Not many people can say that their journey into creating a hit album began with memes. Sir Babygirl can. Stepping into the small cafe where we met in Brooklyn, Kelsie Hogue, aka Sir Babygirl, is carrying a purple NSYNC backpack, an emblem of the landscape both she and her music live in — a world steeped in the iconography of the ’90s. Coming off the first leg of her tour for her debut album, Crush on Me, she’s tired but sparkly. Her eyeliner is sharp, she’s got sparkles on her forehead and a denim button-up on, rocking a look indicative of both the masculine and feminine.
As a bisexual non-binary person, she’s a queen and king wrapped into one. She uses both he and she pronouns, has a closet full of both wild prom dresses and sports uniforms she’s thrifted. For her, there’s nothing better than slipping into obnoxiously big and wild outfits and makeup and disappearing into the music when life feels like too much — exactly what Sir Babygirl lets her do.
Lauded as a bubblegum pop hit by press and beloved by fans who have traveled great distances to see her shows, she says she couldn’t have imagined being where she is now in her career when she started making memes on Instagram in 2017.
There, she became welcomed by a community of other queer people who also wanted to process their lives through humor and absurdism. It was that community-building that, in part, inspired her to share her music publicly and dive into that absurdism through hooks, melodies, and cloying shouts. When she recorded her song “Heels” and put it on her Instagram, the support from her “small but dedicated following” was overwhelming. Since then, her Instagram has transitioned from a meme page to both her music and personal page. But if you wanted to scroll through it, you could comb your fingers through her whole career thus far.
Despite transitioning from a meme-based page, her work is still about building community. “I had this fan fly from Austin to D.C. on tour and [they] told me that hearing my song ‘Heels’ for the first time felt like a similar euphoria to getting top surgery; that was mind-blowing,” says Hogue. In the song, Hogue screams, “You don’t know me anymore / I changed my hair!” again and again, a declaration of reclamation of self. In all of her music, it’s clear that Hogue is not interested in making anyone comfortable. She’s attracted to extremes and what it looks like to be honest about them.
After taking songwriting electives and playing saxophone in middle school, inspired by Lisa Simpson, Hogue has been making music her whole life. It’s only now, though, that she’s making music that embodies so much of her complexity. The bonus is that everything gets to be about her favorite instrument: her voice. “Singing is so other-fucking-worldly, that our bodies alone can produce shit like that is magical. It’s your whole body. The vibrations alone of what it does to your body… it’s so cathartic,” she says with a voice full of reverence. She looks to Toni Braxton, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, and other great black vocalists for the way they’ve honed their technique and use their voices as tools.
For her first album, songs had been boiling beneath the surface for years, but figuring out how to make them a reality was the problem. Going to the internet was what she knew, and searching for an engineer that was “not a cis man,” she found Lee Schuna, a transmasculine engineer who she immediately vibed with. Going back to Boston at least once a month to work with him in long benders, churning out songs and ideas, they produced enough tracks to reel in Father/Daughter Records, a dream come true. However, as a grassroots artist, she’s never been able to stop hustling.
Hogue is her own biggest cheerleader, she explains. You have to be if you want to make it as a queer artist who’s taken seriously in the music industry. She wants to be mainstream, she wants to be a star, and she wants everyone to know it.
“I really wanna challenge people’s conception of what’s allowed to be in the mainstream,” she says, adding, “I think the pop landscape is becoming really expansive and to continue existing and wiggling myself in there on my own terms and yeah — I don’t think that you should have to be underground or indie if you’re queer, we deserve to be all over the industry and every pocket that makes sense.”
With a sound and aesthetic crafted after many of the giants whose shoulders she stands on, including Britney and Christina from an era gone by, Hogue says her Sir Babygirl persona is “the most hit-you-over-the-head display of my identity, the cartoon clown version of myself, my Lizzie McGuire cartoon.”
“I don’t think that you should have to be underground or indie if you’re queer, we deserve to be all over the industry and every pocket that makes sense.”
Hogue calls music a landscape. Making music is not just catharsis for her. It’s building a world. Originally having gone to school for theater in Boston, intent on being a Broadway star, she left with an even deeper love of storytelling and an understanding that maybe there were more ways to perform and process. Through music, Hogue found a new kind of storytelling using riffs and hooks — through music, you are all of the masks, characters, and plotlines. Hogue feels most at home as that one-man show, where the people listening get to build the world with you. In creating the landscape of her first album she pictured a makeup aisle at a CVS — it’s putting on a face and exploring all the elements you can add to yourself.
After a year of living with her parents in New Hampshire, where she grew up, Hogue is back to living in Brooklyn, hustling to be the next big pop star in the “church of pop music.” She’s figuring out the dynamics of touring and what it means to have the job of being a pop star, and taking care of her mental health and chronic health issues.
Music is life for Hogue, an escape into the deepest questions and fantasies — but it also requires a lot of work, self-marketing, finding an “in” into an industry that’s all about who has the most money and connections. She’s conscious not to glorify the industry, but knows exactly how big she wants to be. Making Crush on Me felt insular, which was cathartic, but she wants her next album to be expansive. Bigger. Pushing more boundaries.
“I want to work with new people and see what we bring out in each other, and seeing how far I can stretch myself with other people while maintaining my sound.”