Girli: ‘I’m not a political artist. I don’t sing ‘f**k the Tories’, but there’s loads about me fancying my girlfriend’

After being dropped by her label, Girli rebuilt her career on her terms. We chat to her about her second album Matriarchy that explores themes of vulnerability, self-worth, and queer joy, marking a bold new chapter.

Girli Matriarchy

“The vibe of this era is community and joy,” says Girli, one week after releasing her brilliant, spiky but gorgeous second album Matriarchy. “I feel like I’ve really come into my own as an artist with this record. There’s just so much more confidence this time around.”  

After self-releasing her boisterous debut single ‘So You Think You Can Fuck With Me Do Y’a in 2015, Girli signed to Universal Records’ EMI label before sharing a string of bratty, aggressive pop-rock anthems. Debut album Odd One Out followed in 2019, but Girli was dropped from the label shortly afterwards. “I definitely felt relieved because I knew that label wasn’t right for me, but it was definitely scary,” says Girli, with her booking agent and management also “abandoning ship”. For most, that’s where the story would end, but Girli quickly embraced that newfound freedom and started rebuilding things her way.

READ MORE: Girli shares masterful new album Matriarchy, along with single and video Feel My Feelings

A trio of bold, beautiful EPs connected with a global audience, while second album Matriarchy is a celebration of that renewed self-belief – with lashing of vulnerability thrown in for good measure.. “With that first album, there was so much pressure on making hits. Everything was about numbers and yield, but with this record, I just wanted to create community,” Girli explains during a rest day between a string of intimate album release shows and a European headline run. “I had so much more creative control with this album. The whole thing just feels way more fun as well.”

Taking inspiration from the likes of Kacey Musgraves, MUNA, Boygenius, 070Shake, Troye Sivan and Kim Petras, Matriarchy is a decadent pop record. “Pop has become such an umbrella term for all this different, incredible music and that’s so exciting,” says Girli. “I wanted to prove I could make a multifaceted pop album.”

Girli Matriarchy cover

As for the lyrics, Matriarchy was written in a six-month period following a breakup that really affected Girli. “I was dealing with that loss and healing from those wounds but also learning to be with myself again,” she explains. In that time, there was insecurity, a bit of an identity crisis and new love. It’s all reflected across the album, which features songs about “mental health, self-worth, joy and romance.” There are plenty of questions about self-perception, hence the album artwork with Girli in a picture frame, while the title track is about “reclaiming your body from the male gaze.”

“Before, there was a lot of anger behind the songs but for this album, there’s a lot more sadness and joy. It’s a different spectrum of emotion,” says Girli. Rather than fear, it comes from a place of confidence. “My audience is so open and honest, that it feels okay to be doing the same,” she adds. “I believe that vulnerability is strength”.

“I’ve also realised I can still be pissed off about things, but also release happy songs. Those two things are not mutually exclusive.”

Rather than go in with a vision for the emotional journey Matriarchy covers, Girli was very much figuring everything out in real time, and wanted the album to feel like the listener was sitting down with a good friend. “They’re like journal entries,” she explains. “I was just writing loads of songs about everything I was feeling because I needed to get these things off my chest. It was incredibly cathartic.”

Over the past few years, Girli has become less interested in writing alt-pop songs to be understood by the mainstream and has focused on being as honest as possible instead. “I was worried that writing songs about super specific situations like being in love with my female best friend while I had a boyfriend and not knowing if she was straight (‘More Than A Friend’) just wouldn’t be relatable but people have really connected to those tracks,” says Girli, with her fan base exploding post-major label. “I’ve also felt a lot freer to be openly queer in my music,” she adds.

Matriarchy comes at a time when the likes of Girl In Red, MUNA, Boygenius and Billie Eilish are all singing about identity, sexuality and queer joy. “It’s amazing. Queer pop has always felt like this underground thing but now we have actual queer voices in the mainstream. It’s hopefully going to mean that more young, queer people feel less alone and less ashamed,” says Girli. “It warms my heart.”

She goes on to say that representation is really important, especially with songs, film and TV that showcase the joy, rather than just the pain of the story, but she doesn’t believe her music is political. “I mean, ‘Matriarchy’ is an anthem of resistance, but I don’t think I’m a political artist. I don’t have any songs where I sing ‘Fuck the Tories’ but there are loads of ones about me fancying my girlfriend. I guess it does feel like an act of protest to sing about being queer though.”

Matriarchy ends with the lush, buoyant ‘Happier Her’. “I wrote that song imagining a future version of myself looking back and helping me through all the shit I was going through,” says Girli, seeing it as a bookend to the healing journey that takes place across the album. “Writing the songs is always really healing, but the second part of that healing takes place when fans relate to it,” she adds.

Whenever I’m going through something tough, and I see someone else talking about their struggles, it always makes me feel better,” says Girli, hoping fans find comfort and understanding across Matriarchy. “I hope this album will make people understand that healing is not linear. Feeling lost, confused and heartbroken is not something that should isolate you either because literally everyone is feeling it,” she adds. “The worst thing when you’re hurting is to judge yourself for that pain.”

Claryn Chong Girli 2

While that debut album was released under a cloud of week one album sales and viral hit singles, Girli now knows that her music will find who it needs to. “I try not to worry about what the industry thinks of my music and there’s just less pressure. The only people that really matter are the fans,” she explains.

Girli’s upcoming Matriarchy tour is set to celebrate that connection. “I want to create an environment where everyone can feel everything,” she explains. “Yes, that includes sadness but my gigs have this warm, welcoming environment. It’s about having fun, loving every second and experiencing as much pure joy as possible.”

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