Thirteen or so months into a global pandemic, and one thing remains abundantly clear; the sun will signal a new start to each passing day despite what catastrophic dangers linger out in the wild. Artistic expression in almost every facet of life, be it music, fashion, food, and sports has experienced expansive growth from those wanting to incorporate additional layers into their creative philosophies. It’s artists such as these that keep the lights burning bright, unlocking a stream of alternate avenues in which to tap into; Shamir is a prime example of this movement.
There is something to be said of those who leaned into this period of unrest as a way to expand upon their creative footprints. Shamir kept his “tools” sharp by continuing to drop new music in spite of what perils made global headlines. In March of last year, the Nevada native unpacked Cataclysm—an LP written, produced and arranged by Shamir himself. The album resonates with the Lo-Fi, indie-rock sound that has informed his catalog over the past few years. Shamir’s voice—while light and airy—is potent enough to distort through thumping baselines and vibrant guitar riffs. From start to finish, Cataclysm reinforces the depths of his artistry by providing yet another instrument in which to experience life on planet Shamir.
A short 7 months later, Shamir followed up the above with a brand new self-titled release. The creative’s latest project can be looked at as a return to a more pop-friendly format—similar to the one he successfully satisfied with the release of his introductory album Ratchet. Originally hitting the scene in the spring of 2015, the LP was received well by industry insiders, landing on several year-end lists for multiple noteworthy publications, like Rolling Stone.
With the release of Shamir, however, the artist vowed to make his art more accessible to the masses, and seemed purposeful in his approach in delivering it to them. “I think I just wanted to get a lot of experimentation out there, and get sturdy in my artistry before I started to do anything more mainstream,” explains Shamir in a recent interview with Rolling Stone. Over the course of his young, yet impactful career, the multidisciplinary artist has shown an ability and willingness to switch trajectories within each new undertaking. Sandwiched in between Shamir’s debut LP and new eponymous album are pit stops though grunge and alt rock—en route to reaching the same pop-music finish line Ratchet crossed all those years earlier. He has proven adept at recontextualizing his sound depending on the moment, which for Shamir, meant juxtaposing his atmospheric approach to melodies against a more conventional storytelling process.
Shamir battles through bouts of anxiety throughout the album, and appears to talk himself through some of these pitfalls in a super honest kind of way. A good portion of the content hits a lot closer to home than some of his followers may realize. Without ever trying to formally do so, Shamir represents an amalgam of communities that have been marginalized by those who feel the need to blindly do so. “When you’re a part of not only one marginalized group but multiple marginalized groups, that weight does fall on you. It’s not fair, but it does. I think I had to work through that. It’s not fair and I know it’s not fair. But I have to do this to be the change that I want to see in the world. If anything, me returning to pop and making myself accessible again isn’t for me. It’s for everyone like me,” explained Shamir to Another Magazine.
Shamir’s honest approach to the arts is what endears him to his fans; for some, even more so than the music he makes. In reference to his career, however, Shamir is driven to create even in instances when he feels undervalued as an artist. “Ratchet was a success and everything, but look at how much people have taken from that album and are still taking five years later. I made it with pennies! My whole career has been undervalued. That’s something that I’ve had to live with and [now] I put all my energy and focus into making the best possible art that I can.”
Its important to be able to identify with someone from a group whom you feel represent a quality or trait you see in yourself. On the one hand, Shamir is someone who approaches such sensitives with a type of genuine sincerity, however, has shown a willingness to challenge unintelligible stereotypes in the best way he knows how; through music. “But like so many things, it’s just another thing to bear: being Black, being queer, being all of these things. But being labelled an activist is put on you because you’re a public person. I have this problem because I have this platform,” explains Shamir to Another Magazine, adding “As much as I want to be my own person, I think it’s incredibly reckless when people who are in the margins get a platform and don’t use it to lift up other people like themselves. So I take one for the team.” Although each person’s pathway to freedom is different from the next, Shamir is one who preaches the importance of seeking help when its needed most. He stresses the significance of keeping in touch with what you are feeling and to address irregularities and imbalances as they occur.
Shortly after the singer released his self-recorded album Hope, Shamir experienced a rather frightening episode that led to a draining five-day stint in a psychiatric hospital. Just like that, Shamir was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. “After my bipolar diagnosis my mother had called me “Butterfly” for the first time. I still to this day have no idea why she started calling me that since my pet name up to that point was the more common “Pumpkin”. My mental health journey has been deeply filtered through the butterfly iconography, which has been a source of comfort and stability in this unique (but not broken) life I live,” Shamir shares with us.
Shamir’s journey from “accidental pop star” to subcultural voice of change is representative of a butterfly emerging from its cocoon. This transformative process likens itself to the DIY journey he took to this heightened state of acceptance, not only from a music liberation standpoint, but from a personal growth stance as well. To help celebrate this newfound freedom in himself, we now take the wraps off Shamir’s new “Bipolar Butterfly” capsule collection. “The designs from this collection are directly inspired by the navigation of my mental health journey while living in the concrete jungle of South Philadelphia. My goal with this collection is to further dismantle the stigma around mental illness, something I’ve dedicated my life and career to doing.” Together with urbancoolab’s artificial intelligence STiCH platform, the pair referenced cues that symbolize this metamorphosis process as it relates to where he stands today. Shamir continues to advocate for those caught up in the same fight he battled earlier on in his career and vows to champion worthwhile initiatives in the process. “A portion of proceeds from every purchase will go to NAMI (national alliance on mental illness) which is an organization I love to support whenever I can.”
You can show your support by shopping the the Shamir x urbancoolab “Bipolar Butterfly” collection at urbancoolx.com. Be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom to watch a video Shamir detailing his journey.
“It pained me to have to take the extra time to heal, but, no two butterflies are the same, much like the human mind. But, there’s no stopping me now. Im flying and my wings have taken me further than I ever could have imagined. And I’m only going HIGHER.” — Shamir