it girl

The Indie-Sleaze Revival We Deserve

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Rachel Chinouriri

Rachel Chinouriri may run on nostalgia, but there’s nothing outdated about her. The 25-year-old indie singer-songwriter, who grew up in London, discovered music via Britpop musicians like early Coldplay, Blur, and Oasis — “indie-sleaze white British male boy bands who I thought were so fucking cool,” she says. In her music, she wears those influences on her sleeve — thanks to Chinouriri, you don’t have to brave a concert from the Dare to find indie sleaze revived in all its glory. But Chinouriri and her wardrobe of low-slung plaid skirts and tiny rhinestone tees are reinventing indie music’s golden era on very different terms. “Growing up in a Britpop world informed where I want to go musically,” she says. “The girl bands were always super-hyperpop, so I was kind of like, Where is the middle of that?” She landed on a sound that’s almost classic indie rock on its surface but filled with detours into pop, emo, and punk — all filtered through the voice of your best friend who just went through a shitty breakup.

As original as she is, you may have found Chinouriri through more conventional means — her celebrity fan base includes the freshly divorced Sophie Turner, who posted Chinouriri’s embittered, folksy “All I Ever Asked” on her Instagram Stories in December; Florence Pugh, who reached out to the artist and ended up co-starring in her music video; and Adele, who shouted out Chinouriri’s work mid-performance during her Las Vegas residency. But no matter who’s in her audience — which Chinouriri often refers to as her “darlings” — she’s just happy to have the support.

In between touring across the U.S. for the first time, Chinouriri called me from a hotel room in Austin, Texas. “Everyone’s got cowboy hats and boots and just look cool as fuck,” she gushes. “And I love the accents.” Onstage, she’s been playing still-unreleased songs from her upcoming debut album, What a Devastating Turn of Events, which will release on May 3. “The reception has been incredible,” she says. “I’m just ready for the songs to bloody come out.”

What is an “It” girl?

An “It” girl is self-confident and self-assured. Someone who knows who they are and holds themselves to it. Someone who leads with love and always tries to do the right thing.

Who are other musicians you’d classify as “It”  girls?

SZA, ’cause oh my goodness, she is just outrageous. Rihanna, Beyoncé, the classics. Megan Thee Stallion is currently my No. 1. Olivia Dean, Rumo Plum, Lily Allen, Adele, Amy Winehouse. Stunning, gorgeous people who’ve creatively done incredibly well for themselves.

I’ve seen your music compared to Lily Allen’s quite a bit.

I think any girl between 18 and 30 can confidently say Lily Allen was just, like, a character trait growing up. She is undeniably incredible.

Any other musicians or artists who influence your style?

Elena Tonra from the band Daughter — I think she’s wicked. The way she sings and the way she puts music together has always been super-inspirational. Florence Welch and Ellie Goulding. There’s also Black British women, like Shingai from the Noisettes, Estelle, and Skin from Skunk Anansie. There’s this girl band Sugababes that I’m obsessed with. Black British pop girlies are just phenomenal.

What are some “It” girl essentials that every “It” girl must have?

Lip balm is one of my essentials. And emotional forgiveness.

Do you consider yourself an “It” girl?

I’d like to think so. Women are sometimes conditioned to explain ourselves when we’re proud of who we are or what we do. We should be able to be like, I’m the best, and I slay, and you can come watch me slay. So yeah, I am an “It” girl. A very proud “It” girl.

How would you describe your style?

It’s quite indie and vintage. I’m always about comfort first. I’m quite unapologetic with how I dress, so if I want to look hot, I’ll wear it.

What era most inspires your wardrobe?

Early noughties. I was between the ages of 2 and 12, but my sisters were all in their teens and I just loved their fashion sense. They would gel waves into their hair and have outrageously colored eyeshadow, tiny bags, fluffy boots …I wanted to dress how they dressed. They look back and are like, Oh, we used to dress so bad; the clothes now are so much better. But I’m like, No, you guys were really onto something. It was so creative and free and fun and colorful. When I was trying to do it by myself without a stylist, it was a bit questionable at times, but now that I’m doing it well, I think they fully get it.

Where do you like to shop?

Remass is a cool small shop that’s kind of like Depop. When it’s vintage, there’s always Save the Queen, Jane Norman. Generally I like anything bloody old. Levi’s, Ed Hardy, Von Dutch, Juicy Couture, Baby Phat, all the old brands that are coming back in, I’ve never really stopped wearing. Currently, I’m really obsessed with Heaven by Marc Jacobs, which is way more on the expensive side.

What’s your favorite thing you’ve bought this year?

These Ed Hardy shorts with cherries on the back. I’ve also got some Ottolinger boots that go high, just under the knee, with straps, and they look like gladiator boots.

I have to ask about your barrettes. How did you start wearing those?

I would always see white girls with hair clips on Pinterest. I saw one Black girl who’d covered all her hair in these clips and I was like, Oh my goodness, I’m in love. I started experimenting with just standard silver hair clips to begin with. I thought it would stop after a month and then my label was like, “We love the clips.” And I was like, “Well, I love the clips.” And then it just never stopped. It’s really handy now when I’m sweating onstage. It heightens even the most standard look. I’ve always been into anything metallic or chainlike, so I’ll always stick with a good silver sparkly clip. My current obsession is bows, and there’s a vintage shop near me that sells bow clips.

Where do you like to go out?

Oh God, don’t tempt me. I love the U.K. pub culture, just sitting with your friends and having a beer. I went on my first date with my current boyfriend at the Spurstowe Arms in London, which is a very wholesome, quiet, cozy environment. When I was in my party-girl phase, I spent many drunk evenings at Koko in Camden. Now I’ve performed there, which was a lot more fulfilling than stumbling out at five in the morning drunk.

What’s your go-to drink order?

I’m crazy. I like double tequila shots and water. Or I do a Craig David, which is a double tequila shot and a double shot of pineapple juice. I can sometimes have seven or eight shots and then I go home, wake up the next day at nine, and feel completely fine. Everyone’s always like, Wait until you get to 30. I’m 25 now, so I’ll think about that when I get there.

You have such an eclectic range of musical influences. What kind of music did you grow up on?

I grew up not really listening to that much music from outside my home. We were the only Black family on that road, and there was a lot of racism, so we isolated in the house a lot. My parents are immigrants from Zimbabwe, and most of their music was songs from their churches. I’m gonna call it Zimbabwean folk. When they were out, my siblings would turn on the TV and put on Destiny’s Child, 50 Cent, Eminem, Adele. Also Skepta on Channel U. I managed to get access to YouTube and Soundcloud when I was about 13 and discovered early Coldplay, Daughter, Lily Allen, Labrinth, James Blake … so my music range has gone a bit backward. I was almost discovering music that I should’ve grown up with when I was 16. People would ask, “Have you listened to David Bowie?” “Have you listened to Lauryn Hill?” I love Lauryn Hill now.

What drew you to more of an indie sound in your own music?

I’m gonna have to give it to early Coldplay, especially A Rush of Blood to the Head, X&Y, and Parachutes. There was stuff like the Pigeon Detectives, Arctic Monkeys, the Libertines, Blur, Oasis. I was like, This is really cool. I wonder if there’s any girls that do this kind of stuff. And also, where are the Black girls who can do that?

You work in a music genre that’s still largely dominated by white men. Did you see a space for yourself in indie when you first started playing?

It felt like I was working upstream for a while. It felt like a barrier of “You can’t come here. You can’t join in with us.” Being Black and indie, no matter what music I put out, people always called it R&B. The amount of Zooms we had where it was like, “We don’t know where to place you,” or “We don’t know what crowd you’d have.” It feels great that I’ve been able to find my path and hopefully change the narrative so that girls who are currently 18 or 19 who are Black and want to do music can have a space. There is space available. It’s just a shame that it’s probably cost me a few years of wasted time.

Have you been able to connect with other Black indie artists?

There’s a girl who I’m currently obsessed with called Flowerovlove. I think she’s 17 or 18. Her music is just so fun, and it’s nice to see her with her big Afro being really cutesy. Essence Martins just opened for me on tour, and I think she’s phenomenal. I love Cat Burns and Olivia Dean — I went to college with those two girls, and they’re doing incredibly well.

You’ve said in interviews you want your album to feel nostalgic. What do you want people to be reminded of?

For my first album, I wanted to go back to my core of what home felt like, being raised in the early noughties in the U.K. If I start at the very beginning and what I love music for, what music made me feel like, then it’ll be easier to explore during the rest of my career. I feel like I’ve put together a strong foundation. Wherever I venture, my first album will have something that will show who I am.

The Indie-Sleaze Revival We Deserve