Girli on the ‘gay heartbreak’ and queer rebellion that inspired her second album

Pop singer Girli in a green top standing against a yellow background.

British pop star Girli talks misogyny, Tories, queer rebellion, along with her upcoming sophomore album Matriarchy and new single.

“I’m an open book as a person. I’ll literally meet someone at the bus stop for five minutes and tell them my story,” the North London-born singer-songwriter tells PinkNews.

The pansexual pop punk artist is talking about her second studio album, Matriarchy, which was announced earlier this week, alongside her new single “Nothing Hurts Like a Girl”.

“It’s my life story, basically,” she says.

Girli, real name Amelia (Milly) Toomey, has built her music career by sharing herself with the world. Her debut single, “So You Think You Can F*ck With Me Do Ya”, was released in 2015, when she was just 17, Since then, her discography has played like a personal statement.

The 2019 single, “Up & Down”, taken from her debut album Odd One Out, charts her struggles with her mental health (she has been open about living with obsessive compulsive disorder, body dysmorphia, and taking antidepressants).

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“Girls Get Angry Too”, released in 2016, is a scathing takedown of how misogyny had already affected her short life, while 2021’s “More Than a Friend” is about falling for a mate and thinking about her while in bed with her boyfriend.

Clearly, Girli’s life has been written down and analysed through a stream of bristly, alt-pop anthems.

In some ways, then, Matriarchy is business as usual.

“It’s a documentation of being a queer woman in your 20s and feeling like an adult and a child at the same time, and just like stumbling through all of life’s confusions and difficulties,” she tells PinkNews.

In other ways, however, the album, which is due out in May, is a big step forward. Written over the course of the past year, it’s sonically and lyrically “very different” to the Girli presented to the world for the past eight years.

“It’s a real move away from the middle finger up, punky vibe of some of my previous releases,” she reveals. Sonically, it’s “left-field, experimental pop”. Lyrically, it’s even more “self-reflective”, tracing the end of a relationship – “my first gay heartbreak” – that changed her life.

“I started living by myself for the first time. I stopped drinking and stopped partying as much,” she says, sounding as though she found clarity in the fallout.

“I became a lot more in tune with who I am and I started journaling a lot. I just became very introspective, and a lot of the songs are about learning to be with myself.”

The album cover for Girli's second album Matriarchy.
The album cover for Girli’s second album Matriarchy, due to be released in May. (Claryn Chong)

The lead single from the album though, also called “Matriarchy”, released in September, is less about the demise of a queer relationship, and more about the beauty of having one in the first place.

“Kiss me ’cause we don’t have to be sorry, for the way I love a woman and her body,” she chants on the playful chorus. In the music video, she enjoys a self-described “sapphic celebration” with a group of women who lounge in bed together, share baths and paint one another’s portraits.

“I don’t think I’ve ever made a song which is talking about what my queerness means to me and the power of it,” she continues.

She’s come to understand that to be a queer woman is to be the antithesis of everything the patriarchy tells women they should be.

“Being queer, you have rebellion in your blood whether you like it or not because unfortunately a lot of the world is going to dislike you because of your sexuality, because of your expression, and is going to tell you that you’re wrong.

“In a way, just your very existence is a big f**k you to all that.”

She views the song as the biggest statement of her career, highlighting why being queer is always political, not just personal.

So, what was it about the past year that made her write such a track? 

“I’ve experienced misogyny my whole life, but I definitely think something about the past year… everything just seems to be going backwards” she sighs.

New single “Nothing Hurts Like a Girl” is a double entendre, she says, referring to both having her heart broken by a woman, but also being a woman under the patriarchy of today.

The overturning of Roe v Wade in the US last year, which eradicated the constitutional right to abortion services, particularly angered her. The increase of violence against women, online harassment … the list goes on.

“I was feeling like: ‘Oh my gosh’, on a daily basis. Just being a woman and being LGBTQ+ is a battle. To put it plainly, everything feels a bit f**ked,” she laughs.

Girli has no second thoughts about talking politics. It’s been ingrained in her since she was a child. In 2012, aged 14, she was elected as one of the borough of Camden’s deputy youth MPs, but soon swapped bureaucracy for bops after realising that the opportunity wouldn’t enable her to make the big changes she wanted to see.

Music, at least, gives her a platform to speak her mind.

Thinking about today’s politics in the UK, she is despondent. “There’s so much s**t going on in this country. There’s so much poverty, the NHS is falling apart. There [are] so many issues that we need addressed.”

Girli looks up while standing against a blue background.
Right-wing UK politics has left Girli feeling suffocated. (Claryn Chong)

Some of Britain’s top politicians – prime minister Rishi Sunak, home secretary Suella Braverman and minister for women and equalities Kemi Badenoch – are intent on demonising the 0.5 per cent of Britons who identify as transgender, prompting Girli’s feeling of ‘suffocation’.

“I feel so much pain for my trans friends and fans and the community,” she says. “Being LGBTQ+ under a Tory government is suffocating and terrifying.”

She feels the UK is following in the footsteps of Republican states in the US, many of which have attempted to bring in a wave of anti-trans, anti-drag laws this year.  “It’s really scary,” she admits. “It’s just bigotry. It’s disgusting.”

The world might feel volatile for the wider LGBTQ+ community but the music industry is becoming ever more “queer friendly”, Girli thinks. She has come up in the business at a time where LGBTQ+ artists don’t have to assimilate in order to find a fan base.

It was queer Canadian duo Tegan and Sara who introduced her to the possibility of becoming a musician, but also being a musician who could put her sexuality front and centre. “For me, I love being loud about my queerness,” she says.

But she’s pleased that there is also now space for artists such as Ice Spice and Doja Cat, who are queer but don’t feel they have to refer to it often through their music. 

“You look at popular music right now and queer people are dominating the charts. It’s so exciting to see. The best music fans have always been the gays, always.”

Queer people have always known how to treat a pop star, from Beyoncé to Britney, like a princess.

“The LGBTQ+ community has made many a person’s career,” Girli adds. “It’s about time that [this] was reflected in the artists.”

Girli’s new single “Nothing Hurts Like A Girl” is out now. Matriarchy drops on 17 May.