“Vulnerability is a strength”. Splashed across our many screens and adopted by the wellness industry, one could grow weary of this reminder. But through Shygirl’s brutal honesty, we awaken to its true meaning; of its true power. Marrying sensual vocals floated over glitchy trance and hedonistic raps punched into industrial house beats, her sonic universe embodies and expresses an unapologetic softness to truly affirm all that is magical about human connection. Connections free from manipulation, from barriers, from societal pressures. And – using creativity as a route to personal healing – she hopes to help others see the world through her simultaneously discerning and forgiving eyes.
Interview tak­en from METAL Magazine issue 47. Adapted for the online version. Order your copy here.
Rising through the underground grime and queer club scenes, Shygirl – born Blane Muise – has levitated sweaty bodies in basement rooms, collaborated with genre- defying and – defining artists, such as SOPHIE and FKA Twigs, and come to know her needs and desires better than ever. Now, she turns herself inside out through her debut album, Nymph. Through sultry love songs to vaginas and staccato expressions of romantic disappointment, this South London provocateur and Burberry fashion nymph encourages us to transform discomfort into innovation. To reclaim our narratives and take control over our choices. And to seek total satisfaction through communication, sex, and all-encompassing love.
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Your music contains some really bold messages that question the status quo and place taboo topics, such as female sexuality, front and centre. What role do you think art can serve in starting and driving conversations and movements?
I think that’s the main point of art – to contemplate the world that you currently exist in. Everyone is going to have their own perspective on the art that you make, as well as the intention behind it. So even me sharing my feelings or my responses to the world naturally provides a conversation starter by positioning a topic as something important to view. There should be a push towards the reality that you desire, so that you’re not just passive.
Absolutely, there’s also such power in art to inspire positive emotions that give energy and cohesion to movements. Honey Dijon recently said in an interview that “Dancefloors do what religions and governments can’t – bringing people together from all walks of life.” What d’you think is the power of joy and dance in creating change?
I found myself in the club community – I found confidence in who I am, who I want to be, and the type of community that I want to advocate for. And I always want other people to take it on themselves to push for what they want. If you’re passionate about the type of world that you want to exist in, you need to make a difference for yourself. I do think that the clubbing community – with their hedonism – are advocates for that. You know that things are fleeting and if you don’t reach out for what you want and desire, then no one’s going to give it to you. You can find that in any kind of creative and progressive community. But it feels the most transient in music, and the environment is left up to interpretation by whoever experiences it – like the queer community. And so, it is an act of protest because it makes it easier to exist as whatever feels natural to you.
I love this, and I love the ways in which the queer community has always found freedom and resilience through clubbing. I wanted to chat a little bit about the queer community. Being queer myself, I find so much connection and inspiration from the queer community. I also feel like being queer opens up this world of creativity because, as people who have been erased and oppressed for so long, we have a real desire, a need, to feel seen and heard. In what ways do you think your queer identity impacts your creative output?
Definitely, because I have an unquestionable confidence in being able to assert who I am. And that’s while being adjacent to others who have found it so difficult to do that. I have such privilege in that my existence hasn’t been questioned so much. So, I’ve really wanted to make the most of that. I think it’s definitely empowered me and made me speak up, because if I don’t, how am I going to open doors for those who can’t?
I think that’s so admirable, and that it’s really important for us to be using our privileges to speak up in solidarity with others. As queer people, we’re also already living outside of society’s expectations, just by existing. Some of the most genre-bending and defying musicians have been queer – I’m obviously thinking of the amazing SOPHIE, who I know you worked closely with and will forever be in our hearts. Do you think your queerness allows you to be more innovative with your expression – to push the bounds of what’s considered “acceptable”?
My queerness is just a part of who I am. It is an important part, but I’m also just one person – the queer community is so diverse. And it’s really important to show that diversity and to show that it’s just completely normal. We have to be thinking outside of the box; to be pushing against what other people are comfortable with. I’m always questioning: Why are people comfortable with things like this? or Why did I make that assumption? I want to grow; I want to learn more about myself. And I want to keep that same space for anyone who interacts with me – to be able to think more broadly, and to really appreciate every moment of their life.
I hear you! I feel like discomfort is such an important part of growth. I’ve read that you’ve previously said that you love when art makes you uncomfortable, and I’d love to explore this a bit more. Who do you hope to make uncomfortable with your art? What do you hope to achieve through this?
I think everyone should be slightly uncomfortable. I feel like there are times when I seek out music just to be comforted, and then there are times when I want to be provoked. I want to feel something. And I think everyone should have that opportunity. The things that I’m thinking and saying aren’t going to be for everyone. Everyone isn’t going to get the same things from my music. But at least they’re going to feel something! I’d hate for someone to just be ambivalent.
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Absolutely. Along with expanding my worldview, being queer, for me, has also definitely opened up so much exploration of pleasure and human connection beyond the heteronormative ideas sold to us growing up and in sex-ed classes in school. Your lyrics explore human connection and physicality in such an expansive way. What’re your thoughts on the value we assign to people and the ways in which we connect with them nowadays? Do you think we hold others with enough respect and regard when it comes to sex and romance?
Everyone has a personal journey, but there’s also a societal journey that we go on in our relationship with connections, especially sex. It’s hard because you figure out so much about yourself through the connections you have with others – and that comes with many pitfalls. Nobody is a perfect individual. And when you have feelings on the table, there’s always room to make mistakes and to be hurt. This goes into a broader conversation around holding people accountable for their actions while still having faith in them to learn! This is why it’s important that people talk about abuse and manipulation, because otherwise you end up in toxic relationships without realising. And I do believe this sometimes starts with talking about sex in the most explicit terms to remove the stigma around these deeper conversations.
I see myself doing this in a broader context with my music. It has helped me contextualise situations with my friends, and explore narratives that I may not have had control over in my life. Even when it comes to being viewed as a sexual object. It’s something that happened quite early on in my life – being told not to wear low cut tops or short skirts. But I didn’t know what it meant for me because I was just being told what it meant for other people. A lot of my music is about finding a comfortable space for myself to reclaim this.
I’m so glad to hear that making music is empowering for you. But isn’t it so frustrating that society inflicts these expectations on us as people perceived as women? You’re talking about how you became aware of being viewed as a sexual object at a young age. How do you navigate this while making and putting out music that’s so honest and sexually free? And how do you continue to believe in the ethos of your work – and see its inherent value – when you face backlash?
I don’t get much backlash to the music I make, but in real life when I’m just being myself, someone will often look at me in a lewd way or make a comment. It’s been a hard battle to find space for myself and to be carefree. Because, ultimately, that’s my goal – to be carefree. I don’t want to be thinking about other people’s agendas for me, whether it’s in my life or in my music. I’m not here to educate everyone. And I think putting energy into my music helps me to find balance, even if there are times when I can’t be bothered to push back or call out every little thing.
I can totally see that. And I think your music definitely makes other people feel this empowerment, too, which is so beautiful. All your releases are perfect for the dance floor and for living your best life. Do you set out in the studio thinking: I am going to make everyone’s day with another banger? I’m going to help everyone feel how I want to feel?
I really want to help people see the world as I see it. But it’s been weird since the release of the second EP, because I’ve had more of an awareness of people listening to my music. I think it has really changed my intention because in asserting so much of my strength, I’ve bypassed some facts about myself and my vulnerability. I’ve not told the entirety of the story – that you have to be vulnerable and sensitive to find that strength within yourself. That’s what I’ve tried to do in this album – to show a more vulnerable side of myself to better contextualise my humanity. Because I really want people to learn to treat me nice, you know? It’s difficult to streamline a message and to tell the full story when you’re so public, but I hope people can have space for it and understand that there’s more to be told.
We’re all complex beings, and it’s lovely that you’re getting to put more of yourself out there now. I feel like your songs in the new album also share such important messages. Are there any particular values you hope fans will get through the album? For example, Firefly tells us to tell the truth and to invest our time in the right people.
That there’s strength in sensitivity and vulnerability. That’s a big thing to admit, you know? But, for me, the best thing about being in different types of relationships and about falling in love is the vulnerability. And I’ve found that by putting myself into my music and being up on stage. It’s thrilling to expose yourself and to withstand it – to come out the other side. I really want other people to open themselves up to it.
Absolutely, and there are certain levels of connections that you’re able to have if you reach into your own vulnerabilities. So, even though you’re exploring warm topics of connection and softness, injected with burning desire, the new album seems to have a cool blue visual identity. What’s your intention with this? The lyrics are hot, but the images are icy!
I just really relate to the colour blue at the moment! And there’s a subtlety to the muted tones where you have to look a bit longer and a bit deeper. With my new music, I want people to see the whole picture and not get drawn in too much to certain details. My intentions with the creative right now are to show my reality, and my perception of things in nature and in urban environments. I like constructing and collaging these together with the artwork inside of me – but it’s all slightly surreal. There’s a constructed reality. I feel like we should be able to interact with the world as we see fit. To take it apart and put it back together as we like it.
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That’s a really cool motivation and description of your process! I’m such a big fan of surrealism as a concept generally, and of surrealist artists. It’s also definitely a genre that inspires discomfort, which you said earlier that you aim for through your work. I know you studied photography in the past. Do you have any specific creative inspirations that have impacted your work?
I’ve stepped back a bit nowadays in terms of being so conscious of my influences, because I’m at a point where I’m outputting everything that has inspired me growing up. But my obvious references are usually film, and I really love old Renaissance paintings. I’m just really aligned with Romanticism. When I started working on this album, I was referencing a lot of Romantic authors like Thomas Hardy. I used to lose myself in books all the time. I really liked reading about romantic stories that ended in disaster – I can relate to that; it felt real to me. It’s something that feels so all-encompassing that I always try to bring that into my work sonically. I’ve also noticed it so much within the queer community. This understanding that nothing lasts forever – it’s all going to end – so you should appreciate it right now while it’s happening.
I feel like this also links us back a bit to things that being queer can teach us about relationships and connections. Thinking about it more, I’m also poly because of my personal feelings around queerness and what it teaches us about connections and love, and I know lots of other queer people are, too. What’re your thoughts on the ways in which we’re taught to be in relationships? D’you think it’s serving us as a society?
Most people that I know who are in poly or open relationships genuinely have healthier relationships. They’re more aware of what they need and they’re able to communicate that with their partners. But it’s a tough call for me because I don’t think I necessarily have healthy relationships, either. I’ve definitely enjoyed the experience of getting to know what I need over time, but it’s constantly changing. My life has changed so much! I don’t even have that much time anymore. There is a desire for intimacy on an emotional level, but I’m just on tour so much. I think I’m trying to communicate with myself through my music that I can figure myself out without being in a relationship. While I enjoy it, I don’t need it. And there’s a lot of power in just choosing to be happy single rather than being in an unhealthy relationship. Of course, it’s going to be different for everyone, but, yeah, I think society has a lot of outdated ideas.
Yeah, it’s so important to be aware of the fact that you need to figure out what you need from other people and not rush into relationships. But society puts a lot of pressure – especially on people who aren’t men – to be in relationships, or tells them that they’re not complete unless they’re in a relationship. I guess these are some of the reasons why it’s important that art like yours challenges the status quo!
Yeah, but I also have songs that are less obviously provocative. I like being playful, but I also want the music to reflect all the different moods I encompass – especially with this album. My sound in the coming years is probably going to be a lot sweeter. Like Coochie (a bedtime story) is, in some respects, quite an obvious catchy song. But there’s a message in there for myself. I wanted to make a sweet song about coochie that’s empowering in itself. That’s saying: “My body is great. I desire women and I can objectify women as well.” There are so many songs where men are talking about desiring a woman’s body – which are also great – but I just wanted to make a crooning little song that was innocently doing this from a woman’s perspective. But, you know, it’s hard to even get this completely uncensored on the radio – which I found really interesting. I’m speaking from a woman’s perspective about a woman’s body, and in a sweet way, yet I’m still being censored? Why can’t I just talk about a vagina?
It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? That, somehow, despite people who are perceived as women being over sexualized by society, there’s still such a puritanical culture around what’s actually acceptable for us to say about our own bodies publicly.
Yeah, so there’s no way that the audience can actually make up their own mind. I’d rather the song be out and the public decided they hated it, than not even give them the space to make up their own mind about it. I don’t want to baby people. Maybe something that would have offended people 10 years ago no longer offends people now, but we’ll never know because the same rules are in place.
I totally agree! Speaking of songs you’ve made with different vibes, I loved your collaboration with FKA Twigs on Papi Bones. It’s such a flirty song, and it was so fun that in the music video you both push baby goats in prams. What was that like? Are you an animal fan?
I love animals, and I’m used to goats because I actually raised a baby goat once with my grandma, who lives in the Caribbean! But this was my second time being in a video with a different artist, and I was coming straight from a flight. I’m a big fan of Twigs anyway, so I really wanted to look good. Obviously, I knew Twigs was going to look good, so I couldn’t look jetlagged! But it was a really great team. Aidan Zamiri directed that video, and I love collaborating with friends. It’s important to say that people like Aidan really make space for me – for what I like, how I feel about everything, and even if I’m happy with how I look in the edits. I’m not super stressed about how I look, but I don’t like when people say they want to collaborate but actually have a different agenda about what they want from you. They don’t always see you the way you see yourself. I’m trying to communicate something with these images and videos, and I want to make sure that my message is being communicated. I don’t make space to be used in my real life, so I don’t want to be in my professional life either. I don’t work with people who’ll tell me, “no, we just don’t do that”. I wouldn’t be so proud to say that my ways of working aren’t moving with the times!
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Yeah, it’s so important for the creative industry to be learning and evolving. In the fashion world, I feel like there is a movement towards growth, but there’s still a long way to go as there’s still such a lack of representation of diverse looks and individuals in the mainstream industry. Your personal style and impact on the fashion world has been lauded by many, and I know you’ve worked with Burberry. D’you think that things are changing?
Definitely! Even through me asking questions, I learn more about the people I’m working with. If there’s no compromise or move from them to understand why I’m asking questions, then they’re not for me. Everyone I’ve worked with so far has been great because I’ve made this part of my process. Again, it’s about utilising the privilege that you have. I’ve turned down a lot of things – and will continue to turn them down – when I don’t feel like there’s a conversation to be had around my perspective or ways of working. I want to wedge a gap in the door so that there are more opportunities for other people, and so the client may even start that conversation themselves.
It’s so great that you feel you have the resilience and desire to take that on. Would you have any tips for budding models who are still learning to navigate the industry and any pushback they may face?
It’s really important to decide what matters to you. Because there will be times when you need to optimise, and then there are times when you need to stop. Ultimately, you have to look at the consequences for the choices you make in your life, and you need to make sure that you’re deliberate with anything you decide to do. I knew I needed to figure out how to manoeuvre my life – because I need choices and I should have choices. I don’t want to be passive in my mind. There’s very little that you can have real control over, but you can control your own choices.
Absolutely. But I really feel like so many young people don’t feel that they can have control over their choices, especially when facing pressure from their parents and the outside world. So many young people from Black and Brown cultures are taught that in order to be successful and stable, they must get a job that’s seen as inherently valuable in our capitalist society, rather than focussing on their creative outputs. What advice would you give to them coming from your experiences and where you are now?
My parents always worked really hard, and I knew that I didn’t want to work that hard. So I studied and did well at school, while also holding down jobs, to set me up for life. I didn’t quit my day job at a modelling agency for a while after I started making music. Then in 2018, I finally quit, but I was paying my rent and doing all the things you’re meant to do. But that was just my journey, and I don’t think you have to go to university. You just need to figure out for yourself what you can live with. My biggest priority is making sure I always have a roof over my head, so that I have more choices afterwards. But if schooling isn’t for you, then just go work and figure it out. But I do think that there needs to be some work ethic. And that isn’t necessarily a capitalist thing. It’s just important to be able to provide for yourself!
I love doing festivals and shows because there’s this physical tiredness afterwards. I can go home, get into bed, and I feel tired. I love that. I found it really difficult sometimes when I was just in the studio making music – I’d feel mentally exhausted, but not physically. I think physical exhaustion is quantifiable to me – it signifies working towards something. It’s just important for me to be able to rely on myself. I know that whatever happens – even if there’s failure – I have the ability to go out and work and do any job to provide for myself. I will be able to figure it out. And that’s what gives me confidence in the decisions that I make.
And I’m sure that helps when you’re facing rejection in the early stages of entering the creative industry.
Yeah, there’s a lot of rejection, and a lot of making decisions that might not get you what you want. You can’t think of every opportunity as the only opportunity, because if it doesn’t feel right, you’ll regret it. Everyone has a vested interest in the decisions you make, so you need to be able to work out what’s right for you. Especially if you’re going to have a public-facing career. I don’t necessarily want to be famous, but I do want to be able to make work that I like.
Yeah, that’s super important. And it’s cool that you say that you don’t want to be famous. There’s obviously nothing wrong with people who do, but I believe that there’s value in having other intentions with your work.
Ultimately, I strive for satisfaction. I’m just yearning to be satisfied with life – physically, emotionally, spiritually. And there are things that are made easier by success in your career, and there are others that are made harder. My relationships have definitely suffered since making music, because the more one side of me is known, the less another side can be. It’s almost a natural by-product of what I’m doing. But I’m adjusting to it and I’m still really satisfied with what I’m doing.
I’m really happy to hear that. And I guess that brings us onto my final question. Even though you’re not seeking fame, do you see a value in leaving behind a legacy? And what do you hope yours will be?
I don’t really concern myself with what happens once I’m dead. That’s for everyone else, that’s not for me. That’s why I want to make the most of the life that I have while I’m living it, you know? So I just hope to make an impact whilst I’m still here.
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