Kelsie Hogue reflects on merging music and comedy, making memes, and reclaiming the term “bisexual.”
If Sir Babygirl’s debut album, Crush on Me, is a bubblegum pop record, it’s definitely not sugarfree. As Sir Babygirl, Brooklyn-based Kelsey Hogue makes high-energy, hook-filled electro-pop tracks that have a bursting, overflowing quality to them. They’re over-the-top and catchy and extra, with Hogue often using self-deprecation to express sincere sentiments in exaggerated terms.
On the album’s third single, “Haunted House,” Hogue belts anxiety-fueled worst-case-scenarios about an upcoming party: “I can’t wait / to ruin the rest of my life,” “I can’t wait / to lose all my friends tomorrow,” and “I can’t wait / to carry it with me forever.” Musically, Sir Babygirl is more Pop Rocks or Warheads than bubblegum: intense and explosive and saccharine and stinging, with a range flavors and (hair) colors. But genre conventions—as with gender conventions—are not something Hogue is intent on upholding. “I think the core of the [Sir Babygirl] aesthetic is that it is in flux,” they said.
After living in New Hampshire, Boston, and Chicago, Hogue is now based in Bushwick, where they’re gearing up to headline a mini northeast tour. They recently spoke to AdHoc about their desire to merge music and comedy, their experience making memes, and reclaiming the term “bisexual.”
AdHoc: You grew up in New Hampshire. What was that like?
Sir Babygirl: Lots of trees. It’s a crazy place. It’s the Florida of the northeast.
Any early music memories there?
For sure. That’s where I learned to play my first instrument, the alto saxophone, in third grade.
You went to college in Boston. What were you listening to then? What was the local music scene like?
I’ve always listened to pop music, but in and out. [I] kind of passively listened to it in college and didn’t realize that it was my favorite thing ever, because of internalized misogyny and [because] people don’t take pop music seriously. Even [now,] with all the poptimism, [some] people degrade it as a genre. So I think there was a lot of that in college—me trying to pretend that I didn’t like it, when I did.
Then I got into a riot grrrl phase. I was listening to Bikini Kill and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Also Karen O—huge inspiration. I got to see her live in college, and it completely rearranged my molecular biology. She was super formative, as far as frontwoman stuff.
And the scene in Boston was not really music that I was listening to, but I respect it a lot. A lot of good hardcore and sad music. Boston’s really dreary, so everyone’s just saddening.
You considered going into stand up. Can you tell us about that?
No, I completely blacked out the entirety of it all. Yeah, I lived in Chicago for a year. I had vocal nodes, so I completely gave up on music and thought I was never going to do it again and didn’t have the resources to buy the equipment to teach myself how to produce. As far as performance goes, [stand up] is pretty cost-effective. You just need your body, and you just show up. [I] did really absurdist, surreal, performance-art bullshit and movement pieces [where I] would poor LaCroix all over my body and scream and dance to this Justin Bieber / My Chemical Romance mashup song.
[I] highly recommend you check [the song] out. It’s a great workout song. So I was just doing that crazy shit, and [I] realized that in every entertainment [industry]—as a marginalized person—you’re going to experience a lot of harassment and abuse, so I was like, “Where is it worth it to experience that? Where does the passion outweigh that?” And I was like, “It doesn’t outweigh it in comedy.” I honestly hate having to go to mics and listen to men tell rape jokes over and over again. At the end of the day, music will always uplift me and be [cathartic] enough to outweigh systemic shit. So I wrote “Heels” and was like, “I gotta keep going with music.”
Speaking of comedy, Cat Cohen and Sunspeaker will open for your upcoming Baby’s All Right show. How did you get connected to Cat and Maurice?
I live with a bunch of comedians in Bushwick, and I spend [a lot of] time with comedians in general. I’m very inspired by vaudeville, [which] shaped American live entertainment in many ways that we don’t [always] recognize. It really did create the format for a lot of performance [today]. I’m also interested in mixing genres. I think it’s so fun to play around with the form and structure of what a live music show can be. Why can’t comedians open? And I think there’s actually a wave happening now—Sharon Van Etten just had John Mulaney open for her. I think comedy and music have always been in conversation with each other, and in my work they’re in conversation with each other.
I had been wanting to get a comedian for months, and someone was like, ‘Check out Cat Cohen.” I’m a fan of [her] and Jaboukie [Young White] and all these amazing comedians that are coming out of the woodwork right now. I literally just DMd [Cat] a couple of weeks ago and was like, “You wanna be on me show?” So thank you, internet. I would say her work is this amazing extremist confidence, extremist self-love, beautiful satirical narcissism, and musical theater bullshit. I think she’s fucking brilliant and hilarious and much-needed right now.
And Maurice I got connected to through some friends of friends. I haven’t gotten to see him live yet, so I’m excited. His music is really beautiful—kind of cool electronic [with] a little bit of funk in there. He’s a very kind person and that’s really, really important as far as who you’re touring with.
I’m a little out of touch with the meme world right now. I’m not on my daily meme grind anymore. I cannot keep up with the amount of accounts. Specifically, I was a part of the women and queer meme [communities]. They were really the communities to lift me up and boost not just [me] but [also] “Heels” when I put it out on SoundCloud. I’m really grateful to those people, because I had never experienced a community that was [so] supportive. You retweet each other and you comment on each other’s stuff. It’s that grassroots power approach. We have the ability to elect who we want to have [more] visibility.
[After I made] my first couple memes, I got roped into a meme group chat. It really is a community that is interested in directly connecting people to other people, [where there’s an] understanding that everyone’s born with different access. [They] try to level the playing field a bit more and help each other out in ways that I haven’t experienced in other industries—the meme industry!
Do memes offer something special to queer communities?
Totally. Making memes about my bisexuality and my non-binary identity literally helped me work through so much of my internalized biphobia and homophobia. The power of making memes about identity, specifically, is that you truly don’t realize—you think you’re fucking special for feeling this awful, specific type of way, and then you make a meme—a very specific meme about it—and then people are like, “Oh my god! Me!” and you’re like, “Oh, this is systemic! I’m not crazy!”
That sounds very validating.
It’s very validating! When I started making memes about bisexuality—I’m not saying they didn’t exist—but I didn’t really see many.
I think bisexuality is still such a pariah in many ways. And [some] people also [think] that bisexuality [implies a] binary—that you like men and women, and that non-binary people don’t exist. That has never been the case. Bisexuality is being attracted to your gender, other genders, two or more genders. I’m really interested in using that word and reclaiming it. I think there’s a lot of erasure and demonizing of it and of people that use it. I’ve gotten before that “You can’t be bisexual and nonbinary—that’s an oxymoron,” and it’s not.
The right [label] should give you freedom and should make you feel like the possibilities are endless. For me, that’s what “bisexuality” does, and I was able to figure that out through making memes. That’s my TED Talk.
How has the Sir Babygirl aesthetic changed over time, both visually and musically?
I think the core of the aesthetic is that it is in flux. I am incredibly fluid. Within that, the consistency is that there is kind of inconsistency. I love to dabble in different genres. I like to fuck around with a lot of different stuff. I would [also] say there’s a lot of visual consistency. I started making Sir Babygirl music in 2015. It continues to get fine-tuned, but it spins on a foundational axis.
What are your current most used emojis?
I really like that very masculine superhero who has a purple eye mask on. I love him. Do you know him?
Yeah, I love him. I feel like he means well. And I like pairing that with the elfin lady. I like those two.
Crush on Me is super easy to listen to on a loop. Are there any albums you love listening to from beginning to end?
Yeah! Everything Charli XCX has done, but specifically her Vroom Vroom EP with SOPHIE and Number 1 Angel are my favorite works by her. And then Emotion by Carly Rae [Jepsen], and Body Talk Pt. 1 and Body Talk Pt. 2 by Robyn.
“Cheerleader” has this peppy cheer that’s literally just an instruction to “be aggressive.” How does aggression fit into Sir Babygirl?
I’m always trying to challenge my own toxic masculinity. I’m not a cis-male but I identify [to] a certain extent [with] being butch and having a masculine energy. But also, I’m read as a woman on the street most of the time. So where does my anger and aggression lie, and where is it appropriate and positive, and where is it harmful? Everybody should think about [these questions]. I like to be aggressive on stage so I can get that out. I’m very socially aggressive, but I’m trying to work on energy conservation at this point.
Crush on Me ends with a declaration of self-love. Was that always your intention?
I actually came up with Crush on Me like two and a half years ago, so I created the concept and [then] filled it in. Self-love has been turned so commodifiable, [and can be] so militant. I think there [are] a lot of warped ideas [about] self-love, and I realized that some of the most actual self-love things I’ve ever done [have involved] forcing myself to get my shit together.
It’s kind of tongue-in-cheek. That’s a pretty good explanation of my music: It’s both incredibly sincere and incredibly tongue-in-cheek. They exist together. Yes, I do believe in self-love, and I also believe that the pressure to love yourself everyday is an insane gun to your head. Maybe it’s not necessarily like, “Should I love myself everyday?” but “What am I doing to actually make sure I don’t lose my mind every day?”