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I wasn't trying for the androgynous vocal, my voice is just high pitched: Shamir talks music -

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MATT WORDSWORTH, PRESENTER: Five months out of high school, self-taught Las Vegas musician Shamir Bailey recorded his first EP and was signed to a record label. The world took notice of his upbeat, infectious music, but it's his distinctive androgynous voice that stands out most. He released his debut album Ratchet last year and now at the ripe old age of 21, Shamir's touring Australia for the first time. Monique Schafter caught up with him.

MONIQUE SCHAFTER, REPORTER: Hailing from Las Vegas, fresh-faced 21-year-old Shamir is an artist who avoids categorisation.

His music explores elements of disco, house, R&B and soul, but it's his voice that has really captured the world's attention.

SHAMIR, MUSICIAN: It's not even necessarily that I was, like, trying to, like, go for an androgynous vocal style. It's just that I've always had, like, kinda naturally had the choice and really was never a problem for me when I was younger 'cause they were, like, "Oh, hey, well, like, whatever, puberty," and then 16 hit and it was like, "It can go until you're 21," and I'm 21 and they're like, "Ahhh."



MONIQUE SCHAFTER: Shamir discovered his love of music when he was eight years old.

SHAMIR: That's like the first time that I, like, sang in front of people and people told me I was good. (Laughs) Um, it was like, "Oh, maybe I can do this." That was kind of like the definitive age for me where I realised that I'm a musician. My Mom bought me by first guitar, my Dad bought me my first piano and they kinda always knew from an early age that I was going to be doing this, you know. But I definitely, like, you know, love people like Nina Simone. I listened to her, like, growing up all my life and she's kind of like the earliest and, like, first, like, androgynous, like, vocal style singer that I can recall, so.

MONIQUE SCHAFTER: I read that you were raised Muslim. Did that have any influence on your creative expression?

SHAMIR: I think if it did, it kind of just, like, it's kind of where I learned to be, like, super open, honest about things that I write about. And all my songs have purposes. They're not just, like, catchy words all thrown together.

MONIQUE SCHAFTER: Do you have a faith now?

SHAMIR: Um, no, I'm pretty agnostic, but, like, I definitely believe that everything is controlled by the universe and, like, if you put things, like, out there, then we will receive.

MONIQUE SCHAFTER: Shamir's androgyny has become the focus of media attention and he's tired of people questioning his gender.

Last year you Tweeted, "Also to those who keep asking, I have no gender, no sexuality and no f**ks to give." What was the motivation behind that?

SHAMIR: It wasn't until I did the Call It Off video and it was a part of the YouTube Music Awards that I got more of a pop view and then that's when the gender question started to come up. It's like, "Is he a boy? Is he a girl? What is this? Who is this? What is it? Is it, like, real? Is it CGI" You know, I am physically a male, but, like, who am I to get offended if you call me her or she or, like, you know, like that? Like, it's just like, I just, like, don't care 'cause at the end of the day, we're all people.

MONIQUE SCHAFTER: For Shamir, the most important thing is being true to himself.

SHAMIR: Even just the thought of keeping up an act or an image is just, like, impossible to me.

MONIQUE SCHAFTER: It struck a chord with music lovers. Shamir's debut album Ratchet made it into the music industry's most revered best album of 2015 lists and sent him around the world.

Has this just completely blown your 21-year-old brain?

SHAMIR: Yeah. I mean, a lot of my friends are, like, you know, still back home, like, in college or have kids. (Laughs) You know? It's definitely a more ideal situation than, you know, most 21-year-olds.

MONIQUE SCHAFTER: Shamir's also been picked to support openly gay Australian artist Troye Sivan and '80s hit makers Duran Duran on their upcoming US tours.

SHAMIR: I remember getting, like, a Duran Duran Best of hits (inaudible). It's just, like, insane. And then, like, Troye Sivan is just, like, one of my favourite new pop artists. The last, like year or two has really been the - the wave of this kind of, like, anti-pop artist, you know, like, really trying to make a statement and do something and say something with their music and I just, like, respect anyone, like, doing that.

MONIQUE SCHAFTER: I love your shirt and I read on your Tumbler page that you do a lot of shopping in thrift stores. Is that right?

SHAMIR: Yeah, I do, like, pretty much nothing but their shopping. I'm realising now that my thing is, like, collecting, like, super Southwestern, like, button-up shirts at the stores, like, in the vein of this. I think I'm just getting back to my roots. (Laughs)

MONIQUE SCHAFTER: I love how active you are on social media and how you talk directly to your fans. Why is that important to you?

SHAMIR: Because I always put myself in my fan's shoes, because I am still a huge fangirl myself. You know, a lot of people really need and kind of feed off of representation, and kind of to be, you know, that representation for some people, it's just, like, it was a really great feeling. And I'd never even thought about that until it was, like, literally pointed out to me by a fan and, like, it almost made me cry 'cause I was, like, "Oh, damn, I didn't have that," so to be that for someone is just, like, amazing.