Move over, L’il Miquela – a new robot popstar has arrived. Enter Thembot – aka Theo Stinson Papoui – the unapologetic, undeniably gorgeous diva with the vocal prowess to match and an alluring (thankfully IRL) presence. With dancefloor hits ‘Hotline’ and ‘Take Me Home’ already under their belt, the rising star is flexing their eclectic sonic range on their latest track ‘Jimmy Choo’ and reminding us all to live authentically while not taking ourselves too seriously.
“When I was younger, I was obsessed with lipsyncing down the stairs of my childhood home and pretending I was a popstar,” Theo says over the phone while getting their hair and makeup done for a photo shoot. “My parents definitely saw that I was creative so they signed me up for dance classes. They suggested I tried singing too, but at the time I felt like singing was too feminine and I had to fit into this masculine world.”
Theo explains that this changed after studying musical theatre at college, where they were introduced to an inclusive community of queer performers. However, upon leaving college and entering the entertainment industry, they felt once again excluded. “When I left I just felt like there were no jobs in the industry for anyone like me, I felt so outside of this bubble of performers. All of the auditions I went to I felt like weren’t for me, the roles were just for the masculine men,” they explain.
When I found my transness, I really understood myself… I want to create the show that I’m going to be in, I want to create the music I want to perform, I can envision myself rather than having to be the character that society wants me to conform to.
“Then when I found my transness, I really understood myself,” Theo shares. “I thought, fuck it, I want to make music. I want to create the show that I’m going to be in, I want to create the music I want to perform, I can envision myself rather than having to be the character that society wants me to conform to.”
They explain that living authentically to their identity has inspired their interest in playing with personas through their artistry. They say, “I feel like we live in this social media age where everyone is fake as fuck, so I’m playing into this fake bimbo fantasy. She’s delusional, but she’s hot as fuck, and she makes cute music.”
On Friday, Thembot released their latest single, the powerful, hyper-pop rap track ‘Jimmy Choo’, so we sat down with them to hear more about the track’s inspirations.
“So it’s actually quite a funny story,” Theo says as they explain the track’s origin. “Ages ago, me and my friend were at this queer party at Annabell’s and she recognised the head of Jimmy Cho, and I’d just applied for a job so we went to talk to her. Luckily, she fell in love with my friend and got her a job. For the whole week, we could not stop screaming ‘Jimmy Choo’, we were just so hyped for each other. To see another trans girl get a job at such a big company – it was a moment. Little things like that are such big moments for trans women, to have a doll working there is a gag.”
They share that they were inspired to write a song that would bring confidence to queer communities. “I’ve always wanted to make a track that a trans girl would listen to and relate to. I want her to walk down the street and feel confident. We all get so many funny stares down the street or creepy looks, but when the girlies put the song in their earphones, I want them to be like, ‘I don’t care what anyone thinks about me, I’m gorgeous and I know it’.”
Theo admits that the brand has heard the song and, while they’re fans of the track, they wouldn’t allow access for filming the music video in its stores: “I had such a gaggy group of London creatives involved, the best of the best, but they weren’t sold on the vision. Their loss!”
Packing up their inspiration with them, Theo wrote the track while holidaying with friends. “I was in my bedroom on the balcony strutting around and the lyrics just came to me, I felt like God was speaking to me or something,” they joke. “I was in Thailand with all my girlfriends for a dolls’ holiday, and once I played them the first verse I felt so inspired, I stayed up til 5am and finished it that night. I then recorded it when I got back [to London] the next week – I think I finished it in one session, I was fired up.”
For the track, Theo worked with producer, frequent collaborator and friend, Phonewifey. Theo is quick to sing the producer’s praises, but admits that the track’s first demo sounded quite different to the finished product. “I sent him a voice note of me singing ‘Jimmy Choo’ and the first package he sent was super dark and moody. I told him I needed more bimbo stripper energy, more sparkle and more sex appeal, and the next version he sent was perfect.”
When I ask Theo which lyric sticks out to them from the song, they’re quick to respond. “It’s got to be ‘You wanna fight me? / Don’t fucking try me’. I want the girls to listen and giggle a bit, I want the lyrics to have some humour to them,” they explain. “It’s not meant to be controversial, I have a lyric that says ‘I’m tall, skinny, gorgeous and sexy’, but it’s not really about how you look, like my favourite thing is to lean into the delusion of it all. It’s an attitude, and the girlies that get it, get it.”
For these lyrics, Theo was inspired by their typical experiences on a night out in London as a trans woman. “When I’m going to the club or a rave and I’m full bimbo, there’s definitely going to be so many occasions where men react to me, whether they are over sexual and begging for sex or if they clock me as a trans woman and shout at me or chase me down the street. That’s living in London, it’s just city life.”
It’s a harsh reality that many trans people face, even in a city with a thriving queer community, with almost half of trans people living in London having experienced a hate crime in the last 12 months. Theo continues, “If you see me commuting, I will have the most miserable bitch face because I’m not looking to talk to you. I believe that if you look angry and walk fast like a supermodel, no one can hurt you. This is a song the girls can strut to no matter what they’re walking from and I want it to fill them with the confidence that they are that bitch.”
For me, being authentic does mean being outrageous because that’s who I am.
Their heavy rotation & regaining authenticity
“I was listening to ‘BFF’ by Slayyyter a lot,” says Theo, recounting fond memories of dancing along with their nearest and dearest to the hyper-pop banger while working on their track. “The gorgeous girlies know how to do it well.”
In recent years, and thanks to the underground collectives and queer communities supporting the rise in hyper-pop music in particular, there has been an explosion of queer and trans musicians rising to receive mainstream popstar acclaim, including Kim Petras, Arca, SOPHIE and Dorian Electra. “I have so many songs I’ve not released or produced yet, I’m sitting on a backlog of songs,” Theo shares. “I think this time around, I would say to myself, ‘Theo, don’t give a fuck’, like why did I care about what other people would think? I think I’d been self-conscious it wouldn’t be well received for a while and I never would have written lyrics like ‘You wanna fight me? / Don’t fucking try me’ or ‘I’m tall, skinny, gorgeous and sexy’, I would have thought it would be way too controversial or that no one else would get it but then you’re punishing yourself for sharing the truth. For me, being authentic does mean being outrageous because that’s who I am.”
Now, Theo says that authenticity is most important to their music. “When you compare it with my previous releases from before I transitioned I was still a doll, but I wasn’t ever being authentic to Theo,” they explain. “Living more authentically speaks volumes, you can see it with my music that I’m having so much more fun writing, producing and performing.”
Bringing the doll to life
For their look in the song’s artwork, Theo was inspired to bring the THEMBOT to life. “To be honest, I knew what I wanted, I wanted to look like a doll. My artist name is THEMBOTso I wanted to give a robot doll, sex doll hybrid,” they explain. “I met a fellow queer who works at Poster Girl and they sorted me out for the outfit, I got to go into their showroom and try on a bunch of different looks. The team at Poster Girl have been so supportive, and they’re great at supporting the queer community online too.”
Theo shares that their original vision for the shot was inspired by an unexpected source – The Beatles. “I wanted to get that crossing-the-road shot like Abbey Road, but when we shot it, the outdoor lighting was far too unpredictable. Instead, we ended up using a digital camera I got from the charity shop the week before and stood outside of the Jimmy Choo store. I was surprised at how many people stayed to watch [the photo shoot], I had taxi drivers honking and circling around the block to catch me strutting.”
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