As a relentless consumer of music, it can sometimes be hard not to judge a book by its cover – especially when the cover presents itself head to toe in neon pink, like PC Music tumbled arse over tit through Cyberdog, swearing in a North London accent and rapping about punching someone’s nan.
I first came across GIRLI – real name Milly Toomey – when her single “ASBOys” dropped in my inbox last September. With bass filthier than your fingernails after four days at Glastonbury, a bratty Daphne and Celeste twist, and lyrics inspired by a page on the London Metropolitan Police website that details all the different ways you can get slapped with an ASBO, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was hearing. Was it rap? Pop? Grime? I had seen her music relayed in epic hyphenated descriptions like “urban-cyber-electronic-sugar-dance-pop”, but what does that even mean? I followed her Soundcloud, hoping for answers, but each new track confused me more. There was the dirty cyber-pop “Girls Get Angry Too”, produced by Skepta and Dej Loaf collaborator Ragz Originale; “So You Can Fuck With Me Do Ya”, which opens with a J-Pop inspired pre-chorus before the bass drops and she cheerfully announces: “You thought I was gonna do a ballad? Fuck off!”; and then “Too Much Fun”, produced by Henrik The Artist, which actually does sound a bit like a ballad, but for a non-existent level of Mario Kart that takes place at someone’s prom in the 00s.
Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers is a good litmus test for someone like GIRLI. If you didn’t make it past the five minute montage of swinging boobs soundtracked by Skrillex that comprises the opening credits, then you’ll probably have a hard time taking her seriously. If, like me, the Britney scene is burned behind your retinas as one of the most beautiful things to ever happen to film, then you might see GIRLI as an anti-pop star; a teenage Brooke Candy or Lady Sovereign updated for the Snapchat generation, whose modus operandi can be boiled down to: “Because I feel like it”. Ultimately, she’s an 18-year-old in pop who looks, acts, and sounds like everything women in pop are expected not to be. That is: confident, in your face, seemingly unfazed by criticism.
Still, this is all speculation. Who, actually, is this burgeoning musician who was once a Deputy Young MP for Camden? What kind of person delivers a speech about equal work opportunities in the House of Commons (and likely remains to be the only person to have spoken in the house wearing a work shirt with the sleeves rolled up) and then writes lyrics like “Bun a zoot, have a hoot”? I wanted to find out.
So, I asked GIRLI out on a date to the only place that made sense: Rowans Bowling Alley in North London – the valhalla of all things cheap and throwaway; where bowling, vodka slushies and Guitar Hero can all be experienced under one roof for less than a tenner.
Noisey: Hi GIRLI! Have you always lived in London?
GIRLI: Yeah. I only just moved out of my parents house in North West. I’m so happy I’m out, finally.
I’ve only lived here for a year and a half. Where would you take me on a date if this was up to you?
Oh shitting hell. I’d be so stressed out about taking you somewhere cool. I feel like if I was to take you on a date it would be at, like, 3am or 4am when there’s no one around and we could go to some weird places. There’s this derelict building in Harlesden that me and my friends…
You want to take me out to a derelict building at four in the morning.
I know that sounds dodgy as fuck but you get to the roof and there’s a really cool view of London. I love it. There are other spots, like the 24 hour bagel place on Brick Lane – get there at literally any point in the day and your date will be so happy. You can get a butter bagel for like 30p, cheese and salmon for £1.30... it’s the cheapest date ever. So yeah, I think you can probably tell that I don’t go on that many dates, but I’d say the key is for it to be at 4am, on like a Wednesday morning, when nobody is about.
That’s a pretty good tip tbh.
Have you been on any awkward ones?
I think I’m too awkward to have ever been on an “official” date, which is maybe why they keep sending me on them for work.
I feel like I haven’t either, apart from when I was 13. It’s cute when someone’s like: ‘"Oh, do you wanna have dinner?" or "Do you wanna hang out?" But if someone was actually like, "Let’s go on a DATE," it’s like, what are you meant to do? It’s scary. When dinner’s over, WHAT THEN?
Who was your first celebrity crush?
Oh yay, this is going to be good.
I feel like it was beyond a crush, I feel like I was genuinely in love, with Tegan Quinn from Tegan and Sara. She was such a positive role model in my life, but I was crippled by the fact that I was 13 and she was 32 or whatever and I was like, “SHE’LL NEVER LOVE ME”. It was definitely the age difference that was the problem, not that I didn’t know her or anything…
You both occupy the music world now. What do you think you’d do if you met?
I think I would piss myself.
The thing is, I cried over Tegan Quinn. I wrote her love letters. It would be so awkward, to now be like, oh god, I wonder if she ever read my fucking weird letter... So that was my first and ultimate crush. I still have so much love for her as well. Ignoring the fact that she’s been in a long-term relationship, if she asked me on a date, I’m of age now, so...Tegan, hit me up.
I’m quite impressed by how cool that first crush is. Normally everyone is just, like…
Was that yours?
Look, I was 11 when Titanic eventually came out on video and the first and only time I ever had a tantrum in public is when my mum said I wasn’t allowed to have it because it was rated 12. I was literally beside myself over how fit Leonardo DiCaprio was.
I mean, ‘90s Leo… I’m not going to turn that down.
I don't think anyone would. So... do you see GIRLI as a persona or just your stage name?
People ask me this all the time, even some of my friends, and I'm like really? The thing is, GIRLI is literally just a name, because I thought my name was shit. It’s all me. Sometimes, I fuck around with the perception of it in videos and on stage. I definitely exaggerate it in an ironic way. But people ask me that and I’m like, nope, this is just what I wear and what I do. I say the same things in my songs as I would in a conversation. It’s not like an alter-ego, although sometimes, in a way, I wish it was – once you realise that your whole life is combined, it’s sort of like, shit, where’s me on the off days? Who’s GIRLI on vacay? GIRLI on rest?
That’s not really a question that people ask men very often is it? Like, nobody asks Skrillex whether his stage name is a persona.
That’s really true. I think the “act” or the idea of the creation of a star is seen as a very female thing. David Bowie is a good example of someone who had so many different characters and forms, and I definitely want to do that in my career – to be different people, go through different transformations. I think it would be fun to just totally change it all one day.
I like that GIRLI feels intentionally polarising. Just because there’s this expectation that women in pop and the public eye in general are expected to be super likeable all the time, and something must be wrong if everyone doesn’t love you.
I’d just rather people have a strong opinion whether it’s positive or negative. Some of the people I admire the most as artists are the ones who just said whatever it is they wanted to say: Courtney Love, Miley Cyrus, The Slits, people like that. Everyone has an opinion. I’m sure, deep down, Taylor Swift has some feelings about things. Obviously I fucking love Taylor Swift and she’s done her career her own way, she’s decided to be this inoffensive kind of figure, but I’m quite incapable of doing that. I can’t really shut up. I bang out 1989, but at the same time I get the most joy from music that’s provocative.
What’s the first album you ever bought?
Oh fuck. That’s a really intense question. I remember listening to a lot of David Bowie and my dad used to play a lot of Sex Pistols. My mum was super into David Cassidy… that was a big thing. Back To Black by Amy Winehouse, Alright Still by Lily Allen and the first Arctic Monkeys album were constantly on repeat in my dad’s rent-a-car when we went on beach holidays and days out. But I guess the first album that I remember buying and religiously listening to was AM. I remember getting it on vinyl and knowing every fucking lyric and that was the first really meaningful album for me.
How did you get from AM to the kind of stuff you make now?
I went to the fucking trashiest comprehensive school in Cricklewood where everyone listened to a lot of grime and American rap, and then there were the few kids who’d go to the music room at lunch time and play the guitar, and I was just in kind of an awkward middle ground. Then, when I went to music college a couple years ago, in Stratford, I got into beatmaking,rap, drum and bass, and shit. I think that’s when I started finding the music I still love. It’s also when I started going to clubs and raves, hearing jungle and garage, and just being like "Fuuuuck!" A lot of my friends were into PC Music and the whole Soundcloud generation of beatmakers too. Soundcloud saved my life.
That should be the title of your autobiography. How old were you when you started going out?
I got a fake ID when I was 15. My mum got one so my first band could do open mic nights. But the first club I ever went to was this rave in Vauxhall and my 25 year-old friend took me. She’s incredible. She’s from Prague and she was like, “Do you want some MDMA?” I said, “WHAT IS THAT!?” I remember she was getting off with this guy so she just left me and I was in this club with all these older people… I was so terrified, but also so excited.
What’s your favourite conspiracy theory? I’ll kick things off by saying mine is Louis Tomlinson’s fake baby.
I have a few. For one, I think the whole thing around Beyonce’s album is bullshit. Becky with the good hair? I think that’s for publicity. Also, JFK was killed by the American government, man [laughs]. 53 years later and I’m still not over it.
Justice for JFK!
Dude, you know when you watch those conspiracy films and they make you think, "Oh no my life is a lie." That was me with Kurt Cobain for a while. I was like, "Courtney Love killed him!" And then I was like nah. There were so many books and documentaries calling her the devil and shit. If it had been the other way around, and Courtney Love had died, nobody would have been like, "Kurt Cobain killed her!" It’s just misogyny.
Right. People just hate her because she’s loud.
Yeah, because she’s an opinionated, loud woman, it was like, "Oh her mania killed him." JFK, on the other hand, was killed by the American government.
British politics. Thoughts?
Politics is fucked in general. I sort of gave up on it a while back. The thing is, when you live in London, you are in a bubble, because you’re in such a diverse majority left-wing society with a lot of fairly open people, especially in the [effects posh voice] “creative community”. But yeah, you forget that, actually, we live in a Tory country. Why can’t we be Canada? They have a really cool Prime Minister.
They have a really HOT Prime Minister.
He IS really hot.
Does it annoy you when people assume young people don’t care about politics? Especially with the referendum, where 18-25 year-old’s weren't even actively targeted because of the assumption they won’t vote?
I mean, I fucking voted. Loads of my friends voted. But it is hard to not feel like you’re falling on deaf ears. Also, I like to be clued up on things personally, but we’re all so preoccupied with discovering things about our own lives. So it’s like, "Fuck the EU, I realised yesterday that life is this massive journey of self-discovery! That guy just asked me out! Oh are we meant to vote?" I feel like young people just want a revolution, in a way. They don’t feel that contributing to the political system is going to beat it, so the idea of voting is just playing into what they want you to do. All my friends think it’s one massive conspiracy...
Brexit is orchestrated by the illuminati?
To go back to conspiracy theories for a minute, my friend and I once did a Beyance, which is like a seance but you do it while watching YouTube videos of Beyonce reversed. It is the scariest thing I have ever done in my life.
I’m sorry to interrupt you but there’s a really good dog over there.
My manager has that dog!
If you were an animal what kind of animal would you be?
I’d probably want to be some sort of flying thing, like a beautiful majestic eagle. I was in Brighton recently and the seagulls there are like dogs, they’re fucking huge. We saw this woman walk onto the beach with her fish and chips and they just dived on her and took the whole lot. It would be quite fun to be a seagull, actually.
Seagulls are like the eagles of the rubbish world.
Think about it, you get to eat loads of buff food…
So are we gonna go out again or what.
I can’t date someone who’s better at bowling than me.
Listen to GIRLI's new single “It Was My Party Last Night” here.
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