Shamir

Post-Everything Pop

Mar 10, 2016 Photography by RUVAN Issue # 56 - Best of 2015 - Father John Misty and Wolf Alice
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"Where's my Emmy?"that's how Shamir Bailey replies when I tell him that he appeared confident and in command during his appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Only 48 hours have passed since Shamir performed "On the Regular"the standout single from his full-length debut, Ratchetand he fears that his nerves leaked through his normally stoic façade. In truth, he was a bit stiff and inhibited during the performance, frequently turning his body away from the camera, then timidly laying his head on Colbert's shoulder during the show's sendoff. In a year in which the 20-year-old Las Vegas native has seemed uncommonly poised, had he finally stumbled at the very moment he was introducing himself to the world?

He shouldn't worry. Part cowbell-and-synth dance anthem, part autobiographical statement of intent, "On the Regular" is a singularly striking moment, the sort of track that would be career-defining for most artists. But as much as the song's winking boasts seem to suggest he envisioned the track as his way of introducing himself as a post-gender, post-race, post-genre pop star, Shamir had no such intentions. In fact, he didn't even like the song.

"I wrote that song for it to be thrown away," he laughs during a tour stop in Nashville. Originally a demo created by producer and Godmode label owner Nick Sylvester, the track was an afterthought that Shamir only worked on as a favor. "I didn't want to seem like I didn't try, so I rapped over it, thinking that no one would want to hear me rap and that it would be ridiculous. And I sent it back to my producer, and for some reason he loved it. We sent it to the label [XL], and for some reason they loved it and decided it should be the first single," he laughs. "And for some reason people love it."

For an artist who was just performing his first solo shows a little over a year ago, Shamir seems genuinely taken aback by the all of the attention. Due to the uniquely androgynous quality of his voice, he doubted that anyone would "be able to stomach" his music. As a result, he has approached his work with a sort of freewheeling openness that has allowed him to do whatever he pleases, from his early (and still unreleased) experiments with country music to his punk rock band, Anorexia. If Shamir seems unimpressed with himself, it's likely that he's unwilling to commit to the idea that any albumet alone a songcould define him.

"I'm just a singer/songwriter, and I put most of my focus on melody and lyrics," he says. "As long as that's doing its job, then everything else is an experiment in whatever is going to be good. I'm just not precious about my songs. I'm not trying to make the most perfect song; I'm trying to make the most honest and real song. I think that's where a lot of musicians get lost. They want it to be technically perfect. I want to make sure that I relate to my music so other people relate to my music."

[Note: This article first appeared in Under the Radar's Best of 2015 print issue, which is still on newsstands now. This is its debut online.]

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