NME Radar: Breakout

Biig Piig: Unfiltered, empowering anthems from Irish star’s genre-busting new era

The once-shy Irish artist is switching things up with her experimental reinvention and is unafraid to speak her mind

Each week in Breakout, we talk to the emerging stars blowing up right now – whether it be a huge viral moment, killer new track or an eye-popping video – these are the rising artists certain to dominate the near future

Biig Piig is reborn: three years since the Irish artist made her name with a hazy fusion of after-party soul, R&B and hip-hop, she’s back with a newfound confidence and creative freedom. Born in Cork, raised in Spain and now based in London, Jess Smyth has traded in the vulnerable heartbreak-inspired introspection of her early trilogy of EPs for a politically-angered and empowered, dancier “new era”.

The former poker player and self-confessed “extroverted introvert” – who took her name from a type of meat-filled pizza – and now counts Billie Eilish, Clairo and even Bella Hadid among her fans, hasn’t let lockdown or a break-up stop her either.

As well as making her TV debut with a home performance on Later…With Jools Holland, the 22-year-old – who is also in South London band Salmon Cat and part of the NiNE8 Collective – has put out an Avengers-style video, been busy planning a charity gig and just released her post-breakup, pre-glow up tune ‘Don’t Turn Around’.

“I feel like I had been cocooning a lot,” she says, but “now it feels like a reset. Like ‘lil Piig’s grown up!”

Why did you choose ‘Switch’ as your first single of the year?  

“It just felt right. Everything had gone to shit – because it was written just after Brexit, and Trump potentially being re-elected. It felt like this frustration was put into that track. The drum‘n’bass beat is meant to represent a heartbeat, and also the feeling of anxiety, nobody knowing where anything stands… it all feels a bit fucked.”

Have you grown more confident as an artist? 

“A lot of my early tunes – like my first single, ‘Crush’n’, which came out in 2017, and 2018’s ‘Perdida’ and ‘Flirt’ – were innocent and vulnerable, and I almost see them as a childlike me. Looking back, they feel very tender and inward. Whereas, with this new sound and world that I’ve tapped into over the last few months, it’s the mature version of that – but also the darker side of sex and drugs and the consequences of them. Before, it was very much ‘you broke my heart and I hate myself’. Now, I’m like, ‘fuck that – let me just own all of it and be a person!’”

How has that realisation impacted on your new music?  

“It’s not so sad. It feels like I’ve gotten to a point where I’m confident enough to say some stuff that maybe I hadn’t before –about how I feel in a party situation or how I feel after a break-up. The side you suppress because you question whether you sound like a bitch if you say something. But actually, no, you feel your feelings and shouldn’t have to hold back because you’re worried about how it’s going to reflect on you.

One of the tracks I’ve made is a boss bitch tune about owning my sexuality. It’s the most dramatic and intense part of the other side of myself that I never let myself go into where I’m like ‘fuck everything, I love my vagina’. It’s something I’ve never really spoken about before and is super empowering.”

“I’ve made a boss bitch tune about owning my sexuality. I’m like ‘fuck everything, I love my vagina’”

How has being a part of the NiNE8 collective helped you?  

“Massively, I owe so much to those guys and I love them so much. I don’t think I would have ever been able to go through with signing to a distribution company or major record label without them. Because if I ever feel worried about anything, or need a second opinion, they’re always the first people I talk to. Also, it’s great having that outlet where we can all meet up and just make music and not feel pressured in any way.

What was it like to perform on Live… With Jools Holland during the lockdown? 

It was great, and I feel like we got a lot more creative direction than we would have if it was in a live setting. I said from the off there’s no way we could perform ‘Switch’ in a living room with normal daylight, it would just be weird. It had to feel dark and dingy – and angry.

Billie Eilish has said ‘Shh’ is her favourite song to relax to – how does it feel to know she’s a fan of your music?   

I was sitting in the park in London with some friends when I heard about it. It’s actually mad. It was a reality check of how far music travels, that someone literally on the other side of the globe has heard my stuff.

You’re live-streaming a gig from London’s Moth Club next month – how did that come about?  

It was planned for June but I thought I’d push it back to try and make it more of a festival, bring some more people onto the line-up. Now, we’ve also got Nayana IZ, Scutti and Enny, and all the profits are going to charity. Everyone will be able to see each part of us trying to set up and do everything else, because that’s the experience people don’t get at live shows.

They’ll get an insight into how things don’t always go smoothly, the stress before a show and the feeling after. I’ve always had an interest in working with other artists management-wise, so to be able to get everyone on the same bill is a bit of a dream. I’m really excited – it’s going to be a really cool experience.

It’s being held in aid of Refuge and Trans Women of Colour Survival Fund. Why those charities specifically?  

Especially during isolation, the first thing I thought about was people in abusive homes or stuck in situations where they’re trapped. If anyone needs help right now it’s people that are stuck in unsafe environments. With TWOC, I’ve learnt a lot more; I knew about microaggressions and that racism was still very much a systemic problem, but I didn’t realise quite how much trans people go through – especially since Trump passed a bill which practically means they don’t have any security. TWOC work with people in America to try and keep trans people safe.

It’s really important because, right now, we need to do as much as we can to help out. I know it’s not a lot, but if people collectively try… it’s a bigger problem than a lot of people realise. It’s great how educational this time is.

Is playing live what you are most excited for when things get back to ‘normal’? 

That’s all I want to do now. I used to be so shy and coy onstage, wondering why anyone was there. In my head, I would have a full-on breakdown, mid-set, worrying that I was ruining their night… all these horrible thoughts. But now I’ve had time away from it, it’s really done me good. It’s made me re-evaluate and that if people have come out to see you, they’re not standing there because they have to. It’s because they want to be there. I’m just trying to drill that into my head that I’m not making them sad.

Will people notice that change when they next go to a Biig Piig gig? 

When I can get back out there, I’m gonna really put on a show. With this whole new era of my music, I’m gonna bring a different aura to it and make it a party onstage. We’ll have a live drummer, too, so I’m excited for that to go off. I hope people will mosh and dance and really get into it!

‘Don’t Turn Around’ is out now. Biig Piig’s Moth Club fundraiser will be streamed August 9.

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