Róisín Murphy: ‘modern pop music is like takeaway food. Different textures but it’s all the same taste’

 (PR Handout)
(PR Handout)

Despite being slightly under the weather, Róisín Murphy is putting her all into doing an impersonation of a jaded old raver named Jason. A regular fixture of her often-surreal TikTok account, alongside her fictional manager Karol, he’s a character with an unquenchable thirst for nostalgia, who often waxes lyrical about how great dance music used to be back in the day.

Satirical as he may be, “I definitely have some Jason in me,” Murphy agrees. “The Nine’ies was fackin’ special,” she continues, adopting his cockney accent, “and the kids today, they don’t know nuffin’. I mean, but I do,” she adds, her regular Irish accent restored again. “I had a great time in the Nineties, Jesus Christ!”

Murphy, it must be said, has little patience for what she seems to view as fickle fads of the present day. Despite using artificial intelligence as a tool to help create her cartoonish artwork for Hit Parade, the singer declares that she’s “bored” of talking about the technology now that it has become so much more refined and sophisticated.

“When things make mistakes, you get things that were never there before,” she says. “That’s why I think it was more fun, when there was less of it, and it was a bit more wonky.”

Despite arguably influencing a decent chunk of contemporary pop with her vocal-led, nu-disco infused takes on dance – just look at Dua Lipa, Kylie, and Jessie Ware’s most recent albums – Murphy reckons pop is all “a bit homogeneous”. Though she views the present age elsewhere as a “really amazing time for music”, the genre isn’t what interests her. “It’s a bit like takeaway food. There’s different textures but it’s all the same taste,” she says.

 (PR Handout)
(PR Handout)

“My kids don’t know who the pop stars are anymore,” she adds. “The last they knew was Katy Perry… you know, the postman knew who Katy Perry was. Taylor Swift is a global pop star, probably everybody across most age groups would know her, but it’s been a long f**king time since she started. My kids think that these idiots that are just prattling on, and on, and on, YouTube are superstars, right? They have 20 to 25 million followers on YouTube, but they can still go into the Spar. Nobody has a clue!”

She’s not afraid of a controversial opinion, clearly, but in the past week, some of them have risked overshadowing the release of her new album Hit Parade.

Murphy and I speak a few weeks before remarks made on her personal Facebook surface online. In a comment beneath what appears to be a post about the Irish anti-transgender activist Graham Linehan, she writes: “Please don’t call me a terf, please don’t use that word against women… I beg you! But puberty blockers are F**KED, absolutely desolate, big Pharma laughing all the way to the bank. Little kids are mixed up and vulnerable and need to be protected, that’s just true.”

Puberty blockers have been used as a medicine since the Eighties to treat children of all gender identities who experience early onset puberty. They have also been used to delay the onset of puberty for some children who are experiencing gender dysphoria, in order to afford them more time to make certain decisions, often with very positive mental health outcomes. Research is still ongoing into the other consequences of prescribing these drugs as long-term treatment.

Murphy has a substantial LGBTQ+ fanbase, many of whom have found her standpoint and language problematic, particularly the seeming characterisation of young trans people as “mixed up”.

Five days after the emergence of the comment, Murphy confirmed that the personal Facebook account in question belongs to her, and issued a statement.

“I have been thrown into a very public discourse in an arena I’m uncomfortable in and deeply unsuitable for. I cannot apologise enough for being the reason for this eruption of damaging and potentially dangerous social-media fire and brimstone. To witness the ramifications of my actions and the divisions it has caused is heartbreaking,” she wrote.

“I’ve spent my whole life celebrating diversity and different views, but I never patronise or cynically aim my music directly at the pockets of any demographic,” she added later. “I am so sorry my comments have been directly hurtful to many of you. You must have felt a huge shock, blindsided by this so abruptly. I understand fixed views are not helpful but I really hope people can understand my concern was out of love for you all.”

Murphy declined to comment further on the matter when approached.

Despite claiming that she never consciously aimed to tap into any one particular sub-genre, Murphy’s music would not be the same without the enormous influence of dance music’s queer pioneers. Some of her greatest, most memorable shows to date have been in LGTBQ+ spaces, be it Manchester’s Homobloc, or a surprise appearance at Glastonbury’s NYC Downlow. Her influences are often theatrical; one of her biggest of all is Grace Jones, who shaped her own ramshackle approach to live performances.

It’s not uncommon to see Murphy wrestling in and out of increasingly ridiculous hats, in the middle of the stage, throughout her gigs. “It was a big deal that made a big impression and changed the way I approached the live show to a degree,” she says of watching Jones play in Florence in the early noughties.

Jones was apparently less impressed when Murphy rocked up at her hotel lobby in the hope of catching a glimpse of a hero.

“She came out of the car and up to the lobby, and her face dropped. She turned away from us and put both her hands up against the wall, and leaned into the wall and just looked down and said to her entourage: ‘control control. Get these people out of here!’”

 (Corbis via Getty Images)
(Corbis via Getty Images)

Long before joining Moloko and eventually breaking off as a solo artist, Murphy spent some formative years partying and striking out on her own in Manchester during her late teens. She and her family had initially moved to the city together from Ireland, but when her parents ended up divorcing, Murphy refused to go back to her hometown with her mother. “Her marriage had just fallen apart in a nuclear way, and so I knew she couldn’t mind me, really,” she says. “It was time for her to go home and mind herself for a while.”

Stubbornly, she insisted on staying behind instead, aged just fifteen. After sleeping on a mate’s sofa until she was sixteen, and therefore old enough to claim benefits from the DHSS, she soon got set up with her own flat, and a place at the local sixth form.

“Obviously, it wasn’t a palace, but yeah, it was grand,” she remembers of the “lovely Victorian villa” in Stockport suburbia, which came with its own “disgusting” outdoor toilet, and a bright orange semi-circle sofa in the garden already primed for parties. It was nothing fancy, but it was hers.

Does Murphy think that she would’ve been able to fall on her feet in a similar fashion today?

“No, it’s not possible. It’s impossible, actually, because I got housing benefit and you can’t get housing benefit when you’re 16 anymore,” she says. “They don’t trust you. You know, they don’t trust young people,” she says. “There’s not a sort of prevailing trust in the future, and in young people, like there was.

“Nowadays, I either would’ve had to have gone back with her [Murphy’s mum], or I’d have to  have gone to some kind of foster care, or one of these halfway house type hotel setup things. I wouldn’t have been able to do what I did, which was to have self determination, and set myself up with a bit of backup from the state. It’s trust.”

The world is “not that bad,” Murphy says. “It can be heaven for a teenager. It was for me anyway, it was great. And the person who made that decision as well, not to go back to Ireland, that little girl… she’s still there if I need her.”

In approaching Hit Parade – her sixth studio album, but her first record since signing to the electronic label Ninja Tune – Murphy also found herself looking backwards, this time towards the “chill out aspect” of the Nineties, and the trip-hop influences within Moloko’s debut Do You Like My Tight Sweater? The title steps from the chat-up line Murphy deployed the first time she met her future bandmate Mark Brydon: “Would you like to come up to my studio and record that?" he replied. The pair then became creatively and romantically involved for several years.

 (Gie naeps/Getty Images)
(Gie naeps/Getty Images)

“That was a record that sort of encapsulated a moment of falling in love, and finding a thing to do, albeit totally accidentally, and doing it together, and just lying on the floor in our studio making stupid noises,” she says. “There was something of that joy in me again making this record.”

Unlike its punchier, disco-inflected predecessor, which would prove an uplifting tonic during the first year of the pandemic, Hit Parade is a softer, warmer collection. If Róisín Machine was the life and soul of the party, this is too busy having an intensely existential discussion about the meaning of life on a stack of beanbags on the corner to go throwing too many shapes.

Though it touches upon themes of mortality and creation, the big questions are examined through an absurdist lens. The Universe captures the enormity of the time and space through a psychedelic journey on a rowing boat, while Fader cheerfully wafts death away to pull up a chair in a waiting room. “They won’t choke the life out my vain jokes,” she sings, “the fun’ll go on.”

It’s a subject that has been on Murphy’s mind recently following the passing of her father, who died shortly after she finished Hit Parade. “I really miss him, he used to ring me every single day,” Murphy says. “Sometimes I’d be like, ah, f**k, he’s ringing me again, you know?” When he was met with the answer phone, he would berate the recorded voice – who he nicknamed Mary – for working too hard. “Mary, do you ever stop working? Day and night you’re there answering that phone,” she laughs, impersonating him. “Will you tell ​​Róisín to ring me, please, on the plastic telephone?”

“He was a constant presence,” she adds. “He was a very vibrant personality and always in the middle of everything at the gigs; I miss him when I play Dublin. You’ll never see the likes of Mickey Murphy again. Some people say that’s a good thing,” she laughs.

Lately, she’s also been thinking about “the loss of not just my Dad, but other people of his generation. They're either dead, or they're out of the game. I already had a really good cultural upbringing before I went to Manchester, and that is gone, in that form. It’s about dealing with, not just the loss of individual people, but the loss of time, the loss of an energy. I had to let things go.”

Róisín Murphy’s new album Hit Parade is out September 8