Music

'Queer women aren't for the male gaze': Girli on queerness and why Tories 'don't give a s**t' about Gen Z

On the heels of her sophomore album Matriarchy, alt-pop sensation Girli – aka Amelia Toomey – dissects queerness, politics and more

Girli's new album, Matriachy. Credit: Girli.

In 2009, Katy Perry’s debut single I Kissed a Girl was everywhere.

The electro-pop smash hit – with the famous lyric, “I kissed a girl and I liked it, the taste of her cherry ChapStick” – is perhaps the most (in)famous bi-curious anthem of all time.

It’s undeniably a “kind-of classic”, says alt-pop artist Girli. But the LGBTQ+ singer wants you to know: queerness isn’t just “lemonade and lipstick”.

“The idea of women being with women is often overly romanticised, and even fetishised,” the artist, real name Amelia (Milly) Toomey, told the Big Issue.

“In the sense that people thing, ‘Oh my god, that’s so cute and fun.’ But there’s layers to it – it’s just like any other relationship, it can be heartbreaking, it has its complexities.”

On her newly released sophomore album Matriarchy, Toomey dissects these complexities to a pulsing electro-pop beat .

“When we touch we touch to fuck the patriarchy,” Toomey sings on the title track. On “Crush Me Up”, she explores the intoxicating allure of infatuation, urging the object of her affection to “take too much, I don’t care.”

On “Nothing Hurts Like a Girl”, she directly mentions the Katy Perry smash. “When we fall, it’s from a higher place… it’s not all cherry ChapStick and lemonade.”

“That was a reference to Katy,” she laughs.

From Tracey Chapman to Joan Jett, queer women have made music history for generations. Music helped Toomey embrace her sexuality.

“When I was a teenager and coming to terms with my identity in the world, music was the guiding force. It was an escape from things at school.. my school was quite homophobic,” she said.

“I got really into Tegan and Sara at the time. At the time, I think they were one of the only openly lesbian acts in pop music or indie pop music. I went to one of their shows, and I remember thinking, ‘Oh my god. I’m in a room full of queer women. I didn’t know this existed.’ I’m getting goose bumps talking about it.”

Days out from her UK and European tour, Girli is excited to create that kind of space for her own fans.

“I wanted to write about queer joy and queer sex, and how that is inherently rebellious… Queer women aren’t just there for the male gaze,” she says.

Toomey is no stranger to political pop. Since her 2015 debut single – provocatively titled “So You Think You Can Fuck With Me Do Ya” – her discography has tackled misogyny, queer awakening and mental health.

The last topic is close to her heart. In Odd One Out – her debut album, released in 2019 – she candidly discusses her experiences on antidepressants and with ADHD.

Last month, work and pensions secretary Mel Stride warned that mental health culture has “gone too far”, claiming that too many Brits pathologise the “normal anxieties of life”. As the political discourse around mental health becomes increasingly toxic, it’s a theme Girli wants to revisit.

“[This kind of opinion] comes from a generation who were taught to shovel their emotions under the rug, not to talk about them,” she says. “If you force people to abandon their mental health, it has really long-lasting negative effects.”

“Our generation is so beautifully self-aware. We’re actually prioritizing therapy and sharing our emotions, we’re finally looking into neurodiversity and how we can support different kinds of people with how their minds work. For that, we get demonised.

“All these buzzwords like ‘woke’ get thrown around. But what is so threatening about wanting to support each other?”

Culture war discussions also threaten minority rights, Toomey adds, describing the way that transgender and queer identities have been politicised as “disgusting”. Last year, Sunak told Conservative delegates in Manchester: “We shouldn’t get bullied into believing that people can be any sex they want to be. They can’t – a man is a man and a woman is a woman.”

“It’s so shocking. The weight of some of the statements that have been made, and the impact on on people’s lives is not considered… to have the prime minister, literally denouncing the existence of transgender people, it’s a safety issue,” Toomey says.

In this context, it’s all the more important for music to carve out spaces where young queer people can be themselves, she says.  

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“A lot of young people feel almost numb to politicians. The real action is going to have to come from the people. [We need to] safeguard our own communities, create spaces for grassroots action, because the government clearly doesn’t give a shit.”

Girli has embarked on a world headline tour. In May and June she will hit the UK and Europe, concluding at London’s iconic Heaven venue on 20 June. Check out the list of full shows and buy tickets here.

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