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Sir Babygirl On Her Brand Of Surrealist Pop, Covering Kesha & "Being A Little Elf Playing Flute In The F**kin' Forest"

Sir Babygirl

Photo courtesy of Father/Daughter Records

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Sir Babygirl On Her Brand Of Surrealist Pop, Covering Kesha & "Being A Little Elf Playing Flute In The F**kin' Forest"

The Brooklyn performer talks to the Recording Academy about her busy 2019, the bonus songs on 'BICONIC' and the struggles and emotional triumphs of learning to become a queer pop diva on her own terms

GRAMMYs/Oct 30, 2019 - 09:42 pm

There's a lot that goes into being a D.I.Y. pop prince(ss), and Kelsie Hogue would know. The 27-year-old Brooklyn resident and New Hampshire native writes, performs and produces cartoonishly exuberant bubblegum pop under the name Sir Babygirl. After studying musical theatre in college, spending time as an absurdist stand-up comic and playing in numerous rock bands in her early 20s, Hogue developed an unusually multifaceted understanding of creative expression. All of those disciplines, and her love for both Britney Spears and My Chemical Romance, can be heard leaping and bounding throughout her debut album, Crush On Me, which was released back in February of this year via San Francisco indie Father/Daughter Records

In the time since its release, Sir Babygirl has been covered in nearly every major music publication, lauded as a must-see act at this year’s SXSW, featured as a main stage act at L.A. Pride, and sold out both of the headlining shows she played in New York. However, with no major label backing or external income source, Hogue's journey to pop stardom is being entirely carried out on a D.I.Y. budget. "I want to be able to make it to the big leagues and I believe that I can because I have what I call a healthy delusion," she says with a confident chuckle while calling from her home in Brooklyn. "I'm basically trying to instill what I imagine pop stars do within a budget in my control." 

Flamboyant costumes, backup dancers, colorful makeup and unparalleled energy are all central to the Sir Babygirl performance, and Hogue recently completed the first leg of her first-ever headlining tour—which was just her and her tour manager Flynn Hannon out on the road together. "I've done some headlining dates but that was the first tour so I have nothing to compare it to and it’s a very isolating industry so I don’t really know what other people's first tours are like," she says. "So I have absolutely nothing to go off of, which is essentially how this industry works: you have nothing to go off of every step of the way and you're just stabbing in the dark and hoping that your gut is the superior gut."

On Nov. 8, Sir Babygirl will be releasing Crush On Me: BICONIC Edition, a remastered version of the record that also features a cover of Kesha's "Praying" and a bombastic acoustic rendition of her song "Pink Lite." In advance of that, we talked to the generously transparent Hogue about her busy 2019, the bonus songs on BICONIC, and the struggles and emotional triumphs of learning to become a queer pop diva on her own terms. Our conversation has been condensed for clarity. 

A lot has happened with Sir Babygirl in 2019. What are some of your most memorable moments since Crush On Me came out back in February? 

I made Rolling Stone print, that’s fking insane to me. I got to play L.A. Pride, the main stage, which was crazy. I sold out both headlining shows I did in New York. There's just been some really cool milestones that are kind of shocking when I actually say them out loud. Because when you’re inside of it you’re just trying to fucking hussle to fking get the job done. I think what’s so cool about the fact that I've been able to tour is that that’s been the most concrete, like, "Okay, we're all present here, there are real human beings in the room showing up for me. It's not just likes on an Instagram post. I'm living, breathing with these people. 

I was so taken aback at the support that I got on this tour. The size of the rooms changed every night. I had some packed rooms I had some fkin’ ten people in a room, but the dedication and the energy was so intense at every show. At one of my smallest shows in Raleigh, there were probably like 15 people there but almost everyone that was there at the end came up to me and was like, "We drove two hours to see you. We've been waiting for this for months." And it was random queers in the South who were from little towns that nothing ever comes through.

So it's very exciting to be able to have these rooms where it is really the queer people are centered but there's also straight people there supporting. That's my whole point: I'm trying to be accessible. I'm not trying to create an underground closed-off space where it's just the queerest of the queer people. I don’t believe in queer elitism or separatism; I'm really into inclusivity and accessiblity and so I just want anyone to be able to, at the end of the day, come and shed a little bit of their snakeskin from the day that they had to use to protect themselves and be able to relax into it and have a fking good time. 

Beyond being a space for queer people to congregate, your live performance is a pretty spectacular thing to witness. For someone who hasn’t seen you, describe what a Sir Babygirl show consists of. 

Well, rule number one is that it's never the same. I am a student of the element of surprise and I call it controlled chaos. It’s not like GG Allin where you go and you're literally not safe. I want it to be exciting, not scary. You don't know what’s gonna happen next but whatever happens next is gonna be a fun surprise, not "I'm gonna kill you." [Laughs.] I do a lot of live banter where I'm very, very interactive with the audience. But I think I really work to gain trust with that.

So at my shows I feel like I lose my mind on stage to allow other people permission to lose their minds in the audience. There’s a lot of different D.I.Y. costume changes, you might see a strap, you might see a guest DJ. I like to bring on my friends to DJ for me who have no DJ experience and just let them go off on my Ableton. I love to have dancers that aren't actually dancers. . .So it’s kind of a big circus, it’s a fking gay circus and I’m the carnival barker and I’m just kind of gonna dominate you for 45 minutes and you're gonna love it. Or you're gonna hate it and that’s fking cool, too, at least I got a reaction out of you. 

You mentioned the strap, which I see all of the time on your social media posts. When and why did you start bringing that on as part of your costume? Does it represent something to you or relate to your music in any way, or is it merely for the shock value or the silliness? 

The thing is, to me it’s not shocking. I’m kind of trying to play a little game with you all. This is my whole big comparison. Britney Spears 2001 VMAs walks on with a Python, a very phallic symbol; she’s gyrating with it. What is so different and shocking compared to that and me wearing a harness around my pelvis that intimates the fact that I’m going to fk someone? It’s just that it’s gay and hence "subculture," hence "not the norm." And my kind of mission is to just fkin' bring that queerness into the mainstream and just normalize it. 

And also yeah the humor is intended where it’s like, yeah it’s fking funny. I'm wearing this fking strap. Because there is this level of intimacy that I really have with the audience where I want to poke fun at in that literal way where it’s like, "Yes, you are in the bedroom with me. We are in the bedroom together." And not in sexual way but you’re seeing me in this really intimate, vulnerable space, but at the same time the strap is so cool because it’s intimate but it's fking power. Because it's like, "I’m gonna fk you." 

I know you have a pretty rich history and a background in musical theatre, so you've been performing on stages for a long time. But I'm wondering what you've learned about yourself as a performer since you started touring regularly as a pop musician? 

The level of stamina it takes to be a pop artist is, to me, unparalleled. I had respect for pop artists, obviously a deep reverence, which is why I got into it. But I could truly spend days and fill novels about it: I am shocked at the level of stamina it takes, the level of health you need to be in. It’s very expensive to be healthy and to be in the level of shape that you need to be. And I don’t mean shape as in fit, I mean shape as in functioning health. So I think that's been a big thing for me. I deal with a lot of chronic health issues and it is a trip.

I feel like I have really good vocal health, I started taking vocal lessons when I was 14. So I have been studying the voice for 13 years and I would say that it is my strongest instrument and I play a lot of instruments and have been playing instruments since I was nine, and it is the most challenging, vulnerable, easy to damage instrument that exists. It's the only instrument that can be past the point of repair. And we’re in this industry where we don’t really take vocals seriously as an instrument. We kind of act like it's this accidental thing like, "Oh, someone can just randomly belt and you should be able to do that like the Energizer Bunny every single day."

There's a lot of things that take stamina. Like knowing how to deal with sound dudes, and knowing how to give a good set when the sound isn't working. The thing with tours is that it’s not a question of if everything is gonna go wrong, it's just what level of grace can you bring to the chaos? Its just kind of moving chaos. Like I said, I love controlled chaos and tour is uncontrolled chaos, and I am trying to bring this circus around the U.S. essentially and maintain my composure.

One of the new songs on Crush On Me: BICONIC Edition is your acoustic rendition of "Pink Lite." What I like about that song is even though it’s a very stripped-down version of the track, it actually sounds like you're singing harder and louder than you do on the full version of the song. Do you want your acoustic songs to be bangers as well? 

I've gotten a lot of comments that are deeply flattering in a very funny way where people will be at my show and be like, "Oh, I literally thought you were kind of a robot voice on the internet, I didn’t think that that was actually your real voice." And I’ve even gotten people at live shows before thinking I was lip-syncing and then I start ad-libbing and they realize that I’m not. I wanted to do the most stripped version possible to be like, yeah that's my voice, that’s how I sound. 

I'm very proud of my instrument and I've worked really fking hard. I worship vocals and I'm just so inspired by so many female vocalists that came before me and so to me, I just wanted to share that kind of passion and have people really hear the nuances of my voice with all the production stripped away. 

Another song on the reissue is your cover of Kesha's "Praying," which is an incredibly powerful and vulnerable song. What sort of relationship do you have with that song and why did you want to bring it into the Sir Babygirl universe? 

I think we're at a point where it should be pretty implicit that if you are someone who has been socialized as a girl—slash anyone—a lot of people have been assaulted, have been raped, have been sexually abused. It’s just a rampant systemic reality and I didn't really want to make it a big part of the campaign, I did not want to have to talk in interviews about my own trauma, I don't always love that marginalized people are there to be a spigot for their flowing trauma. But at the same point it just kind of got to this point where I was feeling so consistently retraumatized by experiences being in the music industry, and I have always related to Kesha. 

I experienced my sexual trauma when I was 19 and I wasn't able to even come to terms with approaching it until I was 25. And "Praying" came along when I was just starting to accept my trauma and I honestly there’s not a song I can relate to more. The way that she writes it, it’s just like holy sht. I can’t be really poetic or articulate about it, it just floored me when I heard it. I listened to it on loop and cried and was like, "Holy sht." That feeling of "I'm not alone" and someone specifically in the industry I want to be in has gone through this fking insane, horrific pain, and is going to experience it for the rest of their fking life.

I’ve always played that song at shows in and out and just in my room and it just got to this point where I was, like, “Fk it." I really want to do my own spin on it, it’s really cathartic for me to do. And I just wanted to put it out there that yeah, this album is deeply informed by my trauma and my recovery. But that's not the point of the album, it just exists. And so I kind of wanted to make it a clean, clear statement like yeah, the trauma exists. It’s there, I don’t want to talk about it all the time, but I want it to be understood and I want you to understand that this is a part of me. I don’t need to tell you the details of it for you to take it seriously, for you to believe it. 

I saw you perform that at South By Southwest and it was very moving to watch. What I find most striking about it is that it's a very serious song and you perform it in a very sobering way, but the songs in between that are very playful, theatrical and sometimes humorous.  Do you think by playing the song has opened up a different creative side of you that maybe you weren't tapping into?

I think I just wanted to carve out a little more nuance for myself. It's very hard for me to be fully serious, like ever. I would say humor is my biggest defense mechanism and biggest survival mechanism and it’s also a great thing and I love it and it does so much for me. I did want to give myself permission to take up that kind of space because I’m really afraid to. And maybe it doesn’t look like this from the outside but I can get very self-conscious about being really big and being huge on stage and being a clown is easy but being like, “No, you’re gonna fking stand here and listen to me go off about a serious fking thing," is so scary to me.

So yeah I like that challenge and right now I'm in the process of doing a lot of writing again and I'm just trying to not be so clever. Just understand that that’s just gonna exist cause I’m a little fkin' imp, I’m always gonna be a little elf playing flute in the fkin' forest pulling tricks on people. But that’s my whole thing, I just like the dichotomy. Let me be funny and sad. Just let it all be a joke and all be fking dead serious, and that’s what I'm really trying to get people to latch onto. They don't cancel each other out, it just deepens the world. 

L.A. Pride 2019: The Veronicas, Sir Babygirl & More Celebrate The LGBTQ+ Community

Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

Rotimi

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

Mumu Fresh On What She Learned From Working With The Roots, Rhyming & More

"GMA" Interview: Kesha Finds Hope With 'Rainbow'

Kesha

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

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"GMA" Interview: Kesha Finds Hope With 'Rainbow'

Singer/songwriter reveals the deep personal connection she has to her upcoming album, as well as what it was like to collaborate with Dolly Parton

GRAMMYs/Aug 10, 2017 - 12:39 am

Kesha's highly anticipated Rainbow is slated for release on Aug. 11. Ahead of the album, Kesha is spreading some light on the interview circuit, including a sit-down with "Good Morning America."

Kesha dished about how the album's title, Rainbow, symbolizes hope and represents a nod to the LGBTQ community. It doesn't hurt Kesha hearts rainbows — she has many rainbow tattoos.

To add to the dazzle of the record, Kesha collaborated with GRAMMY-winning country superstar Dolly Parton on a cover of her 1980 hit "Old Flames Can't Hold A Candle To You" and gushed about the experience.

"I'm still not over it," she said. "So I'm just going to tell everybody about it forever."

While on set, Kesha also gave a live performance of her current hit single, "Praying" She explained to host Robin Roberts that this track, in particular, represents going through hard times and coming out the other side in one piece.

"I think it's just really important because it talks about me personally going through something really hard, lots of very hard things, making it through, not giving up and finding empathy on the other side, which is incredibly hard sometimes."

For Kesha, the meat of this album comes from the deeply personal meaning behind every track, which she hopes, in turn, helps other people.

"I've written every song on this album, and they're all so personal," Kesha said. "I think this record is quite literally saving my life. And I hope you guys like it, and I hope you can hear it, and I hope it helps people."

Kesha, Arcade Fire, RAC: New Music You Need To Hear Now

2018 GRAMMYs: Who's Performing?

Cardi B

Photo: Thaddaeus McAdams/WireImage.com

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2018 GRAMMYs: Who's Performing?

Find out which of your favorite artists are performing on the 60th GRAMMY Awards on Sunday, Jan. 28

GRAMMYs/Jan 26, 2018 - 06:30 pm

The 60th GRAMMY Awards celebration in New York is quickly approaching. From rolling out the red carpet to tuning the guitars and adjusting the lights at Madison Square Garden, the Recording Academy is getting ready for the big milestone installment of Music's Biggest Night. But how about the performers?

Spanning multiple genres, including pop, rock, hip-hop, R&B, country, and more, this year's lineup of GRAMMY performers — many of them current nominees or past winners — will make for three-and-a-half hours of must-see television.

Without further ado, here is the list of performers for the 60th GRAMMYs.

Hosted by James Corden, the 60th GRAMMY Awards will take place at Madison Square Garden in New York on Jan. 28, airing live on CBS from 7:30–11 p.m. ET/4:30–8 p.m. PT.

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The Week In Music: March Madness

A field of 64 bands set to vie for ESPN's best rock band crown

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

March Madness is here, that captivating time of year when 68 teams set out on the Road to the Final Four in their quest for NCAA men's college basketball supremacy. This year's tournament is scheduled to get underway March 17, with brackets to be announced March 13. However, those wishing to take part in some early madness with a side of musical fun can get a head start with ESPN's Herd Rock Band Bracket, a 64-artist field devised by radio host Colin Cowherd to crown the best rock band. Formal ESPN analysis is still pending, but we'll chime in with a few first-round matchups to keep an eye on. Teen spirit and Kurt Cobain will face off against the head games of Mick Jones when Nirvana and Foreigner clash in the West: Seattle Region. It will be all pinball wizardry and anarchy when the Who and the Sex Pistols battle it out in the East: New York Region. Metal will look to bring the heat against '60s psychedelia as Metallica takes on Jefferson Airplane in the Midwest: Cleveland Region. And shred guitar prowess will duel angst-ridden prog rock as Van Halen and Tool duke it out in the Far East: London region. Upset alert: Though arguably a mismatch on paper, can Scott Stapp and the No. 16-seeded upstart Creed deliver a knockout blow to the Fab Four, the No. 1-seeded Beatles, in the Far East: London region? Fill out your brackets here. Rock's March Madness survivor will be crowned later this month.

The man who went against all odds, fronted Genesis and brought us pop gems such as "Sussudio" is calling it a career. Following an onslaught of speculation on the reasons behind his retirement, Phil Collins surfaced this week to clear the air with "breaking news" on his website. "I'm not stopping because of dodgy reviews or bad treatment in the press," said Collins. "I am stopping so I can be a full-time father to my two young sons on a daily basis." Collins did take the press to task for painting him as "a tormented weirdo…who feels very sorry for himself, and is retiring hurt because of the bad press over the years." An eight-time GRAMMY winner, Collins assured that his retirement decision was a no "straitjacket" required proposition.

If you're a musician with an appetite for rock-solid financial planning from someone who has been there, done that, you're in luck. Former Guns N' Roses bassist Duff McKagan is launching Meridian Rock, a wealth management firm designed to educate musicians about their finances. While McKagan made a name for himself in GNR and the GRAMMY-winning rock band Velvet Revolver, he now fronts his own project, Loaded, and is fully loaded when it comes to financial credibility. After making millions with Axl, Slash and friends, in the '90s McKagan took basic finance courses at Santa Monica Community College in Southern California, and later earned a degree in finance at Seattle University. What type of clients does he think his firm can help? All are welcome, especially those musicians who may be timid. "If they're anything like me when I was 30, they're too embarrassed to ask," said McKagan. "I didn't know what a stock was [or] what a bond was."

With possibly one too many guys trying to touch her junk, Ke$ha has launched a safe-sex campaign. You may file it under just say no way, but the party animal/cannibal has issued 10,000 Ke$ha condoms with her face on them, which will be fired from a canon into the audience at her live shows (fortunately, there's nothing symbolic about that method of distribution). With Ke$ha condoms and a bottle of jack, we should be ready to go until the police shut us down, down.

When's the last time you took a ride down the western country line on a train? Better yet, when's the last time you took that ride with three indie bands? This April, GRAMMY nominees Mumford & Sons will embark on a six-stop tour with Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros and Old Crow Medicine Show. Titled The Railroad Revival Tour, these three bands will take a ride on a 1,500-foot long train featuring 15 vintage railcars pulled by two locomotives and are set to travel more than 2,000 miles across five states. The tour kicks off April 21 in Oakland, Calif., with stops in San Pedro, Calif., (April 22), Chandler, Ariz., (April 23), Marfa, Texas, (April 24), Austin, Texas, (April 26), and New Orleans (April 27). Could the railcar be the new tour bus? With gas prices these days, we're not sure if that'd be less or more costly.

While Lady Gaga was born this way, up-and-coming artist Maria Aragon was just born…10 years ago. After uploading a video of her cover of Gaga's "Born This Way" to YouTube, Aragon was invited onstage to perform a duet with the Lead Monster herself during a March 3 concert in Toronto. "Maria represents what this song is all about," said Gaga before leading into the song. "It's all about the next generation and the future and no more divisiveness, only unity." Let's hope this is a story that inspires future generations of Little Monsters. Don't be a drag, just be a queen.

Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" is No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Jennifer Lopez's "On The Floor" (featuring Pitbull) is atop the iTunes singles chart.

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