The inspirations of the album
When Shamir Bailey first broke through his 2015 debut album Ratchet, the only thing he felt people reacted to was his gender identity — not so much the music. Barely out of his teens, Bailey was crafting futuristic, purely unclassifiable pop music that flourished in many other genres: hip-hop, disco, punk. But commentators – and also journalists – tended to focus on his ultra-flamboyant style, his countertenor voice, the fact that he was a “post-gender androgynous angel of a millennial”, as the Guardian called him that year.
“I think there’s been so much trauma around me talking explicitly about my identity,” Bailey said over the phone from his home in Philadelphia. “Because at the very beginning of my career, I was at the point of feeling like I was being taken advantage of. Ratchet was not at all about my homosexuality. It was about growing up. It was about adolescence. So it was also even more frustrating because it was just like, ‘Y’all, the music isn’t even about that, like stop.’
“But it was just a sign at the time,” he concludes. “As I like to say, we live in a post-Lil Nas X world.”
Today, the Las Vegas native has repeatedly reinvented himself, releasing seven more albums since Ratchet, leaving the label that put him on the map, and forming his own incubator for new artists: Accidental Popstar records. One of the aforementioned albums is the next heterosexuality (out 2/11 via AntiFragile Music), which finds Bailey addressing her gender and sexual identity with more honesty than ever. “I think I almost feel like a level of anonymity in the sense that there’s a lot of explicitly queer art,” he says. “And I think that turned out to be the point that I can now plant elements of my homosexuality in this explicit way, without it being the focus of the art.”
Teaming up with Isaac Eiger of Strange Ranger, who performs as Hollow Comet, Bailey began work on heterosexuality shortly after the release of his self-titled 2020 album. “I was so deeply inspired by his sound because it was just a sound that I felt like I was dreaming about,” adds Bailey. “I’ve heard in my head for the past two years, but I just couldn’t get it myself or find anyone who did.” The resulting work is a heady blast of 90s rock and pop, with an industrial edge edge. Singles like the washed-out “Cisgender” are demanding acceptance in a label-driven world. “I’m not cisgender,” he croons, adding, “I’m not binary trans/ I don’t wanna be a girl/ I don’t wanna be a man/ I just exist in this abandoned earth/ And you can take it or leave it. On the rocktronica ballad “Gay Agenda,” Bailey chastises a former partner for asking him to tone down his colorful style: “You’re just stuck in the box that was made for me/ And you mad that I walked out and I ‘I live free.
Although the album is written from a unique point of view, Bailey argues that “everything on this record is still universal. I think you could be cis and relate to ‘cisgender,’ because it’s not about not just about trans-ness. It’s about not feeling defined by the boxes you were meant to be put in. New single “Caught Up,” out today, exemplifies the album’s relatable qualities. “I know you’re losing your mind/And the guilt kills you/Though I win, I still feel disappointed with my luck.”
Below, Bailey opens up more about heterosexuality and delves into his myriad of influences, from Canadian punk-rock icon Bif Naked to “messy” Frenemies podcasting, and more.
I’m almost moved thinking of Bif Naked. Oh my God, I love him so much. And I just gush about her every time I get an interview and she follows me on Twitter and she’s like a cheerleader now to me at this point, basically.
I didn’t know her at all until 2017, 2018. I immediately loved everything about her because I love pop rock and I especially like 90s pop rock and early pop rock 2000s. Basically, I’ll say she was one of my biggest influences on the guitar-based phase of my career. I would say to [2017’s] Revelations where I started to really dive more into my 90s zone.
When we started this project, I think one of the first things Isaac and I did was send each other inspirational playlists. The first track on mine was “Spaceman” by Bif Naked. And Isaac, the American that he is, was unfamiliar. And he was just freaking out about it. That’s how I knew we were going to work well together, because he was the first person to literally freak out to the level where I freaked out when I first heard Bif Naked. And so I was like, “Oh, this is going to be good. It’s going to be good.”
It’s such a sad movie. The director, Gregg Araki. Love it. It’s a bit more, at least at this time, of art cinema type vibes. He has always been a source of inspiration in this sense. I love that movie. He also did White bird in a blizzard. It was a bit more of his more modern with Shailene Woodley, I think. But I love his 90s stuff. He had this trilogy and I think the last part of the trilogy was this movie called Nowhere. And that was just one of my absolute favorite movies, period. I love the aesthetics and everything.
While we were demoing, it was 2020. No one saw each other. That was still before the vaccinations and everything. Basically, I was just writing stuff and sending it to Isaac, and then he was building stuff around that at his own pace. He had just seen mysterious skin and he asked me if I had seen him and I was like, “Yeah, well.” And a big inspiration for its production was the film’s soundtrack. Kind of the very, shoegaze-y, washed-out vibes of the soundtrack. I think there’s like Cocteau Twins and Slowdive and all that there.