Four years ago a 16-year-old Girli stood on the stage of The Garage in Highbury, London, having paid for the right to play with her band. Now, in 2018, the venue is a sold-out sea of colours, pulsing as the 20-year-old stands confident, her pink hair glowing, during her own headline show.
It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. The venue is filled with the energy of a young generation, a diverse crowd where not one person looks the same, yet there is such an incredible ease amongst the fans. Before the show, a pink (of course) jogger-wearing Girli is waiting in her dressing room to chat to The Courier Music, she’s just finished directing the position of the lights on stage.
“I think gigs should be a safe space. I strive to do that. They’re such an escape and always were for me.”
Without doubt, Girli succeeds in this and it’s her willingness to speak about and stand up for the issues that face her fan base that creates this safe space. In the past the singer has described her music as “political pop with an element of punk” and that’s clear to see in tracks such as ‘Hot Mess’ and ‘Girls Get Angry Too’ whose upbeat pop-punk pack a political punch.
“This tour has made me realise that young people are looking up to me which is really overwhelming but really important as well. I remember when I was 15, I listened to bands way more than my parents, or politicians, or my teachers.”
“It angers me when people with such a massive platform don’t use it. I’m learning more to respect people’s decisions who don’t want to be political artists but when it’s a big scale… think about how many votes Taylor Swift could have shifted if she said something [about Trump’s election].”
As a host of late-teenage artists are finding success through writing openly about their experiences growing up, Girli is no exception. She’ll talk about the big topics and tackle issues that the industry has tried to ignore for so long, with a ferocity you hear shared by young music fans in the queue.
“The music I’ve come out with, I’ve still been figuring myself out and who I want to be which happens between the age of 17 and 20. I just happened to do it while I was signed and making music.”
When we tell Girli just how many people are sat outside the venue queuing already (it’s only 4pm) and have been for hours, you can’t fake the disbelief on her face. For an artist selling out venues across the country, the 20-year-old couldn’t be more down to earth yet, at the same time, is hyper-aware of who her fan base is and what they look for.
“They’re so cute aren’t they. You see that’s me like six years ago doing that, queuing for my favourite bands. It’s so fucking weird.”
“A lot of kids who come to my shows are LGBTQ, are young girls, are vulnerable people in other gig situations. I’ve been harassed at gigs before, I’ve seen homophobia and I would just hate one of my shows leaving someone feeling vulnerable or upset. I wanted gender neutral toilets. I wanted zero harassment tolerance. I want the gig to feel safe, like a home.”
The singer’s journey from star student at school to outspoken pop-punk has been a fascinating one. Despite acing studies she always hated school-life and knew her calling may lay elsewhere. At 15-years-old, as the stress of GCSEs started to kick in, she formed her own band and after that fizzled out went it solo, undeterred.
“I was like, this will happen. And I started Girli.”
“When I decided I wanted to do music I devastated all of my teachers and even my parents at the time were like, ‘you’re going to throw all of this away?’. I told them, 'I’m not throwing this away, I’m doing something I want to do'. That’s the delusion, we prioritise other things over the arts. You go through school and you’re taught that’s a hobby – there should be equal opportunities for whatever you want to do.”
Girli cut her teeth on “seedy clubs” and open mic nights, singing on top of some beats she’d been playing around with or had found online, confessing that she "shat my pants every time", as five guys with acoustic guitars would look on unimpressed.
As Girli’s career continues to go from strength to strength, she’s not afraid to experiment on the formula that has been so successful for her. ‘Play It Cool’ is the artist’s latest single and the most poppy effort to date, with a light-hearted focus on a one-way relationship.
“I was just sleeping with this guy who was being a dickhead. I had this realisation that he was just a wanker. A lot of people have that, they idolise someone, put someone on a pedestal. They will give you attention but just the right amount so that you keep wanting more from them.”
“'Play It Cool' is an interlude between the Hot Mess EP, which is more punky, and the stuff I have coming out in the next couple of months which is a lot more alternate pop. I’ve been going to America to write a lot of music and I’ve found my groove working with people who are pop writers in bands, collaborating with other people expands your knowledge.”
“A lot of the music I’m writing now isn’t very political but I still talk about politics on stage and on social media. I can’t just go to the studio and be like, ‘I’m going to write a song about Donald Trump today’. I might want to write a song about falling in love or being called a bitch… something dumb.”
It’s a brave sonic move for Girli, but all suggestions so far are that it will really pay off. We move on to speak about upcoming single, ‘Day Month Second’, teased at the end of the frolicking ‘Play It Cool’ music video and played live later that night, she refers to the new sound as “the first of Girli 2.0”. It’s the latest step in an incredibly successful year, highlighted by the success of 2017’s ‘Hot Mess’, which nears 500,000 streams on Spotify. The track’s upbeat baseline rallied the crowd into a shouting frenzy to close the night but the song’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics on sexism in the industry can’t be laughed away. Girli tells The Courier of her first festival experience at Reading 2014 and we talk lack of female headliners since Paramore that year.
“I think it’s [sexism in the industry] changing. Reading is quite an old festival from a time when it was NME magazine, it wasn’t really social media. I love NME, I used to collect them, but I have a collection of about 50 and I think maybe four of those covers are women. Now NME isn’t even being made anymore and the older ways we consumed music have changed to social media which is changing things. A lot of old school publications and festivals are struggling to catch up, and they need to. Times are changing completely."
Times really are changing and that couldn't be a healthier thing for the music industry. It's outspoken artists who aren't afraid to change it up that are spearheading this. Girli is one of them and from the start of our interview to the closing song that evening, The Courier Music couldn't have been more blown away. The bright pink, high-strung pop-punk sound Girli has crafted is so much more than what comes out of the speakers for fans and the industry alike.