“Read my lips, I need a big dick boy. Ain’t nobody slanging it right,” the musician Shygirl raps on the opening lines of her new song “BDE,” featuring Slowthai. It’s a bold claim, and one that speaks to the East London native’s life mantra: freedom is everything. “If someone said to you, you can do whatever you want in this room, you’d do something that you wouldn’t usually do,” Shygirl says over Zoom, where she’s speaking from her home in South London. “It’s about being able to run away with some aspects of yourself, less about being something different, but in each of these spaces, you’re allowed a bit more room to breathe.”
The artist, who makes bass-heavy, club-ready tracks that straddle electro, pop, and hip-hop, is known for fashion and beauty looks that match her out-there, over-the-top music. Her deepest fantasies and whimsies make both the aesthetic and the music—and fashion brands like Burberry have taken note. (The brand’s creative director Riccardo Tisci cast Shygirl in his latest Burberry Beauty campaign after stumbling across one of her music videos on Instagram.) We caught up with Shygirl a few days before the release of “BDE” to discuss her proclivity toward skincare, her grandmother’s beauty tips, and why eating an opulent meal is the ultimate form of luxury.
How did you come to make your latest single “BDE” with Slowthai?
I wrote this single ages ago with Karma Kid. We were in the studio and I’d actually been up the night before at some warehouse party. I was definitely really hungover—I think I was probably still drunk when I got to the studio, so I was still kind of in that party mood. The words came really quickly as I was recording, which isn’t always the case. Sometimes I think of a hook and then we flesh it out later, or there’s a funny turn of phrase I’m playing with, and I start like that. But this one was based on a frustrating encounter I’d had with someone. And I was like, I’m just going to get this out in a song.
I really wanted to work with a male vocalist and I’ve loved Slowthai’s energy for ages. I’m objectifying men so much in that song, I thought it would be nice to hand the mic over and and be like, Okay, I’ve said this—what do you have to say for yourself? Ty’s the person for that platform, because he doesn’t talk about sex that much on his tracks. So it was nice to have that Shygirl effect. We met up in the studio, hung out, and I was like, okay, the theme is sex—spin it, and be as crass and vulgar as possible because that’s the way I've set the stage.
I love the fantasy of the Tasty video. What was on your mood board for it, specifically when it came to the beauty looks?
Growing up, my mom was really into ‘80s music. And I loved that ‘80s look: heavy blush on the face, and how expressive that is, especially when looking at the queer community being represented in music. There’s something about that that which speaks to freedom and playfulness, and there’s a massive synergy with where I’m coming from, which is take me serious in this space, but also not that serious. There’s also something exciting about not being within the confines of my facial features, and pushing those boundaries. That’s why I bleached my eyebrows and change the space that we’re able to use with all the makeup we do. I sent a lot of references over, but I’m really drawn to color palettes; I have phases of different colors that make me feel comfortable and happy. I’ve been lucky to work with some really great makeup artists who take my garbled references and moods that I tell them and make it look sexy. Because there’s something sexy about not staying within the lines.
Onto the Beauty Notes questions. When you wake up in the morning, what’s the first thing you do, beauty wise?
First thing I do is wash my face, ‘cause I’m probably still wearing mascara from the night before. I use the Garnier Micellar water as a cleanser, and I bought because it’s pink. Then, I put on the Aliver 24K Gold Collagen Eye Mask eye patches. I bought a pack of, like, 100. They make me feel like a modern-day American Psycho. Then I use the Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion, because there’s something watery about their products, they just feel light on your skin. And my skin’s really sensitive, so I don't usually wear much. I have a rose quartz roller that I use after I’ve moisturized, which I find so relaxing. I’ve also got to mention that, when I wash my face, I wash it with warm and then cold water.
What does that do?
Something about opening up your pores with the warm water and then tightening them with cold water. My grandma told me that when I was younger—my dad’s mum gave me this obsession with clear skin from a young age. We’ve kind of got it naturally and she takes really good care of it, as does my dad. Usually, people pick up beauty tips from their mum, but my mum was a bit more tomboy-ish.
What’s a piece of skincare advice that you received from your grandmother that changed your perspective on beauty?
My grandmother comes up with a lot of un-PC phrases. One of the un-PC things she used to say was, never trust a man with bad skin. I remember when I’d tell her about boys I fancied and she’d be like, oh no, his skin’s terrible. Also, she uses oils on her body, but not on her face. She’s big on oils. I have naturally curly hair, so I went through such a period of using loads of different greasy hair products, and she told me that all affects your skin. Whenever I FaceTime my nan and my dad, that’s the first thing they ask: are you eating right? I can see on your skin, you’re not getting enough of this or that.
What’s the one product that you can’t live without?
The Charlotte Tilbury Magic Night Cream. It’s literally the best money I’ve ever spent on a beauty product. It just does what it says, and I don’t feel like I need to use it that religiously, but I need to know that I have it, especially when I’m traveling a lot. And even in lockdown, I’ve had a lot of travel for work. The air dries out my skin, and sometimes I need it before I wake up, just to start the day fresh.
What’s your favorite product at this very moment?
I only really wear mascara for eye makeup every day, and at the moment I’ve been wearing this really good mascara that Burberry makes. I like a spiky, wider mascara, ‘cause if that’s the only thing I’m wearing, I’m going to make sure it’s visible. I’m not too neat with it—I like a slightly messy mascara look because there are hints there, where you’re telling people who you are. I want to be expressive.
What’s the best makeup or skincare tip you’ve picked up on set?
Exfoliating my lips. That’s something I didn’t do enough of; sometimes when I’m on set, we use wipes with a somewhat rougher texture before we put anything on my lips.
What’s your ideal spa day and where?
I found this place recently called Beaverbrook in Surrey, just outside of London. In December, I just needed to get out of my house, I needed a spa break, I needed a massage, I needed to be in a hotel, I just needed something. It’s kind of a big deal spa, which I didn’t know, but I got a room after someone else’s cancellation. It was really nice—it’s in the countryside and it was raining the whole weekend, so I felt like I was in Wuthering Heights. I looked out onto the fields watching the rain, and just felt so British.
Is going to the spa your favorite form of self-care?
I take more care of my mind than my body—what’s sometimes good for the soul isn’t always good for your body. I’m self-indulgent, and the biggest thing that feeds me is doing something spontaneously. The idea that I can just pick up and do something that I want to do is what gratifies me the most. That could be taking the day, canceling a bunch of meetings to remind myself that I’m in control of my life. More times, it’s going out to a restaurant and eating something obscene. You know in Parks and Recreation when they’re like, “Treat yourself”? That’s my life. I really love a beautiful meal, and there’s something so opulent about being waited on in some form and having someone else make your food.
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