Girli, the teenage punk rapper-slash-pop star who is being tipped as one of 2017’s most intriguing musical talents, may be jetting off to Los Angeles hours after I call her up, but she’s still paranoid about losing her passport. The 19-year-old, who is known to her parents as Millie Toomey, has spent the past year in a whirlwind, blending turning 18 and A Levels with becoming the new Lily Allen, while spending the summer living in a flat by herself.
It’s the kind of life many teenage girls dream of. But it’s one that’s even more remarkable considering that Millie spent her first years of secondary school dealing with bullies and waiting for her period to turn up, venting her anger by organising awareness against sexual harassment and, at 13, speaking in the Houses of Parliament – “wearing an untucked shirt thinking I was the coolest person ever”.
Both of Toomey’s parents were actors, so performing was always on the cards. But she only turned to music at 15 after becoming fed up of “never actually changing anything” as an elected member of Youth Parliament for Camden, north London, where she grew up. “I thought, that’s not the best way to change things. I remember going to school and everyone was like, ‘There’s that goodie-two-shoes who’s always telling everyone what to do. I was like, ‘You know what, I’m going to prove you all wrong.’” So she formed a girl band.
When her bandmates decided to concentrate on going to university, Millie, then 16, decided to keep making music by herself. Her first effort? “A song made by sampling the sound of Japanese girls shouting at someone.” From here came Girli: the hyper-pink, provocative, unashamedly bolshy and completely, fiercely feminist alter-ego, which won her a record deal within a matter of months.
I spoke to Girli about about school, periods and becoming a pop star.
Going from a youth politician to a pop star sounds like something out of a teen movie we’d want to see. How did that happen?
“I realised that it wasn’t the best way to change things. I was 15 and I’d been doing politics for ages and I had a teen realisation where I was like, actually, “Everyone’s against me”. I always felt like I was on the side of teachers and politicians, because I thought they were there for me. But they weren’t there for me, they’re there for themselves, and it got me really angry. I started hating politicians and everything they stood for.
I started really hating school at that point because I felt like there were a lot of people who didn’t get what I was about and a lot of things were changing and I thought, no. I wanted to be able to go somewhere after school and just rock out. I started making music with my band and I cut all my hair off as a rebellion. It was an outlet.”
How did you form a band?
“I got together a band from joinmyband.com, the dodgiest thing ever. Luckily I didn’t get any dodgy ones, but found these three girls and we played indie rock punk. It was really rubbish but it was fun. The girls left me to go to uni, they didn’t think the band was going to go anywhere. I still maintain that we could have headlined the O2 one day, but whatever.
Then I started making songs on my computer and messing around on my own and Girli was born. I think it must have been two years ago now. A few months later I got label interest. I was playing loads of gigs and I was going to loads of networking events and stuff, desperately trying to get a manager. And I met this guy who had been a rapper, he was a rookie manager and he started managing me, which was a bit of a disaster really, because he was super young as well and it was kind of messing around. Then I got a new manager who knew what he was doing a little more and started putting out more music on my own and the label got involved.”
I had a lot of fun at your Camden show – whose idea was it to string tampons from the ceiling?
“That was such a fun gig, everyone was so up for everything. I threw a Donald Trump pinata at them and they were so up for it! I always like to involve sanitary products in my shows. I used to chuck them out at the crowd. I think people think I do it to shock, and really I just do it because I don’t think that tampons or periods should be something that’s taboo. It’s just something that comes with being a woman. I feel like if I string tampons up at my show it’ll help people be like, “oh, tampons – whatever.””
So, tell us about your first period…
“I remember being really upset because I was really late in having my period. Obviously now I’m like, “huh! Upset! Could have gone a few more years without bothering with it!” But I remember all of my friends and all of the girls in my class were like, “oh my god, period talk”, and I had to be like, “yeah, totally, LOL”, when I had no idea what was going on. I felt like such a baby.
I had just turned 15 and I got my period at home. It wasn’t a messy story: I went to the loo and was like, “oh, blood!” And I remember walking out and my dad was standing outside and the first thing I said to him was, “Dad, I’m a woman now”. And he just looked at me and said, “no, you’re not.”
My mum was a legend, she was prepared. She was like, “Here are some I had earlier,” and revealed a whole cupboard of sanitary products.”
Do you have a period craving?
“To be honest, it’s just a craving for everything. I just eat like a horse when I’m on my period. But in general, chocolate is always the go-to. Chocolate all day, every day.”
Can you tell when it’s coming?
“I just start to feel a bit heavy and sluggish and I sync with all of my female friends. Whenever it’s coming, we’ll text and say, “I feel like my period’s coming along”, and as soon as someone says that we’ll jinx it and we all just get out periods like 10 minutes later.”
What about period pains?
“I don’t get terrible pains but I do get bad mood swings. I got my period on my birthday, which was like, two days ago, and I was like, “are you f***ing kidding me?” Because obviously it’s your birthday and you’re meant to be in a good mood, and I was just being really pissy to my mum.”
One of your best new songs is dedicated to your sister, and has loads of lovely advice in it. Would you give yourself the same tips if you could?
“If I could look back, I’d just say to chill out. Because I worried way too much, I still do. But I think that’s the thing that gets most teenagers, you just worry so much about the future, like, “do I have to decide who I want to be now?” or “should I feel a certain way?” and being 13-15 is sometimes really rubbish and that’s just a normal natural growing up and getting used to your own skin and finding your people. It’s so normal.”
“My sister is having a tough time at school, and so did I – I got bullied at school and hated school a lot of the time – and that’s why I did well at exams, because I just decided to study and get away from it all. Then I started the band. Just pushing through and remembering that on the other side you’re going to have a great life. That’s the most important thing.”
Bullying sucks big time. What was your experience of it like?
“The move from primary to secondary really stressed me out. I was so anxious. I had to go to therapy and I really wasn’t a very happy kid, and there was a group of girls who just preyed on me like demons. I would come to school and everything I did or say they would comment, they’d try to trip me up and it was constant, there was no escape. Now, I look back and I think, I’m actually doing stuff with my life and I have really good people around me and I have no idea where they are. I think being tormented like that, it made me want to weird people out even more!”
What’s the most embarrassing thing that happened to you at school?
“I was about 12 and this boy asked me to go to the Year 6 prom. And I’d literally never been asked by a boy to go to anything, and I was like, “Yeah, sick!” Then this other boy, who I’d had a crush on for ages, like years, asked me as well. And being 12-year-old, savage me, I was like, “well yeah, this is a better offer”. So I went back to the first guy and was like, sorry mate. Then he was like, “you bitch!”. The guy who I’d fancied for ages found out and came up to me and said, “Oh, you’re a dick” and took away his offer.
And I ended up going on my own. Which was actually great.”
Girli’s new single, Girl I Met on the Internet, is out now.