NME Radar: Breakout

On the road with UPSAHL, one thrilling live show at a time

NME meets the Arizona star in Berlin, as she prepares to bring her "vulnerable and hot" pop show to a sold-out Lido

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

UPSAHL’s latest release ‘Into My Body’ has dual meanings. The slinky dance track, which sees the Arizona-born, LA-based artist open up about dissociative feelings over throbbing house beats, was written after a major touring stint this summer. After “living in the chaos” on the road – she played support slots in the states with Yungblud in March, and then joined Fletcher across Europe in April and May – settling at home felt strange. “Reality just hit me in the face,” the artist, real name Taylor Upsahl, says today. “It was the first time in my life where I didn’t feel present, and instead, out of body.”

The single sees UPSAHL assess these weighty emotions, as she sings: “I wanna get into my body / And let my skin do the talking / I wanna feel like I’m myself again”; but midway through creating the tune, the M.O. changed. “I was like, ‘This is so depressing. I don’t want to be depressed today. Can we talk about it in a fun way?’” she explains, before adding with a grin: “We’re literally talking about my body, can [the song] also be about masturbation?”

This dichotomy unravels itself in ‘Into My Body’, a track that is, in her own words, “sexy and sad and vulnerable and hot”. Juxtaposing two contrary moods seamlessly, UPSAHL explains: “that duality is everything I try to do with my music”. It’s a key feature of her new EP ‘Sagittarius’ (out December 9), a self-described “personality piece” named after her star sign. The follow-up to last year’s debut album ‘Lady Jesus’, on it she’s explored all parts of her character: from struggling with mental health and not being able to help yourself (‘Antsy’) to overcoming fractured relationships (‘Toast’) in a slick five-track package.

upsahl artist
Credit: Aubree Estrella

We’re discussing her latest musical project over bowls of pho in Berlin. It’s mid-afternoon, and around the corner, fans are already queuing up for UPSAHL’s headline show at Lido, a buzzy venue in the German capital’s trendy Kreuzberg district that has hosted the likes of Clairo and Steve Lacy in recent years. “Last time that I was here I had a blast, the party culture here is amazing,” she says. “We’ve definitely been counting down to this day of the tour, and it’s on a Friday, so we’re ready to rage!”

When we walk over to the concert hall an hour later to snap some photos – UPSAHL expertly navigating cobbled streets in her platform boots – she’s greeted excitedly by fans, stopping to talk to them about their pre-concert plans. Forgoing a coat in the brisk wind to pose, she’s a consummate professional, never complaining about the chill and only pausing to chat to a fan who’s travelled from Poland for that evening’s show. Punters journeying far and wide for this current run of headline dates – affectionately called the ‘This is My First Headline Tour’ – has been a theme. “They’ve been literally taking the train together to a bunch of shows,” she says of her fans. “It’s wild, you’re just like building little communities around the world, it’s so fun.”

After finding online success during the pandemic on TikTok with viral tracks like ‘Drugs’ – a grunge-flecked smash that’s racked up almost a million videos using the sound on the app UPSAHL has built an impressive fanbase who are now able to rock out with her IRL. For UPSAHL, being able to perform live has also made her internet fame feel tangible. “There’s something about being locked in your room and you’re [wondering], ‘Okay, these numbers are here, but do these people exist?’ So now [being] in fucking Berlin and having people buy tickets to a show, it makes it all feel like, ‘Oh, cool. No one’s playing a practical joke on me. This is actually real!’” she says.

upsahl
Credit: Aubree Estrella

From the moment the lights go down in Lido and UPSAHL bounds on-stage flanked by her guitarist and drummer, the energy is kicked up a notch. As she performs, she bears resemblance to No Doubt-era Gwen Stefani, commanding the crowd as the ringleader of her alt-rock circus while demanding the Berlin audience to raise their middle fingers up. Every song is bellowed back at her, in a physical testament to the community that UPSAHL’s created. By the time she reaches ‘Into My Body’ the room transforms into a sweaty, moshing dance party – the audience are clearly thrilled to let loose and join the rave.

This tour feels like a true breakout moment. After several years of UPSAHL building this fanbase online, now they can live in these songs together. “Every single one of these shows is making me so emotional,” she concludes. “I’m just trying to soak it all up as much as I can.”

How do you think your new EP ‘Sagittarius’ differs from your debut album?

“‘Lady Jesus’ was very much therapy in an album for me. I went through this breakup that was my first lost love or whatever you want to call it, and I lost my mind. I thought the world was ending as everyone does when they go through their first heartbreak. I start the album in a very dark place, and then end in a really great place and you can see the work that I put in on myself throughout the album.

“‘Sagittarius’ is building on top of the great place that I ended ‘Lady Jesus’ in and now going into self-discovery, and working through my own personal shit, and figuring myself out rather than figuring other people out. I’m in a very healthy, selfish time in my life, which is fun.”

You’ve been doing meet and greets on tour. What do these sessions mean to you?

“The show is very interactive with my fans, which is really fun; but obviously during the show I can’t just sit down and talk to them for the whole set. Getting to do meet and greets before the show is always so fun. It’s the calm before the storm, everyone’s excited, but also we’re just chilling in the venue. It’s so low key and getting to hear people’s stories, and some people come in and have my lyrics tattooed and just getting to have that basic human connection is the coolest thing ever.”

“In the past year, I’ve found inner peace in finding the success in the day-to-day”

Is this IRL fan interaction something that you didn’t realise you were missing until it happened again?

“Totally. During lockdown, we all were craving human connection in so many ways, and music is one of the biggest things that connects. I say a lot of psycho shit in my songs and it’s very freeing, very empowering, very feminist, and I think if you’re a fan and you’re coming to the shows, odds are we’re all very like-minded and going to have a great time together. It’s really been cool to meet all these people who feel like people I would be friends with and then watch them all make friends with each other and travel to shows together.”

upsahl
Credit: Aubree Estrella

There’s a big community of UPSAHL fans in Europe who have been travelling from show to show together. Is that a constant on all your tours?

“It really started in 2021 [when] I started a Discord which is an online hangout spot for people who are fans of certain artists, a lot of artists do it. I started it with one of my fans, her name’s Joy, and she helps me run it and it started this community of people who got to interact through the site or whatever, and then started meeting each other at shows and then now travel the shows together. It all started there online during a time where we couldn’t be at live shows. To see that community transfer over to in-person is really cool.”

You recently hit the road with Yungblud. What did you learn from that tour?

“It was amazing. There’s few people you meet in music where when they walk in a room their aura fills it up, and he is that. He walks in a room and he’s a fucking rock star. I was only on that tour for two weeks, but his energy was so infectious and so inspiring for me as an artist, I just tried to learn as much as I could just from being around him and watching his show every night. He lives and breathes his art, and it was really cool to watch him exist and do his thing. I feel like I learned a lot.”

Did his fanbase take you under their wing?

“They did. They’re amazing. It’s really fun on this headlining tour having so many people pull up to my shows and saying: ‘I found you because you opened for Yungblud’. They are just fans of music, and they love live music. Those are the type of fans I want, [they] are people who are down to go to shows and rage, and that’s what Yungblud fans are. It’s been cool to have them now join our little community.”

upsahl
Credit: Aubree Estrella

Looking to the future, what milestones do you want to achieve?

“I mean, obviously the GRAMMYs, that’d be sick. But in the past year or two I’ve found so much inner peace in finding the success in the day-to-day. The fact I’m sitting with you right now and we’re in Berlin, and we get to go play a show later, to me that’s a moment in itself. I’m taking as much as I can of all of this in, as everything is fleeting and I’m just trying to enjoy the fact I can do this headlining tour and who knows what’s next. Every day is a success to me right now.”

UPSAHL’s new EP ‘Sagittarius’ will be released on December 9

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