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Glitch Princess Press Shot 1 Ethan Lai
Photography Ethan Lai

On Glitch Princess, Yeule drags us into the pixelated pits of cyberspace

Ahead of their second album, the Extremely Online artist talks cyberfeminism, video games, and working with PC Music’s Danny Harle

Less than five minutes into my conversation with Yeule and we’re swapping examples of our favourite cyberfeminist writers. The Singapore-born songwriter and producer – real name Nat Ćmiel – is impressively clued-in to all things posthumanist. They talk excitedly about the writings of Anne Balsamo’s Technologies of the Gendered Body and Rosi Braidotti’s The Posthuman, even going so far as to send me recommendations after our Zoom call. “I’m taking a break because my brain went into total overdrive,” they tell me.

The 24-year-old artist is like a cyborg, or a videogame character. Sat on a state-of-the-art gamer chair in their room in Singapore, they wear thick alienoid make-up with white powdery eyes and a bright red wig. They sip of a can of Monster and recount the time that Park Chan-wook’s highly-charged film I am a Cyborg got them hooked onto licking batteries (“but I think it’s really bad for you,” they warn). Their pet is a small metal drone named Nemo that they proceed to waggle in front of the camera to reveal a pair of robotic, buggy eyes.

Following on from 2019’s Seratonin II, Yeule’s second album, Glitch Princess, is more chaotic than its predecessor. Written during the pandemic, the album uses the disruptive power of the glitch, or “the process of things fucking up”, to unpack themes of gender and identity. Alienoid vocals are juxtaposed with experimental shoegaze sounds, MMRPG-style melodies, and static soundscapes, bouncing from emo-pop to glitchcore to a mammoth four-hour ambient closer. 

Co-produced by PC Music’s Danny L Harle, with vocal contributions by the likes of Mura Masa and Japanese rapper Tohji, it feels akin to entering a cyberspace of error messages and broken computer code. It’s posthumanist pop for an Extremely Online generation by way of Donna Haraway and Final Fantasy.

I want to start off with an open-ended question. Obviously so much of your identity and Yeule’s was forged online. How would you describe your personal relationship to the internet? 

Yeule: It’s love and hate, because I get really trapped inside it. But it also gives me a great form of escape – the way you can just become fluid inside it. When I started to put stuff out as Yeule, and building that character and becoming this perceivable thing, I could no longer switch away from it. I like it but I crave anonymity. I’m always on the internet, but I’m always different people, not Yeule. 

That really reminds me of Legacy Russell’s Glitch Feminism, you know how she talks about the glitch offering an opportunity for us to perform and transform ourselves in an infinite variety of identities.

Yeule: Oh no but that sounds interesting. The pieces of writing I’ve been reading are from the 80s, but it’s a very futuristic post-human stance on gender and perception of self. It blows my mind how it was written by academics at that time. I’ve just finished Rosi Braidotti’s The Posthuman though, which sounds similar. Technologies of the Gendered Body by Anne Balsamo is also really good.

My knowledge on early cyberfeminism is a bit patchy. Like, I’ve read Donna Haraway and some of the other OGs, but I need to check these out.

Yeule: I also read a lot of Susan Sontag. I was first introduced to On Photography, but she went on to write a lot about posthumanism too. Saying that, I’ve currently finished all my philosophical readings. I’m taking a break because my brain went into total overdrive. I was thinking about things too much between the lines, so I need to be a bit stupid for now. I’m rereading Beserk, the manga. It’s fucked up. It’s like the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, but they’re all warriors. Like, it’s cute but intense.

So, your album Glitch Princess is out now and it sounds terminally online. Where did this interest in the glitch come from?

Yeule: I grew up playing a lot of video games – like, a lot. I played so much Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, Halo 1 and 2 with my brother. We played a lot of Mario Kart, Mario Party – crazy shit. Then I found the beautiful and vast world of MMRPG. I played a lot was Maplestory and Runescape – it was lit. I remember watching a lot of gameplays on YouTube and I loved seeing how you can glitch the game or secrets inside the game, because it becomes your reality for so long and you want to prove that it’s not for you. 

Then I noticed I was doing it in real life too. When I tried to make something perfect, or obsessively work on something, I found that when something gets in the way of achieving that perfection, I’d tell myself that everything’s just glitching right now. Like, I just need to sleep and restart the game. When I go to bed, I always feel like I’m restarting. There’s this constant trying to make this perfect world for myself imperfect. 

Over time, I had this fascination with the idea of the glitch. I think it’s become a popular symbol for creatives in the last few years. It’s a really common conceptual symbol. For me, it was dealing with a lot of OCD and perfectionism becoming destructive. And I wanted to pay homage to the process of things fucking up, especially in electronic music. I had to accept that it’s not perfect. Have you seen I’m a Cyborg?

No, I haven’t.

Yeule: The main protagonist licks batteries and she’s mentally ill. She believes that she’s a cyborg and she can get these guns out and shoot everyone in hospital and shit. I won’t spoil it, but because of this girl, I’ve started licking batteries. I went to purchase these 18 650 batteries, which are really cute. They’re actually for my drone Nemo, he’s my little pet. Actually, they’re a them/them. Anyway, I started licking these batteries when I was really stressed out instead of vaping. But I think it’s really bad for you. Please do not lick batteries. 

“I found that when something gets in the way of achieving that perfection, I’d tell myself that everything’s just glitching right now. Like, I just need to sleep and restart the game” – Yeule

What is it about being a cyborg appeals to you? 

Yeule: I love the notion of being an all-encompassing being who’s not confined to the predicaments of man. Like, the sort of things we were brought up on, with masculinity and femininity.

I find that the internet lends itself to breaking these binaries. Like, we can put on and take off identities like avatars. 

Yeule: I’m a literal physical avatar. I think it comes from wanting to be this specific video game character. I wanted to look like Yeul from Final Fantasy 13 and I wanted her personality so bad. I wanted to be as graceful and mysterious as that bitch. I really loved her backstory. I thought it was incredibly emotional and heavy and beautiful. Final Fantasy 13 has this whole about visiting timelines to save a possible future. That’s like me too. I’m always trying to fix certain things and control what’s going to happen. 

I always remember needing to look different from how I usually look. But, as I got older, I stopped running away. It wasn’t stemming from escaping myself, but rather, this became how I express myself. I used to think of make-up as something I needed to wear in order to look OK, when I was younger. But now I see it as drawing on my face, like a canvas. So it’s healthier. But I love doing looks. I just sit in my room and draw shapes. I love the way that deep-sea creatures look. I guess like that the closest things on this earth we have to aliens. 

What was it like working with Danny Harle on Glitch Princess?

Yeule: Danny is so versatile and incredibly talented. We both share knowledge in classical composition and I really appreciate his work ethic as a producer. He makes pop bangers, he makes crazy ambient avant-garde sounding shit. But he comes from a well-trained background and that’s what I really appreciate about him.

But it took a long time for us to actually start writing together. First we would just hang out as friends. We have the same sense of humour and we were just sending each other memes. Then we were like, ‘we’re both musicians, shouldn’t we just start working together?’ I also think Danny really understands my creative direction. He’s the only producer I’ve openly collaborated with on a project. 

How did you choose your subject matter when approaching this album in particular?

Yeule: It was actually a very streamlined process. The ones that Danny produced, I would write in the studio. But, the ones I produced, I would look at journal entries and just start singing a melody. I have to write in my journal every day, it’s like a curse. I have seven books right now and I started at the beginning of the pandemic. 

I think the most confessional piece is “My name is Nat Ćmiel” because it showed a side of me that was more natural. A lot more child-like. It’s honest in a very innocent way. I wanted it to sound like child’s play, like presenting to a class. But then you say all these fucked up things like, I want to get fucked but I also want to peg someone too. 

For someone who’s so Extremely Online, how do you navigate internet friendships?

Yeule: I think it’s one thing to have friendships, but to have intimacy on the internet is something I have mixed feelings about. I went through a long distance relationship on the internet sometime between 2016 and 2018. I’ve also had Tumblr boyfriends, Tumblr girlfriends, Tumblr partners. We’d have all these arbitrary rules determining how we’re going to be monogamous to each other. Like, whether it’s just online or if it carries on into real life. But it really warped my idea of what commitment should be. The internet can offer you instant gratification but it can also be this long, strenuous pull up a hill. 

Glitch Princess is out now