L Devine: Pop prodigy’s virtual tour provides anxious nation with much-needed community

When a tour was canned due to Coronavirus, rising pop hero L Devine decided to head on the road regardless – beaming herself into fans living rooms for some webcam sessions. Hannah Mylrea speaks to her in-between “tour dates”, and discovers a genre-hopping hopeful who’s become a beacon of hope.

L Devine is currently on tour. Well, kinda. It’s not your classic tour, that’s for sure. There’s no city to city trek in a beat-up van with a punishing hangover. Instead, the Geordie pop hopeful is making her way fan to fan via, er, her webcam.

When her European tour supporting American pop artist Fletcher was cancelled, L Devine – real name Olivia Devine – was understandably gutted. “I was trying to think of a way I could still do the shows and connect with the fans, but from the safety of everyone’s homes” she tells NME at the end of March, ahead of her second show in the aptly titled, URL Tour.

“By doing it over different social media platforms, I thought it had the same effect as doing it over different cities,” she explains. “There will be different people on TikTok that are on YouTube and on Twitter.” Not only is she expanding her pool, but it has also given stans the chance to “attend” five gigs on the trot and to witness an ever-changing setlist – which includes unreleased tunes that she’s been “naughtily leaking”.

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The idea paid off. Hundreds of fans tuned in on Instagram Live to see the tour’s debut show. “That night I was meant to be having a show in a city in Europe; so it was a bit weird playing to no one in my living room, but it was lush. The response that I got was amazing, and everybody was saying it helped them a bit with anxieties,” she says. Little surprise, then that her confessional songwriting and transparency with fans, are providing an ample antidote to this unprecedented situation.

Born and raised in Whitley Bay – a stone’s throw from Newcastle upon Tyne – entertaining crowds, both IRL and via URL, is nothing new. She formed a punk band called Safety Pins aged seven, that was inspired by the Sex Pistols and The Clash.

But the assured stage (and screen) presence didn’t come without some disasters – namely a talent show performance aged 17. “I got about 40 seconds in and I just froze and had a panic attack. I’d never experienced anything like it before. I just burst into tears and ran off crying”

Her parents insisted that to overcome that fear, she needs to get back out there immediately. The following week her dad took her to Newcastle’s beloved Surf Café to try again at an open-mic night. “I played to everyone there and it was absolutely amazing. I couldn’t sleep that night I was lying in bed being like, ‘wow, that was the best feeling in the world’”.

Her fear was conquered, but the local scene favoured guitars and singer-songwriters as opposed to someone with pop ambitions – she knew that it couldn’t work there. “There’s definitely a cool scene in  Newcastle, but it’s all indie or singer-songwriter stuff. I just knew that London was the place where pop music was made.

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Devine moved to London after she finished her A-levels, moving in with a pal studying there. There was little plan beyond becoming a new pop hero. A chance meeting with her soon-to-be manager led to a handful of studio sessions. Things moved pretty quickly. “Then publishers started calling and then labels started calling. I signed a record deal with Warner Records [Dua Lipa, Anne-Marie] the month that I moved there,” she says proudly. Two stellar EPs, and recent booming Gen Z anthem ‘Boring People’, have since been released.

Those initial recording sessions provided space for Devine to develop her sound, but she now looks back on them with mixed feelings. “When I first came into the music industry, I was definitely more reserved. I assumed people knew better than me. As a young girl making pop music, producers don’t always expect me to have my own story, and to say that I want the production to sound a certain way and to start helping them make the beat.”

Now, Devine takes no shit from anybody. “If these people want to work with me, and make a song for my project, how are you going to try and tell me what to do?” She looks up to female songwriters like Robyn, Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush whose singular approach has made them each legends. “It’s not just being inspired by them. I just feel like I owe them something as well. I’m still just in awe that they could write songs like that”.

Another artist she’s a huge fan of is Charli XCX, and in this case, the appreciation is mutual. After Devine wrote 2018 pop smasher ‘Peer Pressure’ alongside producer Justin Raisen [Angel Olsen, Kim Gordon] Charli loved it so much she recorded her own version of the song. “To hear someone you really, really look up to rate your song enough to sing it… I was like, ‘what the fuck?!’” Devine kept ‘Peer Pressure’ for herself but admits that she has “secret little Charli XCX version on my phone that I sometimes listen to.”

Devine may have been shocked by her popstar admirer, but fans aren’t. She’s got a knack for creating insanely catchy tunes, with lyrics that resonate with her listeners. Take the moving ballad ‘Daughter’ where Devine addresses the parents of an ex-girlfriend who couldn’t accept their relationship: “it goes against everything that you taught her/But I’m sorry miss, I’m in love with your daughter/Said, ‘What about kids? All the hopes I had for her'”.

“That song especially connects with a lot of my fans,” Devine says. “A lot of my fans are part of the LGBTQ+ community and they always come to me and say how much it’s helped them, and how good it is to like have an artist that can be so outspoken and just unapologetically themselves.”

Though artists like Sam Smith, Janelle Monae and Devine herself are now bringing diverse voices into the mainstream, Devine recognises she didn’t have an artist like that to look up to when she was a teenager, and the positive impact that could have had. “I can’t really think of many people I could have looked up to, and thought ‘I can be like them, they’re like me’”.

“I think people are responding to me just being myself and writing my honest truth” she says, and she’s not wrong. Devine’s music brings people together. Whether paving the way as a queer artist or entertaining anxious fans in lock down through her URL Tour, Devine has become a beacon of hope.

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