GIRLI tells us about sexism in the music industry
‘It’s such a lads’ club’
GIRLI is only 18, but she’s been performing since childhood. By 15 she was in an all girl indie-band, whilst using a fake ID her mum bought her to perform at open mic nights. She went to Chase and Status’ East London Arts and Music college after school, and now she’s a singer/rapper producer with her own clothing line, radio show and TV show.
Her music is somewhere in between rap, techno, electronic. She calls “quirky pop” and it has a dgaf attitude with lyrics like “I’m just a raging feminist, burn the bras, don’t shave your pits” or “so you think you can fuck with me do you?” She’s been known to throw tampons into the audience after gigs, and she’s also handed out condoms with hand-written messages.
Her style is just as feisty. She’s an explosion of girl power – pastel and Barbie-pink hues, Adidas tracksuits, satin crops, fluffy skirts, hot-pink eyeshadow, giant hoops, sky-high platforms and unapologetic slogans. She gets it all from charity shops, or her friend who “has a knack for finding the best clothes from bin bags on the street.” Her hair is as pink as her outfits, with dyed eyebrows to match. She’s also warm, friendly and fiercely intelligent.
I spoke to the singer about being a woman in the music industry, living in London and why we need humour in music.
She came up with the name GIRLI partly because she thought her real name (Milly Toomey) was boring and because she wanted something that really emphasised the idea of a female artist. “When someone hears ‘GIRLI’ they won’t expect the kind of music I make.” One of her tracks opens with the line, “You thought I was gonna do a ballad? Fuck off!”
The name was also influenced by Debbie Harry as Blondie, “Apparently she made it her name because it was what people heckled her on the street with, so she just kind of took control of it. I want to make a new definition of what ‘girly’ really is.”
Unlike most pop lyrics that are based around love, sex and money, GIRLI’s tracks are quite different. “You can make a huge narrative out of every day things”, with her songs about everything from from “going out with your friends” to “having a fight at the chicken shop. A huge part of my music is humour, I try to keep it quite cheeky and funny.”
Her new single, ASBOY was inspired from things she’d seen on nights out Dalston and East London. “You see a lot of dodgy shit at 4am on the Kingsland Road.” While she enjoys going out in East London where she lives, she tends to prefer house-parties and dinners out are usually a kebab or falafel from Dalston.
A lot of her songs touch a lot on sexism and the double standards of being a woman, such as Girls Get Angry Too, which started from a comment from a male close friend. It’s something she’s experienced a lot from her time in the industry, “You don’t realise how bad it is until you’re in it.
“As a woman, you immediately have a disadvantage in the music industry. With so many men, it’s such a lads’ club and lad culture is a big problem.” She’s struggled to go on tours as male performers haven’t wanted female support acts, and feels like some music labels “just don’t get it. The men in this industry need to support women more.”
And sometimes it’s the women who make it worse, “Some of them can be so nasty, there’s this huge bitch-complex. I think women can help by really supporting each other more.”
She finds that as a woman in the industry, comments on her work won’t be about her talent but the way she looks or her body. “I used to read them, but I’ve made a rule not to look anymore.”