When it comes to exciting emerging queer music talent in the UK, no-one is consistently hitting the mark quite like L Devine. Just over two years in, the singer-songwriter has already given us some impeccable LGBTQ+ anthems packed with frank honesty and unashamed queerness across a handful of different genres.
L Devine’s new mixtape, Near Life Experience Part One, builds on this further. Recent single Girls Like Sex was the sex-positive bop we needed to hear, while current single Priorities is a thumping electro-pop number with an earworm chorus.
We caught up with the star for a quick chat about her new project, how she’s upset dads doing the school run, and why this collection of music has helped her learn new things about herself.
First up, congratulations on the success of Girls Like Sex. Considering the message of the song, how did you find the reaction?
I thought we wouldn’t get it played anywhere because of the word ‘sex’. It was a bit of a weird one having it on the Radio 1 Breakfast Show as the Tune of the Week. It’s bang on the school run! There’s definitely been a few awkward tweets from school run dads who are a bit pissed off at me. But y’know what? Fuck it! That’s the whole point of the song. I’m sure they weren’t tweeting about all the misogynistic lyrics we hear in a lot of other music, and all the derogatory narratives. I’m sure they don’t even notice that. But as soon as a woman says ‘sex’, they lose their shit and don’t know what to do.
Well the whole point of the track was to celebrate female sexuality and sex positivity, and I know you’ve mentioned before how queer artists do that best. Were there any particular references you drew upon?
There was loads of stuff. In my head when I think of the community – and not even just in music – but like club culture, going out, and that scene, the queer scene has always put liberating sexuality at the forefront. Does that come from our sexuality historically being taboo? So it’s us reclaiming it? I think maybe that’s part of the reason behind it and why we love songs and music about sex. There’s definitely something in reclaiming our sexuality and making it fun. There’s so many examples I guess. I mean, this is probably the worst example I could give because I know this song hasn’t aged well, but when I was making Girls Like Sex it really took me back to when I first heard Katy Perry’s I Kissed A Girl on the radio. At the time, that actually was a bold thing. It was the first time I’d heard anything like that on the radio and it made me wince in the car when I was sitting next to my mum! It would make me feel really awkward in front of my parents, but then I’d go to my room and be like, ‘Oh my god! I kissed a girl and I liked it – I totally get that!’
Obviously, looking at that song now we can see how it could be considered queer-baiting, but speaking to a lot of my queer female friends it’s a song that comes up again and again so it obviously had some positive impact.
It had a huge impact. That song definitely helped me come to terms… I knew that song made me feel something, so it helped me discover something about myself because it evoked some sort of emotion in me.
The brand new single is Priorities, which is one of my favourites on the new project. What’s the story behind the track?
I love that song so much. It’s a funny one because I wrote that way before lockdown, almost two years ago now. It’s basically me bitching about someone because they’re not prioritising me. But I guess over the past two years – and especially in these 18 months we’ve been stuck inside and left alone with our thoughts – all the songs have kind of allowed me to do some self evaluation, I guess. So the meaning has kind of changed with that song for me. I look at the lyrics now and I’m like, ‘Wait, I should’ve been doing all those things for me. I should’ve been prioritising all that shit for me.’ Instead of putting my whole self worth onto this person, I should’ve been perfecting my talents and going to see friends for drinks, or getting therapy, and calling parents. So it’s an interesting one.
Well that’s the sign of a good song right? When it’s written about a particular experience or moment in time but resonates beyond that shows it has that universal appeal.
I always say that if I tried to be a perfect person in my songs, they wouldn’t be real and they wouldn’t be good. That’s why I write songs, so I can express myself and learn something from it. I’ve learnt something about myself and my relationships from all of these songs. Whether that’s good or bad!
Near Life Experience Part 1 is the new mixtape. Is this a lockdown project or had you started it before?
I had a few of the songs and I kind of didn’t really know what the direction of the narrative for the whole mixtape was. I couldn’t find out what the thread was. Then during lockdown, I kind of felt like I was alone with my thoughts a lot more and everything became a lot more introspective. I was toying around with ideas for the name of the mixtape. I had Near Life Experience written down in my notes for years, and I knew I wanted to call a body of work that at some point. It just felt like a total no-brainer when we actually started living a near life experience! We missed out on everything that made life rich and meaningful, so it just felt perfect. Once I had that, the rest almost wrote itself. I knew what I needed to say. So half was written outside of lockdown, and half was written during. But they all make sense together.
Your knack for playing with different genres is in full effect too, but it all flows nicely.
I think it’s just part of the restlessness of an artist who loves all genres of music. With mixtapes and bodies of work like this, you can toy around with different genres. I haven’t set out to make my first album yet. I really want to do that and I think then I really want to hone in on a sound that I think defines and represents me. Right now there’s still so much I’m discovering about myself, and there’s so many corners of pop I want to explore. It’s just really fun. If you can do, why not?
— L Devine (@LDevineMusic) May 25, 2021
We’ve spoken before about how your first steps into the industry was with an aim to be a songwriter, and you recently got your first plaque for Come Over which was recorded by Rudimental and Anne-Marie. That must’ve been a nice career milestone for you?
Yeah, when I started out I wanted to be a songwriter and then the artist side kind of took over, which I’m obviously so happy about and grateful for. I love being an artist. But it felt really good to get that plaque and remind myself that I can do that as well. I love all genres of music, so it’s really nice to be able to express myself in ways that isn’t necessarily my own.
How do you plan to balance that part of your career along with being a performer in your own right?
I’m now learning that I work better in close circles of people that I really trust. I’ve realised the best songs, even if I’m not writing for myself, come out of truth. I think I’ll just do it all together. I don’t really think about writing for other people, I’ll just write the songs. If that ends up in someone else’s hands, then that’s amazing. Just doing a month of my own thing and getting all the songs done in one period of time for my project, then I can just concentrate on anything else for the rest of the year.