Love, sex, and desire are common topics to explore especially in contemporary pop music. The British singer Shura has taken that to the next level with her highly personal records displaying the struggles and upsides of relationships and dating life. With smooth synth-heavy grooves the twenty-seven year old creates RnB-tinged beats to go along with her pitch perfect falsetto vocals. After her first, well-received record Nothing’s Real, Shura has now matured musically and emotionally. On her forthcoming sophomore LP Forevher she explores the sparkling beginnings of a new relationship and has relocated to New York.
This does not only represent a change in her musical environment and new inspirations but also the start of a happy relationship with her current partner – a whole lot of material for a singer who loves to sing about love and desire. So, it is no wonder that Forevher is even more intoxicating than the previous record. Every single song is loaded with either euphoria for a new love or the aching feeling of being separated from the significant other. Laid down out with witty and smart lyrics, Shura is surely a talent to be reckoned with. We caught up with the musician in Berlin to ask her some very special questions.
Dressed in a beige baseball cap, Dr. Martens boots, and a cool oversized indigo blue blazer, Shura is lounging on the couch of the tiny interview room. The bleach blonde hair fuzzes out of the hat’s sides as the ice blue eyes of the singer hit me with a sharp but friendly gaze. We both squeeze onto the small couch and Shura answers my questions with refreshing openness and honesty. While funny and reflected, the singer has also grown to ‘embrace her weirdness’ as she says and does not apologize for being nothing but herself anymore.
For her this was the first move ever. Born and raised in London, Shura’s parents are actually Russian and English, but the city has always been her home. Now, moving to New York, which was not easy but certainly facilitated by the welcoming arms of her girlfriend, opened her up to new experiences. The first of which was ‘New York is so expensive’. Nevertheless, Shura adds ‘it is nice to have change’ and ‘Brexit and England being or becoming shit right now’ are certainly not motivating her to stay.
‘The first time I went to New York I was struck by how angry everybody was. The pace of life is pretty similar to London but if you get in the way of someone there, they will not do anything. If you annoy somebody in New York on the other hand, they will shout and call you an asshole. I have not shouted at anybody yet, I guess that’s when I’ll know that I have become a real New Yorker.’
I’m feeling blue
This phrase does not mean to Shura what it means to many other people. Instead of connecting the color blue with a cold feeling of sadness or depression, she sees it as a color of passion. During the process of working on her record, the color seemed to be popping up everywhere… messages, Facebook, in the streets. ‘Everywhere I look I see blue’. This reminded her of the feeling of falling in love. Traces of the person appear to be everywhere surrounding you, whether it is their favorite dip on the menu of the restaurant around the corner or an ad for the movie you watched together. So this color does not give Shura the blues but is a symbol for falling in love.
The feeling of being consumed by desire in the beginnings of a fresh relationship, she encapsulates on the corresponding track BRKLNLNDN – a fusion of Brooklyn and London. The single describes the excitement and longing for someone who is far away. ‘This isn’t love, this is an emergency’ she croons with sweet vocals. Beginning with the physical aspect of love, she moves on to unravel deeper sentiments throughout the track. And the video could not fit better. Dipped in blue light – for passion – it is her very own rendition of Rodin’s The Kiss.
The entire record feels like a tale from the beginning of a harmless flirt to falling hopelessly in love. No easy task when an ocean is separating you from the significant other. ‘I wrote ‘Religion’ when I first started talking to my, now, girlfriend. It is about the start of our relationship when I was still living in London and she in New York. Of course, it is also about desire and sex but at a time where it was impossible for us to pursue it.’
The groovy rhythm and Shura’s whispered falsetto vocals make this one almost sound like something out of Prince’s registry. ‘Prince was a huge inspiration for the song. He massively played around with the idea of gender and sexuality.’ And not only did she write the track in Minneapolis, the ‘Prince country’ she was also inspired by his way of writing cheeky lyrics. Just like Prince would do, Shura assembles an alter ego of a female pope surrounded by lesbian nuns in the video. ‘On the track I wanted to play around with concepts and ideas like Prince used to. Taking a concept turning it around and just have fun with it.’
‘No preacher to teach us love’
‘The song started out by me playing with the idea of love and desire being kind of like what religion is for others. It is all around. Whether it is people’s aim in life to meet someone to love or whether it is just finding someone to go home with at the end of the night. Sex is everywhere. It is a really powerful thing especially in advertising. That led to me having the idea of it being like a religion.’
Growing up as a queer woman in a sadly still very hetero-normative society, Shura like many others had to discover her sexuality without any guidance. The line ‘no preacher to teach us love’ is poking fun at the fact that there is never any mention of the LGBTQ+ community in school’s sex education classes. ‘I was never really guided on how to be queer. Queer people just have to figure it out themselves.’ she laughs. ‘Also‘, she adds, ‘in both, religion and love, hands play a very important role. That’s an analogy I liked a lot.’
Over the years religion was often times laid out and interpreted in a very unkind and discriminative way towards the queer community. Even in the year 2019 some people still get offended by Shura’s hilarious take on her very own religion. ‘The intension of the video was never to offend anybody. But, of course, there are always people who take it badly. I find it funny how in the 21st century someone can be offended by a music video. It is so ridiculous. I am dressed as a pope surrounded by lesbian nuns. We just wanted to create an enjoyable and funny thing to watch.
Religion over the centuries has screwed women, queer people, and humans. It has been a force of evil, as well as, a force of good. We should be able to poke fun at the idea of a religion where it is all women. All ‘Religion’ is doing is basically encouraging everybody to love.’
More than a musical icon
Not only in religion the queer community did not get their share of equal rights. Pressed into shapes to fit the capitalist society models, someone who does not want to take on the preassigned role stands out. Women and queer people fall into the category of the oppressed by the standards society lays upon them – but let’s not get into this very intense discussion now. Shura, by being an openly gay, confident, and talented woman paves the way for many others to follow in her footsteps. Bending the gender stereotypes and the boundaries of sexuality, an artist like her is not only a musical icon.
The unapologetic openness about her sexuality on Forevher, speaks of a woman who has found her place and pride and wants to share that with the rest of the world. With sensual tracks and cheeky lyrics Shura will flirt her way into your heart and not leave her place there anytime soon.
The book of questions
Shura, who has a shared love for South American literature a culture, spent a gap ear in on the continent. Walking around with Pumas in the mountains and reading the books by great authors like Marques and Allende, she discovered a special love for the poetry of Pablo Neruda. So we took a look at the volume of poetic, strange, and inspiring questions he wrote, to push the reader to think beyond the boundaries of the possible, and let Shura have a go at it.
What upsets the volcano to spit fire, cold, and rage?
I love the idea of volcanoes getting really cross from probably bloody humans destroying the environment. It’s probably trying to send us a message, like ‘Stop fucking up this planet you idiots.’
Is it better never than late?
That’s interesting. Usually you’d say it the other way around but actually I agree. Sometimes it is better never than late. For example, when my friends cancel before one of my gigs I’d rather they would just not come. Like that I would play the concert without knowing instead of feeling shit for a bit.
Is it true that sadness is thick and melancholy is thin?
I feel like it should be the other way around again. The idea of sadness and feeling sad seems like something transient, just a momentary state, whereas melancholy is more like an internal and constant way of being.
Is where space ends death or infinity?
Sometime ago I went to a planetarium and I watched a documentary about black holes there. To me it is strange to think of something as infinite. It has to end at some point doesn’t it? There must be some kind of end but then again what lies beyond that? I don’t think we will ever be able to figure that one out. When you are staring up at the night sky that really messes with your head.
Do we learn kindness or the mask of kindness?
I think everybody is different. Some people are just intrinsically kind. It must be instinctive. There is an evolutionary benefit to being kind – you give and you get. It does not benefit you in any way to be an asshole. New Yorkers, I think, have a mask of ‘assholiness’, instead of a mask of kindness. But underneath it there is genuine warmth, humor, and character. I wonder if it might be the weather. The city is brutal in summer and in winter you have to have this toughness to survive.
Do thoughts of love fall into extinguished volcanoes?
This is really depressing but beautiful. The thought of the love falling into it as something that is extinguished is sad but also something new might grow again.
All Photos by Liv Toerkell for NBHAP
Forevher is out on August 16th via Secretly Canadian.