“Don’t tell me that I’m super cute/I’m a samurai princess, I’ll smash you,” is the first line of GIRLI’s ‘Girls Get Angry Too’, but it might as well be a statement of intent. With only a mixtape and handful of promotional tracks to her name, London teenager Milly Toomey has managed to carve her own vivid identity. The term “girly” suggests a particular kind of female identity – all pink stereotypes and youthful naivety – and as GIRLI’s uniform of multicolour pleats and luminous tracksuits plays into that stereotype, her music is confectionery pop: neon synths, growling basslines and shouty choruses.
Musically, GIRLI seems to be an apex of on-trend influences: there’s the menace of grime and brashness of PC Music in the sounds while her distinctly-UK vocals manage to recall both M.I.A at her most cynical and Kate Bush in her moments of wide-eyed wonder. Early single ‘So You Think You Can F*** With Me Do Ya’ is murky post-Internet synth-pop, the kind of global magpie approach to pop taken by Grimes – except GIRLI isn’t afraid to taunt listeners explicitly with obnoxious acts of aggression. ‘You thought I was gonna do a ballad? Fuck off, never ever ever!’
Of course, this would all be nothing but hip culture positioning if GIRLI didn’t have the songwriting skills to match. In the same way as Charli XCX, GIRLI seems a curious disciple of pop in all forms, the caricature broadness of Shampoo and Aqua looming largely as much as the formalist experimentation of Girls Aloud on her music. The best introduction to GIRLI might be radio-themed mixtape GIRLI.fm, which is a showcase of taste ranging from feminist pop classics ‘No Scrubs’ and ‘Wannabe’ to grime anthems from Novelist and Skepta, glued together with GIRLI’s original material. It manages to be both familiar and disorientating in the way it dismantles obvious influences. It’s also genuinely hysterical, a mix of unexpected punchlines, witty lyrics and a dismissal of good taste.
The mix of hyper-stylised presentation and reliance on pop’s less acceptable end might suggest a level of irony, a knowing wink to an audience that the performance is the joke. But GIRLI seems too committed, too embedded in her worldview, to not take seriously: there’s a respect and genuine fondness for the art of tastelessness at the heart of it all. And why shouldn’t there be? GIRLI belongs to a generation that grew up in a world shaped by The Spice Girls and Missy Elliott, living in a world defined by the Internet’s ability to both bring society together in unity and divide it apart through hate speech and misogynistic trolls. GIRLI is reminiscent of Lily Allen when her career first began: there’s moments of poignancy and sincerity in her work, but it’s hard to imagine her reacting to claims of such with more than a shrug. But Lily Allen always seemed like her star needed polish to shine; GIRLI’s rough edges are what make her such a captivating presence.