Artist of the Month: Shygirl

Musical polymath Shygirl is a queen of world-building, with the world at her fingertips. In an intimate conversation with Beatport, she talks her third consecutive year playing Glastonbury Festival, her U.S. arena debut, “room two” of 'Club Shy,' and more.

15 min
AOTM Beatportal Shygirl 1920x1080
Jul 10, 2024
·
By
Rachel Narozniak

“The artist’s world,” Paul Strand mused, “is limitless. It can be found anywhere, far from where he lives or a few feet away. It is always on his doorstep.”

Following the late American modernist photographer and filmmaker’s school of thought, artistic inspiration is everywhere — including Shygirl’s refrigerator.

On a Zoom call that falls the Tuesday after Glastonbury Festival’s June 30 finale, the multi-hyphenate adds another title to a list that already includes singer-songwriter, DJ/producer, rapper, and event organizer: “really good cook.”

“My first stop whenever I come back from a show is to open my fridge, throw out everything that is off, and then figure out what I can make from what’s left,” she says. “That’s almost like my favorite thing to do because I love making something out of nothing.”

With her camera (understandably) off after a weekend that saw her spearhead not one, not two, but three sets at Glastonbury during her third consecutive year playing the festival, Shygirl is but a voice that filters enthusiastically through my MacBook’s speakers. Still, I can tell she’s smiling.

One gal’s reason to Uber Eats is another’s to — in the spirit of the show Shygirl’s been binging (The Bear) — summon her inner Carmen Berzatto.

“If I’m lucky enough to have someone else in the house that will eat it, then I feel good, ‘cause then they praise me for it,” she elaborates. “But otherwise, I’m usually calling people like ‘Do you wanna come over? Are you hungry?’ I’ve always got food on the stove and anyone that comes over…I’m pretty much trying to feed them.”

Her affinity for turning the odds and ends that have yet to expire into bona fide dishes intimates that Shygirl enjoys the creative stimulation that comes with a challenge. It’s probably not unreasonable to infer acts of service as one of her primary love languages for telegraphing care and affection. And clearly, whether music or meals are the medium, she likes an audience.

Check out Shygirl's 'Artist of the Month' chart on Beatport.
Shygirl Beatport Artist of the Month

We land on the subject of cooking in response to my question: How does she stay grounded while balancing a bustling international touring schedule (In July alone, she’ll play Spain, Belgium, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas), producing (her Club Shy follow-up is in the works), and an assortment of music-adjacent side projects (sound design for a jewelry-making friend’s upcoming exhibition, among others). Small, routine acts like cooking her own food confer a sense of regularity for the 31-year-old artist when in her native London, she says. Beyond a hobby that returns her to self, cooking is a sort of microcosm for who Shygirl is at her core: An artist who thrives in the act of creating, for whom making something equates to self-expression.

While the respective arts of cooking and producing music might at first blush appear dissimilar, they’re likened by their mutual ability to facilitate and foster connection. This underlies the latter’s appeal to Shygirl — in a delightful antithesis to her stage name.

“I love working with other people and being a part of their world. I just love making things happen, and that was always at the core of why I make things,” she explains. “I use music as the conduit because it’s very easy to collaborate in that.”

Sonically, the cast of fellow creatives with whom she’s worked reads like a lofty wish list of would-be collaborators. It includes Arca, Björk, Boys Noize, Sega Bodega, SG Lewis, Lady Gaga, and the late SOPHIE, who puts an exclamation point on this inexhaustive roster. Throughout her career —which dates back to 2016’s Bodega-produced “Want More” — Shygirl has shown herself to be an audacious experimentalist who swerves between styles like hyperpop, R&B, post-industrial hip-hop, and grime.

The unequivocal, assertive lyricism (“You wanna go slow? [I ain’t into it]/You wanna talk shit? [I ain’t into it]/…You wanna fuck fast? [I’m into it]/You wanna play rough? [I’m into it]) of “Want More,” coupled with its skittering sonics, made for a hard-edged debut on NUXXE, the dual record label and collective that she founded alongside Bodega, Coucou Chloe, and Oklou. Today, NUXXE’s label arm is no longer operational. But in the early days of her career, it provided an important platform for Shygirl to independently find and form her sound.

Her debut EP, Cruel Practice, exuded attitude on NUXXE upon its 2018 release. On it, Shygirl exercised the creative license she had issued herself two years prior. The five-tracker found her aesthetic growing even trippier while her lyricism remained reliably on the nose — evidence of her refusal to mince words. “If I was feelin you before/I’m not feelin you today,” she recited on Cruel Practice’s “Gush.” 

Beatport AOTM Shygirl 3

Shygirl’s sophomore EP ALIAS arrived in the fall of 2020 amid COVID-19’s pause on live music programming. It aggrandized the unapologetic, larger-than-life, and often, sexually suggestive spirit that, from 2016 onward, had become her sonic signature. But it also represented a pivot in another way: her divergence from NUXXE. ALIAS landed on fellow indie label Because Music, headquartered in Paris and London. Working with an indie was critical for Shygirl, who was intent on maintaining her creative license and owning her work.

To date, Shygirl has largely continued to sidestep major labels. Much of her repertoire post- ALIAS lives on Because Music, including her debut album, Nymph (2022), and, more recently, Club Shy (2024). One exception is “hollaback bitch.” The Mura Masa and Channel Tres teamup, was released via Polydor Records — a British record label and company that operates as part of Universal Music Group — in 2022. The buoyant number ranks as No. 6 on Shygirl’s “Top Ten Tracks” list on the Beatport store.

Nymph earned the visionary high marks from music critics, including a nomination for the 2023 Mercury Prize, awarded annually to a superlative album made by a British or Irish artist. This response was owed, in some part, to her efforts to dynamize the strong identity she’d developed across prior releases by leaning into a softer but still self-confident part of herself, thematically. In some ways, Nymph enabled Shygirl to evade musical typecasting by adding dimension to her persona. Shygirl, it affirmed, could be both the lightning bolt and the light rain that falls between claps of thunder.

Importantly, the album also diversified the sounds of her portfolio. “With Nymph, I really wanted to show the broadness of what I was able to create sonically before leaning into I guess a more pop or commercial tone of voice,” she attests.

Nymph and Club Shy bookend a litany of singles within Shygirl’s catalog. This sequencing causes the latter to serve as a climax (pun intended) to the club-minded one-offs that preceded the EP, like the “Club Shy mix” of Nymph’s “Poison.”

Beatport AOTM Shygirl 7
@asianprovocateur for @wearehereandnow

The six pack, on which Shygirl sonically rubs shoulders with Boys Noize, SG Lewis, Cosha, Lolo Zouaï, Empress Of, and Kingdom, is a seductive example of her aptitude for world-building. In the Club Shy universe, the disco ball never stops turning. It glints above an ever-full dance floor, where there is not a phone in sight. Every minute is peak-time. Live-for-the-weekend energy abounds in this maximalist, utopian clubland, devoid of call times.

This concept translates to both the EP and the live Club Shy experiences she curates, though the branded parties came first. Club Shy, the description of the vinyl version on her digital store notes,” is “an extension of Shygirl’s eponymous IRL club experience,” “an homage to East London’s vibrant nightlife scene.”

Club Shy’s live component came to life in London’s Metropolis nightclub in 2022. From there, the fledgling event series crossed the pond, landing at The Echo on Sunset Blvd in Los Angeles. Appearances from PinkPantheress and Arca punctuated “Club Shy LA,” priming the movement for its next international venture: Primavera Sound São Paulo for “Club Shy Brazil.” Guests of the South American affair included VTSS, LSDXOXO, and Charli XCX.

Shygirl has gone on to host ensuing Club Shy events around the world, including Chicago (Berlin Nightclub), New York (Webster Hall), and Lisboa (Sónar Lisboa). These parties offer attendees (and the artists who play them) a reprieve from the hubbub of everyday life: meetings, bills, and all the stressors in between. They’re a healthy and heady form of escapism, soundtracked by damn good tunes and even better company.

The social nature of Club Shy’s affairs has afforded Shygirl a needed break from the “insular experience” of headlining shows and traveling singly to play them. Her ability to do so represents a dream realized — and time with friends both at home in London and around the world lost.

“A big part of Club Shy was to just see my friends and create a space where we could all be together,” she explains. “I wanted to make this Club Shy experience where it’s not just me. I’ve been booking DJs I love or people I’ve been wanting to see for ages and using that space as a laboratory.”

Club Shy is an umbrella concept — live events and music — that operates at a dichotomous intersection of the new and the familiar, the literal and the metaphorical. Sometimes, the live aspect positions Shygirl to plan three separate rooms in a club — something entirely new to her.

“That’s a task I had never taken on for myself before,” Shygirl notes. “Sometimes things go wrong…someone I’ve arranged to play can’t play last-minute, and I have to find someone else.”

These unexpected moments aren’t unlike her post-travel fridge dalliances. And, like those, she reliably makes something out of nothing.

Beatport AOTM Shygirl 5
@asianprovocateur for @wearehereandnow

She acknowledges, with some surprise, that Club Shy has “taken on a life of its own” since its release in February, and Shygirl has further stoked the fire with her Club Shy RMX release in June. The remix EP invites an intimate guestlist of DJ/producers, including X-Coast, VTSS, Logic1000, K, MK, and Fedde Le Grand, to put their spin on respective Club Shy originals. So far, MK’s galvanizing take on “mr useless” has emerged as Club Shy RMX’s standout. It sits at No. 7 on Shygirl’s “Top Ten Tracks” list, where it is notably the sole Club Shy RMX to make an entrance.

“When I’m making dance music…” Shygirl trails off, then continues. “In this particular era for me musically, it’s to be carefree, and I feel like it’s about being in the moment.”

It shows. Or rather, it’s audible

Shygirl fashioned most of Club Shy’s songs in 2020. “I’ve been playing [them] in my DJ sets or having demo versions for ages and playing them to my friends. Then I was like ‘Oh, yeah, maybe I should put this music out whilst I’m working other music, ‘cause I have it”

If not for the pandemic, perhaps Club Shy would have hit digital streaming platforms sooner. But its revelation this year, at a time when dance music is enjoying a mainstream high in the United States, feels fitting.

Equally apt: the Club Shy party isn’t about to stop anytime soon. As she exclusively confirms to Beatportal, she’s currently constructing the EP’s follow-up, or, as she calls it, “room two” of this metaphorical club. Its sounds will differ some from those of “room one” — just as they would in a literal club. On it (and “in” it), fans can expect reggaeton, trap, and generally “clubby vibes.”

“It’s just more me,” she says.

When I ask how so, Shygirl draws a line between club music (both “a palate cleanser for me” and the style of music that “comes easiest to me”) and the other genres of music she makes.

“I think because it was some work,” she concedes. “Some of it is like some of the early writing I was doing around the ALIAS era. The way I was talking felt very direct and very forward, and I didn’t really feel like it was the right time for it to come out. Now, I feel so much more at ease and confident with the person I am, and I feel understood by my audience a lot more to be able to put this stuff out. It’s been an important journey for me to be able to find this space where I know that what I’m saying is being received how I want it to be received.”

This knowledge is empowering. It’s what enables her to summarize her ethos for the coming EP’s lyricism even more simply: “I said what I said.” Full stop.

For some, Club Shy is the most accessible music Shygirl has put out to date. By meshing a more commercial strain of club with the non-poetics of her earlier work on its sequel, she is creating not only a second room, but also a gateway to the pre-Club Shy portion of her catalog. And as her newer followers, attracted during this conceptual Club Shy era, will come to find, everything Shygirl has done “has a taste of the club to it.”

Beatport AOTM Shygirl 6
@asianprovocateur for @wearehereandnow

Looking ahead, this next Club Shy EP will fulfill her desire to continue immersing herself in clubland for the rest of the year. “That’s where I want to be, physically,” she asserts. Based on the avid response to both Club Shy and Club Shy amid live’s post-pandemic renaissance, suffice to say, much of her audience would echo this sentiment.

Come fall, Shygirl will find herself in roomier “clubs” than usual. From September 14 through October 23, she’ll join Charli XCX and Troye Sivan as the special guest of their North American “Sweat Tour.” The 24-stop initiative winds through arenas stateside, starting at Detroit’s Little Caesars Arena, with ensuing dates at Madison Square Garden in New York, TD Garden in Boston, the United Center in Chicago, and the Kia Forum in Inglewood, among other major cities.

Notably, the Sweat Tour won’t be Shygirl’s first time commanding an arena-sized crowd. (Last June, she opened London’s Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for Beyoncé on the Renaissance World Tour, for instance.) It will, however, mark her arena debut in the United States.

Beyond an opportunity to spend quality time with a fellow creative with whom she aligns, the time on the road also offers Shygirl a rare chance to relish a convention more closely associated with the earlier days of her career: the opening slot.

“I actually so enjoy opening. I don’t get to do it so much anymore because I’ve been headlining shows and stuff for a minute,” she volunteers. Her inflection rises as she speaks, in emphasis of just how much she’s missed doing so. “It’s nice to open because you get the rawest energy, and I love winning a crowd over as well.”

Shortly after the Sweat Tour stops perspiring, Shygirl will rejoin Charli XCX, this time as the opener for the Brat album maker’s supporting run of shows in the UK. This four-date effort, slated for November 27-29 and December 2, includes stops at Manchester’s Co-op Live, London’s The O2, Birmingham’s Resorts World Arena, and Glasgow’s OVO Hydro.

Beatport AOTM Shygirl 4

The “taste of the club” that permeates her oeuvre will prove especially useful as Shygirl plays for these tours’ two types of attendees — those familiar with her music and their counterparts. This sonic through line, she attests, is what allows her to fluidly weave songs like “FREAK” (from ALIAS) with her latest material.

“Songs from my last two projects [pre-Club Shy] still go so well with the newer music. I’ve been going on this journey and it’s nice to be able to tailor the setlists to accommodate that.”

She acknowledges her artistic expansion quickly and succinctly. So much so, that it could almost be overlooked amid our discursive 45-minute conversation.

“I’m the best I’ve ever been and I’ll ever be,” she quips on “mr useless.” While the first part of this feels true, when it comes to the latter half, one gets the sense that Shygirl has only started to scratch the surface.

______________________

Rachel Narozniak is a freelance music journalist living in Los Angeles. Find her on Instagram.

You might also like

Home
Discover