South London’s MX World and Julia Star make colourful drag-rap about body image, toxic masculinity, and gender conformity
With its colourful garage beat and chant-along vocal hook, “See Ya!” – the new single from London duo MX World and Julia Star – sounds like a bright, bouncy hit. But as its creators explain, the song comes from a more tempestuous place. “It’s about cutting contacts with people who are around you but don’t really have the best interest in you,” says Julia Star, who provides the track’s brash, rappy vocals.
“The song has a great deal of irony to it,” adds MX World, who produced its glowing instrumental. “I’ve always admired the way Julia can channel her anger into something creative. It’s very liberating. Female rage is often still viewed as shameful.”
MX World (real name Poppy Tibbets) and Julia Star (Giulia Tommasi) started making music together after striking up a friendship at a GAIKA show a couple of years ago. Tibbets is a songwriter, producer, and sound collagist whose experimental pop music has seen her work with collectives like UNITI, while Tommasi moved to London from Italy nine years ago and started Julia Star as a drag project exploring body anxiety, performing everywhere from London gay club East Bloc to Sydney. Before they started working together, both were already involved in south London’s female and non-binary-fronted DIY electronic scene, and last year they released their first song together, “Ghost Daddy”, as part of MX World’s debut EP. “See Ya!” grew out of an ongoing creative partnership that also saw them start a clubnight, Cute Sabotage, to showcase other artists from their community.
“See Ya!” is the first release on Insecure, a party and record label started by UK songwriter Zoee to offer newcomers to London’s DIY scene a platform to express themselves. Following its release, we caught up with MX World and Julia Star to talk about their collaboration, finding a creative outlet for their anxieties, and the best advice they’ve ever been given.
How did you both meet?
MX World: I’d been following Julia’s music for a while and had heard a lot of people talking about her live performances. We bumped into each other at a GAIKA show at the Roundhouse in 2016 and agreed that we should do something together.
Julia Star: We bonded a lot regarding our anxiety towards gender stereotypes, being confused about our sexuality, and, you know, the good old ‘hating on ex-lovers who broke our hearts’ type of thing. I think we were able to support each other emotionally, but in a healthy way. I feel like we both care a lot about making feel people around us comfortable.
“Having the space to be honest about things that I find hard to explore outside of my music is very cathartic” – MX World
Do you come from artistic families?
MX World: My dad was a playwright for a while and continues to write. He’s quite a theatrical man. None of my immediate family are musicians. I think I get my work ethic from my mum and my desire to perform from my dad.
Julia Star: Both of my granddads were music and visual artists. One of them played clarinet and went to conservatoire, he also took me to poetry readings when I was very little and I remember liking it so much. I have nice memories of those summer evenings. He was also a sculptor and painter and always took me to the studio with him. The other one just loves Spanish acoustic guitar music and is also a very talented player. He was part of a quite successful Italian boy band when he was young! It was with him that I started to write my first songs and practiced singing a lot.
When people ask what kind of music you make, what do you tell them?
Julia Star: I say that I do some emotional, weird rap thing, a bit experimental. I’m confused about defining my music though, ‘cause I wouldn’t say I’m a rapper. It puts me in a difficult place. Most rappers out there probably think I’m whack ‘cause I rap about my feelings, but it’s only because they’re not in touch with their own emotions. It took me very long time to learn how to feel my feelings – that’s why I write about them so proudly.
MX World: “My work combines traditional methods and styles of songwriting with sampling, sound collage, and audio processing techniques to create atmospheric, experimental pop music. Through my music I explore themes such as loneliness, embodiment, fantasy, and anxiety.” If I can’t be bothered to go into that much detail, I just say that I make ambient electronic pop.
Julia, can you tell us about your background in drag?
Julia Star: Julia Star started as some kind of drag act. I performed in few clubs in East London and even in Sydney under Betty Grumble’s wing. I just feel safe in that kind of environment, not pressured to act my gender and away from straight dude’s harassment. I was wearing full pink outfits and blonde wigs trying to look like a ‘Britney Spears from hell’ kind of thing. I was expressing my frustration with gender norms, toxic masculinity, and the media’s pressure on women’s bodies. I was also questioning my own sexuality, which I haven’t stopping doing.
What are you most influenced by creatively?
Julia Star: I studied Fine Art at Goldsmiths, but I didn’t really find my calling there, so the last year I started writing music and finished my degree just to be the first person in my family to get one. I’m still a very visual person though – I just love making music videos – but writing really fixes my heart. I’m crazy about Bbymutha, Princess Nokia, and Cardi B. I cry to Frank Ocean, just like everybody else. I wish that someone talked to me like Bryson Tiller, and I play Brockhampton out loud when I’m going through one of those angry days, which is often.
MX World: The things that influence me most are my own sadness and insecurities. Having the space to be honest about things that I find hard to explore outside of my music is very cathartic. I did a degree called Music and Visual Art at Brighton Uni where I learned how to record my music and to use DAW software like Logic and Ableton – around this time I got into artists like The Knife, Oneothrix Point Never, Laurel Halo, and Björk.
“I cry to Frank Ocean, just like everybody else” – Julia Star
What is “See Ya!” about?
Julia Star: Fake friends! It’s about cutting contact with people who are around you but don’t really have the best interest in you. I’ve got a very high maintenance mental health situation, so I really need to be careful and kind to myself. A good friend would be able to understand and respect those boundaries, but most people can’t really empathise ‘cause they’ve never felt even close to the way you feel.
MX World: The song has a great deal of irony to it, even though rage is an integral theme. I think Julia and I often relate over our anxiety and how we’re expected by society to behave as women. It’s such a relief to realise or remember that someone else shares very similar feelings to you when moments ago you were feeling completely alienated.
When you’re working together, where do you find your ideas come from?
Julia Star: That would be from cute animals videos. Poppy is really into cute hedgehogs and seals, I’m crazy about hamsters. For real though, we talk a lot over the internet and send each other links, record ideas in our bedrooms, then get together at Poppy’s studio for the real thing. I like how she sometimes edits my vocals and turn it into a whole new song. She’s crazy talented.
MX World: We actually work quite separately, in a way. Julia takes care of most of the verses and lyrics and I make the beat and produce the rest of the track. I think both of our ideas come from a similar emotional place though. I think that’s why we get along so well. We have a similar sense of humour.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Julia Star: When Gucci Mane said that you shouldn’t overthink things but just put it out there and hope that it works.