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In conversation:Nxdia on childhood crushes and queer community

by Isabel Williams

"One of my goals for making music was that I wanted a group feeling, like a community, which just felt like we had each other. It just feels so much bigger than me"

Picture this: you’re on the bus, on your way to school. You are talking to a girl, who gets the same bus as you every day. She’s half-greek, wears strawberry lipgloss, and has possibly one of the prettiest faces you’ve ever seen. She’s just told you that she has a crush, and for some reason which you don’t quite understand, your stomach is fizzing with anxious energy. When she tells you the name of her crush, however, all the bubbles welling up inside you suddenly burst. Because he’s a boy, and you’re not. You slump back in your chair; maybe fold your arms; try to act uninterested, but your mind is suddenly red hot and there’s a stabbing sensation in your chest. How are you supposed to just ignore something like that?

If you’re Nxdia, you don’t. You take all of that supressed feeling, and you put it into a song. Nxdia’s latest single, ‘She Likes a Boy’, is a joyously upbeat, thrashing alt-pop banger that has been released to an absolute fanfare of public approval.

Even before Nxdia had dropped the full track, their snippet posted on TikTok accrued millions of videos from people whom the lyrics have resonated with. Now, less than a week after its release date, the song has already been streamed over a million times on Spotify; received a shoutout feature from BBC Radio Manchester, and landed Nxdia on the cover of official playlists across multiple streaming platforms. Despite the huge success of this song and others within their discography (See: “OUCH” and “what’s it like?”), Nxdia’s love of music didn’t rear its head until fairly late in their childhood.

Born and raised in Cairo, Nxdia didn’t start experimenting with making music until their family moved to Manchester. “When I came to England I started doing African drumming,” they tell me, “in my local, erm, youth club, I guess. It’s called Zen Arts; I love it. I still pass by and look at it, it’s great.” It was through musical activities such as these that Nxdia was able to smooth the transition from living in Cairo to living in cold, wet England.

The more time they spent around music, the more they found themselves enjoying it. “I [was] writing all the time and forcing my parents to watch these terrible performances of like, freestyle theatre music in my bedroom, and I thought, ‘I guess I’m just gonna start putting stuff on YouTube,’ because that was the thing, right? Those little covers? You’re not gonna find any of them now,” they laugh, “and yeah, from like, 2016 onwards, that’s when I started learning how to record, and getting sessions with producers, and trying to actually have a finished project that wasn’t just me in my bathroom singing to a really, really terrible £10 mic.”

The chorus of ‘She Likes a Boy’, or ‘SLAB’, as the artist has abbreviated it online, is undeniably catchy, despite what Nxdia refers to as the “tragic lyrics”. I ask whether the stylistic elements were intended to counter the negative emotions being described. “I mean, I’d hope so,” they reply. “I couldn’t even fathom the fact that I’m queer. Obviously I’m like, 13, 14. What do I know about anything, or about myself? I’m not even a full person yet, that was how I felt.”

It is clear from our conversation that the impact of a strong, supportive community has played a huge part in Nxdia’s journey towards becoming a musician, and this is reflected in their latest track. ‘She Likes a Boy’ is an expression of personal identity in more than one way, as the singer seamlessly mixes Arabic lyrics in with their English ones.

Despite the clear differences between living in Cairo and living in Manchester, the artist considers them to be similar in many ways. “Arabic sounds beautiful, like, it’s a very poetic language, and one of the things about Manchester is it’s still got that element of community. There’s a warmth in the North that I really appreciate and I always miss it when I’m in London,” they tell me. “There’s a lot of similarities between Manchester and Cairo for me, because the community is there – obviously the food’s different; certain cultural aspects are different, but the core elements I find similarities to.”

Although the artist was hesitant at first about writing their lyrics in Arabic (“I think I brought it forward to a producer or something and they were like, ‘Oh, I don’t think people are going to get that.’”), it was encouragement from a close friend that finally convinced Nxdia to commit, and their music is all the better for it.

Now, Nxdia’s love of community is having a knock-on effect with their fans. Countless videos can be found across social media of people lip-syncing to the lyrics or screaming their approval in comments sections. “I love that every single person has a different story to relate to SLAB with and you’ve made an AMAZING song that perfectly sums up all our stories”, reads one comment on Nxdia’s Instagram page. Even Nxdia themselves seems overwhelmed by the support they have received.

“What can I even say about that?” they ask. “I feel like there’s a community here that’s building, and one of my goals for making music was that I wanted a group feeling, like a community, which just felt like we had each other. It just feels so much bigger than me and it feels nice; it’s small but so significant in that way.”

They tell me about the personal stories people are reaching out to share with them. “They’re talking about, like, ‘Oh, I’m a bi girl, and I like a straight girl, and this is my experience,’ or they’re coming to me and they’re like, ‘Oh, I’m trans-masc, or I’m trans, and this really resonates with me. Is it ok that I resonate with this song?’ And I’m like, oh my god, it’s for everyone, do not even worry about that. Obviously, we take music how we take it,” they say, gesticulating more and more passionately as they speak, “like, we’re all sat in a room at a concert watching our favourite artist and we’re each getting something different from that artist, even though we’re all resonating with the same songs or the same parts of the songs. That’s the incredible thing about music. And also, weirdly, sport,” they add as an afterthought, “but we’re talking music.”

The last question I ask Nxdia is: if they could say anything to that younger, heartbroken version of themselves all those years ago, what would they say? “Fight him. You could take him,” they laugh. “No, no, no, I don’t condone violence, I don’t condone aggression.” I suggest that fighting boys might be an exception. “Yeah,” they reply, “boys that steal girls I fancy.”

Photographer
Joshua Drakes
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