Illustration by Lizzy Nightingale
Girli, real name Milly Toomey, clearly thinks a lot. She bubbles over with ideas and then pauses, thoughtful and reflective. Her music is similar; it always has a message. Her point of view is clear whether she’s exploring mental health, sexuality, love, or politics. Her image is just as thought out. It’s overwhelmingly pink, yet she has reinvented herself and her sound repeatedly whilst keeping her pink locks. She jokes about not knowing what version of Girli she is anymore. The Oxford Blue sat down with her to discuss her heartbreak, mental health and writing queer anthems.
Girli started in a band that had a “really sh*t name for a band” around fifteen and, after a period of “floating around”, came up with Girli at the age of eighteen. She describes herself as a “singer, songwriter, social media person who makes alternative pop music”. She’s openly queer and feminist, which she works seamlessly into her music. Unlike her Wikipedia claims, she doesn’t see herself as a rapper and jokes about “finding who writes her Wikipedia page and getting them to take it off”.
The bright pink aesthetic was a conscious choice, stemming from a desire to explore femininity and gender politics, “it reflects as a society how we see the consciousness of femininity and how we feel about that; pink always goes in hand with femininity”. Explaining further, she tells of how she chose the name Girli due to its connotations of being “lame” or “sissy”, which “all goes hand in hand with how people see femininity, linking to the colour pink”. Her mission is clear – she wants to challenge the idea of femininity meaning weak. “Femininity is something really powerful, and I think it’s silly that a colour is linked to a gendered idea”.
Girli is quick to highlight the volume of queer talent and queer events in the music industry and is keen to acknowledge her privilege; “I’m white and in some instances straight passing, so I’m definitely privileged. But I’ve experienced a lot of sexism. The music industry is inherently sexist”. As a woman, she is taken “way less seriously” and credited and paid less than she should be; ‘you’re not allowed to have autonomy or make decisions over your own career, and that’s something I’ve really fought for and only had in the last year since signing to my new indie label, Believe”. The new label has allowed ethane complete creative control over her songs and image. These are all things she didn’t have under the old label that dropped over last year, something she calls a “blessing in disguise”. Whilst it’s been empowering, she reiterates that “you always have to fight someone” and expressed her gratitude towards her fanbase who love and support her ventures and style switches.
One of her music’s most prominent features is its emotional honesty; her lyrics are deeply personal and raw. I was eager to find out how being so open with her feelings and experiences felt. “Being honest and vulnerable comes naturally; I wear my heart on my sleeve”, she told me, “songwriting has been about me coping and expressing my emotions; I see my songs as diary entries. Songs are very therapeutic for me, and it’s an amazing experience having them being therapeutic for other people”. When it comes to songs about heartbreak and exes, she finds it cool to sing them and reflect on being in a much better place now than when those songs were written. Songs about love are harder; she had to sing her song ‘Friday Night Big Screen’, which was about falling in love for the first time after a break up. “It’s one of the beautiful things about art and music; they continue to relate to life- just a little bit behind, I guess”.
Girli has recently released a song, ‘Dysmorphia’, about her experience of having body dysmorphia. “It was a song that was really hard to write as it was about something so personal. It’s something that I hadn’t been able to put into words for a really long time”. When discussing the song, Girli seemed more reflective and less excited than in the rest of the interview, emphasising the difficulty of speaking and writing about such a personal topic. “A lot of people seem to be relating to it and feeling less alone, which is all I want to do with my music”.
We move on to discussing her songwriting process. “I write as I go and pick up on musical inspirations all the time. I like to work in intense bursts, and I always collaborate with people”. Girli is clearly enthusiastic about this last aspect “All my songs are collaborations”, she tells me. Even though she has all the skills to produce music on her own, she feels like working with someone else is integral to her creative process, “everyone I’ve ever written a song with has been like a therapist to me for the day”. Collaborators facilitate her expressing herself fully and authentically, which is undoubtedly part of her music’s appeal. She divides her time into experiencing things that will serve as inspiration for songs and writing. Jokingly, she says, “you’ve got to feel the feelings!”.
Looking at Girli’s work, her music can be divided into distinct phases or eras. She’s constantly evolving her appearance and musical style whilst keeping to the same themes of rebellion, empowerment and lyrical honesty. The eras naturally form as she’ll write a “batch of songs” about a particular experience, like her EP Ex, which talks about her break-up. Eras are also influenced by the music she’s been listening to and inspired by, as she combines it with her style to create a new sound. “I’m growing, I’m figuring this out as a person, and as an artist, and those things go hand in hand – phases of my life and phases of my music”.
Something that is evidently important to Girli is being outspoken on politics, especially her feminism and queerness. She describes her song ‘Girl I Met on the Internet’ as a queer anthem and her new release ‘More than a Friend’ as the “updated version”, “it should be called the girl I met in real life and who didn’t like me back” she laughs. The song feels “really authentically me; I wanted to authentically express my queerness and made a super gay video for it”.
The last thing that we touch on is her charity work in Palestine and distress over seeing the conflict between Palestine and Israel flare-up over the summer. Additionally, she was incredibly keen to emphasise her support for BLM and continuing efforts against racism. Her disgust at the lack of progress that has been made in dismantling systemic racism was palpable. Girli is incredibly active on social media and believes in using her platform for discussing politics, LGBTQ+ and the fight for racial justice and equality, even if it could be detrimental to her as an artist. Music is a tool of rebellion and change for her, and from talking to her, it is undeniable that she takes power and responsibility seriously.