With a plethora of electropop tracks on the radio these days, who can blame listeners for categorizing dream-chasing pop stars as forgettable Lady Gaga and Ke$ha wannabes? Not everyone is heading down the Auto-Tune path, though, as UK upstart Shirin — who proudly utilizes electronic elements in her refreshing music — adds solid song-writing skills, a love of soul and a serious business acumen embracing the digital age to her repertoire.
“The Internet is the greatest tool,” Shirin says. “I’ve utilized it to find my fan base online and it’s so important to me to connect with my fans — they’re the best people in the world!” Now, her proclamation may sound like the same thing other popsters have said about their own legion of followers, but Shirin’s “Sweeties” are a dedicated and growing bunch. Without being signed to a label, the 19-year-old has amassed more than 1,100 subscribers to her YouTube channel, where the youngster records herself singing acapella-style renditions of currents and classics (check out her version of Katy Perry’s “E.T.” mixed with t.A.T.u.’s “All the Things She Said”); close to 800 following her on Twitter; and has received almost 5,000 likes on Facebook. That’s no small feat for an independent artist in a flooded musical landscape, and one that was accomplished thanks to the help of her solid core of supporters, who handles everything from PR to her Web page to recording songs.
“So many people have come and gone,” Shirin says. “In the last 18 months, that’s when everyone found their place. It’s incredible to have believers who are giving their time. It takes a lot of people to make a superstar.” That’s a title that Shirin would like to have, introducing her pop-dubstep hybrid and submitting her musical résumé to in consideration for the next big UK star.
A look into the singer’s background and the faith in her from her those who believe becomes crystal clear, as does her potential to achieve her superstardom. At the age of 4, Shirin — whose father is a self-taught drummer and whose mother is a closeted singer — began playing the piano. When she hit 10, she begged her parents to take singing lessons, which she did at the sacrifice of her piano playing. As time went on, she began to write songs and honed her stage presence.
“I was always the one in my family who wanted to perform,” Shirin says. “Everyone else in my family is very private with their music, but I always wanted to talk to people and to be in front of them.” And so she did just that, performing anywhere she could. It was during a trip to the U.S. three years ago that her career-defining encounter with Marcus “Bellringer” Bell took place.
“When I heard her singing, I said, ‘Who is that voice?’” Bell says of Shirin’s “wise beyond her years” vocal abilities and personification of the music. As a music prodigy himself (he met Stevie Wonder at the age of 9 and punched Dizzie Gillespie in the stomach when he was 5 — both stories worthy of their own blog post), Bell was eager to find out.
“Her dad was at the mixing board, so I started talking with him and he keeps saying ‘She’s a great writer.’ Later on, we all met up and I pulled out my iPod, gave her a track and she wrote something on the spot.” That something became their first collaboration, “Insomnia,” which went on to garner exposure on the BBC’s HomeGrown music showcase, as well as spurred interest from UK labels.
Since partnering with Bell, Shirin has completed nearly 40 songs for a full-length album or three, but her current focus is her recently released The Afternoon Tea EP. The five-song set is full of tunes that Shirin says she enjoys listening to herself, a big accomplishment, she says, if an artist wants a fan to experience the same feeling. Tea features the poptronica single “Taking You Away,” of which Shirin has produced a high-quality video that’s racking up views on YouTube. Also included is “Posh,” a playful, tongue-in-cheek number that pokes fun at British high society, and “The Other Girl,” an R&B cut about being the other woman and all the drama that comes along with the title. Each uses electronic sounds to enhance the song rather than becoming the focus of it, likely inspired by the dance music Shirin says has been readily available on the airwaves in the UK for years.
She’s also shopping for a label. Superstition won’t allow her to give any clues as to who’s expressed interest, but until a contract is signed, Shirin is taking steps to further showcase her abilities and increase her exposure. She’s currently a semifinalist (and sole remaining female pop singer) in the UK’s Live & Unsigned talent competition, which awards the winner with a grand prize that includes a management deal, PR, tour stops and the chance to play London’s 02 arena.
“At the end of the day, it’s still music. There’s lots of great talent involved and if I don’t win, I’m not bitter,” she says. “It’s been a great experience and I’ve got great footage and experience performing [including this clip of “Upside Down”]. My project is moving forward regardless of what happens.”
What she hopes will happen is a deal with a label that gets her and what she’s about. “I’m like a little lost puppy looking for a home,” she says. “I’m confident it will happen. It’s a difficult time in music right now and it’s important to adapt to the changes and find new ways to make music and to make the investment in it pay off.”
But as business-minded as she is, she’s driven by passion, one that keeps pushing her artistry to the next level and that keeps her focused on getting her music to the masses. “I want longevity,” she says. “I’ve been at this for some years. It’s not about money, it’s about totally doing what you love. I can’t do anything else … this is me.”