Debby Friday is embracing the freedom of staying out of the box in electronic music

Fresh off of winning the Polaris Music Prize, the Nigerian-Canadian artist opened up about her journey and debut album, "Good Luck."

Debby Friday is opening up about her upbringing and unapologetically bold music following a major win in Canadian art. (Photo by Stella Gigliotti via Semaphore)
Debby Friday is opening up about her upbringing and unapologetically bold music following a major win in Canadian art. (Photo by Stella Gigliotti via Semaphore)

When Debby Friday looks back on her younger self, there's empathy and respect for a woman who's still standing strong despite the tough hurdles she's encountered. Life hasn't been a walk in the park for the Nigeria-born, Toronto-based musician. A challenging upbringing, self-soothing with substances and spiralling towards destruction might sound like too many shadows for one person — but channelling that darkness has gotten Friday in the position she now relishes.

"I still marvel sometimes about the things that I survived and the fact that I'm even here today," Friday tells Yahoo Canada in an interview.

"I have a lot of respect for my past self and her toughness. She had to be tough in order to survive the circumstances. But now, it's that toughness that allows me to be soft and to have more gentleness in my life and my personality."

Six years ago, you wouldn't necessarily see that subdued energy from Friday. She dove head first into Montreal's nightlife scene in 2017 as an unexperienced DJ; that less-than-a-year stint — one that was lucky but also saw Friday cave to the substance abuse rampant among her peers — ultimately changed the trajectory of her career. After DJing across North America, a follow-up European tour and experiencing those music communities was the catalyst for shifting her perspective.

Seeing all these young people making a living, doing this and being artists, it really inspired me.Debby Friday

But returning home to Canada came with a bit of shock in what she calls her "nervous breakdown."

"All the structures of my life basically just collapsed in on themselves," Friday says. "I quit nightlife, I left Montreal, I got sober — everything in my life changed at that point. It was then that I was like, 'Alright, I want to make music.'"

Late-night sessions teaching herself music production from YouTube tutorials eventually led to her first six-track EP, "Bitchpunk," which is full of "unbridled feminine aggression." That came with her first-ever performances, a move out west and enrolling in a master of fine arts in Vancouver. She continued to annihilate with unapologetic boldness in the release of her second EP, "Death Drive," in 2019.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the following year, Friday began writing her full-length debut album in earnest. What came out of that time was last week's Polaris Music Prize winner, "Good Luck."

Friday won the Polaris Music Prize on Sept. 19 for her debut album,
Friday won the Polaris Music Prize on Sept. 19 for her debut album, "Good Luck," which came with a $50,000 prize. (The Canadian Press/Spencer Colby) (The Canadian Press)

The culmination of her story

Noting that she tends to work in threes, Friday envisions her current projects as a trilogy, with "Good Luck" being the truest, most honest form of her songwriting.

"It's the least opaque that I've been, it's the most transparent, the most personal and just straight-up that I've been," Friday says.

"I see this evolution through the three different projects. It's an evolution of finding your voice, finding who you are as a person and just allowing the audience in."

Without embarking on a sobriety journey, Friday's life would look quite different than it does today.

"It was only through sobriety that I was able to have clarity about myself, about my life, about my wants, my needs," she says. "It was a way that I was able to have clarity about myself as a person.

"It's almost this sense of becoming yourself and coming out of a darkness, which I always say is similar to being in a womb. You're still unformed, you're not sure who you are, you can feel certain things that might be on the horizon of your future, but you haven't been born yet."

Elements of erotic attitude like that on her track "Medusa," or the intense electricity vibrating on her song "Fatal" are still found on her debut album. But on "Good Luck," Friday doesn't shy away from further experimentation in the vein of artists like FKA Twigs or Sevdaliza. On her newly-released single, "let u in," she takes it a step further and channels the sweet bedroom pop style of singers like Pinkpantheress.

Staying out of the box

Experimentation and creative freedom are major drivers in Friday's artistry. That space is something she found electronic music welcomed, which other genres would've likely shunned.

"It gives me space not only to express myself, but also to not feel boxed in," she says.

"Being a Black woman making electronic music, I feel that it's, right now in the world that we live in, being much better received than it probably would've been in the past. I'm happy to see that. It feels like, 'OK, there's progress.' There's openness to the idea that Black women don't have to appear as just one thing."

Now that she's gotten her most personal and vulnerable body of work out of the way, Friday's ready to embrace the freedom she hopes to instill in her future work.

"I guess I did name my album 'Good Luck' but I do feel very lucky and grateful to be receiving this kind of recognition, and it just motivates me even more," she says.

"I have really big aspirations for myself, big aspirations for my career and ... I know where I want to go and what I want to do with music."

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