Shamir's creating 'outsider pop' for the people who need it — and himself

Jessi Roti, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Entertainment News

The 23-year-old says his career feels brand new. His first EP "Northtown" was released when he was just 19, and while those four years don't seem like much in the larger picture, he heeded the changes happening to and around him.

Taking his time, separating from his management and former label, XL Recordings, Shamir knew he wanted to fully take the wheel -- start over and create the path that he had initially imagined for himself, even in his most harrowing times.

"I think people are looking at the way I do things now as a step back," he explained. "I was naive to think 'Oh, it's just my first record, it's not going to catch on like that,' but the music industry doesn't work like that anymore. Things become popular really fast and it's almost kind of like, will the material hold up or not?

"You have to be open when listening to this music. If you're not open, you're not gonna like it. There's a lot of people that want music to be an escape and escapism is not healthy. Escapism is not going to fix all your problems."

He hopes "Revelations" holds up over time, connecting with those that need it the way he did. With the album's raw, in-your-face emotion and direct lyricism, he argues that it almost forces them to.

"A lot of people would say my old music was like escapism, 'Oh it's fun, it makes me so happy.' That's great, that's cool. But because of the production and because of music was more happy-sounding, you didn't really listen to a lot of the lyrics. Everyone was too busy dancing," he said.


"A lot of people are just in denial. Everything is always about escaping. That's not something I'm trying to do, that's never had a positive effect for me. Facing my fears, problems and triggers head-on has helped me move on and that's what my music is now. It's a form of therapy."

The new songs tackle growing pangs -- some universally shared and others not. Narratives around feeling like a liability in relationships, like you have no choice but to hide authentic parts of yourself for fear of chastisement; calling out queer baiting, erasure and whitewashing (in media and socially) and life as a millennial are heavy, but set to playful backdrops of '60s-inspired pop melodies, fuzzy guitar riffs and light keyboards.

"90's Kids," admittedly, is an airing of grievances about what it's like for millennials ("recession kids," as Shamir says) to deal with everything from student loan debt to how the baby boomer generation views them -- the artist saying, "You know, this is what they think we do all the time anyway. So why not turn it into something reductive? Let's write a song!"

"Straight Boys," one of his favorites, seems to encapsulate the "new" Shamir best.


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