By Emma Madden
Shura’s in love. The English singer wrote an album about it, she moved to another country because of it, and now she’s very, very happy to talk about it. While Interviewing 101 says to save the gossipy, “How’s your dating life?” questions until the end, Shura brings up her girlfriend almost immediately, without prompting. In fact, she mentions “my girlfriend” 12 times throughout our hour-long conversation, both because, clearly she’s in love, but also because we’re here to talk about her second album, forevher, which is inextricably tied to the wellspring of true love, and the person who inspired it.
Forevher, out August 16 on Secretly Canadian, comes three years after Shura’s debut, Nothing’s Real, which was filled with what her fans call “heartbreak bangers.” It showcased Shura’s pop acumen, her knack for writing a euphonic hook, and her ability to convert grief of multiple kinds into a shimmering, effervescent pop time capsule. With it, Shura effectively became the Pied Piper of Heartbreak.
So no one is more surprised than Shura now that her sophomore album happens to be about successful, all-encompassing love. But love changes things. Love radically alters perception and beautifies reality; it brings everything together in perfect, poetic harmony. Now Shura’s noticing patterns everywhere. “Wherever I go I’m followed by some kind of home improvement,” she says to MTV News.
Twenty seconds before our call, a drill starts in the London apartment next to hers. When she moved into her girlfriend’s New York home last November, the builders came in to do work on the house next door. “I think it’s because I just wrote a U-Haul lesbian album,” she says. Even in conversation, Shura can twist a great hook.
“There’s nothing new to say about love, and this is effectively a love story,” she says of her new album. But it’s not exactly an orthodox one. Shura first met her girlfriend on an app called Raya, essentially a Tinder for famous people. She’d tried the latter, but fans soon spotted her between swipes. One went so far as to screenshot Shura’s Tinder and post it on Twitter, @-ing her in hopes of acknowledgement. “So I freaked and deleted it.”
Shura and the “not even famous” Raya woman spent months talking — her in Brooklyn, Shura in London — before they had the opportunity to meet at a MUNA gig in New York. She recalls the anticipation she felt between texting and touching on forevher’s fourth track “The Stage,” as she sings: “Are we gonna kiss? Exciting / I promised you my lips in writing,” memorializing the night they met into song. No one makes a transatlantic lesbian relationship sound more appealing than Shura. “Long-distance relationships are dramatic,” she says, “and I love the drama. I’m a drama queen.”
No longer paying rent for her place in London, Shura’s since moved into an apartment with her girlfriend in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. “Honestly, I was sort of worried about how it’d be when we moved in together,” she confesses, having gotten used to the long-distance dynamic. But being apart has taught the couple balance, and while she can’t see them staying in the U.S. forever, she’s happy to be exactly where she is right now. “I’m in love with New York because I fell in love in New York,” she says.
It’s been a welcome change, both for her life and her music. She’d been living in Shepherd’s Bush in West London with her twin brother for the past seven years, after moving out of their dad’s house together when they were 18. “We were dangerously close to becoming one of those sets of creepy twins people make documentaries about, where they live together their whole lives, and marry other twins.” Shura needed to be uprooted somehow.“I don’t know if that’s a product of growing up half-Russian, half-English, and not really feeling as though I fit in anywhere, that makes me wanna explore everywhere.”
Musically, too, she itches to explore every sound, taking a leaf out of Madonna’s book. “That’s a prime example of someone who is doing something new and exciting for every record,” she says. You won’t hear many sonic references to Madonna on forevher; those are reserved for a queer tapestry of artists, most immediately Prince. But Shura at least pays homage to the iconoclasm of The Queen of Pop in the video for second single “religion (u can lay your hands on me).”
“My earliest memory of a music video was ‘Like A Prayer,’” she says, and she’s since come to view religion as a part of “pop music law.” Shura’s converted herself from the Pied Piper of Heartbreak to the Vaping Lesbian Pope, as the video reveals. It also happens to be the first song Shura wrote for the album, after which “religion naturally seeped” itself into forevher.
“It gave me license to play around with the idea of religion as a form of devotion; devotion is closer to love, and religion is close to sex in many ways, in that it finds itself in almost every culture,” she says. Religion, specifically Christianity, is one of many classical archetypes that she obscures, or rather queers, for the sake of telling her long-distance lesbian love story.
The album’s artwork, which depicts her girlfriend haloed by blue light and leaning into the grasp of her lover, is a take on one of heterosexuality’s most enduring images of love — Auguste Rodin’s The Kiss. “Taking that iconic image and replacing it with two women places it both within the eternal and the now,” she explains.
All of the artwork for her singles comes washed in a similarly thick shade of blue. She cites Maggie Nelson’s book Bluets, and even 2013 film Blue Is the Warmest Color as influences for that choice, as well as Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky who theorized a link between the color blue and the spiritual. “The darker the blue, the more it awakens the desire for the eternal,” he once wrote. Similarly, Shura suggests that “the act of loving is the desire for the eternal, and the desire for something to never end.”
So, what’s the point of falling in love when that person is eventually going to die? “I think that’s what’s so interesting about love,” she says. “It’s obviously amazing, but it also makes you more afraid.” Now she finds that heightened fear each time she boards a plane, knowing that if it crashed, her lover would be left destitute. It’s a thought she mulls over on “Princess Leia,” a track that strings together Carrie Fisher’s death and a soldier’s death (plus her own death) — two things that happened on Shura’s flight from England to Australia.
“I’ve thought about death pretty much every single day since I read St. Augustine’s Confessions when I was 21,” she says. One paragraph in particular stood out: “There’s a bit where he talks about his mother dying, and he writes about how he’s not so upset at the fact that she’s gone, but rather that they’re no longer coexisting at the same time.”
It’s an idea inadvertently explored on “tommy,” a track entirely devoted to a man Shura and her girlfriend met in Austin, Texas. On it, you’ll hear him telling Shura about his dead wife, how she came to him in a dream once and said: “It’s fine, please fall in love again.” “I think that’s one of the weirdest things about life,” Shura says on reflection, “We don’t choose to live, we just happen to exist, and by virtue of existing, one must die.”
“But anyway,” she says, “I don’t think I’ve answered your question about how to reconcile love with death.” Not that she needs to. Forevher does it for her.