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Revisit MD Featured Artist: Shygirl, Boundary Breaker

While the granular subgenre labels on any side of the music industry are slippery, nowhere are they more elusive than in the realm of electronic music. Where does house end and trance begin? Where does industrial music stop and give way to a subsection of hip hop? You’ll end up frustrated tackling any of those questions, but especially in the work of Shygirl, the London-based producer/DJ extraordinaire who has continually changed shape over an incredibly impressive run of EPs and albums.

Debut EPs Display The Many Sides of Shygirl

If the name Sega Bodega holds any weight with you, it goes a long way in illustrating the long list of Shygirl’s influences. A close collaborator and co-head of their Nuxxe label, the hyper-pop affiliate played no small part in her rise to fame. Bodega produced her debut single, “Want More,” a noxious blend of trance and UK grime that featured heavily processed, almost spoken word vocals over top. It’s impossible to hear the song and not instantly transport to some smoke-filled basement club scene, severe in its repetition and rhythm. That same atmosphere would hold constant in her first EP, Cruel Practice, which also featured the same heavy dose of Sega Bodega, but introduced another key character, the late great Sophie.

As her catalog began to develop, what Shygirl put forth on Alias, her 2020 follow-up EP, exemplified the myriad lanes she can occupy at any given time. “TASTY” is perfectly accessible, a look back at early 2000s electro-pop with a breakbeat update and of course trademark processed vocal lines over top. On the other hand, “FREAK” is entirely mechanical, overlapping multiple harsh synth lines under the reverb tail of the lyric “on the bed, on the floor” as it builds to a true techno drop. As one last example “SLIME,” the biggest record from Alias, exudes confidence, sauntering bass underlying the refrain of “She’s for the streets, b****” that at one point gives way to two bars of literal growling.

Taken from @0800shygirl on Instagram.

Nymph, A Culmination of the Singer/Producer’s Varied Work

In the interim, as Shygirl built to her debut album, some notable names began to take notice of what she had accomplished. Chief among those was Rihanna, on multiple occasions using the London producer’s music as a backdrop for her Fenty Beauty ads. That star power continued in kind, at least musically, once Nymph was eventually released. The liner notes are a true “who’s who” of the pop underground, bringing together Mura Masa, PC Music’s Danny L Harle, Vegyn and, of course, Sega Bodega for ancillary roles. As with all of her releases, though, Shygirl held onto executive and final control. Her production ensured an incredibly cohesive run through all of her past endeavors despite the varied cast and soundscapes.

“Woe,” the opener, is a great tone-setter in that regard. It’s equally split between a dream-like, ethereal alt-pop ballad and grimy trap that pitches her vocals so far down that you might start looking for a feature credited on the song. More broadly speaking, Nymph finds Shygirl at her most fully realized, unafraid to frontline complex questions of sexuality and romance in every package imaginable. Though her previous efforts had plenty of acclaim, her debut album set a new high water mark, soundly commended by nearly every publication that covered it.

Club Shy EP Heralds a Return to House for Shygirl

Given the constant throughline of experimentation in Shygirl’s discography thus far, you wouldn’t be out of place to assume that even stranger and bolder shores awaited her in 2024. But at least in the early goings, singles like “Tell Me” indicate her intentions to reside in more accessible waters. Indeed, the four-on-the-floor house DNA of that single was followed up by the announcement of the Club Shy EP, a further exploration of that territory available now as you’re reading this. Though we may often make this claim, her back catalog is a trip worth taking after you finish that project—you can find all the music mentioned here wherever you stream your music.

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