GIRLI – The Bullingdon, Oxford

As Kim and I arrive at The Bullingdon the Tuesday after Easter, there are about three densely packed rows of mostly young women, eagerly waiting for GIRLI’s set to start. Behind that, there are a few more reluctant spectators. It’s not a large audience, but what would you expect for the pink pop enigma that is GIRLI? Her frank mix of sarcasm and brattiness is reminiscent of Lily Allen and Kate Nash, but she’s updated that with PC Music style production and a message that’s relatable to woke iGen’ers. Before she and DJ Kitty enter the stage, a voice recording is played ensuring us that this is a safe space, and that everyone who’s voted for Brexit should leave. We like that.

Fortunately, what the crowd lacks in numbers it makes up for in enthusiasm. Everyone is bouncing up and down and singing along right from the start, and GIRLI interacts with her audience without making a show out of it. At the end she even crowdsurfs, which for us at the back is quite scary given there were only three or four rows of people to support her. Everyone knows the lyrics, too. You don’t see this many people singing along to all the words even at sold-out gigs, and that’s probably due to the fact that the average age tonight is twice as young of what it normally is. Indeed, halfway through we all join in singing ‘Happy Birthday’ for Hamilton, who has become 15. It’s good to see the acceptance of this style of fandom, which emphasises empowerment and engagement – much better than the exclusivity of ‘serious’ music fanatics. Overall, the vibe is positive, in line with GIRLI’s announcement at the start of her set that this is a safe space where we’re all meant to have fun.

The stand-out tracks tonight are ‘Girl I Met On the Internet’, of course, and ‘Mr 10pm Bedtime’ (which she also recorded with The Tuts), but GIRLI also plays some new songs which are really good. The dramatic ‘Up and Down’ might just be her best song yet, and certaintly one of my new favourites. ‘Pink’ is another banger – that colour is being reclaimed, with Let’s Eat Grandma also singing its praises – as is the recently released ‘Play It Cool’. Musically, GIRLI is perhaps most similar to Charli XCX and the PC Music lot. But Charli XCX is the embodiment of cool, an ideal of excessive self-assuredness, whereas GIRLI keeps it closer to reality, singing about the ups and downs of her life. It makes her more relatable.

Relatable, but not necessarily to me; I am not really part of GIRLI’s intended demographic, and I am aware that her music is not, in the first place, for me. Good thing too, since the market for white men is already oversaturated. Nevertheless, I’m a fan, and I’m entertained throughout. Now GIRLI isn’t the greatest singer, nor the greatest rapper, and sure, sometimes it shows. I zone out a bit during the encore, not really getting the excitement of ‘Hot Mess’. But the songs are catchy and the lyrics witty, and all in all there’s more good than bad. She’ll be back in Oxford in July for the Truck Festival, so hopefully see her there!

-- Caspar Jacobs, April 5, 2018