Kelsie Hogue strolls into the Rolling Stone offices wearing a pink knit sweater adorned with cats, bright orange culottes and an oversized yellow fanny pack. Paired with her mane of neon yellow-green hair, the entire ensemble makes it look as though she’s drenched in highlighter ink. Looking closely at her sweater, one can see the tiny upside-down crosses stitched onto each of the three cats’ foreheads.
“I’m not anti- or pro-Satanic,” Hogue says, giggling, by way of explanation. “Do your thing. I’m very neutral about Satanism.”
At first glance, Hogue, 26, who performs under the moniker Sir Babygirl, could be a hyperreal portrait of a pop idol — the glitter and bombast of a Britney Spears or a Katy Perry, painted in the garish hues of a Ryan Trecartin installation. Her music covers the same teen-friendly territory as Top 40 anthems (crushes, parties, self-expression) but dials it all up to 11, with sputtering pop-rock production and histrionic, Broadway-style vocals, all while underscoring a uniquely queer point of view.
“Flirting with her is like butterflies screaming/Taking off into the night,” opens one song off her debut LP, Crush on Me, which arrived in February. “Flirting with her is like cool nights beaming/Stars glued to my thighs.”
In concert, Sir Babygirl injects her show with humor by chopping up bits of songs by Avril Lavigne and Vanessa Carlton and spinning them into comedy gold. (There’s something inherently funny about the opening piano hook of “A Thousand Miles,” and Hogue knows it). Lately, she’s been wearing a pink strap-on harness onstage, although she’s declined to wear the attachable dildo. “I tried that out, rehearsing, and I was like, ‘It is so annoying to have this erect dick while I’m trying to play guitar,’” she quips.
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In conversation, Hogue, who identifies as nonbinary and bisexual, is charming and well-spoken, lightly jabbing at everything from Trump to depressive episodes. She’s also refreshingly open with her own opinions on the entertainment industry — her unabashed love for Rico Nasty and comedians Patti Harrison and Cat Cohen, along with her disdain for industry gatekeeping and what she views as unnecessary divisions between genres.
“The whole essence of Sir Babygirl is that I [embody] a binary opposition,” she says. “I’m a boy and a girl, I’m a man and I’m a woman, I’m funny and I’m serious….My girlfriend always says that when I go and perform as Sir Babygirl, and I put on a makeup look, it’s like I’m going into drag. And it does feel like a nonbinary drag character.”
Born in Palo Alto, California, and raised in New Hampshire in a solidly middle-class home, Hogue grew up playing guitar, piano, bass and saxophone, and took vocal lessons from a teacher in Vermont. “I wanted to go to [college] for musical theater,” she says. She ended up studying drama at Boston University, which allowed her to explore more experimental theater and “weird shit.”
After graduation, Hogue briefly moved to Chicago to try her hand at stand-up comedy, largely inspired by her love of Tim & Eric-style absurdism. She eventually ended up back in New Hampshire, living with her parents and playing in the Boston hardcore scene, but continuing to make posts on Instagram as her newfound Sir Babygirl persona: surrealist memes, musings on her daily life, selfies covered in pixelated emojis and glitter like a little kid’s digital scrapbook.
“At first it was very much me making memes that were about my life, and gender, and trying to figure out how to be bisexual in a world that still doesn’t believe in bisexuality a lot,” says Hogue.
It wasn’t until the release of two pop records — Liz’s “When I Rule the World” in 2015 and Charli XCX’s Vroom Vroom EP in 2016, both produced by Scottish trailblazer Sophie — that Hogue realized she could combine the comedic and musical portions of her performing life into one act. “When those came out, I was like, ‘Oh…I wanna be in that world. How do I get there?’” she says. “It took me back to all the music that they were inspired by — Aqua, ‘Barbie Girl,’ amazing cartoonish shit that always has had a sense of humor.”
Hogue sees herself as paying a hardcore-influenced homage to that specific strain of bubblegum pop, although she stresses that Sir Babygirl is not “high-concept” and not intended to be satire. She contends that many of the teen pop idols of the past — Britney, Christina Aguilera, various Disney Channel stars — had comedy and self-awareness laced through their DNA. Ashlee Simpson was a Hole fan; Lady Gaga borrowed liberally from drag queens. As such, Hogue doesn’t see Sir Babygirl as deviating or escalating all that much from the pop prince(ss) model.
“I’m not doing anything more sexual, or more absurd, than straight women pop stars,” she says. “I know I’m very absurd, but my sexuality is not any more crazy than Britney walking around with a snake on her neck singing ‘I’m a Slave 4 U.’ It’s like, I’m not doing anything that crazy, you’re just not used to seeing a strap onstage.”
She notes that these women had more artistic intention in their work than most audiences at the time gave them credit for. “So many pop women were being femme tops, but we didn’t give them the agency,” she says insistently. “Christina is such a femme top, it’s crazy. And Mariah has always been so adamant about how she’s a songwriter and a producer, and no one will fucking give her credit.”
Crush on Me is a short album — “a classic Whitney Houston nine-track,” Hogue calls it — but it covers everything from bisexual teen crushes (“Cheerleader”) and sugar-rush lust (“Pink Lite”) to nagging regret (“Everyone is a Bad Friend”) and the anxiety and exhilaration of the party (“Haunted House”). Sir Babygirl offers Hogue and her fans an avenue not only to explore their gender identity, but also to comment on — and joke about — the absurdity of the queer experience.
“I always wanted to blur the lines, and challenge people to see that women and marginalized genders in music can have a fucking sense of humor and be taken seriously,” she says. “And that still is a big thing that is seeming to confuse a lot of people. It’s so wild to me, because Mac Demarco can literally shove a drumstick up his asshole and sing ‘Beautiful Day,’ and no one questions that he’s a serious musician. And then I’ll do a fucking comedy transition, and then go and shred and belt my ass off, and people are like, ‘Uh, is it a stand-up routine?’ And that’s not shade to Mac DeMarco, that’s shade to the system.”
Hogue has talked before about “decentralizing” pop music, which is her way of saying that pop sounds can now come from DIY or underground spaces, with low budgets and little to no access to major-label support systems. “I want to show people that you can now, with the internet, using those tools, make grassroots pop,” she says. “Every musician should be able to make the music they want to make.”
It’s hard to argue against that concept, especially if it means expanding what’s accepted onto the pop charts. One of the most interesting things about the Sir Babygirl sound is the way it’s rooted not only in bubblegum pop, but in the same theatrical emo/pop-punk bands (My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy) who have helped inspire Juice WRLD and Billie Eilish. The biggest difference: Where Eilish plunges into the darkest depths of those genres and draws out their whispering melancholy, Hogue’s voice and production swing closer to the overwrought passion of “Welcome to the Black Parade.”
“Billie Eilish is kind of the extreme opposite of my music,” she says. “I think that that’s so important — diversifying the charts sonically, and being able to have women and queers making pop music that sounds worlds away from each other and still be considered valid pop music.”
Right now, Hogue is gearing up for a headlining gig at Brooklyn’s Elsewhere venue in June for Pride Month. She still posts frequently on her Instagram – interacting with fans, filming herself with Kidz Bop versions of pop songs in the background, giving tutorials for how to apply shimmering lip gloss while wearing a lip ring. It’s clear that Hogue puts her queer fans first and foremost, but she doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as an artist solely for queer people. She believes more straight musicians should get queer artists to open their shows, or reach out to queer fanbases in a way that isn’t “baiting” them.
“Queer women are so underestimated as a market,” she says. “It’s crazy, because what’s the most powerful market? Teenage girls. And a lot of teenage girls end up queer….But I also love the idea that a straight dude could come to my show and have a great fucking time, because it’s fun music.”