GIRLI, wants to change what you think about the word.
“When you hear the word ‘girly’, you think of the colour pink and it’s really feminine and that means weak and that means kind of dainty, cute and quiet. I wanted to subvert that.’’
GIRLI’s music infuses unashamedly-catchy pop beats with lyricism that tackles a multitude of topics such as sexism, gender identity and racism. In a sense, GIRLI’s music, aesthetics and whole artistic embodiment is a big ‘Fuck You!’ towards labelling and subverting people’s preconceptions. And that’s why GIRLI loves how people react to her name before actually hearing her music.
“People immediately read into what that [her name] is going to mean for my music. But then they hear it and it is completely different to what they expected. The music is loud and it’s political – I just wanted to subvert what ‘girly’ means because I don’t think the adjective ‘girly’ is a negative thing. I think it is fucking awesome.”
The Guardian once described some of GIRLI’s earlier tracks as “bubblegum pop, punk and rap, each one treading a line between catchy and deliberately discomforting.” But despite the somewhat scathing end to that remark, GIRLI has gone from strength to strength since bursting onto the scene in 2015, by releasing material that has grabbed people’s attention.
The Camden-native’s first ever release, “So You Think You Can Fuck With Me Do Ya” humorously tricks the listener into thinking it is a normal, crooning love song. But that’s before all the video game-esque sounds come in at the same time GIRLI proclaims, “Hey, you thought I was gonna do a ballad? Fuck off, never ever, ever, ever, ever.”
From the offset, GIRLI wanted to offer something bold, unapologetic and exciting with her tracks. ‘Girl I Met On The Internet’, for example, addresses teenage problems and wanting to find someone to love – topics that all materialise thanks to her ‘‘super erratic’’ and often unpredictable approach to song writing.
“I write lyrics constantly and I have a studio set up at home where I make ideas. That is always pretty random. When I go into the studio with other people and make songs, it kind of really depends on what I have been listening to and feeling sonically.”
The hotly-tipped musician most recently released her Hot Mess EP, which GIRLI feels is “sonically the clearest version” of herself. The EP’s title track has become her biggest hit yet and somewhat of an anthem for both the younger generation and anyone who has faced discrimination because of their gender.
“’Hot Mess’ is always going to be super close to my heart, it’s such a kind of poignant song. It’s the most political one off the EP and I love it for that.”
“I don’t think the adjective ‘girly’ is a negative thing, I think it is fucking awesome.”
Before using music to implement her political views, GIRLI used to be a young MP for the London Borough of Camden, after being granted the position following a school election when she was aged just 13. Despite it being an interesting experience for the young musician, she admits to quickly realising that the political system is stacked against the people who want to make a big change. And it was this realisation that ultimately fuelled GIRLI’s decision to make political change via a music career instead.
“It’s very bureaucratic,” she acknowledges. “I kind of got frustrated with how I was being offered this opportunity to “change” my borough, but actually, I wasn’t being given that much opportunity to do it. I felt like we were just a little bit of a statistic in a way, like, look ‘we’re engaging young people.’”
“I just knew that they were thinking, ‘she could be the next Taylor Swift.’”
In an industry which is over-saturated with male bands, it is often the case when a female musician gets signed, that the record label can try to sculpt the artist into what they want them to be, or try to diminish the musician’s artistic integrity. Thankfully that was not the case for GIRLI.
“I definitely have an amazing manager who is great and helped me. He has been in the industry for a very long time and has managed a lot of women before. There are sharks out there and I definitely had to think a lot about picking the right label. There were definitely a lot of big, major record labels who would come to me and I could see that they were thinking ‘she could be like the next Taylor Swift or whatever.’’’
GIRLI’s punk-rock ethos, which champions girls doing whatever the hell they like, has earned her a rising fan base of like-minded individuals. As a young person herself, she understands the perils of the internet and the daunting realisation of being a role model. And after frequently hearing from her fans about how her music had affected them in a positive way, she realised that she would now have to behave in a certain way in order to remain a positive influence.
“That’s why I speak up about issues like sexism and racism, because I’m actually in a position where there are loads of impressionable young people listening to my music and looking at what I say on social media, so I try to say inspiring things.”
Being a role model can of course be a blessing and a curse. Due to the golden-age of the internet and social media, we find ourselves living in a world where you truly have to think about what you post and publish before doing so. GIRLI totally understands the importance this.
“You have to be really careful now to be respectful of so many people. I have definitely spoken with people who have said ‘I think political correctness has gone mad,’ and I think it has and it hasn’t. We’ve just realised there are certain areas that people weren’t even aware of maybe twenty years ago, that are now really important. Like respecting people who decided they wanted to change their bodies. There are so many things now that our generation is waking up to and that means you do have to be a lot more considerate of what you say.”
GIRLI’s musical career might have planted firm footsteps in 2017, but 2018 will be a carnage-filled year for Milly Toomey, as the release of her album coupled with an array of chaotic gigs beckons.
In the words of GIRLI, ‘‘I’m not going anywhere!’’ We’re glad to hear it.
Words by Cameron Poole.
Featured Images by Polly Hanrahan.