Shygirl opens up

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PHOTOGRAPHS BY LIZ JOHNSON ARTUR. STYLED BY JEANIE ANNAN-LEWIN. HAIR: DANIELLE IGOR USING ORIBE  AND COLOUR WOW. MAKE-UP: PORSCHE POON USING SISLEY. NAILS: ANGEL NGUYEN. RICHARD QUINN HOODED DRESS, POA (RICHARDQUINN.COM). DE BEERS BRACELET AND RING, POA (DEBEERS.CO.UK). DAVID MORRIS EARRINGS, POA (DAVID MORRIS.COM). BULGARI NECKLACE, POA (BULGARI.COM) (Liz Johnson Artur and ES Magazine)
PHOTOGRAPHS BY LIZ JOHNSON ARTUR. STYLED BY JEANIE ANNAN-LEWIN. HAIR: DANIELLE IGOR USING ORIBE AND COLOUR WOW. MAKE-UP: PORSCHE POON USING SISLEY. NAILS: ANGEL NGUYEN. RICHARD QUINN HOODED DRESS, POA (RICHARDQUINN.COM). DE BEERS BRACELET AND RING, POA (DEBEERS.CO.UK). DAVID MORRIS EARRINGS, POA (DAVID MORRIS.COM). BULGARI NECKLACE, POA (BULGARI.COM) (Liz Johnson Artur and ES Magazine)

Legend has it that in Ancient Greece parents would warn their sons to stay away from nymphs. These enchanting mythological women wielded extreme power — they could even seduce a god, if they felt like it. They weren’t, as the novel Lolita would have you believe, a man’s subservient fantasy. They were empowered dissidents, representative of an idea of femininity outside of society’s norms.

Nymph is also the name of Shygirl’s upcoming debut album. This is not a coincidence. ‘I find strength in my fem - ininity — it’s a big factor with how I communicate with others,’ says Blane Muise, aka Shygirl, as she changes into the puffer coat from the album’s cover. ‘I’m a very flirtatious person, but also I know my limits and my boundaries.’

‘My idea of a nymph is ownership of all those things,’ she continues. ‘They’re also the ones to lure you in and lead you somewhere where you follow. That’s how I feel about my music and my life.’

Shygirl is right to feel this way. With two EPs, Cruel Practice (2018) and Alias (2020), she’s become the pied piper of the underground club scene. And with the arrival of Nymph this September, her siren calls are about to ripple through the mainstream, too. It’s all thanks to her mantric, no-holds-barred approach to sex, temptation and euphoria, all of which coalesce around hypnotic, industrial beats that sound like they’ve been transmitted from an extraterrestrial nightclub. ‘Read my lips, I need a big dick boy/Ain’t nobody slanging it right, that’s why,’ she commands on ‘BDE’, a track in which she orders Slowthai to be ‘as filthy as he can’. If modern culture has looted the concept of nymphs and misogynistically repurposed it, then Shygirl’s music reclaims its radical roots. ‘In my life it’s usually been me who’s been used and I want to rewrite that narrative in my music,’ she explains of her disruptive, sex-positive stance. ‘In my day-to-day life I don’t feel desirable, I just feel comfortable. The fact that guys are so enamoured by all this bullshit is what gives me power because it’s superfluous to me.’

Photographs  Liz Johnson Artur. GCDS coat, POA  (gcds.com). WHAT  KATIE DID bra,  £41.50; girdle, £46.75  (whatkatiedid.com).  DAVID MORRIS diamond necklace,  POA (davidmorris. com). BOUCHERON diamond ring, POA  (boucheron.com) (Liz Johnson Artur and ES Magazine)
Photographs Liz Johnson Artur. GCDS coat, POA (gcds.com). WHAT KATIE DID bra, £41.50; girdle, £46.75 (whatkatiedid.com). DAVID MORRIS diamond necklace, POA (davidmorris. com). BOUCHERON diamond ring, POA (boucheron.com) (Liz Johnson Artur and ES Magazine)

Rihanna’s a fan, having used multiple tracks in her Fenty commercials. As is Lady Gaga, whose single ‘Sour Candy’ Shygirl was invited to remix alongside Mura Masa last September. The fashion world is equally obsessed. In the past year Shygirl has soundtracked Casey Cadwallader’s shows for Mugler, appeared in a campaign for hot London brand KNWLS and collaborated with Riccardo Tisci on his fall 2021 presentation for Burberry and the launch of its Olympia bag. As we’re discussing her affinity to sirens, right on cue photographer Liz Johnson Artur bursts in to extol her admiration. Full disclosure: ES Magazine had tried to book the photographer before, but to no avail. ‘I know — she only agreed to it because I asked,’ Shygirl teases with a flirtatious smile.

The oldest of three, Shygirl was born in south London and grew up in Blackheath. She was a self-described ‘goodygoody’ and was even the head girl at her secondary school. ‘I didn’t adhere to the beauty standards that were going on around me. I grew up in a very white area, quite a lower class area — it wouldn’t be me that people would fancy. It would be the Jades or the Louises,’ she says of her younger years. ‘It wasn’t that it made me unhappy but it does feed into your psyche and how you engage with others.’ It wasn’t until she was 24 that she started dating properly and learn - ing about her sexuality and its impact on others. Instead, she was usually found thumbing her way through fantasy books. ‘I was a total homebody, I still am even to this day.’

Her childhood home, however, was a hotbed of musical exploration. Her grandfather occasionally played bass for reggae icon Desmond Dekker’s backing group, The Aces, while her father worked in a nightclub. ‘He would always bring me home CDs after shifts,’ she explains, before listing the pivotal artists she remembers devouring as ‘Róisín Murphy, Björk, Aphex Twin… and then my mum was pure Kylie Minogue and Madonna’. Through this Shygirl devel - oped a palate for the diva-ish, leftfield Y2K sounds that have become her signature today and, more importantly, it’s how she began fantasising about the hallowed dance floor.

Photographs by Liz Johnson Artur. QASIMI dress,  POA (qasimi. com). CARTIER Juste un Clou  ring, £5,150  (cartier.com) (Liz Johnson Artur and ES Magazine)
Photographs by Liz Johnson Artur. QASIMI dress, POA (qasimi. com). CARTIER Juste un Clou ring, £5,150 (cartier.com) (Liz Johnson Artur and ES Magazine)

‘I was listening to stuff like UK garage when I was 12 but I would have no conception of what a nightclub was like,’ she says. ‘You imagine this space where you’re free to com - pletely be in tune with your body, the music and just lose yourself. That is what I’m still trying to bring forth. I want my music to not fit in a space that’s already made but to create new spaces in your head.’

By her early 20s Shygirl had become a fixture on London’s queer scene, especially at Dalston’s PDA club night. Shygirl credits PDA as the first time she really knew a black scene. ‘I didn’t really identify as queer before them,’ she explains, clarifying that she identifies as queer — not bi — as she aligns with the socio-political aspect behind it. ‘I didn’t really have a practical expansion of the queer world and the many people that encompass it because people weren’t really out.’ It was here that she would develop her friendship with Irish producer Sega Bodega, whom she first met while interviewing him for a blog at his gig. He asked her to ad lib on one of his beats. She was instantly hooked: ‘There’s something that makes you feel important by having your voice played back at you. It’s such a child-like novelty.’

In 2016 came her first single: the menacing, thumping club banger ‘Want More’. Produced by Bodega, it instantly became an anthem in London’s fashion circles, with the lines ‘You wanna go slow? (I ain’t into it)/ You wanna talk shit? (I ain’t into it)’ ricocheting across the capital’s swankiest parties. ‘Releasing music when I had no background to validate me doing so was the hardest part of the journey,’ she says of her decision to birth Shygirl. The 29-year-old never studied music at school, and was put off by the misconception that you had to live and breathe it from a technical standpoint to succeed. ‘I’d always been interested — it showed that a lot of my friends were musicians so there was an affinity there,’ she reminisces. Still, she had already learnt how to DJ on the job, so there was no reason why she couldn’t do it now. Plus, she was always certain she could write.

Shygirl recently went through her notes app on her iPhone. Since 2015 she had been typing poems and prose as a cathartic ritual to purge her internal feelings to the out - side world. She recently tweeted that she wants to release them as a poetry book. ‘If I’m going to credit something that truly gave me confidence, it’s words,’ she explains. ‘I’ve read so many books where I’ve been like, “F*** that’s how I’m feeling.” I feel validated because someone else has written it and published it. I’ve always wanted to be that for some - one else.’ Of course, she’s also going to do an audiobook, too. ‘I like hearing my own voice,’ she laughs.

Photographs by Liz Johnson Artur. AREA blazer  dress, POA; shoes,  POA (area.nyc).  SKIMS bodysuit,  £74, at selfridges. com. CARTIER Panthère de  Cartier bracelet,  £18,800; Juste un  Clou rings (right  hand), POA  (cartier.com).  BULGARI necklace set,  £2,820; ring (left  hand), £2,480  (bulgari.com). DE BEERS  earrings, POA  (debeers.co.uk) (Liz Johnson Artur and ES Magazine)
Photographs by Liz Johnson Artur. AREA blazer dress, POA; shoes, POA (area.nyc). SKIMS bodysuit, £74, at selfridges. com. CARTIER Panthère de Cartier bracelet, £18,800; Juste un Clou rings (right hand), POA (cartier.com). BULGARI necklace set, £2,820; ring (left hand), £2,480 (bulgari.com). DE BEERS earrings, POA (debeers.co.uk) (Liz Johnson Artur and ES Magazine)

Last December, Shygirl started focusing on her album. A lot had changed since she first started releasing music in 2016 — as well as the pandemic, she fell in love for the first time, then broke up with said person — but one thing in particular was playing on her mind. ‘I know people are going to hear this, and that definitely made me more self conscious,’ she explains. ‘It doesn’t change how direct I am, it just makes me a lot more introspective about what was happening inside me.’

For her breakout EP, Alias, she created four personae, Baddie, Bonk, Bovine and Bae, dubbed the ‘Shy Bbz’. However, she’d been so preoccupied with getting into the different sides of herself and amplifying them as characters that she’d kind of lost who she was as a whole. She also noticed that people don’t really view you as a person once you become famous, and can consequently be quite care - less and demanding. Shygirl knew what she needed to do: ‘I want to see myself. I want to be vulnerable, happy, sad, moody, all of the myriad emotions that you go through so that any single day I’m up for being Shygirl.’

As a result, she warns that the album might not be what fans expect from her, especially sonically. Her first standalone single following Alias was testament to that. ‘I love “Cleo” so much but was worried that people wouldn’t get it,’ she says of the glitzy track that features an orchestral opening before dropping into a bewitching house beat. ‘I was in love for like a hot minute, and said bring out the violins,’ she laughs. Fortunately, she was proven wrong. ‘Shygirl can do Mozart but 100 per cent sure Mozart can’t do Shygirl,’ one fan commented on the YouTube video. ‘I mean, facts,’ she asserts when I bring this up, before taking a long sip of her iced coffee.

The album will also show her more tender side. ‘I get such a thrill from being honest with myself publicly because it means there’s an opportunity for growth.’ Of course, there’s still going to the harder club stuff and euphoric Ibiza vibes, but Shygirl wants people to also see her as a human. She’ll be showcasing both sides of her personality at her festival shows this summer, then on a headline tour in the winter. ‘It’s so cute seeing all these people who have a community around your music,’ she enthuses. ‘I remember being that age and I didn’t find my queer identity until I was 24 because I didn’t have a crowd. Before then I just hella assimilated.’

‘I work in communications, that’s how I think about it,’ she says. ‘In my day-to-day life and music I actively advocate for people who are not able to advocate for themselves. People will say, “Oh why does Shygirl talk about that — stick to your day job.” But my day job is literally identity politics.’

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