Interviews

Sir Babygirl is the Queer “DIY Pop Diva” You Should be Following

October 26, 2018

Sir Babygirl was known as a memer, then her single “Heels” changed everything. Lizzi Sandell talks to the up-and-coming musician about flirting with girls, world-building, and her upcoming album Crush On Me.

Sir Babygirl is the moniker of bisexual, nonbinary* musician Kelsie Hogue, whose upcoming album Crush On Me is a revelation. Its first two singles, the transformative, danceable, and deceptively melancholy “Heels,” and the gutsy, lyrical, girl-on-girl lust song “Flirting With Her,” have introduced us to Sir Babygirl’s sonic landscape, but many have been familiar with her world for some time. Before moving to Brooklyn in September, Sir Babygirl was known for her memes, which she created from her family home in New Hampshire, with the support of her family and her beloved pug Baby Diva (RIP). That’s how I got to know her: through the scratchy aesthetic of her memes –inspired by nineties cartoons, noughties starlets, and contemporary internet culture, on subjects like biphobia, astrology, and pegging.

We met in Bushwick, at a café that has the New York distinction of having genuinely friendly staff. With bold colors and an atmosphere of charming chaos, it seemed like a good place to transition my online relationship with Hogue into an IRL one. I have had “Heels” and “Flirting With Her” on repeat for weeks now, their hooks often nestling in my head like a family of bisexual earworms. I tell her about my surprise, after following her memes, that her music is so good. We’ve all been there: You’re following a #dogofinstagram but you keep seeing pictures of the owner sans animal; the cool girl you follow for her anti-aesthetic suddenly has a Kickstarter campaign—someone stops being one-dimensional and ruins all the fun, basically. It comes off like shade when I say it, but Hogue gets it. “Everyone is famous now so I think it can be very hard to take someone seriously when they’re a memer who is trying to offer you a song. The chances that it’s gonna be good are pretty slim.”

But it is good. Very. “Heels” tumbled out and changed everything. I don’t know how to qualify this, but something about the songindeed, the entire albumseems self-actualized in a way that makes me feel like it was waiting to exist. And in a way, it was. In 2016, Hogue, who had always harbored musical ambitions, gave up on singing due to vocal nodes, and moved to Chicago to pursue stand-up comedy instead, “as a quarter-life crisis thing…a funeral for my musical hopes and dreams.” But her heart wasn’t in it. When she got fired from her spy-themed restaurant job (lol), she had a #relatable moment of “cathartic crying.” “[I thought:] I don’t know how to date anyone, I don’t know how to do a dumb job, I’m an idiot, I’m not doing anything I love. So I very meditatively sat down and wrote ‘Heels.’”

Cue the move back to New Hampshire, at the urging of her (prescient) “Bitcoin bro” brother, who had also been fired and whom she describes as a “beautiful, beautiful ally.” He is an internet-to-IRL success story too, having figured out cryptocurrency early through Reddit, and is now a crypto advisor in Vegas. “My family is very supportive of circus freaks,” says Hogue. Both are the type of personality that has to carve their own way, and Hogue’s brother is crucial to her story–his support led not only to the creation of the album but also to a revelation about her gender. “He was a very important part of me figuring out my own nonbinary identity. I’ve always felt that I was in tune with my brother in a way I couldn’t articulate until I found out about nonbinary identity and realized I felt like I was his brother as well as his sister. And he’s been very cool about that and there seems to be an intrinsic understanding of my gender.”

While writing the album at home, memes became a more instant creative outlet, as well as a way to gain a following. “I started making memes because I had gone to the Women’s March and was kind of depressed by it. So I made some meme about it not being totally inclusive and people got kinda angry about it and I was like ‘OK, maybe I’m onto something.’” @sir_babygirl soon became Insta-famous, to me and a few thousand others, for HQ meme content about being bisexual and nonbinary, placing both identities rightfully at the center of queer/sapphic identity and approaching the subjects with a cheeky immediacy too often missing from high-minded online discourse. “I remember making my very first overtly bisexual meme and being so freaked out. And then people were like ‘Oh shit, this is me,’ and not to be that person but I truly didn’t think that people felt that way. It truly blew my mind. It also helped me flesh out my own views and connect with other bi people on the internet.”

This was a validating experience, particularly having come from the gay-drought environment of Boston University’s “not queer-friendly” acting program, where she did her degree and “was never really recognized as queer—even when I was out, like, no one cared,” and sleepy Hanover, New Hampshire, which Hogue describes as “truly a [gay] desert.” This change—from erasure and isolation to visibility and community—is reflected IRL in Hogue’s recent move to Brooklyn. “It’s jarring to be around actual visible queer people all the time. It’s like gay Disneyland,” she says, and I can’t help but feel as though the queer universe Hogue has been creating online for the last few years is beginning to become a reality. “I realized that [my Instagram] became a vision/mood board. The act of truly fleshing out a world and having people feel like they are stepping into something—how do you facilitate that? Especially in the internet age? That’s endlessly fascinating to me.”

My first time listening to her music felt exactly like that: stepping into Sir Babygirl’s world. Crush On Me is its own gay Disneyland, if you will, upbeat but underscored by darkness. “Heels” didn’t just extend the world, it is the world in microcosm—bright, idiosyncratic, and all-encompassing. “Flirting With Her” is a riotous sapphic anthem, endearing and exhilarating with earnest lyrics like, “I don’t think I’ll ever get over her hips or ever feel like anything else exists when she texts me, ‘Hey.’” Upcoming single, “Haunted House” (the album’s Haunted Mansion ride, if we can extend the Disneyland metaphor one step too far) is thrilling in its despair, overwhelmingly dark but somehow immensely likable. Singing along to lyrics like, “I can’t wait, I can’t wait to lose all my friends in one night, I can’t wait, I can’t wait to ruin the rest of my life” feels perversely gleeful. And powerful.

Sir Babygirl’s influences are complex. By her own admission, she was “one of those little bastards who was always just in my room teaching myself music all the time. Total high school virgin. In my room, Friday night, learning Vanessa Carlton on the piano.” She has a background in musical theatre, which she affectionately calls “the most disturbing subcategory of entertainment.” After telling a story about trying to be incognito as a drama student in Boston’s cool basement music scene, she confesses, “I know I still totally read as a theatre school kid and I have to own that.” It is half true; at one point, when answering a question, she asks me if I want her to give me “the arc” of the story, at another point she pretends to do a TEDTalk with invisible slides when she thinks she’s been talking too long, and at another, when discussing performing, she says, “I love confrontation. I think it’s a lost art,” which sounds as intense as it is charming. There was also an extended joke about how she would achieve her EGOT…

This theatrical humor is reflected in her work, which is an incorporation of the things she liked about stand-up comedy without the “emotional expectation to laugh” that “sucks for everyone.” There is also more than a hint of bubblegum, inspired by her love of the PC music moment. She tells me to listen to “When I Rule the World” by Liz, which she describes as “like a sequel to ‘Barbie Girl.’” She often uses the phrase “intense pop music,” which I love because it sounds almost like a contradiction in terms but it sums up very well what she and artists she admires are making now. “When Charli XCX released the Vroom Vroom EP, that was a life-changing moment for me. And when Grimes came out with Art Angels it was like, all of a sudden all these brilliant women were coming out with this intense pop music.”

Grimes and Charli XCX both cite quintessential late-90s, early-00s pop artists, generally treated with intellectual disdain, as influences—Mariah Carey, Britney Spears, the Spice Girls, and even Paris Hilton of “Stars Are Blind” prestige. Sir Babygirl follows in this vein, connecting with the mood of this time period authentically, and seeming to see it clearly despite having only just lived through it.

“I think the 2000s was such a brilliant time. I think there was such a sense of humor. When you watch the visuals from that time—because music videos were at their fucking height then—Britney music videos, *NSYNC music videos, they’re so cartoonish and truly unconcerned with being cool. In a fucking beautiful way. And they’re world-building. And beautifully feminine, for both the boys and the girls. It felt like a very brash femininity that both boy bands and girl bands could be a part of.”

Sir Babygirl exists somewhere in between the irony vacuum that was noughties pop music and the (to me, an elder millennial head on younger millennial shoulders) prohibitive irony of something like PC. Among the mash-up of musical influences, internet aesthetics, and unconventional lyrics, there is sincerity; the line in “Heels,” “I know it’s hard when you think you’re the only target” is infinitely touching to me. On Crush On Me, “Cheerleader,” a potentially even gayer song than “Flirting With Her,” despite being an elaborate and presumably fictional conceit about a naughty high school sex scandal, tongue firmly in cheek, is ecstatic in its treatment of lesbian romance, crescendoing with a cheer of “be aggressive, be, be, aggressive.”

“I like playing with the idea that Sir Babygirl is kind of a cartoon version of myself,” says Hogue, who describes herself as a “DIY pop diva.” The stage name speaks to a feminine/masculine dichotomy, a boldness and a softness that is embodied in Hogue’s appearance, which is always flirty and colorful, alternating between Disney princess/slumber party femme to Sam-from-Clarissa-Explains-It-All-at-a-Barbecue futch. She signed with Father/Daughter Records in April, and her album is due to be released on February 15th next year. She has a tour to plan (“I’m on business calls telling people, ‘I want my dancers to be eating sandwiches’ and they’re like, ‘For sure.’”) and some pre-tour gigs lined up at Baby’s All Right in Williamsburg, including one on 11/26. Listen to her music here and follow her here. Hogue knows what she’s doing. She is also being herself. Watch this (cyber)space.  

*Hogue uses she/he/they but has chosen “she” for Sir Babygirl press

Lizzi Sandell is a writer/editor from London who lives in NYC.

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