Shamir On Gregg Araki, The Frenemies Podcast, & Other Inspirations For His New Album Heterosexuality

Shamir On Gregg Araki, The Frenemies Podcast, & Other Inspirations For His New Album Heterosexuality

When Shamir Bailey first broke out via his 2015 debut album Ratchet, the only thing he felt people responding to was his gender identity — not so much the music. Barely out of his teens, Bailey was crafting futuristic, purely unclassifiable pop music that splayed out into numerous other genres: hip-hop, disco, punk. But commenters — and also journalists — tended to fixate on his ultra-flamboyant style, his countertenor voice, his being a “post-gender, androgyne angel of a millennial,” as the Guardian called him that year.

“I think there has been so much trauma around me explicitly talking about my identity,” Bailey says over the phone from his home in Philadelphia. “Because at the very beginning of my career, it was to the point of it feeling like it was exploited. Ratchet was not about my queerness at all. It was about growing up. It was about adolescence. So that was also even more frustrating because it was just like, ‘Y’all, the music’s not even about this, like stop.’

“But that was only a sign at the times,” he concludes. “As I like to say, we live in a post-Lil Nas X world.”

Today, the Las Vegas native has reinvented himself many times over, releasing seven more albums since Ratchet, leaving the record label that put him on the map, and forming his own new-artist incubator: Accidental Popstar records. One of the aforementioned albums is the forthcoming Heterosexuality (out 2/11 via AntiFragile Music), which finds Bailey addressing his gender and sexual identity with more honesty than ever before. “I think I feel almost kind of like a level of anonymity in a sense that there’s plenty of explicitly queer art,” he says. “And I think that has proven to be the point that now I can plant elements of my queerness in this explicit way, without it being the focal point of the art.”

Teaming up with Strange Ranger’s Isaac Eiger, who performs under the name Hollow Comet, Bailey started work on Heterosexuality shortly after releasing his 2020 self-titled album. “I was just so deeply inspired by his sound because it was just a sound that I felt like I was dreaming of,” Bailey adds. “I heard in my head for the last couple of years, but just could not either get it myself or find someone who did it.” 

The resulting work is a heady blast of ’90s rock and pop, with a touch of industrial edge. Singles like the washed-out “Cisgender” demand acceptance in a world run by labels. “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’m just existing on this godforsaken land/ 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’re mad I got out and I’m living free.”

Though the album is written from a unique perspective, Bailey maintains that “everything on this record is still universal. I think you could be cis and relate to ‘Cisgender,’ Because it’s not just about trans-ness. It’s about not feeling defined by the boxes that you were supposed to be put in.” New single “Caught Up,” out today, exemplifies the album’s relatable qualities: “I know your head is shedding/ And the guilt is killing you/ Although I’m winning, I still feel down on my luck.”

Below, Bailey opens up further about Heterosexuality and goes deep on its myriad influences, from Canadian punk-rock icon Bif Naked to the “messy” Frenemies podcast, and more.

Bif Naked

I get almost emotional thinking about Bif Naked. Oh God, I love her so much. And I just gush about her every chance that I get an interview and she follows me on Twitter and she’s like a cheerleader now for me at this point, basically.

I didn’t know her at all until 2017, 2018. I immediately just loved everything about her because I just love pop rock and I love specifically ‘90s pop rock and early 2000s pop rock. Basically I will say that she’s been one of my bigger influences on the guitar-based phase of my career. I would say from [2017’s] Revelations on where I started to kind of really dive more into my ’90s zone.

When we started this project, I think one of the first things that me and Isaac did was send each other inspo playlists. The first track on mine was “Spaceman” by Bif Naked. And Isaac, the American that he is, was not familiar. And he was just freaking out about it. That’s how I knew that we were going to work together well, because he was the first person to literally freak out to the level that I freaked out when I first heard Bif Naked. And so I was just like, “Oh, this is going to be good. This is going to be good.”

Mysterious Skin

It’s such a sad movie. The director, Gregg Araki. Love him. He’s a little bit more, at least at that time, art cinema-type vibes. He’s always been an inspiration in that sense. I love that movie. He also did White Bird In A Blizzard. That was kind of more of his more modern ones 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. Love the aesthetics and everything.

While we were demoing, this was in 2020. No one was seeing each other. It was still before vaccinations and everything. Basically, I would just write stuff and send it to Isaac, and then he’d build stuff around it on his own time. He had just seen Mysterious Skin and he asked me if I’d seen it and I was like, “Yeah, well duh.” And a big inspiration for his production was the soundtrack from the movie. Kind of the very, shoegaze-y, washed-out vibes of the soundtrack. I think there’s like Cocteau Twins and Slowdive and shit on there.

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Image


That fully inspired my whole deer antler drag thing that I have going on right now. I didn’t want to do goat horns — I wanted to make it my own. If I just make it exactly [like Baphomet], that would be too on the nose. I just knew that I wanted to do this kind of subhuman thing, because it’s also kind of a metaphor for how I kind of felt like an animal in the zoo sometimes because of my explicit queerness. Sometimes I just leave the house wearing my mildest of looks and even with the best intentions when people come up to me and it’s just gawking over the way that I look, it still makes me feel uncomfortable. I feel an animal in a zoo. It’s kind of literally why I don’t leave my house sometimes.

I’m an introvert and I don’t leave my house, but it was really jarring last spring after I got vaccinated and I finally started to leave the house here and there. I was reminded and it was really, really triggering, honestly. It’s just a hard thing for me because I love compliments — maybe not so much for myself, but I personally love giving compliments. But also I think what makes it so frustrating is just that I feel like it’s less about me seeming exceptional to someone and more so that it’s exceptional… It’s more so that you can tell that they’re like, “Oh, it’s exceptional that you have the courage to leave the house like that.” You know what I mean? It’s not so much that you look exceptional, it’s so much exceptional that you are OK with looking like that. And there’s usually a clear difference. You can tell just by the tone of the compliment, which one it is.

I really don’t like attention. I think that’s the other thing: yes, I do bold looks and I am bold in my expression, but I do it for me, so I can feel comfortable to brave the day and leave the fucking house. And I think it gets frustrating because I think a lot of people do think that it is for the attention. And people think that I create attention because of it. And I think that’s also really frustrating. So that’s why I just don’t leave the house at all. Because it’s just like, I won’t feel the ambition to leave the house if I don’t leave it in a way that makes me feel good.

Mark Makela/Getty Images

The Poconos

When we finished demoing the record, this was the last [year], so it still super lockdown vibes. Because I had finished the bulk of [2020’s] Shamir in a socially distanced studio and hated that, you know what I mean? It was not the vibe, and I didn’t want to do that for the second fucking time. So yeah, we began production on this record by renting out a secluded-ass Airbnb in the middle of the Poconos. We all got tested and drove out and started making the record over the course of like four days. It was great. And it was early February, so it was hella snow. And I felt like we were like in the middle of a snow globe. It was just really, really chill. I cooked a bunch of stuff because poor Isaac can’t fucking cook. I mean like gumbo, lasagna, just very hearty, winter things.

The Frenemies Podcast

I don’t know how much you know about the mess that is the Frenemies podcast. The drama. Nothing but drama. It’s so bad. I mean, it’s mess, it’s mess. Most people who at least follow me on Twitter know that I love mess. I don’t know what else to say about that. And I was an early Trisha Paytas stan. I actually paid to see them live once, but then put the time wrong and ended up missing it. And then they got increasingly more problematic and I just could not defend them anymore. And then I was fully done with Trisha Paytas. And then the Frenemies podcast came along and I got yanked right back in. And I hated it. The only reason why I did is because it was so clip-worthy. I would see clips on the internet of it all around. And then also my friends would just send me clips and I’m just like, “What is this? Oh no, I cannot get sucked back into this mess.”

And then next thing I know, I’m hooked and it got to the point where I would make my own little clips and everything. And then I was in the midst of the obsession with the podcast while I was making this record and I would send them to Isaac because he likes [sampling]. Obviously a lot of them didn’t even make the record because clearance and everything. But for some reason he gets a lot of inspiration from working with spoken samples.

So he would just ask me to send him some of my favorite comedic clips. And so a lot of was from Frenemies, and there was one song we couldn’t get it cleared, but there was one song that was kind of built around the Trisha Paytas sample. There was a lot of Trisha Paytas samples from the Frenemies podcast that was the building blocks of the record. There’s a lot of chaos around the energy of this record, but I think it only helped it.

Heterosexuality is out 2/11 via AntiFragile Music.

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