—interview by Ellen Atlanta @ellenatlanta
GIRLI is a pop star for the new age. The 20-year-old singer, songwriter and rapper marks the latest evolution of a pop-punk starlet — an early 2000s aesthetic meets fourth wave feminism and a Gen Z determination to break the mold.
“What’s a girl, what’s a boy?” she sings in “Girls Get Angry Too”, her North London accent snarly and sardonic. “Why are there gender sections for toys? And sorry if I’m out of line, but I don’t want Hamleys to decide if my kid’s a fireman or a bride.”
GIRLI is where pop meets politics. Her music is uncensored and her image unpolished — a bright pink pushback against everything a “pop princess”’ is supposed to be. Her music combines gamified electronic beats with unapologetic lyrics and bubblegum bops. Part autobiographical, part social commentary, her songs have been lauded as feminist anthems, covering themes of LGBTQIA+ love, body image and sexual harassment, her bright pink hair a signature stamp on the patriarchy.
GIRLI called us on her way home from the studio to discuss her pansexuality, subverting gender stereotypes and the importance of fluidity for herself and her fans.
What does fluidity mean to you and how does that manifest itself in the way you identify?
GIRLI: I don’t personally identify as gender-fluid, but a lot of my friends do. As a member of the LGBTQIA+ scene and community in London, fluidity surrounds me all the time. A lot of my audience who listen to my music also identify that way. My generation has a lot more freedom than they used to. If I think back to ten years ago, the idea of being able to say “I’m non-binary” and be accepted was a lot less likely, so it’s very cool. For me, gender-fluidity just means questioning the role you are told to have when you are a child, it’s just a natural part of being young and questioning who you are.
Why do you think your music appeals to people who identify as gender-fluid or non-binary?
G: I’ve always felt like a bit of an outsider, so I make music for people who feel like that too — people who don’t necessarily abide by the social norms and the kids who weren’t popular in school. Questioning your gender or sexuality can feel like quite an isolating experience, at times you can feel left out and like you’re not who you want to be. I definitely make music for people who have always felt a bit different.
You performed last year at the Period Poverty protest in London — is it important for you to be engaged in feminist causes like that?
G: It’s funny because people always ask me why I decided to write feminist music. I wanted to write what was happening to me. I’ve always been political. I was involved in my local youth parliament when I was 14/15-years-old and I’ve always been passionate about discussing these issues and going to marches. Gender politics surround me, it’s very relevant to my experience and to a lot of people I know and love. I still turn up to protests and things like that, and by coincidence, a lot of the things I write about are protested about. I’m just so happy that my music can accompany such important causes.
You are on a mission to deconstruct gender norms, but with the stage name GIRLI, which is very “typically gendered” and obviously, you have your bright pink hair — what was the thought process behind that?
G: It was definitely about being subversive. I like the idea of challenging people’s perceptions -— they would hear GIRLI and maybe they would expect something quite sweet and ultra-feminine, I give them the opposite of that. I wanted a name that sounded very pop, but it’s definitely a statement on gender politics. My music is very opinionated, and when I first started coming out with music it was very abrasive. I have definitely matured in my art, but I’m always looking to challenge people and subvert what they think.
Having said that, what do you think it means to be a girl or to be girly today?
G: I think it means a whole lot of change. What does being a girl even mean in an age where fluidity is increasingly explored? If I was an artist ten years ago, the conversations I would be having would be so different — from interviews to discussions with friends. Now, whenever I go to use a gendered term, I think twice because you can’t assume anything about anyone’s identity.
You have previously mentioned that you identify as pansexual. How did you come to realize that? Did you find it easy to “come out”?
G: It was quite natural to be honest. There wasn’t really a day where I decided or realized I was pansexual. I was around 13/14-years-old and my best friend at high school was gay. She was always talking about fancying girls, and I started to feel the same. I started dating girls and kissing girls at parties, it was just very natural. I started calling myself bisexual, but when I was 18, I realized I fancied people who didn’t identify as male or female, so bisexual didn’t really fit. I don’t really like using labels, and when people ask me who I like, I just say everyone.
I was lucky because I had a group of friends around me who were very open. I had a lot of gay friends and a lot of people who questioned the norm. I have a very accepting family which is such a privilege because it meant I never had to “come out”. I never had to make an announcement, which I know that a lot of people have to do. I have friends who have been dating their partners for four years and their family still don’t know about their sexuality, which is heartbreaking.
Pansexuality, in particular, is still a term that many people are not familiar with. Do you feel a responsibility to be a role model in that sense and provide that representation?
G: It is important that I don’t hide the fact of who I’m sexually attracted to. In the past, if I have wanted to write a song about a girl, I’ll write a song about a girl. It’s important to have people talking about fluidity in terms of sexuality as well as gender. I want my audience to know that they don’t have to have one kind of label, that they don’t have to have figured it all out, and they can just be who they are. I definitely feel a responsibility to some of my younger followers to make them realize that whoever they are is great and they shouldn’t hide who they are for anything.
Do you think it’s important to have people in the public eye who identify outside the gender and sexual binary? Is it important for brands to support this?
G: 100%! However, I really think that brands and companies need to focus on achieving equality in the workplace. If you are putting out adverts with the LGBTQIA+ flag to sell your brand, but you don’t actually have any LGBTQIA+ people on your team, that’s bullshit! It doesn’t feel real or authentic anymore.
You mention in your song “Girls Get Angry Too” gendered sections in toy shops. Do you think the future of retail is gender neutral? Does gender have a place in society in the future?
G: In terms of children's fashion, toys and products, it has to change. You can link so many issues that occur later on in life back to forcing a child to be something they are not. Instilling this idea of masculinity and femininity into young minds is so toxic. Instead of calling something a women’s dress, you can just call it dress. A lot of it is in the way we label things. It’s fine to have toy trucks and books on princesses, but instead of saying something is for girls or boys, we should just be saying that these are things a child might enjoy, and they can choose which to play with.
Why do you think fluidity is so relevant/important for our generation?
G: Social media and the internet have opened up new channels for people to explore who they are. The last five years have been such an incredible time for people power — for people to reach out and find similar people who share their views and values online. Our generation has so much more access to new ideas and people talking about their identity. We have more power than previous generations to break the mold of what we have been told. Social media, as much as it can be terrible, it’s also brilliant, because you can make an identity that is completely yours, and connect with people all across the world.
You can find GIRLI on Instagram @GIRLImusic.
We are one of 30 global youth platform partners in the launch of an initiative by @ChimeForChange (CHIME FOR CHANGE) and @weareirregular (Irregular Labs) to explore gender and our fluid future. Check out the other content and partner platforms here.