Watch out world, SPIDER‘s coming through.
Words: Abigail Firth.
Photos: Em Marcovecchio.
When Spider started releasing music, she was thankful that the pandemic had halted live performances. She was terrified of performing and had managed to dodge it for as long as possible. So as festival season kicks in and the hype around Spider grows, the last few weeks have been a bit of a learning curve for her.
Her nervousness comes as a bit of a surprise, considering how brutally honest and often brash her music is, you’d think it was built for stages, but that’s not the case. When we meet the morning after her Great Escape show, she’s the opposite of shy in person too.
“I was told to keep my expectations like really low,” she says of the performance, “then they opened the curtains, and people started coming in. I was like, what the fuck, why are there people here?”
Now stepping into her live groove, she’s perfectly comfortable being herself on stage.
“I called [the audience] out a few times because I was like, if I’m gonna do The Great Escape, I’m gonna call out these boring white industry men. And I was kind of like, you’re at a gig; why do you look like you were held here against your will?”
“It was all about self-expression and not being afraid to be authentically yourself”Spider
Born and raised in Dublin, Spider (born Jennifer Irabor for those who don’t care for the pop star aliases) was particularly outspoken as a child; she recounts her parents having to tell her to pipe down a bit because she was “saying so much shit”. It’s a trait that’s bled through into her artistry today, on her latest EP ‘Hell or High Water’ more than ever.
“It was all about self-expression and not being afraid to just say whatever you want and be authentically yourself. I also confronted a lot about myself and said a lot of things that were on my chest through making it. It really helped me clarify what type of artist I wanted to be. ‘America’s Next Top Model’ is so like ‘fuck you’, and then I realised that I did have it in me to make something like that, and to be that type of artist, I can live in that truth because that is me, it’s not just an idea.”
Growing up as the youngest daughter in a strict Nigerian household, her parents were particularly protective over her, not allowing her to go out much and definitely not to a concert (save for the one occasion she saw 5 Seconds of Summer with a friend, supervised of course, and to Taylor Swift’s ‘reputation’ stadium tour just before she moved out). All the time inside meant one thing: more time online.
Obsessed with the Tumblr crop of Halsey, Lorde and 5SOS (the latter whom she ran a fan account for, updating followers on the group’s whereabouts during class), Spider fell into the alt-pop scene, but struggled to see herself there.
“I remember being so gassed about Halsey because she was half Black. It was the most white-passing, like, crumbs, but I was like, thank god! Sometimes it was that whole thing of ‘alternative music is white people music’; I was really into alternative music, and I would listen to Bring Me The Horizon and shit but keep it to myself in school because the alternative kids, most of them were white.”
“In my head, I thought there didn’t seem to be a lot of us in the scene, so that really motivated me to be there as a Black woman and make that type of music. I remember going into my dad’s room at 1am, like, ‘I think I’m gonna make alternative music because there’s not enough Black women in it’.”
When she started making music, the alternative scene wasn’t nearly as diverse as it is now, and neither was the Irish scene. At networking events and in sessions with producers, she’d often get pushed into the alt-R&B or neo-soul box (“Yeah, what is it about me that gives you those vibes?” she says), which led her to producing her own material. Spurred on to pave her own way, she started plotting to move out of Dublin and to London, but it wasn’t without a bit of grovelling.
The Irish school calendar gives students an extra year between their GCSEs and A Levels, where they get a break from exams and decide what direction they want to take. Spider used hers to plant seeds in her parents’ heads that she wanted to go to a music university, and after literally googling ‘university for music’, stumbled upon BIMM Institute. Initially very worried about the idea, she brought them around eventually.
“I just levelled with them, and I was like, do you truly believe that there’s any hope of me being successful if I stay in Dublin? I didn’t know anybody, and I wanted to do alternative music, and I was a Black woman. I just personally felt like I gotta leave to make this happen.”
That being said, they’ve always been supportive of her creative endeavours and stood right at the barrier for a recent show she did in Dublin (her dad even says his favourite song is ‘Fuck Everyone Fuck Everything’).
She gives them every reason to be proud of her. The ‘Hell or High Water’ EP defines Spider and her sound, a rebellious rock star spirit trapped in her bedroom, pulling together her internet references – Lorde’s sparse beats, Halsey’s confessional lyrics – with the big pop melodies and vocal layering from the likes of Taylor Swift.
This summer, she’ll play an enormous gig supporting K-Pop girl group titans Blackpink at their BST Hyde Park show. With the debut show jitters long behind her, it should be her breakthrough moment. ■
Taken from the July 2023 edition of Dork. Spider’s new EP ‘Hell or High Water’ is out now.
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