There are many adjectives that spring to mind when listening to Blane Muise’s unbracketable, genre-blending productions, but ‘shy’ is absolutely not one of them. The Shygirl moniker is deeply ironic, an oxymoronic contrast with the brazen lyrics and pounding, sinister percussion that dominates her oeuvre. Her first release in 2016 - the feverish, menacing ‘Want More’ - sets the tone for her future discography, with its coked up industrial beats and dry, spoken word-esque vocals. Her lyrics are equally recognisable, with their propensity for sex, violence, or both, but such consistency never gets tiresome thanks to Muise’s ceaseless innovation. ‘UCKERS’ blends samples of campy feminine screams into an addictive dancehall rhythm, whilst ‘Rude’, the startling opener to her lengthiest release so far (the Cruel Practice EP), incorporates Psycho inspired shrieks to construct an atmosphere of dread so heady that it pushes - but never crosses - the boundaries of taste.
Cruel Practice came together with the support of Sega Bodega, fellow founder of Nuxxe, one of the most exciting breakthrough labels of the past decade. It originated as a passion project by like-minded artists (including Shygirl, Coucou Chloe and the aforementioned Sega Bodega) seeking to disrupt conventional classification, which had historically resulted in club promoters misplacing them on lineups. Fed up of playing to bewildered, alienated audiences as a result of mislabelling, they united to form Nuxxe. The collective’s sound is characterised by boundary-pushing, experimental productions that adamantly refuse normative genre definitions whilst maintaining a unifying dark rhythmic energy. Although Nuxxe was born out of solidarity between "best mates", the collective makes sense from a business perspective. Complete creative control freed the artists from capitulation to the mainstream and allowed them to establish their own countercultural voice, catered to the right audiences. Shygirl admits that her music is “definitely polarising”, but the unwieldiness is part of the allure; only the initiated, people who truly ‘get’ it, will populate her live shows.
Shygirl’s productions are unique cross-genre fusions of grime, garage, leftfield pop and miscellaneous underground sounds, miraculously manifest as club-friendly tracks. Despite their diminutive length - most barely break the 2 minute mark - the amalgamation of different influences makes for an endlessly rewarding listen. Perhaps most interesting is the resemblance to avant-pop artists like SOPHIE and Charli XCX, a connection compounded by Brooke Candy’s choice of Nuxxe as the label best suited to release her Sexorcism album. Whilst Shygirl’s use of gritty beats and snapping lyricism places her firmly on the hardest, darkest periphery of the dance-pop spectrum, the synthetic quality of her chaotic sonic style is recognisably pop-inspired.
Muise’s unmistakable vocals take centre-stage in her discography, rooting her music in its geographical origin through an understated London accent and peppered slang: in the schizophrenically amped-up ‘O’, she raps “Out here tellin’ bare man / wots wot”, whilst ‘Nasty’ is rapidfire booty call for her “rude boy ting”. Consequently, she feels at once untouchable - thanks to the bizarre production - and homegrown; her music nods to UK grime without getting subsumed into sweeping labels.
Shygirl's music is ultimately characterised by a sense of intent; whether rapping about her libidinous exploits or making covert threats to rivals, she is relentlessly driven and purposeful. Every word and beat feels deliberate, chosen with exquisite care to broadcast her nonconformist message. Muise makes no effort to conceal her anti-establishment attitude. She recently participated in the Dance Music Against Trump extravaganza in Trafalgar Square, and her lyrics are dripping with an insouciant irreverence: the word ‘fuck’ features abundantly, whether deployed in contempt of authority or in reclamation of female libido. But Shygirl is not an overtly political project - instead, the Shygirl persona is the natural corollary of her realisation that “(a)s it turns out, my muse is me”, a bare-faced expression of her own private desire and personal empowerment. Yet it still feels radical. Perhaps to be herself - a sexually liberated, outspoken, unshy black woman - in London in 2020 is an inherently subversive act.
Nothing captures this unapologetic embrace of self better than the lowkey music video for ‘BB’, Shygirl’s most recent and arguably strongest release, in which an an otherwise trite refrain (“I like bad boys / I know they love me”) is transformed into a deliriously moreish hook through Muise’s cocksure flow and blasè tone. Rather than trying to match the track’s energy with a flashy visual performance, the stripped-back video simply depicts Shygirl riding shotgun with a masked driver, nonchalantly delivering her lyrics to the camera. The music takes the foreground, yet the central motif of the video - Shygirl herself, hands in the pockets of an oversized puffer coat, simmering at the camera with an unreadable expression - imprints on the mind long after the clip ends. She looks magnificent: a force of nature, her stance unapologetic and unshakeable, whose inscrutable visage gives nothing away. I can’t wait to see what she has hidden up the sleeves of her gigantic puffer.
Where to start: The harmonious melody of 'MSRY' belies the all caps scream of a track title, providing an unusually accessible entry point to Shygirl’s work. But don’t be fooled by the mellifluous rhythm: the lyrics are ice cold (“you breathing makes me hate you”), the production gets overlaid by a bewildering audio sample of a couple arguing, and then it explodes into a rapturous cacophony of ecstatic beats and raucous shouts. It has to be heard to be believed.
What's next? Shygirl makes her London headline debut on March 12th in the rebranded, intimate Space289 venue, via renowned promoter Parallel Lines. Cop a ticket here. There’s no news of an album just yet, but the steady flow of singles is a sign of good things to come.