The opening number on Glitch Princess – the sophomore album by the musician Yeule released last month – is titled My Name Is Nat Ćmiel, a reference to what they (the preferred pronoun) go by when not performing. Coming across more as a spoken word piece than a song, the track sees them recite falteringly – like a newly birthed AI figure finding its voice – of the things they like: “I like making up my own world/ And the people who live inside me/ I like to dress up and not going out/ I like my cat Miso/ I like touching myself/ And I like being far away from my own body.”
Many articles introducing the Singapore-born Ćmiel (an enigma of a last name pronounced as “chur-meal”) describe them as an otherworldly character or a cyborg. The latter is a topic that the multi-instrumentalist/vocalist first explored in their debut 2019 album Serotonin II and is now more deeply anatomised in Glitch Princess.
Comme des Garcons Tao tulle sleeves, Club21. Polyamide-blend bralette, Gucci. B.Zero1 New Classic necklace with diamonds; (on right hand) B.Zero1 bangle, matching bracelet with diamonds, B.Zero1 New Classic ring, and Logo Open Work ring; and (on left hand) B.Zero1 Anniversary ring, all Bvlgari and in 18K white gold. Shushu/Tong skirt, beret, CorLatex bag, Maison Margiela X Reebok boots and facial piercings (worn throughout), Ćmiel’s own
The in-between worlds of the half-human, half-machine figure have long fascinated the 24-year-old. Their stage name is drawn from the moniker of the Final Fantasy seeress character Yeul, who’s constantly reborn knowing the moment of her next preordained death; a known lifespan in exchange for the ability to see the future. A fixation on endings and death has always haunted them, says Ćmiel, and it is this thread and threat of oblivion that ties them symbolically to the video game character – and perhaps makes them yearn for an alternative life.
Many tracks on Glitch Princess possess veins of pain and despair. On Eyes – a tender piano ballad with a hypnotic ambient bridge – Ćmiel sings, “How can I burn out of my own real body?” as if they are ready to transcend the corporeal flesh experience to enter the digital ether. On Bites On My Neck, they talk of walking into a fire just to be able to feel something, anything.
Molly Goddard tulle blouse, Dover Street Market Singapore. B.Zero1 Labyrinth 18K white and rose gold ring with diamonds (on ring finger); B.Zero1 New Classic 18K yellow gold ring with diamonds (on middle finger); B.Zero1 18K rose gold and ceramic ring with diamonds (on index finger); and B.Zero1 Total Black 18K rose gold and ceramic bangle, Bvlgari. Fendi headband and socks, Ćmiel’s own
That’s not to say that their art is purely about self-loathing and destruction. “I’d like to think that some of my songs are more hopeful than others. I think as you get older, you don’t really fixate on the darker side of things as much,” says Ćmiel.
Take Don’t Be So Hard On Your Beauty – a catchy acoustic guitar number with a music video directed by their regular collaborator, the rising filmmaker Joy Song (the Singaporean is also behind the motion piece that accompanies this story). The surreal production, which had Ćmiel memorise the lyrics and choreography in reverse (watch it to believe it), is set in a forest that transitions between being shrouded in a purple haze and being illuminated by a bright white light. “The sullen look on your face/ Tells me you see something/ More pure in me than this dirty/ When I’m with you, I no longer have tainted flesh,” Ćmiel croons.
Rick Owens viscose-blend top, Club21. Simone Rocha tulle skirt, Dover Street Market Singapore. (Jewellery from top) B.Zero1 Rock 18K yellow gold bangle with diamonds; B.Zero1 18K rose gold and ceramic ring with diamonds; B.Zero1 Design Legend 18K rose gold and ceramic ring; and B.Zero1 New Classic 18K yellow gold necklace with diamonds, Bvlgari. CorLatex necklace (worn as headpiece), Ćmiel’s own
If the warped, futurist sounds and sights of Glitch Princess feel like their most elaborate statement (the album was co-produced by the influential Danny L Harle) and most confessional work to date, that’s because it is. Ćmiel had taken up journaling at the start of the pandemic in 2020 and eventually filled out seven diaries worth of reflections and poetry, with much of the material making it into the album. The heavy cyborg influence that permeates the 13-track release (see the cover art that depicts Yeule’s body lit from within, revealing its mechanics) stems from how they had a hard time deciphering their gender identity growing up.
They cite cyborg and post-human theory by academics such as Donna Haraway, Anne Balsamo and Rosi Braidotti, all of whom posit on the future of humankind and the potential that a “cyborgian” life holds for freeing the body beyond traditional constructs of gender. “The cyborg is sort of a permutation of the human consciousness and all its biases,” says Ćmiel. “I think learning about cyborg identification, acceptance and cyborgian artefacts will progress the way we think about (gender) identities as well.”
Silk dress, Prada. (Jewellery from left) B.Zero1 18K white gold bracelet with diamonds and matching bangle; B.Zero1 18K rose gold and ceramic ring with diamonds; B.Zero1 Design Legend 18K rose gold and ceramic ring; B.Zero1 Labyrinth 18K white and rose gold ring with diamonds; B.Zero1 New Classic 18K white gold necklace with diamonds and matching ring; B.Zero1 Anniversary 18K white gold ring with diamonds and matching ring; and B.Zero1 Total Black 18K rose gold and ceramic bangle, Bvlgari
If there is an artist who will swim into that brave new world of techno-organic life, it’s probably Ćmiel. As an Extremely Online entity, they reside in many pockets of cyber dimensions. Long-time friends and fans will know them from the early days of Tumblr. These days, they are holding court on gamer platforms such as Twitch and Discord, where fans can chat with and follow them on their gaming sessions.
Ćmiel tells me that they’ve even built their own PC (named BMO – after the robot in the Cartoon Network animation Adventure Time) from scratch through watching Youtube videos, rattling off an elaborate list of technical specs in the process. They also admit to lurking around the dark web to satiate their endless curiosity for the underground and esoteric. Is it any surprise that spiritually similar, polymorphic savants such as Grimes and Arca are among their 118K Instagram followers?
Silk and polyester dress, Moschino. B.Zero1 Total Black 18K rose gold and ceramic ring (on index finger); B.Zero1 18K rose gold and ceramic ring with diamonds (on middle finger); and B.Zero1 Total Black 18K rose gold and ceramic bangle, Bvlgari. Beret and socks, Ćmiel’s own
“I think that I’ve created quite a beautiful online community. I’ve brought a lot of people together through my music and that’s something I’ve always wanted to do: create a space where you can feel like you belong,” says Ćmiel. Revealing that they suffered from social anxiety as a child and that the virtual dimension was where they found solace, they add: “That (sense of isolation) was what led me to Tumblr. I made friends there and they made me feel like it was okay to be a bit queer.”
Of course, Ćmiel has evolved since – and not just musically. There’s the expansion of the Yeule universe into fragrances: Last December, they debuted – and sold out – Code, a “non-binary scent for cyborgs” meant to capture their favourite smells (summer rain, coffee, gasoline) and that of persons (their mum). They also point out that in the past few years, especially after embarking on their fine arts degree at Central Saint Martins, they’ve got more of a “reality check”. Friends, for example, have taught them to venture out more into nature and be more appreciative of the earth.
The digital world, Ćmiel points out, is far from the be-all, end-all crutch that it used to be for them. “A mistake that I made when I was younger was to rely too much on my identity on the Internet. I think you need to understand a bit more about your core and what it entails first. Only after that can you take it to become any avatar that you want.”
Photography Stefan Khoo Photography Assistant Alif & Vincent Ng Fashion Direction Damian Huang Styling, Hair & Makeup Yeule Wardrobe Assistant Danessa Tong Hair & Makeup Assistant Sarah Tan Nails Lisa Mard Manicure Zi/Auum The Honest Nail Spa 3D Art JJ Low/NPlusC
This article first appeared in the March 2022 Liberation edition of FEMALE