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Babygirl Lets the Humanity Sneak In 

The rising duo follow their gut instincts to create timeless pieces of pristine indie-pop.

by Ben Boddez

Photo by Becca Hamel

A social media caption previewing Toronto indie-pop duo Babygirl’s most recent single, “Sore Eyes,” notes that the track is “for fans of falling in love.” The band’s vulnerable vocal delivery, open-hearted lyrics and overarching sense of nervous excitement certainly fits that role well, but any of those aforementioned fans also know that there’s often a lot of unrequited longing, heart-wrenching rejections and lingering feelings to power through before you get there. That part is where Babygirl’s music becomes truly affecting.

Composed of vocalist Kiki Frances and guitarist Cameron Bright, the two bonded while attending music school at Toronto’s Humber College as vocal majors. Both harboured desires to break out and write pop songs for some of music’s biggest stars. The pair’s proclivity towards a clever lyrical twist extends far outside of their own genre – they became fast friends after Frances commented on Bright’s Lil Wayne shirt.

“At first we were very casual acquaintances,” says Frances. “But when we started having real conversations with each other, we connected really quickly. It became clear that we were on the same page about a lot of things musically.”

“It was like, ‘Oh shit, we’re definitely meant to work together,’” adds Bright. “There’s a creative and an ideological chemistry here.”

“There’s a creative and an ideological chemistry here.”

Mentioned in the same breath as acts like Ice Spice, Tems, and NewJeans on a recent list of 2023 rising stars published by Consequence of Sound, the slow build of singles leading up to the release of their fourth EP and the kind of potent lyricism about lost and found love that could connect deeply with any listener has them building the kind of fanbase that’s ready to send them into the stratosphere. And while they initially followed the gospel of Swedish pop savant Max Martin, they’re now doing it on their own terms after learning that their deepest songwriting desires didn’t fit snugly in a top 40 space.

“We certainly still try and have some Max Martin rules come in from time to time, but I think that for Babygirl, it’s kind of a gut feeling of things that feel like they’re ours,” says Frances, as Bright jumps in to finish her sentences. “’Starlight’ is our first foray into a drum and bass-inflected thing, but it’s still clearly an indie-rock record,” he says. “If we’re touching on anything that’s outside of the Babygirl playbook, we make sure to put in some really obvious Babygirl-type elements. We have to make the guitars as Babygirl as possible.”

The duo’s ability to follow those natural instincts is part of what makes their songs so emotionally powerful at times, welcoming in heartbroken listeners like a friend to vent to or an outlet for their pre-first date jitters. One of their mission statements is trying to craft songs that feel like they already exist, something that they achieve with warm and memorable melodies. The duo looks to The Beatles’ “Yesterday” as the gold standard in this regard.

“There’s the story where Paul McCartney started the song, and he was going around to everyone being like, ‘Have you ever heard this?’ and eventually he was like ‘I guess I wrote it! I guess it was me!’” says Bright. “Some of the work obviously comes from the grit and the craft, but certain chunks teleport into your brain from the ether. You have to be like, ‘Am I conceiving of this, or remembering this?’”

Although the duo’s upcoming project, Be Still My Heart, is only five tracks in length, they’ve been releasing singles for it since 2021. Frances is a self-described perfectionist, often concerned with the idea that the final product will last forever, representing the band throughout history, and noting that she usually wants to keep tinkering with tracks until the label makes her hand them in. For a band that relies so much on raw, real emotions, this seems like somewhat of an odd sentiment. A track like “Born with a Broken Heart” soars due to the sparser instrumental letting the cracks and quirks in Frances’ vocals shine. According to the band, that’s all part of the plan as well.

“Different songs ask for different kinds of perfection,” Frances says. “‘Born with a Broken Heart’ was actually the demo vocal, which I recorded thinking we’d re-record it later on a better mic. It turned out that because I had been singing it very casually, not worrying, that was the best delivery for the song. But other times we want my voice to be more like an instrument than a performance in certain aspects.”

“That’s the fun, the times where you shoot for something that’s perfectly manicured – you’re always going to fall short of perfection, and then the humanity sneaks in through those little gaps in your ability to make things perfect,” Bright adds.

Be Still My Heart EP (Sandlot Records, 2023)

The tiny glimpses of humanity manifest themselves in the duo’s songwriting as well. While many of their tracks play up both the drama and the smallest twinges of heartbreak in imagined relationships, the duo let a couple of lines drawn from personal experience sneak into their narratives as well. It all adds to the comfort of the familiar, and the universally relatable experience of getting giddy over a crush – no matter which way the chips eventually fall.

“A song like ‘Always’ is not about a single particular incident,” Bright says. “Everyone in that room writing that song has experienced some version of bumping into an old lover, it didn’t work, or whatever the story is. We don’t go into specifics on what that narrative is, because it leaves it open for whoever’s listening to insert themselves in that story. You can have fictionalized narratives, but with autobiographical truths.”

Some of their lyrics get so vivid and specific that it’s hard to believe that they didn’t come from personal experience. One of them from their latest project – “is your goldfish still alive?” – still manages to capture the feeling of apprehension around how much of your bursting internal feelings to display to a prospective (or former) partner that appears in so much of the duo’s work.

“In the room we were discussing that we needed to have some sort of indication of a level of intimacy where it’s like, I know things about you and I’m checking up on those things,” Frances says. “It’s so funny because it’s so emotionally invasive,” Bright adds. “You run into someone and you’re thinking ‘Hey, I’ll love you forever and ever!’ and instead what you say is ‘Uh, how’s your goldfish?’”

Because the Babygirl catalogue often finds its narrators getting their hopes up about romantic bliss only for them to be ultimately dashed, the initial labelling of their music as being for “fans of falling in love” might seem slightly misplaced at times. But the only people who would be capable of writing songs like these are the kind that truly believe that it’s better to feel all of these feelings than none at all.

“Opening up is definitely worth it, but it’s also very hard. It’s painful to be alive,” Frances says. “The thing with being vulnerable is that you don’t always get vulnerability in return. The scary thing is you have to be like, ‘I’m going to stand here with my heart open, and no matter what happens, I’m going to try and keep it open.’”

“You’re setting yourself up for, potentially, a big plummet,” Bright says. “But I wouldn’t say that’s the thesis statement of the EP. There’s pain in these songs, but that pain doesn’t preclude that joy could follow.”