As far as 21-year-old singer-songwriter Shamir is concerned, gender is dead, but disco music isn’t.
Known for his genre- and gender-bending persona, the Las Vegas native has been making waves since his 2014 EP Northtown first introduced the world to his striking countertenor voice and funky sound. Since then, Shamir has continued to prove himself—his debut album Ratchet on XL Recordings landed him on the Billboard + Twitter Emerging Artists chart in 2015, and he’s shared stages with big-name acts like The Killers and fellow up-and-comers like Troye Sivan.
On his way to open for Duran Duran and Chic on their New York City tour stop, Shamir spoke with Billboard about his favorite nail polish, “non-binary” clothing and why he doesn’t care for fashion labels.
Where do you look for clothing?
Honestly, all I do is thrift. I literally just came here from thrifting at L Train Vintage. But if I do get anything name brand, it’s usually Topshop. I love Kenzo, too.
I buy clothes from both the men’s and women’s section. Even though I’m non-binary, I’m more well-versed when it comes to menswear, because that’s mostly what I wear.
I used to work retail on the womenswear side. Women would come in and ask, “Where are your maxi dresses?” I was like, “I can tell you as soon as you tell me what a maxi dress is.”
Do you have any favorite designers?
I never really look at designers. I’m more into personal style as opposed to labels. I’m just asking, “Is it colorful?” And I like things with vintage vibes. Growing up, I used to have theme days for myself where I’d dress like I was from the ‘50s or ‘60s.
Have the musicians you’ve played with influenced your style?
I identify with Duran Duran’s style the most, because I love the ‘80s look. They keep a lot of that throwback style but make it modern. They have a great stylist; I’m low-key jealous.
Do you have any fashion icons?
If she’s gold, is there a silver or bronze?
Shingai Shoniwa of The Noisettes is probably silver. Her long, beautiful natural hair was a huge inspiration for me going natural. She dresses very well, too. If I could raid one person’s closet, it would probably be Years & Years frontman Olly Alexander’s.
Do you have any favorite hair products?
I don’t put anything in my hair; even when I had dreads I didn’t. I don’t wash with sulphates, so I like peppermint soap and black soap.
What prompted you to cut off your dreads?
I just had a moment where I was like, “I don’t feel attached to my hair right now, and if I don’t cut it now, then I never will.” So it just happened. Me and all my friends went in the bathroom to cut it and live-streamed it on Facebook.
When did you start painting your nails?
Nail painting is a recent thing for me. At photo shoots, women get all the makeup and full treatment, whereas the makeup artists will just wash my face and throw a bit of powder on me and be like, “Ok, you’re ready.” And I’m like, “I want to get pampered too!” The only thing I can really ask for is to get my nails painted. That started the bug. I kept it up as a way to relax on tour.
That and knitting. It’s how I pass time on the bus. In middle school I didn’t have friends or a life, so I learned to knit. One of my main hustles when I was a teenager was making hat and scarf combos. Right now I’m working on a bunch of different Afghan squares to make into a blanket.
Are there specific nail colors you’ve been gravitating toward?
You know the lady who lives in New York who’s obsessed with green? That might be my future. I try other colors, but each time I go back to some shade of green. I picked my current shade because I just liked the name of the color. It’s called Trophy Wife.
I still can’t paint my nails myself, but I’m really good at preserving them. On my last tour with Troye Sivan, his merch lady was like, “Your nails stay nice because you don’t lift a finger.” And I was like, “I just know how to work and stay fabulous.” I’m there lifting instruments too; I just know how to keep it together.
How did growing up near Vegas affect your style?
Everybody in Vegas was so into brands. It made me want to be different. I used to only shop online, because I didn’t want to shop in the same places as everyone at school. It wasn’t until my freshman year of high school that my friend was like “I’m going to the thrift store,” and I was like, “The what?” I thought you could only get rags there. She completely changed my life.
Have fashion and beauty been a part of experimenting with gender for you?
They’ve been a way for me to express how I feel in general, and that includes whether I’m feeling more feminine or masculine that day. I feel like my style is very androgynous and in the middle, but I don’t feel comfortable in a dress or high heels. I like that I can wear what I want.