The appeal of a Shygirl concert logically hinges on atmosphere. The British singer, rapper, DJ, poly hyphenate musical genius, etc. is a curator of vibes first and foremost — luckily they were dialed to seductive sublimity March 21 at The Regency Ballroom in San Francisco.
Shygirl traps in physicality and tactility as an artistic standard: Her lyrics attend to a very-of-the-moment post-ironic, uncensored sensuality. But that physicality became literalized live, when every floorboard, light fixture and body vibrated with each jolt of bass. It was, on the whole, a night characterized by itchiness.
An early and frequent collaborator of hyperpop royalty such as SOPHIE, Arca and Sega Bodega, Shygirl is most assuredly a hyperpop girl. But the categorization feels a little too easy. The sound she has cultivated over her relatively young career also has footing in hip hop and club. With such a robust resume, it’s surprising she only released her first LP, Nymph, this past year. But it was well worth the wait.
The night kicked off with “Woe” — also the album’s opening track. “Woe” is one of the more unassuming tracks on the project (whispy and lyrically banal), but it concludes with a quasi-industrial aftertaste, giving a taste of what’s to come.
Off Nymph, clear standout tracks like “Shlut” and “Nike” recall Shygirl’s hyperpop roots, but not to the extent that it feels like a rehashing. Erotic lyricism, sticky hooks and celestial production coalesce into a record that feels like something Kim Petras would make if she took a sleeping draught that turned her into a sprite.
Shygirl had a meticulously organized setlist. She grouped songs from the same projects together rather than integrating them, carving sonic and climatic peaks and valleys over the night’s duration. The ALIAS EP run of tracks following “Shlut,” aerated the crowd, transporting them from group-guided meditation hour straight to the club.
The opening rottweiler growls and digital gunshots of the SOPHIE-produced “SLIME” kicked the night into a new gear. “SLIME” is firmly a club banger, a UK grime-derived anthem that bristles with abrasive sexual urgency: “Tell me now if you’re looking to get down / In the back, in the front, on the highway in your truck / I don’t give a fuck,” Shygirl raps.
Shygirl’s music feels topical in large part because of its sexuality, which isn’t fossilized or tempered, but also steers clear of moralization in either direction. Her promiscuity isn’t one-note, either. There’s pride to be had in being “for the streets, bitch,” but she isn’t always so nonchalant. On “Shlut” she alludes to the way sexuality also exists in the world beyond the narrow parameters of the self: “Is it so bad to just like to be touched?”
Throughout her highly polished set, Shygirl kept a cool distance from the crowd, keeping intermissions and asides to a minimum — but always on brand. “You guys just get me so wet,” she said whilst reaching for a towel offstage.
In 2023, Bjork collaborations seem to be the ultimate mark of cool girl status, though not that Shygirl’s status needs any reassuring. In the midst of her Nymph tour, she released a remix of “Woe” featuring Bjork, and was in turn featured on a remix of the Icelandic songstress’ “Ovule” off her most recent LP, Fossora. If Nymph didn’t live up to its witchy, forest-gallivanting expectations already, it surely does now.
Shygirl bid farewell to San Francisco with a compact encore that concluded with “BB” (an acronym for Bad Boys). It’s cute and glitchy, but also probably the most unambiguous assertion of her bad bitchery. “Only one winner in this bitch / And I win everything,” she sang.