By Mia Smith, Co-Deputy Music Editor
Here, queer and overwhelmingly pink, epigram catches up with GIRLI ahead of her headline tour that kicks off at The Lanes this Sunday.
It’s impossible to chat to Milly Toomey, aka GIRLI, without mentioning the pink. From the hair to the clothes, her commitment to the colour is genuinely impressive. ‘Fun fact’, she says, Directions (the hair dye brand to thank for her ‘Pink Flamingo’ hair) ‘are actually one of the sponsors of the tour’. I ask if she ever regrets making this her brand – ‘Hell no – I love pink!’, she jests. Not only a colour that simply ‘rocks’, Milly explains that it’s ‘tongue in cheek to a certain extent, and ties in with why my name is GIRLI – I’m challenging preconceived negative ideas of femininity’.
GIRLI has always challenged the status quo, with feminist anthems like ‘Girls Get Angry Too’ and ‘Hot Mess’, where she sarcastically whines ‘I'm so stupid please tell me/How the world works, I'm female you see’. Her latest EP Damsel in Distress offers the same sentiment, and at the same time gently navigates mental health issues, unrequited queer love and body dysmorphia: ‘these are the distresses; I am the damsel who’s fighting them. I decided to take the old and sexist term of ‘Damsel in Distress’, an old character trope of a woman needing saving by a man, and turn it on its head’. She describes each song as a ‘diary entry’ – ‘a big part of coping with stuff’. Being so transparent in her song writing is natural for Milly – ‘I don't ever feel like I'm giving too much away when it comes to my lyrics, because being open and honest about things I'm going through in my life has helped me feel less alone, and will hopefully help people listening too’.
I note the incredible difference between her recent work and first singles ‘ASBOys’ and ‘So You Think You Can F*** With Me Do Ya’ – rap tracks about hating school and council estates, laced with spoken word and too many sound effects. When I caught her on tour back in 2019, my cries of ‘play ASBOys!’ were met with a simple ‘no’. ‘I remember that!’ she laughs, ‘I still love that people connect to my earlier songs, but to me now they feel like they were written by a different person. My sound has developed so much since then, mostly because, to put it plainly, I’ve grown up a bit. I was 17 when I released ASBOys, and now I'm 23. I'm singing about things that matter to me now as a young queer woman in her 20s.’
Growing up also meant setting boundaries between herself and fans, especially online: ‘I used to post A LOT, like everything I did and all the people I dated on my social media, and it got messy. I realised that there's things that don't need an audience, so I keep a lot of that to myself’. Although her lyrics are intimate, Milly explains the importance of remembering to separate herself from GIRLI: ‘Milly has so many things about her that I keep from people who know me as GIRLI. They have to be separate, otherwise without GIRLI I'd have no identity’.
Coming of age in the music industry, Milly has experienced her fair share of the good and the bad. We talk about her past touring experiences and why she decided to completely DIY her upcoming Damsel in Distress tour: ‘all my previous tours were financially backed by a major label, and consequently a lot of other opinions came into the mix when putting the tours together. I realised after I got dropped that most of the time I didn’t really know where any of my money was going, or anything about the tours – I’d just turn up and play shows.’ This time Milly is impressively in full control, overseeing every process from booking hotels to spray painting her own set backdrops. She’s also hired an all-female team and designed the merch with her girlfriend. She admits it was ‘a lot’, but moreover ‘an important process for me – I wanted to learn everything about touring, and running my own ‘business’ essentially, so that I don’t get walked all over in future’.
Milly will only continue to grow, perhaps even kicking the pink in the future: ‘If I change my mind about that, then I’ll change my hair. I’ll always be GIRLI’. Hair dye may be temporary, but GIRLI is forever.
GIRLI will be performing at The Lanes in Bristol this Sunday 7th November – tickets are still available here.
Featured image: Haris Nukem
Will you be seeing GIRLI on her UK tour?