Shygirl is a master of making filth beautiful. One of the biggest breakout stars of 2022, the London-born rapper and songwriter has constructed a world where the ugly and the erotic coalesce. While the surface of her sound is distinctly feminine – her breathy falsetto barely rising above a whisper, the title of her debut album Nymph evoking fertility and playfulness – the interior is borderline mutant. Each song opens the door to a dark, disgusting underbelly of sexuality where the girls are for the streets, kisses are “slick like honey” and to desire is to be “ravished, mauled, adored”.
Swaying in front of a sold out crowd at Printworks, whose narrow corridor-like dancefloor and towering concrete balconies are omnipresent on TikTok and lent the club scene of The Batman its seedy aesthetic, Shygirl is a picture of modern power. An elegant and subtle performer with a vice-like grip on her audience, she stands alone on a vast stage while a crowd of 5,000 people in padded jackets and hardware necklaces recite “woke up feeling like a slut, yeah I like that” as if it’s the Lord’s Prayer.
The Printworks show kicks off a large tour that will see Shygirl hit Europe, the US and Australia over the next few months in support of her debut album. Released to critical acclaim in September, Nymph has been praised for its clever genre-splicing and its tactile explorations of intimacy. These virtues hit even harder live as the contrasts that make her music so alluring – her ethereal voice and blunt lyrics; the way she prostrates herself with a sense of humour – are heightened in front of a crowd.
The atmosphere is hot and heavy as she runs through her catalogue, from earlier singles such as the Sophie-produced Slime and the bassline-driven Cleo to authoritative album favourites like Shlut and Come for Me. She ends with the dusky album closer Wildfire, complete with a live string section that conveys all the drama and late-night eeriness of the studio version. All the while, backing visuals splinter her image into multiple figures or act as a mirror, tracing her movements like a strip club ceiling. It’s a nice touch that hammers home the mythology around one of the UK’s most exciting artists: wherever you look, all eyes are on Shygirl.