Occult Hero: Shamir

With seven albums already out in the universe, you should know by now to expect the unexpected from Shamir. On eighth album ‘Heterosexuality’, the singer is reinventing himself all over again.

One glance at the album cover for Shamir’s forthcoming eighth album ‘Heterosexuality’, and it’s hard not to be drawn in instantly. Decked out in horns and hooves, the Philly-based, Vegas-born, genre-crushing artist appears as a modern-day Baphomet; a figure, he admits, that he even sees a bit of himself in.

“It’s a figure that is so easily and quickly demonised,” he explains, “and I feel like that in a lot of ways, just being in my Black queer body. I often feel like people see me as if I’m half-animal, half-human.”

That Shamir could shoot in a surprisingly full park in complete Baphomet get-up and not notice that much difference says it all. “The stares that I got were not unlike the ones I get every day, without the horns and hooves,” he recalls. “They’re not negative, it’s kind of like a weird awe, like I’m an animal at the zoo.”

The vision of Baphomet (the occult deity worshipped by the Knights Templar) originally came to Shamir around three weeks after finishing up his 2020 self-titled seventh record, and resulted in a slight spiralling on Twitter. “That happens sometimes,” he smiles. While he had no plans for new music at that moment, he kept the idea of the Baphomet aesthetic in the back of his head - “I just knew that I would look fucking sick in horns and hooves!” - and two days later producer Hollow Comet hit him up, in a moment Shamir describes as “divine intervention”.

The pair have crafted a thrilling record that arrives seven years after Shamir made his debut with ‘Ratchet’, and two years since his critically-acclaimed self-titled LP. Crucially however, though ‘Shamir’ received such positive reactions, the singer made sure not to crudely attempt a similarly itch-scratching follow-up, instead prioritising creating something “honest and truthful” above chasing that same reception.

“There’s this weird stereotype that queer people who are living out are just automatically absolved of all the trauma that comes with queerness.”

The result is ‘Heterosexuality’: an album that explicitly explores Shamir’s queerness, while also acknowledging trauma. “I think anyone can relate to it on an empathetic level,” he notes. “You kind of can apply it to literally anything. Like, ‘Gay Agenda’ is not just about queerness, ‘Gay Agenda’ is about being yourself. ‘Cisgender’ is not just about transness, it’s about the friction that we all feel with gender.”

The latter, an industrial-leaning hypnotic number that erupts into howls of “I’m not cisgender, I’m not binary, trans / I don’t wanna be a girl, I don’t wanna be a man”, has seen an overwhelming reaction in response to its release. So much so, that it’s even taken Shamir back a bit. “I was like, ‘Oh Lord, everyone is gonna hate this’,” he laughs. “But it’s resonated so much with the people who have heard it. It’s so weird because I feel like I’ve gone into this more serious sound and everyone is [often] like, ‘We want the fun Shamir back!’ But everyone likes all the moody songs on this record. What do you want?!”

Elsewhere on ‘Heterosexuality’, the dream-pop-infused ‘Caught Up’ and upbeat ‘Marriage’ mask themes of emotional baggage and feeling luckless, while ‘Abomination’ sees Shamir return to rapping, shouting out Tracy Chapman while delivering cutting political commentary. “I was like, ‘Yo, I feel the urge to rap over this. I feel a lot of trauma tied to rapping for myself. I just want to make you aware that this is something that I’m working through’,” Shamir recalls. “I think I worked through a lot of things while making this record, and it felt very healing.”

Acknowledging his trauma from the outset, even when the first vision of Baphomet appeared to him, Shamir knew that the self-professed “dark moment” that followed was something that he was determined to address. It’s evident throughout the lyrics of the record, as he ends ‘Father’ with the statement, “I’m finally ready to go at it alone”; ‘Stability’, meanwhile, finds him letting go of toxicity, proclaiming “It’s the only life I get”. “I guess I was kind of grappling with this queer frustration, you know what I mean?” he muses. “And I think there’s this weird, not-true stereotype that queer people who are living out are just automatically absolved of all the trauma that comes with queerness.”

Nearly a decade on from his dancey landmark hit ‘On The Regular’, ‘Heterosexuality’ finds Shamir diving deeper than ever. It is, he admits, his favourite creation - something he’s never said about his previous seven outputs. “But they’re all my babies!” he emphasises. This is the favourite child though, yeah? “Well I will say, every other baby was unplanned, but I still love them! But this baby was planned, and made with love and intention.”

‘Heterosexuality’ is out 11th February via AntiFragile.

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