In recent years much more has been done to ensure the existence of safe spaces for LGBTQ+ folk. Whether literal or abstract, bars, bookshops and genres have emerged to tell different stories and to help amplify queer voices. One such space can be found within the world of left-field pop music, which many LGBTQ+ artists — such as SOPHIE, Dorian Electra and Brooke Candy — have made their creative home. There are also artists who identify as straight, but who function within this genre as LGBTQ+ allies and icons, the most prolific of whom is arguably Charli XCX.
Inspired by the musical stylings and performances of several of these artists, up-and-coming LGBTQ+ producer and vocalist, YA BOI, who likes to keep his real name a secret, is determined to showcase his own unique voice and make it heard. As a lifelong fan of pop music, particularly of Lady Gaga, he was always “drawn to the rush and ecstasy contained within electronic beats and belted lyrics”. But as he discovered PC Music, he found himself enveloped in “a whole new world of pop music” that altered his previous vision of the landscape of the genre.
Like the unique artists who are signed to or work with the technologically inspired PC Music label, YA BOI has not only fashioned his own unique brand of electropop, but his own distinctive image too, with his primary costume consisting of a visor, a long black coat and blond bob wig. Preferring to hide his real name as well as his face, YA BOI’s brand, defined by anonymity, not only creates a sense of elusiveness and mystery, but allows for his music to speak for itself. The artistic identity he conjures in front of his visor melds with his music to create an experience untainted by any overt sense of selfhood.
But despite this anonymity, his life, experiences, and identity as a gay man are something that he refuses to hide or shy away from. Aside from his lyrics, which often come across as parodically and gloriously camp, his love and appreciation of gay culture can be seen in his live performances. From death dropping to voguing, his sense of pride in who he is and the community he belongs to is palpable. Similarly, his persona and image are not only evident within his branding and performances, but within the flat parties and small, intimate venues he chooses to perform in. While many artists may strive to play larger venues, being able to “interact with the people in the room” he is performing in and connect with them through his music is important to him both personally and artistically and takes precedence over the number of people he can perform to.
With music that aims to inspire its listeners to dance, drink and have a good time in a genre that he has coined “gaff pop”, YA BOI understands the catharsis and even power contained within pure fun — especially for queer people. This is something that I am personally well acquainted with as a bisexual woman and as a fan of Charli XCX, SOPHIE and the PC Music label. The escapism and exhilaration and freedom of left-field pop provides the perfect opportunity to transport yourself to a world unafraid of art, experimentation, raw emotion and sheer, unadulterated fun.
Many queer people, including myself, know that the world can sometimes seem like a bleak, scary and oppressive place for people within the LGBTQ+ community. However, YA BOI’s refusal to be brought down by that is empowering not only to witness but to experience, as artists such as himself, Charli XCX and SOPHIE create a freeing space wherein queer people can truly express themselves. Set to catchy and creative beats that come from a variety of pop influences from modern day experimental pop trends to 2000s club music, the feel-good nature of YA BOI’s music not only compels you to dance and groove along, but illustrates his great talents for production and, moreover, entertaining. Likewise, his talent for singing is glaringly obvious as he flaunts his impressive, strong vocal skills throughout his discography.
Evidently, YA BOI finds his own sense of catharsis through humour and sarcasm. Taking the humour and satire present in the undertones of the work of many PC Music artists, he carves a space for himself by making this humour abrasive, absurd and overtly applicable to the LGBTQ+ community through its campness.
Hailing from Hamilton, near Glasgow, his Scottish sense of humour — influenced by comedians like Limmy and his own observations and experiences — is palpable in many of the songs he has recently created. From songs like ‘Big Dirty Kilty Man’ (in which he sings and raps about a sexual encounter that went awry) to ‘Gah-Moon Rays’ (an ode to female genitalia), YA BOI’s sense of humour is a prominent and appealing feature of his music. But the comedy within the lyrics of his songs does not mean they aren’t to be taken seriously. What began as a light-hearted comical project when he was aged 17 has, in three years, morphed into something far more serious that has the potential to fill bigger gaffs in the future.
However, with his upcoming new album, YA BOI plans on revamping his public image and musical style to better reflect the world that he experiences as a 20-year-old man. While a rebrand may seem like the mark of an artist who is unsure of themselves to some, YA BOI remains self-assured in who he was as a teenager and who he is now. He sees his past, both personally and musically as “a chapter” in his life that he believes is time to close off. However, he affirms that he is still writing within the same book as he simply views the creation of his new persona as the beginning of a new chapter narrated by an “altered version” of who he once was. Rather than giving up on or completely revamping his “gaff pop” sound, YA BOI aims for the genre to grow and develop with him.
This new and improved version of both YA BOI and “gaff pop” will be fully realised and forged within his upcoming album which is set to be released late this summer, soon after he plans to announce and undergo his rebrand. Much like his persona, YA BOI is reluctant to reveal too much about his new project to the public. But while he prefers to keep an air of mystery and intrigue around his upcoming music he also enjoys to tease his fans with hints of what is to come as he has opened up about what may be his most ambitious project yet, revealing that his third album will be a conceptual “commentary on how [he sees] the world in the distant future.”
He has also commented on the “slightly different” mood of the new album as he is attempting to balance the seriousness of socio-political commentary and what he describes as, sonically, his most fun and “pop” sounding record to date to create his vision of dystopia. But while his newly adapted and ever-growing artistic vision has left him “compelled to rebrand”, it is evident that despite these changes, YA BOI — no matter what name he performs under — knows who he is. Like a flower with the same stem but ever-changing petals, he knows he has no final form, and seems proud of it.
Words by Emma Reilly
This article was originally published as part of The Indiependent’s May 2020 charity magazine, which raised money for the British Lung Foundation. Find out more here.