The INTO Interview

Electro-pop’s girli tackles queer heartbreak & healing in Matriarchy

Nothing Hurts Like A Girl, the new single from girli, tackles queer heartbreak in a positive way. A British electro-pop phenomenon, girli made waves with her first album, Odd One Out in 2019 when she was 21. She’s now preparing for the next step in her musical journey with the first two singles already out for her upcoming 2024 album, Matriarchy.

This part of girli’s career introduces both musical and lyrical changes. While the music demonstrates additional influences, her lyrics take a new angle on life, society, and the world around those elements. Much of girli’s earlier work is grounded in anger, with the artist describing her process by saying “I was pissed off about a lot of things and I just wanted to get them out.” Now, with Matriarchy, girli’s music is more about herself, saying that “writing songs is like therapy for me – it’s about processing things I’ve gone through and how they shaped me as a person.”

October 2023 saw the release of the first single from Matriarchy, a song with the same name as the album and accompanying video, which serves as an anthem for the joy of queer relationships. In November, Nothing Hurts Like A Girl released with a music video that serves as a sequel to Matriarchy and deals with queer heartbreak, but in a bittersweet way. girli’s album Matriarchy releases on May 17, 2024 and can be pre-ordered now.

INTO spoke with girli about her new singles, the upcoming album and tour, and telling stories about queer relationships that go well beyond the basics.

girli, image courtesy of the artist.

Congratulations on the new single, and the album announcement, and the tour announcement. It seems like you’ve got plenty going on.

Yeah, it’s been a busy a busy week and a half. So yeah, thank you. I’m excited.

So, are you excited about everything coming up with the album and the tour? Or is it just intimidating and anxiety-inducing at this point?

No. I mean, I definitely used to get huge anxiety around announcing tours and music, actually, because I felt like I’d be so excited to announce things and then once it’s out, then there would be all these things of like, “but what if no one listens to it?” Or “what if no one buys tickets?” And, you know, it’s something that I guess never fully goes away. But I’ve gotten a lot better at just being excited. And not letting the anxiety of, you know, all the ‘what ifs’ take over and just being stoked that music’s out there and that I’m playing shows in places that haven’t before, and bigger venues. And yeah, the album, I wanted to talk about the album for so long. I was on, like a hush-hush. And now I can talk about it.

So, you’ve described your upcoming album as being more revealing and coming from a more vulnerable place than some of your previous work. Why was now the right time to put yourself out there more?

I think it happened very naturally. I mean, I think I kind of got to a place with writing music where I was feeling the outside pressures when I was in the studio of, “what is radio going to play?” Or “what’s going to be big on TikTok?” Or “what should girli sound like?” “What’s my sound?” “What am I saying?”

And I kind of sort of forgot that the whole point is that it’s supposed to just be whatever I want to make and whatever I am making on the day. And I think I even got almost obsessed with the idea of “what do I want to make?” I don’t know.

And, to be honest, I kind of just sort of had to give up in order to then not give a f*ck, in a way. And not that I gave up on music, but I just got so exhausted by that inner monologue every time I wrote a song that I was just like: “f*ck it, I’m just gonna go and write a bunch of songs, and nothing’s ever going to happen to them, but it doesn’t matter, I’m just gonna write, whatever.” And then, in fact, a lot of songs on the album, I wrote, and then I’d leave the studio that day and be like, “wow, what a pile of sh*t that was.” And I just wouldn’t even, I wouldn’t listen to the demos, like whatever. And then maybe a month later, I’d really listen to it and be like, “I love this.” And that happens a lot with me. I’m sure it happens with other artists too, especially when you have such a self-critical brain. But I think yeah, I kind of just had to basically make music that I thought no one was ever gonna hear to make the music that I want to. And to say the things that I guess I was hesitant to say before.

A chance to finally make things for yourself as much as for anyone else.

Yeah, I’ve been saying a lot to friends, and I guess to myself, that I’m just so, I’m so proud of the songs on this album that it could come out and five people could listen to it. And I’d still be like, “you know what, I made that, I made that, and I’m proud of that,” which is a very freeing feeling.

Nothing Hurts Like A Girl deals not just with a queer relationship, but more with a queer breakup. Despite that, it still manages to feel exultant, and like a celebration of the relationship, even though it’s over. What brought you to flip that traditional breakup song on its head like that?

It was kind of like that, saying “I want to cry, so I’m just gonna laugh.” I was so heartbroken. And I just felt like pieces of my heart were just everywhere. And I thought, wow, this is my second breakup. Surely everyone says it gets better after the first one. And I thought, well, it is my first queer breakup and in that relationship there were so many firsts for me. And so, I was like, I can’t write another sad song, I’ve written so many sad songs, some of which made it onto this record. And I was like, I just almost have to laugh about this. And I went into the studio, and I made the song with two of my songwriting friends who are also queer. And I kind of said to them, “I don’t know, like queer relationships, they just sting so bad.” And they’re like, “Yeah.” But I think the energy was just quite a fun energy on the day. So, it ended up being a really fun, but crying while you’re dancing song.

The video for Nothing Hurts Like A Girl is obviously more of a collaborative effort. How involved were you in that process, or how much was it the director and the producer that led the way for the video to come out of that song?

So, my creative director for this whole album project is an amazing woman called Claryn Chong. Me and her met up in London, and I was looking at a couple of different creative directors who I love the work of, and she’s amazing. She’s a really amazing photographer, and video director, and just visual artist, and and I really loved her work.

We just met up, and I’d sent her the album, and I was talking her through all the themes. And she is like a young queer woman in her early 20s as well, and we just bonded so much. And for the videos, I knew that I wanted Matriarchy to be this sort of historical, imagine sapphic queendom, as it were. And then I knew for Nothing Hurts Like A Girl, I wanted to kind of bring it into the present. And Claryn had the idea of well, why don’t we connect the two, and what if that’s the past, and this is the present day with the same characters? And then we were kind of playing with this idea. And the frame is a big motif across the album. It’s in the album artwork, and in the Matriarchy video there’s a painting being made. And then that painting, I thought, why don’t we put it up in a gallery, and I’m looking at it in the future, and it reminds me of my lover, and I guess the frame represents the female gaze in a way that we’re trying to sort of reinstate. And that was something that that was a real eureka moment.

I remember Claryn saying, because we were trying to find a theme, and there were all these ideas flowing. And she said, what about this idea of a painting? Like taking back your own image and telling your own story. And then historically, how many people’s stories have been raised because they were different or minority groups? So that’s kind of where the frame came from.

But yeah, the videos, it was a very collaborative effort. I’m always like, very inspired when I’m making music. And like conceptually, Claryn just really helped bring it together.

girli – Matriarchy album cover, courtesy of the artist.

When you wrote the original songs, Matriarchy and Nothing Hurts Like A Girl, did you envision those being a two-part story in any way? Or was that purely something that came about through the videos?

No, yeah, I kind of didn’t envision them like that. They were written with different collaborators. One of them was written in London and one of them was written in LA. And they were about very different stages in a relationship. Matriarchy is a very celebratory, super-in-love kind of song. And then Nothing Hurts Like A Girl is obviously the breakup and I was in very different places when I wrote both of them. So, they kind of didn’t connect until we started thinking, okay, what order are the songs on the album gonna come out, and we decided it was going to be Matriarchy, then Nothing Hurts Like A Girl. And it just felt like it made sense to connect them visually, and then the narrative connecting was just almost a happy accident. We were like, “yes, this could work!”

Is there a part three to the Matriarchy video story that we can expect in the future? Or is this a nicely contained narrative at this point?

So well, there are more sort of visuals coming, which are very much in that world. I suppose I saw the album artwork as being connected and in that world as well. But there might be a part three. it hasn’t been made yet. But I love when artists do huge sort of long movies for their whole projects. I remember seeing Christine and the Queens doing one for La Vita Nuova maybe two and a half years ago. And it was like, every different song on the EP had its own music video that linked to the next one. And it was really cool. So, it’s definitely not something I’m ruling out.

The upcoming album Matriarchy, from what we’ve heard so far, is not a complete departure from your last album, Odd One Out, but there’s certainly a musical shift there. What drove that change, and how do you feel that shift serves the songs and the stories that you wanted to tell on the new album?

So, I think the sort of key difference with this album is that sonically, it’s a lot experimental. And I feel like when you say the word experimental, it’s like, “oh, it’s gonna be, I don’t know, an hour-long song with industrial techno, and murmured vocals.” Like, that’s what people think when you say experimental. And, I mean, obviously more in the experimental pop realm.

When I made Odd One Out, I was kind of very set in my ways, in the sense that I really wasn’t open to a lot of different ideas and sounds. I was like: This is what I like, this is what I’m gonna make. And on top of that, there was an immense amount of pressure from my label at the time to make it a very radio-friendly record. Whereas with this album, there’s been like zero outside influence in that way. I had complete creative control over everything, musically and lyrically.

I just think, Odd One Out came out when I was 21, and with this album, I’m 25. So, it’s more mature, I think it’s also softer. I think that’s something else I’ve learned in the past four years. I’ve realized that I still have the same amount of rage and protest in me as I did before, but I think there’s also power in that being translated in a vulnerable way too. And I also embraced singing in a softer way. I feel like all my older songs, I just wanted to belt it the whole time. Which obviously, the first two singles of this album are super like belters. But when people listen to the rest, they’ll see there’s actually a much softer side. Yeah, sonically, it’s really exciting. It sort of, it feels like it goes to lots of different places, sort of a musical journey.

With your musical influences, it’s interesting, because there are so many little bits of everything. You’re listed as electro-pop, but there’s a lot of punk influence in there. I can hear bits of blues and so much more. It seems like your music contains this massive multitude of influences. Who would you say are some of your biggest influences? And are they as eclectic as it seems?

I mean, obviously, I’ve had so many different influences over the years and they’ve shifted a lot. But they’ve all contributed in some way. When I was making this album, I was listening to a lot of really amazing, slightly left-field pop artists like Caroline Polachek, Grimes, and 070 Shake, Fletcher, Tove Lo. I was listening to so many women, so many queer artists actually. But, in general, the artists that I guess were sort of in my formative years, or when I was growing up, I loved Arctic Monkeys, and I loved Lily Allen, and Scissor Sisters was a big one. And, then my Mom and Dad were really into Blondie and David Bowie. And so there was a lot of, sort of punk, but also sort of experimental. I guess, I’m trying to name what Bowie was, it’s impossible.

And I think, lyrically, I also listened to a lot of Amy Winehouse as a kid. I love the sheer raw honesty in her music, and that’s something that’s always inspired me. But I think, lyrically and sonically are quite separate to me in the sense that sonically I’m influenced by certain things, And then lyrically, I’m really influenced by other things. And I think I’ve always been a big reader, and I love literature. Music wasn’t actually my favorite subject at school. I loved English. So, I think like lyrically, I’m often more influenced by books or poetry than necessarily other artists, but then musically I’m inspired by so many different artists.

So, you’ve just announced a world tour, and that’s going to take you through the US, UK, and Europe. Are there particular places you’re excited to play? And if so, why?

So, this year I did a US and a Europe run. So, I’ve done all those once before. And, it was amazing, it was so exciting. But this time, I’m super stoked because they’re bigger venues, and it’s also the first time I’ve ever been able to tour an album. With my first album, I didn’t do any touring outside the UK for that one.

So yeah, it’s very specialist, it feels different. I’m really excited to play bigger venues in New York and LA. I’m very stoked as there’s quite a few shows on the European tour in places I’ve never played. But I’m really excited to play in Poland because I know I have a bunch of Polish fans who have been asking me to come there for so long. And I think especially Poland, because as a country and as a society it has a lot of homophobia and misogyny in government. And I think, because of that, there’s such an underground rebellion, and an amazing, really strong LGBTQ+ community out there. And I really feel that when I speak to fans from there online, and so I’m really excited to go, and experience that and see them, and have a whale of a time.

You were speaking recently about some of the terrible things going on with LGBTQ+ rights and women’s rights in both the UK and the US at the moment. That can feel like a difficult thing to be able to do anything about, but is there anything you’d like to say to your fans in those places that might be struggling in those situations?

Yeah, I mean, it’s f*cked in the UK as well. It’s crazy. I mean, we have the prime minister of our country saying that transness isn’t a thing, and inciting hatred left, right, and center. And it’s really scary. And it’s really difficult because I’ve almost all but given up on politics, and I’ve almost reached a point where I’m like, it’s really in the hands of other people to come together and form community support projects, and support each other and hold each other close. And, obviously, we also have to protest and petition the government and try and get good people in power. But it can get really, really depressing thinking about how corrupt politics is, and is it possible to make real change, that way? Because it’s exhausting. But I think honestly, social media has had a huge positive impact in terms of allowing people to find their communities, support each other, come together, make noise, share information, debunk fake news. And I think honestly, especially now, when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community, it’s looking out for each other, creating safe spaces. Basically, it’s kind of like what Matriarchy was about: creating a shield for each other where all the bullsh*t can be on the other side of it, you know, trying to help each other live happy lives.

We’ve heard two singles from Matriarchy so far, and you’ve touched a little bit on it, but can you give us an idea of what we might expect from the rest of the album, both musically and thematically?

Well, thematically, it’s definitely it’s about queerness, it’s about heartbreak, but a big theme on it is healing actually. It is about following me on this journey of going from being heartbroken and hating myself to just sort of the process of learning to love myself and be by myself. And I tried to do that with the tracklisting as well, with the order of the tracks. And I think, interestingly enough, these two songs that have come out are probably the most poppy, banger-y songs on the album. The rest of the songs, they’re really different to each other. And musically, sonically, they kind of go places that I’ve not gotten before. So, yeah, there’s a lot of vulnerability there’s a lot of tearjerkers, too.

You’ve always been fairly open about your queer identity in your music, and you follow in the footsteps of other figures in the past who have been able to embrace their queer identities to various degrees. Are there any particular people that have helped you feel like you can embrace that identity more publicly?

Yeah. There were definitely bands and TV shows that helped me in my coming out process, but also just helped me kind of feel like, oh, I can make music and be openly queer, because there’s an audience for that, you know, it’s not going to be something that hinders me or stops people from listening to my music. On the contrary, it’s actually more that people will connect with that. Tegan and Sara were a big one. They were kind of the first sort of queer band I ever listened to. It’s so cool now, because there are so many more TV shows and movies with queer representation. When I was like, just sort of learning about my sexuality, and I was a teenager, there wasn’t actually a lot. There’s Orange Is The New Black, which was amazing. That was groundbreaking. And that was one I loved. There was The L Word which, you know, the new L Word—great, the old L Word—kind of problematic.

It was difficult to find queer representation that wasn’t super sexualized as well. And so that’s kind of why I loved discovering bands and music where yeah, they were talking about sex, but they were also talking about love and mental health and just normal life stuff, and also being queer. And that was really, really amazing. But there wasn’t a huge amount out there, or at least I didn’t access it. I guess the thing for me was I just sort of started performing and then meeting other queer people, but also just people in general who were cool with my identity. If I was a teenager now, the abundance of queer artists in the mainstream, and representation of everyone in the community in TV and movies, like it’s really amazing to see, and it makes me really happy.

girli, image courtesy of the artist.

After people check out your new singles, can you give us three queer artists that you think your fans should check out? Perhaps that they might not have heard of before?

There’s a really cool artist, Pyra, who is a Thai queer artist. She’s really dope.

There’s a cool artist too, I’m biased because she is my girlfriend, but she makes really cool music, called Dirt Flirt. She just put out a really cool song.

Chappell Roan, I’m obsessed with. But like, a lot of people already know about it, but she’s dope.

You said you’re a big reader. Is there a book that you’re reading right now, or one that you’ve read recently that you’re really excited about?

So, I’m currently reading a book about the history of Halloween. But it was actually a book by a friend of mine who works in publishing. It’s a series of books written by a gay writer, Sarah Waters, that are basically Bridgerton-style historical fiction novels, but sapphic. Which I was like, how the f*ck did I not know about these books? This is literally what my music video is about. So, I’m stoked about those.

A quick final question to check in on some shade. In Nothing Hurts Like A Girl, you have the line “It’s not cherry chapstick and lemonade.” Is that an intentional drive-by on Katy Perry?

Oh, it is, yeah. We were just kind of thinking, obviously there’s been a lot of performative queerness from straight women in pop in the past and you know, Katy Perry’s I Kissed A Girl. There’s a really hilarious Lady Gaga interview where someone asks, “so what do you think of Katy Perry’s  I Kissed A Girl?” And she says, “I don’t think she’s kissed a girl.” And it’s just like the best answer in an interview I’ve ever seen because she just says everything in that one line. It’s true. Yeah, obviously that song was an awakening for many people, love that song. I will blast that anytime at a party, but it’s definitely not written by queer people. And it’s definitely sort of a glamorized idea of it all.

Matriarchy releases May 17th, 2024. Pre-order it here.

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