'‘Ricochet’ was very inspired by K-Pop'
Jasleen Dhindsa
11:35 16th August 2021

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GIRLI is on the train back home to Bournemouth from Sheffield, where she’s just played a DJ set for Pssy Culture, a femme and queer collective dedicated to creating safe and creative spaces. “It's been amazing. It's been so sick” she says about what it’s been like to be back performing post lockdown. 

“Obviously not all musicians perform that much. I think for a lot of people it's more about being in the studio or writing, which is obviously huge for me, but I've always been the type of artist who thrives on stage, and thrives touring" she says. "I love interacting with my fans that way and getting the crowd hyped up. When I'm on stage, this devil takes over; a whole new badass. I've really missed it.”

“When the pandemic started, I was still in this really weird limbo place because I'd been dropped by my last label and I hadn't started releasing music" GIRLI (real name Milly Toomey) continues. "It was kind of an in-between period where I hadn't met my current label [Believe]. I was very low, and thinking I can either give up in this pandemic, or I can go full steam ahead and hope people appreciate what I'm doing. So, I started doing loads of online shows and live streams, and I started a Patreon."

With a cult-like following paired with an unwavering work ethic despite the setbacks thrown at her—both the result of having started in the industry in her mid-teens (she’s now the ripe old age of 23)—GIRLI was adamant to give back to her fans in whatever way she could, so she hosted a virtual art exhibition, and started her own podcast.

“The virtual art exhibition was more recently announced this year, and that was really cool because for me, it's all about giving back to the people who make it possible for me to do music full time. I think it's so important to make them feel special. They'll make amazing art and appreciate you; you forget how special it is to open up your DMs and have people drawing pictures of you. People spend hours crafting these amazing images.”

With the GIRLI IRL podcast, Milly says she "really wanted to do something on the side that people could watch or listen to, to gauge who I am as a person and what kind of stuff I care about and am passionate about; my beliefs on certain things. I wanted to make a podcast which was me talking to women or non-binary folks about sexuality, politics, heartbreak and all kinds of stuff, conversations I'd have with my friends anyway.

"People can listen to my music and they probably get a good idea of who I am from that because I'm very honest in my lyrics and the music anyway, but I like the idea that it's another way for me to show who I am.”

2021 marks a new era for GIRLI. Titled Damsel in Distress and encompassing a new direction, a new collection of songs and a recently-announced new tour, it's to be the most unapologetic yet euphoric direction the internet’s original e-girl has ever set out on.

“A lot of bands will go into the studio for like three weeks and make an album that all kind of links together and was made at the same time. To me, I write music whenever it comes to me. It's always a bit jumbled together with loads of different feelings all in the space of a couple of months," she explains.

"With Damsel in Distress, I have these five songs that felt like they fit together. [‘More Than A Friend’] is about unrequited love, also figuring out the frustrations of being queer and not knowing if your crush is queer. ‘Dysmorphia’ is about body dysmorphia and body image, and then [latest single] ‘Ricochet’ is about hurting yourself by chasing after people who are bad for you. I was thinking: all of these songs are distressing. They're all about times while I was freaking out about something and trying to figure something out. I was really struggling with it.”

As well as her musical candidness, it is GIRLI's proud queerness that has lead her to a fanbase of like-minded and sweet individuals. “Being queer is such a big part of my life," she enthuses. "I definitely think that queer artists shouldn’t feel any pressure - they can talk about it if they want to [and] they don't have to if they don't want to. I think that straight artists should be uplifting queer people, and be talking about it, like how white people should be uplifting people of colour.

"I think that straight artists need to definitely use their privilege in that sense. I feel so passionate about it, and proud, and it's always been a big part of my artist project. I also think it's kind of a cool way of attracting the right people. I don't really want any homophobes listening to my music.”

Speaking further about the Damsel in Distress project she says “It's kind of like going into a war in a way, like a mental war. With all of these topics and emotions that the songs are about, I was like this princess but like having vengeance on the kingdom. Coming back and being like: I'm not a damsel. I was thinking about that phrase damsel in distress and it really applied to me. Even though these songs are all about doubting myself, they're not necessarily light hearted, happy clappy songs, [but] to me it's really badass and really empowering. Releasing the songs now, I feel so empowered, and so powerful.”

“I used to feel like I needed to put myself in a box” GIRLI says about her musical style, which has shifted from PC Music whizzkid to burgeoning pop songwriter in her own right.

“I've always enjoyed writing songs, and not necessarily GIRLI songs. I always had ideas that were like ‘this could be cool for this artist’ or ‘let's write a Rihanna style song today’ or whatever. I think I definitely started taking writing for other people more seriously when I met my friend July Jones, who's also an artist, but she's also a prolific writer for other people. We started writing together and I got my first songwriting credit which was ludicrously on a BTS song, which is quite a wild first credit. But there we go!” She laughs in disbelief. 

“Now I'm inspired by so much because I listen to so much music. ‘Ricochet’ was very inspired by K-Pop. I love BLACKPINK: the production of their songs is amazing. ‘More Than A Friend’ was a lot more influenced by Tove Lo and Tegan and Sara, who I've been listening to since I was a teenager.”

Like most pop artists trying to make it in the world, GIRLI has been there and seen it all despite still being so young and relatively at the start of her career. Through expressing frustration at the systematic major label world, alongside the hardiness that naturally comes with being a pop artist, she's finally starting to become truly in control of her world.

“I realised that when I was signed to a major label, the things that I thought I wanted, were actually things I had to do to reach certain targets. Now, I want my music to keep growing, and never stop. The key thing is longevity. I want to be doing this forever. I want to keep making fans along the way and keep making music. Music for me is my diary entry. I write songs about my life and hopefully my life isn't gonna stop. The idea that bands or artists have a five year window is bullshit.”

“Only now do I feel like in the last year and a half, I'm actually putting out videos that I've co-directed and I come up with the concept. I'm deciding my own release schedules and I'm designing my own merch, making my own videos, and I'm curating my own shows. Everything I’ve put out now is so authentically me that it feels more rewarding than ever before.”

“I'm really excited to keep expanding. GIRLI is me writing songs and putting them out, but it's also so much more. I love writing for people. I love DJing. I love designing apparel and playing shows. For me GIRLI is bigger, and can get bigger.”

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Photo: Haris Nukem