Hanover’s own Sir Babygirl navigates life, music and success on her own terms

  • Kelsie Hogue, aka Sir Babygirl, in her childhood bedroom in Hanover, N.H., in Aug. 2018. Hogue waited tables at Tuckerbox in White River Junction, Vt., and substitute taught in the Dresden School District, in addition to performing at local venues, while working on her album in 2017 and 2018. (James Napoli photograph)

  • Kelsie Hogue, aka Sir Babygirl, performs at The Main Street Museum in White River Junction, Vt., in May 2018. Sir Babygirl's musical roots extend to her days as a student at Richmond Middle School in Hanover, N.H. (James Napoli photograph)

  • Kelsie Hogue, aka Sir Babygirl, at her family's home in Hanover, N.H., in Aug. 2018. Hogue waited tables at Tuckerbox in White River Junction, Vt., and substitute taught in the Dresden School District, in addition to performing at local venues, while working on her album in 2017 and 2018. (James Napoli photograph)

  • Kelsie Hogue, aka Sir Babygirl, performs at The Main Street Museum in White River Junction, Vt., in May 2018. Sir Babygirl's musical roots extend to her days as a student at Richmond Middle School in Hanover, N.H. (James Napoli photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/6/2019 10:00:25 PM

In the video for Heels, one of the buzziest singles on her debut album, Crush On Me, Kelsie Hogue, aka Sir Babygirl, jogs along a wooded trail bordered by ferns and striped with sunlight, encountering army-style obstacles made of lumber and rope. Her sprite-like vocals ride a galloping bassline in sync with her stride, but none of the visuals quite add up — not the street shoes she couples with athletic shorts, not the baubles and accessories she stuffs in her backpack, not the abrupt change of scenery that ensues after she slides open the doors of an old red barn and ends up in her girly bedroom in Hanover.

She’s a misfit in these woods, in these clothes, in this rugged pursuit, but it’s touching and thrilling the way she plods ahead. The way she tries.

There are layers of irony here, but also a core of unmistakable sincerity.

Don’t be fooled by lines like this:

You don’t know / You don’t know me anymore

I changed my hair!

I changed my hair!

I changed my hair!

Beginning like a playground chant and ending with the shrieks of someone thrown from a cliff, the lines are playful and self-mocking, performed to campy perfection in Hogue’s childhood bedroom.

But even as she tosses her green-tinted hair and hams it up with her pet pug, Hogue is offering something raw and innocent, something universal, in her shrill insistence that a new hairstyle amounts to transformation.

Sir Babygirl is a phenomenon all her own, a hologram of the ersatz and the earnest, the esoteric and the accessible — and the music world is beginning to notice. Recently transplanted to Brooklyn, she released her debut album last month to considerable industry fanfare and this week kicked off a six-city headline tour. Meanwhile, her singles, which she describes as “unabashedly bubblegum, unashamedly queer pop,” are racking up views on YouTube and social media sites, and interview requests are rolling in.

“I don’t know how to process my life right now,” Hogue, 26, said in a telephone interview from Brooklyn last week.

Born in California, Hogue moved with her family to Hanover when she was 7 and attended Hanover schools. She started playing alto sax in the third grade, inspired by the nerdy Simpson’s character Lisa Simpson — whose influence she only partly grasped at that age, but who would loom large in her life for years to come. She took up bass guitar in the fifth grade, then began teaching herself how to play the piano and other instruments.

At Frances Richmond Middle School, the roots of Hogue’s music career really took hold when she took a songwriting class and began composing. In high school she learned to arrange music, started taking formal voice lessons, joined an a cappella group and developed a passion for theater.

Theater did not exactly love her back: Hogue’s most notable role was as a napkin in Beauty and the Beast.

“I literally never got the lead because I was too weird, and they didn’t know what to do with me,” Hogue said. “I’m a weird, quirky person. I’ve always been a freak.”

But in another sense, the excesses of the stage were the ideal outlet for that freakish streak. As Hogue began to discover and embrace who she was and synthesize her various passions, a distinct musical persona emerged: bold, wry and a little crass, packaged in an indulgent cotton-candy sound.

While majoring in theater at Boston College and playing in various rock bands, Hogue began to experience feelings she didn’t understand.

“I started being interested in women, but I was interested in men, too, so I didn’t know who I was,” she said. “I thought I was straight my whole life. I wasn’t suppressing anything. I just didn’t know.”

Heels commemorates those early days of coming to terms with her sexuality and fumbling around in the bisexual sphere. “It was a culmination of trying to date in the queer dating scene as opposed to the hetero dating scene ... and feeling like nothing could begin and everything stopped before it started,” said Hogue, who now identifies as non-binary and bisexual. “It’s about, ‘no this is not the right party, and I’ve got to go home.’ ... Heels is about knowing when to leave a situation.”

That sentiment could apply to Hogue’s musical journey as well. Hogue wrote, recorded and produced Crush On Me almost entirely by herself in her childhood home in Hanover, after fleeing Boston and then Chicago, determined to preserve her musical and personal integrity.

“I just got really sick of the level of ownership that men were taking over my work,” said Hogue, who waited tables at Tuckerbox in White River Junction and substitute taught in the Dresden School District, in addition to performing at local venues, while working on her album in 2017 and 2018. “I had only really negative experiences working with male producers who either sexually harassed me or infantilized me.”

The name Sir Babygirl, dreamed up one night in Boston when Hogue and her then-girlfriend were tossing around gender-conforming labels, skewers the social norms that bred those experiences. “Sir is like the most colonial male name, and babygirl is the most infantalizing,” she said. “We were like, ‘oh god, that’s so extra.’”

“Extra” is right. Whatever Crush On Me is — and it is many things — it is never subtle or homespun. Influenced by pop and pop-punk megastars such as Britney Spears and Avril Lavigne, the songs are synth-heavy and slick, with emo-tinged vocals and abundant hooks.

“I wanted to take pop structure and (mess) with it in certain ways,” said Hogue, who taught herself how to use production equipment and software. “I think there’s this feeling that pop is dumb or reductive ... I don’t know why it’s not taken seriously. There’s good pop music and there’s bad pop music.”

Pop music is some of the most technically precise music on offer, Hogue said, but more than that, it appeals to a wide range of audiences.

“Accessibility is really of the utmost importance to me,” she said. “It’s really important to me that my ideas about queerness are accessible.”

In Flirting With Her, one of Crush On Me’s lighter-hearted tracks, those ideas are front and center. “I really wanted to make the most overtly gay pop song,” Hogue said. “I just wanted to make a fun, flirting song that’s specifically gay ... to normalize the idea that it’s just another pop song but it’s gay.”

That she does so through a contrived persona makes the gesture no less real. Ironic in name, Sir Babygirl authentically embodies Hogue’s essence.

“I like to think of Sir Babygirl as the cartoon version of me,” said Hogue, recalling her childhood fascination with Lisa Simpson and other ’90s-era cartoons. “I love those characters because they’re all really androgynous and allowed to be these weirdos,” she said.

Hogue herself now needs no one’s permission to be a weirdo. Her budding success speaks for itself.

Yet, like the jogger in Heels, she once again finds herself plodding along unfamiliar terrain, in an industry that isn’t all bubblegum and cupcakes.

“I’m getting really great press. People are listening to my album, but it’s really hard to make money in music,” she said. “People assume that I’m jet-setting around. I’m just literally trying to survive.”

Sarah Earle can be reached at searle@vnews.com and 603-727-3268.



 

 


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