To celebrate Diversity Week we asked pupils, alumnae and staff to share their thoughts on why diversity and inclusivity is so important in today’s society. In this article, acclaimed singer/songwriter and NHSG alumna, Liv Devine, talks about how she expressed herself through music.
I loved making music from a young age. I was about seven years’ old when I started playing guitar and making music in my bedroom but when I went to high school I stopped – because I thought it might be deemed ‘uncool’. And music wasn’t the only part of me that I suppressed…
Today, I can confidently say that I am a lesbian. But when I was younger I lacked that confidence when it came to both my sexuality and my music. The two were interlinked because my songwriting was how I expressed myself. So, ultimately, I felt I had to suppress both.
There weren’t really any other queer artists or celebrities that I felt I could relate to growing up. And I worried that, because of this, people might not want to listen to music from a lesbian artist or to hear lyrics talking about women loving women. The only other high profile lesbian I knew of was Ellen and I would look at her and think, apart from the fact we both love women, we have nothing else in common.
I think there’s a real misogyny in pop music too and that also held me back. People seem to hate on music that 16 year old girls listen to – but why? Why are debates about the metaphorical meaning of indie songs better than pop music? It felt as though there was a snobbery around pop music and music that teenage girls listened to and that played on my mind a lot too.
Girls loving girls and loving girls’ music – it felt as though it was something to be ashamed of.
It wasn’t plain-sailing coming out when I was 17 and getting into my first relationship. We came out to her mum and she completely freaked out. I actually wrote my song, Daughter, based on this experience – because I don’t think it was an uncommon experience for girls in our situation.
My friends were all really supportive when I came out but it was actually the adults, the people we often put on a pedestal for being responsible and knowledgeable, who caused me the most concern. I heard rumours that parents were gossiping about me, but you should never shame a child like that. When you’re that young and impressionable you actually believe that you’ve done something wrong which can have a hugely negative impact on you.
It was actually my lack of direction and suppression of who I really am that, thankfully, drew me back to making music again. When we were in sixth form and all my friends were applying to uni, knowing exactly what they wanted to study, I panicked. I had no idea, and I retreated back into my bedroom and started making music again. I realised that it was what I had always wanted to do and what made me feel comfortable and I started expressing myself through my lyrics again.
My manager, Steve, found my stuff online and he opened the door to the music industry for me. Initially I wanted to be a songwriter, writing for others. And he got me into the room with established labels and artists. I signed with Warner in 2016 and I’ve been putting music out ever since – both writing for others and performing my own. I recently got my first plaque for a song I wrote for Rudimental and Anne-Marie called Come Over and my own single just got Tune of the Week on BBC Radio 1.
Thankfully, today there are more singer/songwriters I can relate to – Arlo Parks, King Princess, Christine and the Queens – there are so many today. I no longer feel as though I don’t fit in to the pop music and R&B scene.
This is why labels, such as queer or lesbian or gay are so important, because they help you to instantly find people you can relate to, people who love like you do and that’s really special. I love all my friends, but when I’m with other queer people we often find there is so much that we particularly relate to that others might not. We watch the same kind of movies and find some of the same things funny that others might not get. It’s refreshing not to have to only talk about all the heteronormative movies that come out.
Finding a community online really helped as well. I identify as queer, as a lesbian, and I realise now that there isn’t a ‘look’ to being gay or a lesbian or being queer. The label over the years became an important thing to me because it embodies the journey that I’ve been on, it feels like I’ve arrived somewhere and that I’ve come out the other side.
While finding who you are and becoming part of your community is absolutely vital in the end, if I had to share one piece of advice with my younger self it would be this: go at your own pace. It’s important not to feel pressured by others and to acknowledge that you’re on a journey. If one week you think you’re one thing and another you think you’re something else that’s absolutely fine – you’re just on that journey to discovering who you really are.
Be unapologetically yourself. There’s a community out there waiting with open arms. We’re ready when you’re ready.
To listen to Liv’s music, visit her artist page on Spotify.