I Want Boyish Implanted in My Brain
March 27, 2023
If you haven’t heard of Boyish, you’re missing out. Enormously.
My first associations with Boyish are of sitting on the jade green rug of my bedroom floor, stir-crazy from the pandemic, just dipping my toes into the extraordinary realm of queer music. I was snowed into the house the first time I heard one of Boyish’s most popular songs, “mom i think im gay,” and the quiet of the streets and the soft lightness of the sky resonated with the song’s velvety harmonies and resonant, eerie piano chords. I was hooked.
Boyish is a duo band that consists of India Shore (she/they) and Claire Altendahl (they/them). Shore and Altendahl formed a band together in 2016 while attending Berklee College of Music, originally calling themselves “The Blue.” In 2018, Boyish released their first studio album, Carnation, which includes seven articulate songs that document queer love, lust, situationships, and empowerment. They followed up with Garden Spider in 2020 and have since released two EPs in 2021 and 2022, consecutively: We’re all gonna die, but here’s my contribution and My Friend Mica. Boyish’s discography is peppered with tasteful singles that make their way onto records or stand alone as reminders that songs need not fit into albums to be great. This spring, we can expect yet another EP whose vibe, Boyish revealed to Nylon Magazine, will echo that of “Girls Are Mean,” a hauntingly self-deprecating single that just dropped a few weeks ago. It’s their favorite song they’ve ever released.
When people ask me about my favorite bands, Boyish accompanies the other loves of my life, also known as Brandi Carlile, Taylor Swift, and Phoebe Bridgers. Boyish is otherworldly, completely different from any other music I’ve ever stumbled upon. Instrumentals in their songs sound like what it must feel like to hurtle through space and dart among the stars, and Shore and Altendahl’s voices are like heavenly honey and pins and needles simultaneously. I’ve compiled a non-exhaustive list of songs in chronological order of release from each Boyish record that you should listen to to familiarize yourself with their discography.
All seven songs on Boyish’s debut album meld together seamlessly in an emotional hurricane of queer feelings. Carnation is permeated with eroticism, demonstrated by “Don’t Stop,” whose chorus repeats its title over thirty times. The second verse begs, “So come and look me in the eye/ I will let you know when it is time/ With chills running up and down my spine.” The illustrative narration of sex and the innuendo of “come” as an action and a possible command serve to normalize sexuality, especially gay sexuality, in music. By leaning into intimate themes, Boyish praises and glorifies gay sex, which is so often stigmatized and, for people assigned female at birth, made a mystery. Most of Carnation revolves around erotic themes, but the penultimate track “June Bug” breaks from this sensuality. “June Bug” is a sunny melody with a catchy chorus, “June bug,/ You would call me baby/ if you knew me/ You look kinda good,/ I’m kinda lonely/ I’m lonely.” Although the lyrics dance between buoyant and somber, “June Bug” remains an upbeat song to dance to throughout.
Garden Spider (2020)
Having amassed over six million streams on Spotify, “FUCK YOU HEATHER” is yet another example of the multilayered, intricate lyricism that Boyish delivers in each release. “Breaking up just to feel alive/ Now I don’t even know you/ Lost your name in a shitstorm I caused” precedes the outro of “FUCK YOU HEATHER.” The song builds to a deep, guttural scream, and sounds of love and hate are confused, becoming one and the same in the minor harmonies of the track. Each of the songs on Garden Spider is unique; while “FUCK YOU HEATHER” is chilling, “hot wheels” is an upbeat track with a catchy, humorous refrain. “Mama said she’d love me more/ If I had a Mercedes/ Clean it up a little more/ Drive around and look pretty,” Boyish quips. The song illustrates the allure of having a car, something I always looked forward to as a child and a teenager. “hot wheels” pokes fun at the idea that having a nice car automatically makes a person more desirable, intentionally disrupting the traditional heterosexuality of the trope. The last full song on the record, “parents house” is for everyone who wishes they could move out of their childhood home. Its lyrics are cryptic; only the person the song is written for could possibly decipher their meanings and remember the memories that shaped these words. Boyish intones, “I see you catapult/ your lungs out of your chest/ What possessed you/ Made a demon of your head/ I used to love the way/ You called me after bed/ Your gentle veins are/ Poisonously red.”
A Schvitz With Boyish (2020)
In this three-song single, Boyish collaborated with Acrylic Bathhouse to reimagine their previously released songs “July” and “Ghost” and presented a new song, “Bed and Breakfast.” The three tracks are set against a background of static that makes me wonder if they were produced and recorded in a bedroom, as the cover suggests (in the image, Shore, Altendahl, and another person sit on a bed in a tangle of instruments, wires, and headphones). “July” on this release is slower than its original on Carnation. It’s a comfortable, chill combination of guitar and vocals, and the electric guitar almost sounds acoustic. Storing the song’s original drums and background electric sonics away, this version of “July” sounds like a demo in the best way, presenting Shore’s fantastic vocals and illustrating Boyish’s way with songwriting. The lyrics read as poetry, “We’re burning July for the girls/ Pouring time straight down our throats/ And I know you tried to love me better/ Now that we’re not together/ But I found my dear girl’s arms.” In the chorus, Shore releases wailing screams that are piercing in their palpable emotion and strength. This single’s rendition of “Ghost” is similar to “July;” the song’s original energy is toned down and the drums and electric noises are tuned out, yet it retains a distinct endearing sound that leaves listeners’ ears aching to hear the next verse. In “Bed and Breakfast,” a low hum echoes throughout the song, hanging in my earbuds like morning mist over the dewy grass of my Pacific Northwest backyard. If I created a music video for “Bed and Breakfast,” it would go like this: Two androgynous queers sit on the edge of a rumpled bed, troubled and lost in the aftermath of a hookup that they fear will alter their relationship. The air is thick with marijuana and cigarette smoke, and a house show rages beyond the bedroom door. The chorus repeats incredulously, “Was it me? Was it you?/ What the fuck did we just do?”
We’re all gonna die, but here’s my contribution (2021)
This EP is ridiculously underrated. Consisting of only four songs, each of them speak to different situations, emphasizing the diversity of loves and how they manifest. The third and fourth tracks unearth a certain rawness that’s reminiscent of the mixture of emotions when you smile one moment and cry hours later. “Your Best Friend” is chill, but its lyrics cut right through the heart. This snippet, though incomplete without the rest of the song, lends an understanding of the beauty of “Your Best Friend:” “Tell me, ‘find a stranger’/ But nothing hurts more/ There you go, I’m not your girlfriend/ We wasted nights/ Pretending not to kiss when we walked home.” The collection of songs on We’re all gonna die, but here’s my contribution truly showcases Boyish’s amazing set of talents. When I put in my earbuds and listen to “Howls,” I ascend into heaven and fly through the clouds. The harmonies are liquid, the vocals are golden, the lyrics transcend typical songwriting. Boyish is such an exceptional band because they hit sound, vocals, and lyrics with excellence rivaling many of the most renowned bands and artists. This holy trinity encapsulated by just two people speaks to Shore and Altendahl’s individual talents and the magic that blooms out of their art when they work collectively. The entirety of “Howls” strikes a chord somewhere deep in my heart, beginning with the first verse, “Find me in the future/ Don’t know why you had to go/ Want to eat your heart, Howl/ I don’t want to be alone/ No one sees the wind blow/ right through ya.”
My Friend Mica (2022)
The most recent EP is perfect in every sense. During one of my six-hour flights between Oregon and Washington, DC, my Spotify refused to play any of my downloaded music besides My Friend Mica and Taylor Swift’s Midnights. Naturally, I alternated between the two records the entire flight, and neither got old. The opening track, “You Wanna Hurt Me,” like many of Boyish’s songs, is fast-paced and studded with heartwrenching lyrics. The energetic beat nearly camouflages the masochistic, obsessive love present throughout the song and beginning in the first verse, “Tell me why it hurts, tell me why I like it/ So afraid to die ‘cause I’ll never find you again/ Hold me in this bed, never leave again, please.” Boyish’s lyrics are invariably, brilliantly poetic. My Friend Mica is a particularly poignant record because multiple tracks give me the chills. Like “You Wanna Hurt Me,” the rhythm of “Congratulations” is quick, but the song is thematically somber, desperate. “I wanna tell you I’m scared/ Of the way you hold me so fucking close/ Remember when I dared you/Remember when I cared for you/ Sometimes I think I still do.” Boyish’s seasoned discography hosts songs that illustrate the most niche, deep-hearted feelings that most of us fail to put words to. The final song of the EP is “My Friend Mica,” the title track written for Shore and Altendahl’s close friend. It functions as a song for best friends, bringing other friendship songs to mind, like “I’ve Got a Friend” by Maggie Rogers and “I’m Only Me When I’m With You” by Taylor Swift. While the music industry is crowded with songs about romantic love and heartbreak, few artists produce meaningful music about close platonic relationships. “My Friend Mica” ponders the significance of friendship in the larger contexts of mental health, development of self, and the ways in which our pasts cultivate contemporary emotional relationships with others. The second chorus imparts, “My friend Mica makes me brave/ I used to be so afraid of crowds/ My friend Mica loves beige/ I’d paint the whole world to stop the sound.” I love this song because it reminds me so much of my own best friend, the knowing smiles between us, how we can confess fear and sadness to each other without judgment. “My Friend Mica” is slow and quiet, leaning into platonic love, whose significance is often regarded as second-class to romance. The poetry is set against acoustic finger-picking guitar, a melodic harmony that could easily lull one to sleep. I could listen to this song until the day I die, and I will never not feel tingly when I hear the verse, “Part of growing up is/ knowing there’s a kid/ talking to me from the back of my skull/ And it’s still scared of everything/ But now it’s seeing stars/ As the doctor sticks a needle in my arm.”
Singles often stand alone to demonstrate their own excellence and distinction from other tracks in artists’ discographies. Full of desperation, “Brooklyn Red,” a 2019 single, conveys the poetic longing of lesbian love. Shore intones, “And though she tastes the same/ She’s just a grade away/ from the same mistake/ I wish I was back in Minneapolis/ Like I was a kid.” Altendahl’s sensational guitar skills and dramatic drumming come in on the chorus, and their energy drives the song toward a spirited, powerful climax. The chorus’s simple yet stirring repetition of “I want you” paired with Shore’s forceful vocals communicates the flood of emotions intrinsic to queer love. For some people listening to “Brooklyn Red,” queer love is new, foreign, or recently unearthed. The unapologetic, wistful longing in the song demonstrates the value, beauty, and humanity of queerness.
Last September, Boyish graced DC9 Nightclub with a stunning opening set for Spill Tab. The act lasted around forty minutes and showcased a variety of their most popular songs, like “Smithereens,” “I Think I Hate It Here,” and “Legs.” Multicolored lights danced around the smoke in the air, illuminating Shore and Altendahl as they sang and played together onstage. Bouncing off of each other’s energy and movements, the duo exhibited their close relationship and a stage presence that lit up the intimate venue with vibrant energy. When I met Shore and Altendahl after their set, they were just as kind, welcoming, and sweet as I expected them to be.
Boyish is hugely important for queer people. It is through music that we learn what it means to feel and to be. Boyish portrays the diverse spectrum of queerness deliberately, telling a variety of stories to demonstrate that no music and no people are exactly alike. Socially-politically, the plethora of queer music that Boyish continues to create, alongside Shore and Altendahl’s own celebratory queer identities, change the world and the music industry. Perhaps most visibly by title, the song “AnDroGay” explores the social brutality of gender and sexuality binaries. It is just one of tens of songs by Boyish that rejects the violent structures of assigned sex, gender, and heterosexuality. I would not be where I am today without music that speaks to how my own queer identities contradict the identities that are expected of me. Queer bands like Boyish aren’t just making music, they’re saving lives.