Before she was GIRLI, Milly grew up in north London with her performance-loving family, both parents being actors. As a young kid, her rebellion was not being artistic: she was a science nerd, and later deeply into politics and her school debate society, even briefly serving as a Youth MP for Camden. She was bullied at school, and retreated into a fantasy world of reading and writing fiction.
Then, during her GCSEs, she discovered music. Inspired by her favourite indie bands, like the Arctic Monkeys and Peace, she’d spend lunch breaks hanging out in the music department, playing guitar and singing, and eventually found herself two bandmates on JoinMyBand.com.
It didn’t faze 15-year-old Milly that her bandmates were 18; she confidently took charge. “Music was my obsession,” she remembers. “So we had to rehearse five times a week, just so we could play these shit gigs at pubs. I was so determined.”
Even after her bandmates decided they couldn’t hack Milly’s pace, she wasn’t deterred. She enrolled at ELAM (East London Art and Music), where she kept on honing her own voice: a kind of Gen Z emo rap take on Lily Allen, with the anger of Hole or Siouxsie and the Banshees remixed by the sheen of PC Music.
She was just 17 when she signed with Virgin EMI, and 18 when she released “So You Think You Can F**k With Me Do Ya”, a J-pop-inspired, shout-a-long anthem. Between racking up further plays on Beats 1 and BBC Radio One with her rowdy second single “ASBOys” and photobombing Ant and Dec at the BRITs, her acid pink hair quickly became emblazoned in the public eye.
Behind the scenes, as an 18-year-old who had just received her first big cheque and moved into her own place, her life was becoming more and more intense. “Increasingly, after a year or two, it got very toxic,” she says now. “I was suffering from a really bad eating disorder. I was taking a lot of drugs, and just like, destroying myself.”
Her label called her in for a disciplinary meeting, which went on to inspire one of her greatest singles, the pop-punk riposte “Hot Mess”
Milly released her debut album Odd One Out in April 2019. Hailed as “gutsy” by the Guardian, and “unapologetic and audacious” by Clash, it’s a collection of songs that Milly is fiercely proud of. “The album is like this weird mix of happy and sad,” she reflects, pointing in particular to the frank single “Up and Down” which addresses depression head-on. “Because I was experiencing these really intense mental health issues, and also partying way too much, and then I fell in love for the first time.” Despite the love and honesty she poured into the project, she was released from her record deal a month later.
Hitting up musician friends like Slovenian singer-songwriter July Jones to join her in the studio, Milly began sculpting a new voice for GIRLI: one that was even more raw and unfiltered than she had ever been in the past. She channelled her feelings about being dropped, along with the searing pain of her first break-up, into super vulnerable lyrics, leaning harder into a grunge-influenced, riot grrrl sound. “I was angry, more than anything,” she says. “It made me realise that anger can be a good emotion, because it can spur you on to do things. If I hadn’t been angry, I would’ve just been sad and mopey.” But instead of falling into a depressive inertia, she created her furious, joyous five-track EP, Ex Talk.