Artist Profile: GIRLI, the Polarising Power Girl

GIRLI is an artist who vaulted into my cultural awareness almost a year ago, over social media, obviously. Equal parts cool and irritating, she became the polarising lightning rod for both my contempt and begrudging admiration for pop culture in 2016. Although she is currently the poster girl of magazines like Vice, i-D and NME, and even The Guardian has been forced to pay her attention, she has yet to tap into mainstream success. Although her ever-expanding popularity seems to swell by the day, her most listened to song still has less than 100,000 listens on Spotify. Her lyrics “eat a cake and then do some sit ups” betray her youthful ambivalence, to fame itself among other things. Her plight of wanting to eat her cake and have it too is shown in how she seems hungry for pop star celebrity, but also subversively delights in her status as an outsider, a gal on the fringe.

Yet, despite not yet being a point of reference herself, if you had to describe her to the uninitiated, she’s such a stylistic patchwork it would hardly be difficult. At her plastic core, she’s a pixelated, postmodern refraction of pop music today and yesterday. A bit Grimes, a bit K-pop, a bit Taylor Swift, a bit Kate Bush and a bit 90s girl band, everything about her seems borrowed and stolen. But she’s so in your face about it that you don’t mind that much. 2014’s obsession with authenticity, manifested so ruthlessly in Pitchfork’s infamous exposé on Lana Del Rey, is something she winks at in the rear window as she passes it by. Despite her lyrical declaration that ‘she’s super real, not a knock off’, she is anti-authenticity epitomised. She is role-play, she is drag, she is fake. This is made all too clear by her hyperbolic, edged-up bubblegum, and above all pink, aesthetic, with its bold enfolding of femininity. Just as she boasts in one interview about her friend’s ability to find great clothes in trash bags on the street, she is all about literally ripping off other people.

Her music might have struck me on a personal level had I heard it when I was around 14, because there is something so intrinsically juvenile about it. Her visually assaulting music videos catch this feel, whether she’s aimlessly traipsing through London’s streets and subcultures with her underage cluster of mates, or throwing a party which could double as an urban outfitters commercial, complete with social media messages. Her platform is the corridor between being a kid and adult; she revels in the uncoded potential of the liminal space. Everything about her oxymoronic flippancy, intensity, rage, and vulnerability captures the instability and insecurity of those years. Her early song ‘So You Think You Can Fuck With Me Do Ya’ scoffs at the idea of her ever writing a ballad, and yet the song lays bare how she’s as uneasily defensive as offensive. Her new song ‘Girl I Met on the Internet’ is GIRLI at her most raw and self-aware. She playfully demonstrates the struggle one feels to assert independence; she becomes the ultimate self-parody as she whines to her mum “please leave me alone, I’m 17!”. Not to mention, her music seems to thinly veil her middle-class anxiety as someone who is actually called Milly and comes from North London, like a rebooted Lily Allen. When I first heard her I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at yet another posh kid embroiled in the corporate strategy of ‘edginess’. And yet you hear an all too knowing disaffection in her voice as she describes “desperately trying to make life more exciting” and being “scared that ya boring coz u saw snapchats of u snoring” that does make you sympathise, if not empathise, with her brand of bourgeoisie boredom. After all, while her keenness to cross the river and act like she’s in Skins makes you want to look away in denial just a little, she at least has the decency to pretend like it’s tongue-and-cheek.

Not to mention her attention-seeking, charismatic persona isn’t as off-putting as it could be, because there is something quite familiar about it. She has a compelling capacity to capsulise the loneliness and the obsession with ‘cool’ experienced by a cyber generation, which feels relevant to most millennials. She’s so meshed with cyberspace you can almost imagine she’s the concepts of Jon Rafman’s video art anthropomorphised, brought to life, and dropped into London. The fact that when she wants “someone i can call at 2 AM when I have that restless feeling again” she reaches out virtually, not physically, is very telling. Ultimately, the pop number is one where art and life collide. Her burgeoning success is (at least in part) due to her manipulation of her image on social media, and yet she’s perfectly aware of the pitfalls of this incredibly curated way of mediating your life. The song does almost seems as if it anticipated Adam Curtis’s new documentary HyperNormalisation. He explores how far the idea of the internet connecting us is illusory, and to what extent it is instead an isolating chamber which feeds us back our own projections. That’s what GIRLI seems to be asking. How far is the girl in the song a fantasy? She seems to be ever holding out hope that the next Tinder match be the one to save her from her own suburban hell. However, despite how a lot of GIRLI’s songs seem to be immersed within the digital context, she manages to negotiate it without being too cringe. You can tell it’s embedded into her lyrics because it’s just such an obvious and central part of the landscape of youth culture.

Perhaps the most fabulous aspect of the artist though is her unabashedly feminist bent. Her name takes a word invested with a history of wispy femininity and turns it into something unapologetic and provocative in its ALL CAPS. Her pink look is anything but blushing. Purposefully in bad taste, it becomes as inflammatory as any red. Her song ‘Girls Get Angry Too’ is certainly a far cry from the sensitive and nuanced feminism of women like Emma Watson, but her diatribe is probably far more potent in radicalising and directing the anger of teenage girls. Her rap lilts between mock hysteria and straightforward wrath at the blatant sexism of her everyday experience. And she must absorb a lot of misogynistic hatred online, which makes her a hero in the book of any girl who’s been called a feminazi.

Ultimately, I do have my doubts about GIRLI becoming the next pop sensation. But even if she’s just a bleep on the internet’s collective consciousness, she’s done something cool by just cutting to the heart of this exact instant in musical history. She’s worth a listen anyway. She’ll get you riled up, one way or another.

-- Amaris Proctor, November 4, 2016