Shygirl Tells Doechii Why Her Time Is Now
“Spread that little coochie for me,” Shygirl sings on “Coochie (a bedtime story),” a bouncy come-on from her debut album Nymph. The 29-year-old British musician has been making raunchy dance music for years, but Nymph marks a new era stacked with vulnerable lyrics and beats that blend the swagger of London grime with the experimental sounds of collaborators Arca and Sega Bodega. Here, the queen of the U.K. underground links up with the American rapper Doechii to sound off on songwriting, shady industry tactics, and wanting everything all at once.
DOECHII: Where should we start?
SHYGIRL: That’s up to you.
DOECHII: Okay. Shygirl—
DOECHII: Let’s talk about it. Where are you right now in music? How are you feeling?
SHYGIRL: I feel really comfortable right now, I think. I feel like I’m figuring shit out. Initially, there’s this rush to be like, “Hey, this is what I’m about.” You’re super loud and you’re like, “I want everyone to know what I’m thinking about.” But I’ve just got to a point where I’m content with what I’m doing. I don’t really care what people think. As long as I’m serving myself, I’m on the right path.
DOECHII: Yeah. How old are you?
SHYGIRL: I’m 29.
DOECHII: Okay, so you’ve been through your twenties.
SHYGIRL: I know, I’m like, “Ah!” But also, doing this job, you can be super childish. You have so much space and I feel super privileged in that, I basically get to decide what the fuck I want to do every day. When I was younger, 29 would’ve felt a bit daunting because my parents had me super young. My mom was 19.
DOECHII: Really? It’s weird, because I actually wish I could fast-forward through my twenties. I want to be 30 really bad.
SHYGIRL: That’s why I like the fact that when I’m on set some people think I’m younger. I’m like, “No, I’m nearly 30 next year.” There’s some weight to that. I can be like, “I know what the fuck I’m talking about.”
SHYGIRL: It’s funny how, when you’re a musician or any type of creative, everyone always thinks you’re a lot younger. I feel like I have space to be the kid I never got the chance to be when I actually was one.
DOECHII: That is a huge luxury. I feel like any form of art is an interaction with your inner child.
SHYGIRL: Exactly. As much as there’s intent and knowledge, you have to inject some naivety every time you do something, just to be hopeful.
DOECHII: That’s true.
SHYGIRL: Especially to not get jaded in this industry.
SHYGIRL: It shifts really quickly, the things that bring awe and inspire you in this industry. I always say, “I kind of fell into making music.” Every stop along the journey seems really unexpected for me, and something that I never imagined myself doing. Even playing Glastonbury, or working with certain people I’ve admired for so long, everything just feels like a surprise.
DOECHII: I relate to that a lot. How did you fall into music?
SHYGIRL: I was DJing, pretty badly. [Laughs] I’ve always been a bit of a slapdash DJ, but I really love selecting good tracks. I had loads of friends who were making music. Sega [Bodega] has been a good friend of mine for so long, and we just started messing around in the studio. I’ve always written stuff, but I didn’t think I was writing songs. It’s been a therapeutic process, to get my emotions out in words. I really enjoy expressing myself visually as well, and deciding, “This is the best way to show how I’m feeling right now.”
DOECHII: What was your debut single?
SHYGIRL: “Want More” was my first single. That was the first thing I ever made as well.
SHYGIRL: Putting out this album now, it feels like a long time since the EP, but actually it isn’t, because I wrote the music in December, and I finished the mixes in March. I’m trying to keep it where I’m at right now. You have to imagine yourself singing about stuff onstage and being present in the music that you’re making, so I don’t want to be putting out anything that’s super old, that doesn’t speak to who I am at the moment.
DOECHII: I get that. It’s really annoying, because then you feel like you’re performing music that’s not even you anymore.
SHYGIRL: Yeah. But I’ve also made new music and I’m playing some demos at shows. I like keeping performances as an experimental space, and involving the audience in the process. For me, they’re like another collaborator. If they’re going to be so vocal and so entitled, I want to involve them a little bit.
DOECHII: Mm-hmm. How do you deal with your fan base and the public feeling entitled to opinions and critiques?
SHYGIRL: As a woman, I find it strange how some people can be so sure of their right to you as a person, when I’ve felt like I’ve had to justify that my whole life for myself. I always want to reflect that back to them, and let them realize that they’re actually not entitled to me at all, and that anything they get to experience is a gift and it’s by choice, not by force.
DOECHII: Period. I love that.
SHYGIRL: The way fans engage now is just so different. I’m not the type of person who would go up to someone on the street. I’d probably nudge my friend and be like, “Oh my god, that’s that person.” But I wouldn’t go up to them. So many people have come up to me—and they’ve been really nice, but I’m not always ready. I’m like, “Oh my god, I can’t believe someone’s been looking at me when I’ve been staring off.” People are so used to having access to every aspect of the people they are into. I enjoy social media, but I don’t feel like I’m always entirely myself on Instagram. I don’t feel like I can say the jokes I would say in real life on Twitter.
DOECHII: I feel that. I was just tweeting about this and it’s crazy, because I got really overwhelmed by the reaction from other people, and I deactivated my Twitter, which is a prime example of feeling like you can’t be completely yourself online.
SHYGIRL: It’s so annoying. There’s been times when I’m like, “You know what? I like using this platform, but I’m not going to let people push me out.” But then it’s just like, “Who am I justifying this to? And do I need to constantly be in every space?” As my life changes outside of social media, maybe my social media engagement changes. Maybe, how invested I am in this tool has changed.
SHYGIRL: Someone asked me the other day about my relationship with clubbing. A lot of the energy I got from being in the club, I now get from making music. It’s not the first place I’d go to let off steam anymore because I could go write a song, and I could make the music for that space.
DOECHII: Yeah. You just taught me something, because I feel like that. There are certain platforms and spaces that I have been feeling a resistance to being in. And because people want me there and I know that I’m a positive influence in those spaces, and it helps other people to have me there, I’ll be there, even though I really don’t want to be.
SHYGIRL: It’s hard, because if everyone retreated, then you’d have this weird inauthentic space. It’s the same relationship I have with a lot of activism. It’s something that I’ve really struggled with, finding the right space to be heard efficiently and not get your voice lost in the noise. I don’t respond to every debate, even though I have my own opinion, because I’d rather not waste my energy sometimes. I still have things worthy of saying. I’ve probably said it a lot more in spaces I know no one’s going to talk back to me in.
SHYGIRL: [Laughs] Like in an interview. I’d rather let the discourse happen after I’ve left the room.
DOECHII: Since we’re talking about spaces, I heard that you have a label, is that correct?
DOECHII: That’s cool.
SHYGIRL: That’s how it started. We always had other people we really liked who just needed a bit of help. When we started working with Oklou, and we put out her record, it was because we really liked her music and we wanted to be able to facilitate that. I didn’t need to make money off of her. I think it was good to have that kind of energy in the music industry, where you just want to help, rather than trying to rinse people. That’s literally what a lot of the industry is, loads of non-makers trying to put your music out. It was a nice learning curve before I signed with a bigger indie label. It made me more confident going into the room, to be like, “Cool, I need this, this, and this from you. I don’t need you to bullshit me about the other shit.”
SHYGIRL: I think a lot of other artists get bamboozled by these wheeler-dealers that work with record labels. Everyone says they can do things for you that you can’t do for yourself. I don’t think it’s necessarily true. Sometimes it’s nice to have a helping hand, but honestly, I think everyone is able to sort themselves out, if you really believe in yourself.
DOECHII: Yep. I agree with that.
SHYGIRL: It’s so crazy how a lot of the industry is still caught in the dark ages of music, considering there’s been loads of things that facilitate independent output. There’s still people who operate like it’s the ’70s.
SHYGIRL: I just want to work with forward-thinking people. I want to work with people who don’t tell me, “This is how it’s done,” because if I’ve never done something before, then that’s not how it’s done, is it? There’s too many men. That’s what the issue is.
DOECHII: [Laughs] I agree with that. It’s a lot of freaking men, and we could use a lot more women, nonbinary people, people of color—
SHYGIRL: Yeah. Where I’m at, genre-wise, is in a weird space. I know some people call it hyperpop, but it’s just alternative music. A lot of the people I’m engaging with on an industry level are loads of white people. On one hand, it’s like, “Okay, if I say anything, you lot just take it as fact. No one can question me on shit when it comes to my experience as a Black person.” But at the same time, you don’t want to have to explain yourself all the time. It’s still an industry where you need to have a lot more diversity, I reckon.
DOECHII: Would you consider yourself futuristic?
SHYGIRL: I don’t know whether it’s necessarily futuristic at this point. I wish there was a word for living in the present, because I feel very “right now.” I like how temporary the now is. I’m not so concerned with the future.
DOECHII: That’s cool.
SHYGIRL: I want everything all at once.
DOECHII: I absolutely love that because it’s a way of life and art that I like to practice—just constantly being present. I’ve found a lot more gifts in the present than I have in the past, or being too hyper-focused on the future.
SHYGIRL: Yeah. I think I used to be quite serious. Coming from an immigrant background, you’re always focused on setting yourself up so that you have choices in the future. I want choices right now. I literally sat down the other day and congratulated myself. I felt physically tired from a show, but I was like, “That’s a good feeling, I’m happy right now.” I can really quantify that experience. And the security that I have in being able to pay my rent and make decisions about where I want to be, and who I want to spend my time with. I’m in control and I’m not tied to anything. If I don’t like it, I can leave it behind. There’s power in being able to say that to yourself.
DOECHII: I have one more question. What are we looking forward to, what’s your next project?
SHYGIRL: I’ve got the album coming out in September, called Nymph. I had a certain image of myself as someone who makes dance music or whatever, but I wanted to broaden that a little more, and add a bit more sensitivity to what I was doing. I didn’t realize I was making super empowering music, I was just saying things I needed to hear. But I had almost bypassed the vulnerability that I used to get that space. I’m like, “You can’t just demand for me to be a strong woman all the time. Sometimes I’m not.” But there’s still strength in being vulnerable and being emotional onstage.
DOECHII: I love that. I’m excited for the project.
SHYGIRL: I’m really excited about your stuff as well. I was happy to get the chance to chat today, because you’ve been one of the artists that I’ve been really excited to see what the fuck you do.
DOECHII: Well, thank you.
SHYGIRL: No, thank you so much. Sorry, I can hear my voice, and I sound so congested.
DOECHII: That’s okay, that’s some real shit.
SHYGIRL: I sound sexy in real life. Trust.
Hair: Ali Pirzadeh at CLM
Makeup: Bea Sweet at CLM
Production: Natalie Steiner at Object & Animal
Manicure: Simone Cummings at CLM
Photography Assistant: Stuart Nimmo
Hair Assistant: Ryan Humpage
Makeup Assistant: Viviane Melo
Production Assistant: Harvey Moore at Object & Animal