Two female 3D animations face each other, bathed in honey-coloured light. While their buxom curves suggest blow-up dolls, their round faces and giant eyes are reminiscent of the Bratz dolls that started a preteen craze at the beginning of the millennium. These are no sexless childhood toys however, since they begin a sensual game of seduction as a suave and sombre voice whispers to a frenetic rhythm: “Nasty, filthy, moving your body, so close, so close to me.” The bewitching dance seems like an invitation, as the two impossibly proportioned bodies move their faces closer and closer – but without ever kissing. “Come and get it if u need/I guarantee you’ll like the taste.”
The dissonant melodies and harmonies resonate with an aggressive eroticism, while the icily powerful beats plunge us directly into the damp moshing of a 90s rave. As hot as the music is cold, the bodies seek out and discover each other. It all seems like an audacious hybrid of producer Benny Benassi’s acid techno and the sensual R’n’B of Cassie – influences which Shygirl, the strange author of the track, is quite happy to acknowledge.
“Depending on the situation, some of these personalities take precedence over the others to control what happens to me.”
Though you might not guess it from her pseudonym, Shygirl is anything but. Indeed she’s quite the reverse, having chosen her moniker to upend the stereotype. As a child in south London, Blane Muise – her real name – “said what I thought and started a conversation.” Her head brimming with ideas, she began expressing them through texts and poems that filled up notebook after notebook. But while writing was certainly a cathartic pastime that allowed her to get some distance on what she thought and felt, she didn’t feel it would be the stuff of a career, or at any rate not in that form.
A few years later, however, and text has become the very essence of what she does. While Shygirl was working in a design office, with no intention of starting a music career, she began mixing at trendy London nightspots. This was how she met Sega Bodega, a prominent figure in the British capital’s underground electro scene, who in 2016 offered to produce her first track, Want More. The “shy girl,” who had only ever used the pseudonym on the odd occasion, emerged from nowhere as a fully fledged artist, reciting her lyrics for the first time in the monotonous voice that would become a trademark. After just a few months, the appearance of her first EP seemed like the release of a manifesto: to a musical backdrop that skilfully surfs the thin line between the anxiety-inducing and the aphrodisiac, as the voices intoxicate and Bodega’s beats slam into the body with their organic rhythm, the notes grate and surprise, imbuing each of the five tracks with a studied disequilibrium. The whole thing takes on a strange magnetism that takes root in precisely this instability.
Shygirl – “Tasty”
When we webcam with Shygirl, all we see on the screen is a perfunctory sketch of a kneeling female silhouette with her stage name emblazoned over it in pink. “Shygirl, my alias, plays on this preconceived idea,” she declares. “It sets up a smokescreen with respect to who I might be.” Her public image belongs to her and her alone, just like her identity, which she enjoys remodelling via four 3D avatars, which were invented for the release of Alias, her latest EP which came out on 20 November last year. Each of these Bratz-doll characters, which appear in the videos for the tracks Bawdy, Freak and Slime, has a name: Bae is the most seductive, Baddie the darkest, Bovine is inspired by posh English girls, while Bonk verges on the clown. “Depending on the situations, some of these personalities take precedence over the others to control what happens to me. It was the right homage to the music genres she grew up with, from grime, to Brit rap to Eurodance. The EP also features prestigious collaborations, its pro- ducers including singer and musician SOPHIE, another prominent figure on the underground scene, alongside Bodega, with whom Shygirl has since founded the collec- tive Nuxxe. As her presence on tracks by Arca and Zebra Katz proves, the young star has no problem sharing the limelight. “All these artists are good friends,” she explains, “and there’s a real synergy between us, a connection carried by our deepest passions.” With its variety of tone and nuance, Shygirl’s new EP widens the repertoire of her polymorphous voice: where her first opus only “opened the door to my world,” the second asks us to step right in, welcoming us via her rather intimidating avatars.
SHYGIRL — “BB”
Were Shygirl to act in a children’s film, she says, she would probably play the baddie – a role that perfectly suits someone who has always admired rogues and anti- heros. “I’d be incapable of identifying with perfect figures who have no flaws. In the worst circumstances, the best parts of us often come out of our weaknesses.” Endlessly curious, she crafts her aesthetic from horror, science fiction and even the most colourful fantasy, but, as one would expect, prefers to drive it down the rough roads of the grotesque rather than the well-worn highways of beauty. Just consider the cover image of Alias, where her face drowns in a sea of flesh, only her eyes and scarlet lips peeking through. The image is disturbing, and that’s exactly how she wants it. “Sometimes an image is enough to say what the lyrics can’t say. If it disturbs me, it’s because it provokes a reaction. And I want to be provoked as much as I provoke others.”
And on stage? Though passionate about the virtual realm in which her avatars have flourished these past few months, Shygirl also has ambitious plans for IRL appear- ances. “I’d like the audience to leave my concerts as though they’d experienced an occult ceremony,” she enthuses. Whether she appears as one of her four 3D avatars, as a hologram, as a faceless silhouette or as a flesh-and-blood woman, Shygirl is set on confounding all expectations. Let’s hope live performances will soon start up again so we can find out just how she does it.
Shygirl – “Freak”