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What Does It Mean To Be GIRLI?

Last month, GIRLI played one of her first headline gigs at an intimate 150-capacity venue in north London. It was a confident, infectious and eventually pretty raucous performance which saw the pink-haired singer deliver a succession of brash, bolshy pop-tracks with titles like "Girls Get Angry Too" and "So You Think You Can Fuck With Me, Do Ya?" before the audience, almost entirely teenage and mainly female, stormed the stage. "I'm used to, like, 10 people storming the stage," GIRLI tells me a few days later, still kind of taken aback. "But I didn't expect more people to storm the stage than actually stay in the crowd. When I looked out at the venue, I realised there was almost no one left in the crowd watching, because they were all on stage!"

In person, 18-year-old GIRLI is calmer and less combative than her music could suggest. Her real name is Milly and she grew up in suburban north London, where she attended a comprehensive school that wasn't as "open" as she wanted. "If a boy had come to school wearing a skirt, he would have got beaten up," she recalls sadly. "I remember starting to feel like it was quite a hostile environment because there was me and my group of friends who were really open, but then there was everyone else [who wasn't]. I was like, ‘Fuck, this is really poisonous, this is toxic,’ so I left after my GCSEs. I was like, 'Im getting out of here, I’m going to music college.'"

If someone says to you, 'You look really girly today,' what does that even mean? It's like, are you saying I look like I have a vagina?

Around the same time, the band she'd been gigging with disintegrated and Milly decided to go it alone, adopting a new, more electronic sound and a fresh persona. "I wanted to come up with a name that represented a female icon and a female person making music," she explains. "I read this interview with Debbie Harry where she said that Blondie's name came from the way she used to get shouted at by builders on the streets in New York. They'd be like 'Oi, Blondie!' because she had peroxide blonde hair. I liked the idea that she took that and made it a ‘fuck you!'. I was also playing on the idea of gender and what it evens means to be ‘girly.’ Because if someone says to you, 'You look really girly today,' what does that even mean? It's like, are you saying I look like I have a vagina? People might think I’m called GIRLI because I wear lots of pink or whatever, but when I came up with the name, which was a year and a bit ago, I was pretty androgynous and wearing black all the time."

GIRLI’s distinctive dress sense is actually an “anything goes” amalgam of various diverse influences. "I have friends who are into punk and get their clothes from thrift stores. I love The Slits and Debbie Harry. But I'm also into Japanese fashion and Avril Lavigne. And I love all that early noughties fashion: pedal pushers, off-the-shoulder tops and Paris Hilton's beret! And like, those really glossy lips that are so tacky but just so great. And Juicy Couture tracksuits. I love all that shit."

The way she looks will inevitably get her noticed by an increasingly large audience, but GIRLI says her ultimate aim is to reassure her fans that they're not alone. "I don’t feel guilty if I write a song about, like, having a crush on someone, but I feel like I can also write songs about things like gender equality and politics and young people being messed around by the older generation," she says. "I want to create music that makes people feel like they're not the only one thinking that. I know there are a lot of people who listen to my music who don't like going by binary gender constructs or whatever. If at least one person walked away from my gig and thought, 'Yeah, I’m gonna actually be more independent,' or 'I’m gonna be myself now and not be scared to do things,’ then I’ll feel like I’ve been successful.”

GIRLI says she's accepted the fact that some people won’t like her frank, fun and punky music, which she describes as "pop with something to say." On "Girls Get Angry Too," she exposes the outdated nonsense of gendered sections in toy shops by rapping, "I don't want Hamleys to decide / If my kid's a fireman or a bride." She's also acutely aware that her persona is being interpreted in a certain way because of her gender. "I think it's easier for guys to be outspoken," she says. "Boys just have this rep of being, like, crazy and running around causing mischief. When a boy does that, people say he's such a little rebel. When a girl does that, they say she's a fucking brat, or she's spoiled, or she needs to shut up. That's why I have an issue when people describe my music as "brat-pop.” I'm like, you wouldn't describe a guy's music as that, would you? Mike Skinner was never called bratty. He was just described as someone who was really observant."

As much as I enjoyed last month's GIRLI gig, I left conscious of the fact I was nearly 15 years older than most of the crowd, and couldn't help thinking, “If only she'd been around when I was a teenager…” But does GIRLI think people can still enjoy her music when they're 25, or 35, or older? "Yeah!" she says empathically. "I think I write songs that are relatable to anyone at any age. If I'm singing about being a teenager, well, everyone can remember being a teenager. Or if I'm singing about something even more universal like getting dumped, everyone knows what that feels like. I fucking love Beyoncé's album when she sings about being a black woman in America, and I'm obviously not a black woman in America, but it still makes me feel something.”

I'm reasonably convinced, though I'm not sure I'd want to get caught on the bus to work accidentally mouthing along to GIRLI's ”It Was My Party" lyrics: "It was my party last night / Had Corky's mixed with Tesco Sprite…” But either way, I'm glad GIRLI's around to call bullshit on casual sexism and binary gender constructs, and generally make people feel like it's OK to be a bit different.