Girli's no Damsel in Distress at The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea | Interview

Since bursting on to the scene aged 17 with a deliberately confrontational single, Girli has carved a career out of challenging preconceptions and stereotypes.

Friday, 5th November 2021, 12:31 pm
Updated Friday, 5th November 2021, 12:31 pm
Girli is at The Wedgewood Rooms on November 11, 2021. Picture by Haris Nukem

From her stage name to her latest EP Damsel in Distress, Milly Toomey is reclaiming words and ideas and giving them a new power.

Take that new EP, as Milly says, she is turning the idea of the damsel in distress on its head: ‘Each of its five songs represents something different I’ve battled; body dysmorphia, mental health issues, unrequited and difficult love, bad friendships.

‘These are the distresses; I am the damsel who’s fighting them.’

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Inverting stereotypes and challenging toxic masculinity is something that’s incredibly important to Milly.

‘Toxic masculinity is the death of feminism, it needs to be challenged.

‘We need to inspire the next generation of young people to question gender stereotypes and inherit discrimination in everything they do.’

Since her 2017 debut, Milly has been steadily building a devoted fanbase with her mix of rap, punk and pop.

Girli. Picture by Haris Nukem

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‘I get really beautiful responses from my fans to my songs – whether it's light-hearted fun messages saying how much they've been dancing to the song in their bedroom, or that they've been playing it to their friends, to messages where fans really open up to me about how they relate to the lyrics or topics I talk about and how it's helped them feel less alone, or overcome something difficult in their lives.

‘The responses always make any doubts I have about making music, go away.

‘I think because I write really honest songs about topics that are more taboo in some people's lives, like mental health, feminism, queerness, body image, my fans connect to them quite deeply a lot of the time.

‘It's so special to me.’

And that relationship with her fans is a two-way street.

‘I do feel a responsibility to them, but I also feel very supported and uplifted by them.

‘I feel like the relationship I have with my fans online is that they support me, I support them, and they teach me things and call me out when it's important to as well.

‘A lot of my fans have been following my musical journey since 2015, and that also means they've been following my personal journey – my relationships, my breakups, me getting more comfortable with my sexuality, me getting dropped from a major label and going independent – it's like my songs are episodes in the TV show of my life and they're tuning in!’

Milly’s songwriting is typically raw and open about her own life, has she ever worried she’s putting too much of herself out there?

‘They're (all about) issues that I've experienced in my life and writing songs about them is a part of my healing – it's important to make them less taboo so that more people can voice how they're feeling and also heal.

‘But I don't think I made a decision: “I'm gonna write about this stuff because I should” – I just wrote about it because if I didn't I'd explode.

‘The amazing thing about lyrics and music is that it can be interpreted however the listener wants to hear it.

‘I think that by sharing my stories, I actually make listeners think of their own stories that relate to the song too, and that brings me closer to my fans.

‘In this modern age everyone puts everything out there on social media, and that's something I filter.

‘There's a lot of stuff I don't upload. But in my songs, it's all there – just a bit more cryptic.’

And she adds that ‘it is the only way’ she knows how to write. ‘Honesty and telling my own stories. I always say my songs are my diary entries, because they really are.’

That’s not not to say there’s no space between Milly and Girli: ‘They're the same person, but there's more to Milly than just Girli, and I keep a lot of Milly stuff private.

‘I used to not, and it became difficult to separate the two.’

During lockdown, Milly began a podcast, Girli IRL where LGBTQ+ artists join her to discuss related matters. So far she’s released 10 episodes with guests like Nadya of Pussy Riot, Nova Twins and July Jones. How did that come about?

‘I was having loads of cool conversations with friends, mostly other queer artists, about topics like mental health, social media, art, and thought it was a shame not to be documenting them.

‘So I made a podcast and YouTube series! I started filming these chats of me and friends in my bedroom, and then when we went back into lockdown, I filmed them over Zoom and that meant I could start interviewing international friends too.

‘I’ve had some super-cool people on it and I’m excited to keep it going for ages!’

And her dream guest for the podcast?

‘Oooh, Taylor Swift would be interesting. I want to pick her brain on some things.’

Having already been through so much in her career, and still only in her early 20s, have any of the setbacks ever made her want to give up music?

‘Yes. I have wanted to give up so many times. Sometimes I still do. But you get more determined as you get knocked back, and me going independent was a big motivation for me.’

Indeed, since being dropped by her label in 2019, Milly has been an independent artist – proudly DIY. The new tour even features an all-female crew, something that was important to her.

‘Women and non-binary folks don't get the same opportunities as men in live music.

‘So many touring crews are all guys, and I wanted to change that up.’

So, beyond this tour, and all being well, what has she got planned for 2022?

‘Loads more music! And touring. I've missed live music so much during Covid so I have a lot of playing shows to make up for the lost time.

‘We never know when it's going to be taken away from us again.’

Girli is at The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea on Thursday, November 11. Tickets £10. Go to wedgewood-rooms.co.uk.

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