This Will Be Our Year: Shamir

This Will Be Our Year: Shamir

WHETHER THEY FOUND THEIR CREATIVE FOOTING OR WERE GIVEN THEIR FIRST SHOT AT STARDOM, THESE ACTORS, MUSICIANS, AND DANCERS LIT UP 2015 AND WILL ONLY SHINE BRIGHTER FOR YEARS TO COME

WHETHER THEY FOUND THEIR CREATIVE FOOTING OR WERE GIVEN THEIR FIRST SHOT AT STARDOM, THESE ACTORS, MUSICIANS, AND DANCERS LIT UP 2015 AND WILL ONLY SHINE BRIGHTER FOR YEARS TO COME

Photography: Ben Hassett

Styling: Anna Trevelyan

Text: John Norris

Nothing is quite what it seems with Shamir Bailey, possibly the most 2015 artist to emerge in 2015. Only 21 years old as of November, comfortably postgender and postgenre, Shamir is not interested in being put in a box, musically, personally, sartorially, or otherwise. While his album Ratchet, released in the spring, is an exuberant collection of pop-soul, he’s a self-described “rocker at heart” who once had a high school punk band called Anorexia. He’s from the suburbs of North Las Vegas, several miles (and culturally a galaxy away) from the Strip. There’s the frequent, mistaken notion that he’s a party boy, when in truth, he says, more often than not he’s a “chill, I-need-a-nap type of person.” And there’s the question of his identity. In a year of lurching evolution on our understanding of gender and the trans experience, it’s perhaps only natural that the head-turningly androgynous Shamir would be seen by some as part of a larger paradigm shift. But to be honest, he’d just as soon talk about the music.

“It’s so friggin’ weird,” he says matter-of-factly, which is how Shamir says most things. “I thought I would just do music and go and play these shows and be an artist. But after this year, with more people wanting to know more about me and everything, I started to feel like more of an object. Or an item, I guess? It became a weird celebrity thing, which I never expected.” Shamir’s preternaturally high voice may be startling in conversation, but in song it’s drawn comparisons to two late legends: soul and civil rights icon Nina Simone, and the original binary buster, disco diva Sylvester. While Shamir eschews “male” and “female,” he doesn’t identify as trans—and he points out, it wasn’t even a topic of conversation when he debuted in the summer of 2014 with the EP Northtown. “It was strictly about the music. I never got asked about it once.”

And there’s much to say about that music. While on one level Ratchet’s cowbell-crazy dancefloor sugar—tracks like “Call It Off, “In for the Kill,” and the dizzying disco of “Head in the Clouds”—is upbeat, it’s also empowered, borne of a young songwriter who developed a refreshing DGAF streak by virtue of being different. While Shamir admits that it’s easy for him to be a “very down-on-your-luck type of person,” on the album he wrapped his “observations of the human condition” up in something bright. “I think throughout Ratchet for the most part, the lyrics are very serious and can be dark, but it’s still a very upbeat and positive album,” he explains. “And that’s what I want, I just want to put as much positivity out as possible.”

Even the ballad “Darker” goes for inspiration: “It doesn’t get darker unless you expect it to,” he sings—the kind of sentiment that has won Shamir fans among other kids who are living on the margins, finding their own kind of regular. And for all of Shamir’s reluctance to be an icon, that sort of feedback means something. “I think that’s the best part of it,” he says. “It definitely warms my heart, especially when kids come up to me and are like, ‘It’s so good to see someone else from the LGBT community, also of color, being a positive role model.’ Because if I sit back and think about it, it’s like, Well shit, I never had that role model.”

JACKET HOOD BY AIR SEPTUM RING SHAMIR'S OWN
Credits: Grooming Bill Westmoreland (Art + Commerce)  Hair Neil Grupp (The Wall Group)  David von Cannon (Streeters)  Manicure Naomi Yasuda (Streeters)  Digital technician Carlo Barreto  Photo assistants Roeg Cohen, Nick Krasznai, Ian Barling, Ayesha Malik  Stylist assistants Coco Campbell and Paulina Olivares  Hair assistant Erin Herschleb  Location Pier 59 Studios

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