Featured in
Issue 224

Shygirl: How to Write a Love Song

The ‘Cleo’ singer shares how she uses music to lift herself out of heartbreak

BY Khuroum Ali Bukhari AND Shygirl in Columnists | 04 FEB 22

It’s always the bad boys who make the best lovers. They know what they’re doing. I like going on rollercoasters, so why wouldn’t I want the same feeling in my romantic life? There are so many things I cheat myself out of and, sometimes, with a bad boy, I get a little bit of the masochism I need in my life. My newest track, ‘Cleo’ (2021), is a love song that I wrote when I was in a more balanced relationship. We met in the same place and both desired each other. I truly felt loved in the way I wanted to be loved. I didn’t consciously start writing: it just popped into my head; I was in a place where it came naturally. It’s about how it feels when someone looks at you and there’s no one else in the world. You’re caught in the gaze of someone’s love and falling into it but, at the same time, remembering who you are while moving away from that to be freely vulnerable. It’s as if you’re letting go of what you knew as well as your independence so you can be swallowed up by love: how consuming that can feel, and how nice being consumed like that is.

The song is titled ‘Cleo’ because, in my mind, I had this image of Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra in the 1963 film. My song analogises falling into a role or seeing love as a role we play in life. Before writing that song, I probably didn’t have the words to contextualise how I was feeling. The song revealed to me everything I was experiencing unconsciously, and how I relate that to the images of the characters I’ve absorbed throughout my life, as well as the portrayal of love and relationships in television and film. The song is also my social and cultural reading of Taylor and her co-star Richard Burton as Antony and Cleopatra, and where they’re placed in the hierarchy of great loves. At the time, I didn’t think mine would be the greatest love of my life. I knew it was finite. That’s why I enjoyed it more – it was a way to feel the intensity of the moment and to understand it may be fleeting.

Shygirl 2021 Trinity Ellis
Shygirl, 2021. Courtesy and photograph: © Trinity Ellis

The lyrics of the song are almost reductive: ‘You got me feeling like a movie star / All eyes on me.’ It’s about becoming that starlet, acknowledging that I’m going to be in the spotlight of your gaze and relinquish myself to it. But it’s also make-believe, because I can’t fully surrender – just as an actor isn’t really the character they play. I’ve been in love, but it hasn’t always been reciprocated on the same level, especially when I’m infatuated and aware of the imbalance.

We broke up amicably. I don’t think anything lasts forever, and I don’t necessarily want it to: I’m on my own journey and I want to experience people. I’m so inspired by my relationships that to think I would only have one in my life would be daunting for me. Every time I meet someone new – not necessarily romantically – they inspire me to look at myself and the world differently. I always want to leave space to be inspired that way.

I’m always in love. I love hard and fast. I’m in and out of it quite quickly, but I’m always in love. I’m always thinking about someone or I’m in love with myself. That’s a constant state for me. My music tries to lift me out of heartbreak.

This article first appeared in frieze issue 224 with the headline ‘Better Lovers’.

Main image: Shygirl, 2021. Courtesy and photograph: © Trinity Ellis

Khuroum Ali Bukhari is a writer and playwright based in London, UK. 

Blane Muise, better known as Shygirl, is an English rapper, DJ, singer, songwriter and co-head/founder of record label and collective NUXXE