Gen V: Shygirl

Gen V: Shygirl

Gen V: Shygirl

The genre-bending musician details the making of her highly anticipated debut album "Nymph" and how the process of conceptualizing it marked the start of a new era for her

The genre-bending musician details the making of her highly anticipated debut album "Nymph" and how the process of conceptualizing it marked the start of a new era for her

Photography: Richard Burbridge

Styling: Davey Sutton

Styling: Nicola Formichetti

Text: Czar Van Gaal

This cover story appears in V137, available to order now!

Shygirl’s artistry was rooted in divine femininity long before writing a single lyric, or stepping foot into a recording booth to lay her signature airy vocals against experimental, hip-house inspired beats. Born in South East London to teenage parents, her home was filled with the youthful sounds of the early aughtsan era in music where the charts were dominated by female artists with an unapologetic sense of self. Immersed in the radiating potency of Madonna, Missy Elliott, and alike female counterparts, Shygirl learned at an early age that there was power in embracing every facet of your being. “Looking back now, I realize just how influential having strong female role models can be,” she states. “[I realize] how these female artists my mom and dad introduced me to were the [cornerstone] for my art today, and how they created space for my existence.”

This core ethos bled into the later years of her life as she entered male-dominated creative arenas like photography & DJing. Prior to assuming the moniker “Shygirl,” the multi-hyphenate spent her days working as an assistant to a photographer, and her nights making music for sheer amusement. “I'd never really had an inclination to make music as a career…It was something that I started doing with my friends for fun.” But after two years of flying under the radar, honing her craft through creating strictly for herself, she found her voice. And in turn she found the powerhouse we know today as Shygirl with the release of her 2018 debut EP, Cruel Practice. Garnering a cult-like fanbase in London’s underground hyper-pop scene, the ingenue solidified her staying power while showcasing versatility in her second EP, ALIAS which released in 2020. 

Currently gearing up to unveil her highly anticipated debut album Nymph this September, Shygirl is more in tune with her virtuosity than ever and her genre-bending antics are set to reach new heights. “[In this industry] there are moments where you may have imposter syndrome, but at this stage I really feel solid in my identity as an artist.” Peeling back the layers to illustrate the complexities of being a woman in today’s society, Nymph will explore the softer, more vulnerable side of Shygirl. “Ultimately I just want to bring people up to date of where I'm at right now and show that there is a sensitivity to the story of Shygirl. I want people to be able to embrace me and all facets of me with humanity and not just as a caricature.”

Shygirl wears Weinsanto

"Pink is bold! Pink is the new black."

-Shygirl

Read the extended interview below where the hip-pop pioneer details what we can expect from debut album Nymph

Shygirl: I think the first EP, especially because it was born purely from a place of self satisfaction and without an awareness of the effect of an audience, by the time I got to the second EP I was slightly more aware. Aware of being viewed but not totally because I still was quite underground. So with the first EP, I just realized there was a new language in order to express myself, that language being music. By the second EP, I was like, “Cool. Now I know that this exists, I'm gonna step forward purposefully. And I have something to say.” And then embarking on my debut album. I’m so familiar with this language now. I can manipulate it a lot better than I could before. That ability naturally influences the ideas that you create and you have a better scope of what you're capable of, you know?

V Magazine: Definitely! And how are you using this superpower now that you know you have it?

SG: Once you’re aware of this, you push yourself further. I think lyrically I've pushed myself a lot in this album (Nymph). I think it's not entirely what people would expect sonically, but I wanna be able to surprise myself as well as others. I think that's why I needed to allow myself space in this album to be interpreted on a wider spectrum sonically. I didn't wanna just be boxed into this strong, powerful club banger-like vibe (Laughs). I definitely enjoy that and there's always space for it, but I wanted to go beyond that. I know I have that vulnerability, I've always written little notes and poems to myself, but I never shared them. And I've realized that the benefit of making yourself vulnerable is that you, you end up finding out more about yourself. So that's what this album is really…just pushing myself to that brink and see what it reveals.

Shygirl wears coat Marc Jacobs Fishnet top, dress stylist’s own

V: What would you say the conceptualization process for the album was like, what was the recording process like for you? 

SG: There's definitely some songs that stay true to what they were in their inception. But a lot of the music I recorded earlier that appears on the album went through a process to become what they are. There's songs like “Nike” that I made in the middle of lockdown around the same time that I made “Tasty” on the second EP (ALIAS) but we changed the production on the song to bring it up to where I'm at currently as an artist and in life. There are some things on the album that have a journey like that. Ultimately I do feel like you're saying a lot of things to yourself subconsciously when [conceptualizing] and recording a [project]or at least I do anyway. When I'm making music, I start to see or read into the patterns in the messages of the lyrics. When I had everything in front of me and the more music I made, the more I realized what I was, and what kind of environment I was trying to build for myself sonically.

V: That’s interesting that the creation process for you has been more of a natural or organic process. When I think of the beats that your vocals are nestled in, I don’t think organic. When did you know you were done, what was the process like of getting to that place? 

SG: It was around December (of 2021) when I probably had a bulk of the album and that's when I started to pull in little things that I'd already made, like maybe two years before that. But I felt I had the same messaging as what I was making currently. Like [the song] “Come For Me” was probably the beginning of this more sensitive side, I was like reaching out, almost like a siren song. I feel like there's a lot of this, siren-like, mythology within how I'm calling out to people to listen to how I feel, you know? Like that's what I identify with the most, a kind of fantasy of that almost. I feel like that ethos seeped into the importance of how I deliver my message and where I kind feel grounded. It is a weird thing to feel grounded in something that's much larger than me. This becomes an idea rather than the reality, but I think that's what I like most about it. We always methodized things like we have this idea of a grand of self-importance. And as soon as you start writing a song, you are sending up an emotion to the highest degree, you are making it important enough to write a whole song about. So I think there should be some mythology around it. And that's kind of how I came to Nymph being the backbone of the album’s energy. I wanted to almost look back on this and see myself encapsulated beyond the reality of me.

V: Beautifully said, and you really hear that in the singles you have released so far. Did you have to overcome the fear or any frustration of constantly having to explain the meaning behind the album title? Or did you lean fully into this world you had created for yourself without looking back afterwards. 

SG: When I first said it to a couple of friends, some of them were a bit dubious about itbut it was something I kept coming back to. And I think it's because I also didn't see someone like me being represented as this delicate, soft-like idea. I think I needed to add to the story because I did feel an affinity with that concept, but I didn't see myself there or being portrayed there. I think this is the case with a lot of different realms in this industry. Like if someone's going to cast me in a movie or something, maybe I would not be the first choice, but I feel like we need that representation. So for this album I needed to add to my story and take it further. I've been pleased so far with the first couple of singles. I feel like people are really finding an affinity with what I'm putting out and it doesn't feel too disjointed with the concept. I kind of wanted to trust in that instinct…a lot of my processes are instinctual. For me it’s been about just realizing the importance of it after the fact and everything kind of makes sense in the end. I feel like a lot of us need to stop second guessing ourselves so much and just trust in what feels right.

V: Touching on what feels right, what about this particular time felt right for releasing your debut EP. You could have released this in a year but what about now felt right? 

SG: For me, I've moved on so much from ALIAS,  just like as an artist, you know? Even with things like what I desire to portray on stage. So, ultimately I just want to bring people up to date of where I'm at right now and show that there is a sensitivity to the story of Shygirl. I want people to be able to embrace me and all facets of me, with humanity and not just as a caricature. It's hard as an artist these days, because we do present a very glamorous side of ourselves from the start, whether it’s in music videos or whatever. But I think it's time to remind other people and furthermore to remind myself of my own humanity.

V: And while standing in that truth, what would you say is the main takeaway from working on your debut album? I know you mentioned earlier, being able to work on the music has allowed you to learn more about yourself and through being vulnerable you were able to discover different parts of yourself that you didn’t know existed. What would you say you’ve walked away with when this was all said and done? 

SG: You know, when I first started making music, I needed to hear that strength from myself and I needed to make space for that strong side. Now in this phase of my life and career, I need to actually make space for myself to be vulnerable. And that's also just as valuable as the strength that I've shown, if not stronger. To be able to portray your vulnerability and show that it's fine, and that there's space for that in your life is a hard thing to do. Everyone kind of wants to position themselves as invulnerable…like nothing can affect me. But the harsh reality is things do affect methey affect me constantly and the world does affect me. I want to show people that as much as what I do may make you feel something…I'm also putting myself in the world to be provoked and to feel things. Everyone is out there consuming people, their music, their entertainment and all that. It's so easy to partake in that consumption without having any real idea of what’s behind it. But what does it mean for the people who are consumed? 

V: Leaning into the consumption of your art, we are a few months away from the release of this debut album that has been a labor of love for you, how are you feeling? You are more vulnerable than ever, you take the people who consume your music into a different realm of Shygirl this time around. Is that daunting for you? You just said how the world does affect you, so how does all of that play into how you are feeling ahead of this release? 

SG: I hope people have space to consider this side of me, you know, without being blocked so much by their expectations. But I have always really pushed against what people expect of me because I don't understand how people can be so comfortable in their expectations when I don't even know what to expect from myself. I'm constantly trying to surprise myself and I am surprised by what I'm able to accomplish. So when other people have such clear expectations of me, I'm like, “Whoa, like why?” And if I can do anything to assuage those expectations, I would definitely endeavor to do that. But, yes, it is daunting because you're basically putting yourself up for public opinion. What daunts me more is I want to be affected by the space that I put the music out, but I also don't wanna lose sight of the things that bring me pleasure and bring me joy. I want to make sure that I'm always able to decipher what it is that I need from myself through that conversation. 

V: The album isn’t out yet but I’m curious about what do you see as the next step for you? What’s the next chapter for you? Are you going to be touring a little bit more after the album is out?

SG: Yeah, I've got a lot of touring to do actually. I've got a lot more music to come. There's still more to the Nymph story that I want to develop. I've really enjoyed working within the arena of an album, this my first album. It's the first time I've kind of approached a project like this and I'm enjoying broadening the story of it. I can't wait to really bring people into this world that I'm starting to create. Like it's with the singles out now it's only the beginning. Even when the album is out, I feel like there's still more to come after that and I just kind of want to languish in it a little bit.

Nymph is available on all streaming platforms September 30th, 2022

Credits: FASHION DIRECTION NICOLA FORMICHETTI AND  HUNTER CLEM, HAIR (IRIS, KID, MALIKA) NIKKI NELMS (JESS MOLONEY MGMT) FOR MAUI MOISTURE, HAIR (SHYGIRL, SKY) NIKKI NELMS (JESS MOLONEY MGMT) FOR RED BY KISS, HAIR (CHARLI, EARTHEATER, RINA) NIKKI NELMS (JESS MOLONEY MGMT) FOR GOODY HAIR, HAIR (EVAN) ASHLEY STEWART, MAKEUP RAISA FLOWERS (EDMA), MANICURE (IRIS, SHYGIRL, EVAN, SKY) LEANNE WOODLEY, MANICURE (CHARLI, KID, MALIKA, RINA, EARTHEATER) JIN SOON CHOI (HOME AGENCY), DIGITAL TECHNICIAN NICK BARR, PHOTO ASSISTANTS PETER SISKOS, JESSE ALLAN, STYLIST ASSISTANT EMMA V. OLECK, MAKEUP ASSISTANT EUNICE KRISTEN, HAIR ASSISTANTS ASHLEY STEWART, TRISHA JOHNSON

UP NEXT

VNEWS: Virgil Abloh: "Figures of Speech"
Curator Antwaun Sargent and Director of the Brooklyn Museum Anne Pasternak discuss the newly unveiled exhibition celebrating the late great's multidisciplinary work