L Devine: ‘Girls can write about more than being sexy’


L Devine.
L Devine

Christmas came early for L Devine this year. Six weeks early, to be precise.

In mid-November the 21-year-old singer-songwriter from Whitley Bay was named on YouTube’s list of ones to watch for next year, alongside BBC Sound of 2019 listees Mahalia, Octavian, Grace Carter and Slowthai.

Remarkable really, considering – unlike all of the above – she’d never even played a proper live gig.

That all changed just two weeks later when, by popular demand, the newcomer – who doesn’t use her full name, Olivia Devine, to avoid confusion with the porn star – made a short-but-startling two-song solo live debut at the Great Escape’s First 50 showcase.

The set included an intimate guitar rendition of her ode to young gay love, Daughter (see below), and an energetic performance of the title track from her new mixtape, Peer Pressure, where she was helped along by only a backing track and an on-stage hype woman astronaut. Just like Bez or Flavor Flav really – but in a space suit.

“That was the first time time I’ve played a show as L Devine,” says Olivia, “which was really scary.

“I do get really nervous performing and I had a lot of self-doubt.

“Back in Newcastle, I used to do loads of pub gigs and stuff but that was the first time I’ve ever done anything to track and had an astronaut on stage with me as well!

“The spacesuit kind of symbolises feeling like you don’t belong in the world sometimes so I just wanted to bring that on stage as well.

“Thank God I wasn’t wearing that, but she smashed it.”

She adds: “With Peer Pressure, I just wanted to write a song that embodied existential angst and hopefully I did that.

“Girls can write really honest songs about things other than being in love or being sexy; I just thought that wasn’t me.

“There are a lot of love songs in there too but I’m conscious that we’re in a political climate and now more than ever it’s important to have a message in your songs.”

While a second big BBC Music Introducing concert is already booked in for February, Olivia plans to continue to put out music and short films online while conversing with her growing fanbase; who delivered a specially made book to her after her debut.

Roz Mansfield, music partnerships manager at YouTube told the BBC that despite a lack of live experience, she’s already every bit the millennial pop star-elect.

“L Devine, one of the artists on our list, is an amazing example of emerging talent we are seeing on YouTube who is using the platform to connect directly with fans and who we think will make waves both commercially and critically in the next year,” he said.

“It’s the beauty of the open platform where you can go from making a video in your bedroom, to being named on an industry influencer list, or booking a world tour.”

L Devine

Olivia moved to London two years ago to pursue her dream of becoming a songwriter, but it soon became apparent in the writing rooms that her songs might be best served by singing them herself.

“Initially I wanted to write songs for other people,” she explains, “so this is weird this past couple of weeks as I’ve transitioned into rehearsing for live shows.

“Before that it was everyday in the studio with a new producer, writing songs for the past two years.

“Then when I was shopping songs around labels, trying to pitch them to their artists, they were like ‘you should be an artist’.

“I was like ‘yeah sign me up!'”

Many recent pop hits by some of the biggest young female acts around have been co-written by middle-aged male producers.

Efforts have been made this year to make music a more level playing field for young women, such as the PRS 50/50 gender equality festival pledge, and L Devine has already learned the value of fighting to tell her own truth.

“Males in writing rooms can sometimes dominate it and think that they know best sometimes,” she declares.

“If you’re writing a song for a young girl, they can’t tell the young girl that she’s wrong.

“I definitely feel like I have to prove myself more as a women, in writing rooms especially and I have to speak up a bit so that I’m heard.”

She goes on: “My idea of what a female artist was growing up isn’t what I thought it would be and it isn’t what it is now.

“You have to be real with young people – I’m a young person and I know what they’re going through.”

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Media captionL Devine on Instagram pressure and first gig nerves – singer answers questions around her new Peer Pressure mixtape song titles

The pop apprentice, who cites Kiwi star Lorde’s “lyrical honesty” and the Robyn-led Scandi pop scene as major songwriting influences, seems destined for a big year ahead but unlike her trusted space buddy, she’ll be hoping to keep her feet firmly on the ground over the festive period.

“I can’t believe it,” beams Olivia, who has been supported by BBC Music Introducing in the North East.

“I swear I was in an open mic night two years ago in Newcastle and now I’m on the YouTube ones to watch list!

“I’ve just really found myself as an artist these past few years.”

Peer Pressure is out now.

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