To know dodie is to “really” know her. Since 2011, the British singer-songwriter’s diary-wide-open authenticity has drawn millions of fans to her YouTube channel doddleoddle and its sister channel, doddlevloggle.
Those faithful fans — she once considered calling them “doddlers” — were with her in 2016, when, after establishing an online presence, she released her first EP. The result was the intimate “Intertwined,” a collection of songs tackling mental health, sexuality and friendship. Another EP, “You,” followed in 2017. Her third, “Human,” was released in 2019.
“Build a Problem,” though, is dodie’s full-length debut, written over a two-year span during a period of self-discovery after she came out in 2017 as bisexual with a song and video called “I’m bisexual – a coming out song!” (the video has amassed six million views on YouTube). After being pushed back three times, she’s eager for the album to come out on May 7, she tells me over Zoom from her studio flat in London. But first things first: all the stuff strewn across her floor that she thought she hid.
“Excuse my room,” she says, after rushing home from a walk to get on the call. “I didn’t realize how messy it was, and that it was gonna show.”
When the album finally comes out, how do you anticipate that you will feel?
(Laughs.) Relieved, released. Free. And yeah, I mean, I have no idea. It’s why I gritted my teeth when I heard that you listened to it, because I just have no idea how people will respond. I’ve already spoken to a lot of people who have listened to it, like my friends and also some fans, and that’s been nice. From what I hear, they all really like it. And that, honestly, is enough for me. If I could just share the Dropbox link around to everyone and get their feedback, that’s enough to keep me going.
It must feel weird to create a piece of work that is so close to you and so intimate and not know how anyone will respond to it.
Yeah. I’m just so ready to move on. I feel like I’m holding onto this album and to all of these feelings associated with it. And like, obviously, my life has moved on. I’ve grown up and grown since writing (it), but I feel like I can’t properly move on until I’ve released it, which I don’t know if it’s healthy or not. But it definitely feels like a part of my life.
How would you compare the songwriter you were when you first started writing songs to the songwriter you are on this album?
I think I’ve always been very dramatic in my songwriting. Not, like, in an overt way. I think what I mean is: I love building tension and release in my songs. I love over-soaring melodies. I love creating dynamics, like such a range in my songs. So I think that’s similar. The difference is that I’m better. (Laughs.) I honestly just think the way in which I look at life has changed. I look at life in a more nuanced way now, whereas when I was younger I wrote more black and white, obviously, because that’s how I saw the world. So, if anything, the meanings of my art have gotten more mature. Probably the sound of my music as well. In terms of writing style, I really don’t know, to be honest. That’s a good question. I have to think about it.
Did the pandemic open up this creative well for you? And did you write the album, or any of it, in the pandemic?
I wrote half of the album in the pandemic. The deluxe side, and all of those songs, I was uploading them in the first wave, as it were. And I felt, yeah, definitely creatively inspired. It gave me all of the time I needed and the space I needed to start writing and finishing all of these little snippets of songs and tweak them and form them into demos. Then the next wave of the pandemic was the complete opposite and I just sort of fell into a slump.
A lot of this music, from what I read, brought you closer to the person that you are right now. Did any of it help inform your sexuality or the discovery of new parts of your sexuality?
Yes! Great question. I think it took me a while to really understand what it meant to come out as bi. I think when I was younger I was so excited to (come out) because, firstly, it felt like a very exciting thing and I wanted to rush out and say it, like get in with the crowd because I felt very kind of lonely and weird in it. I wanted to immediately be a part of this community. And it felt good. And then I grew up. (Laughs.)
I realized that all of those sort of inner biphobic workings of growing up where I did, and the family that I had, caught up with me, and I realized it was a bit more difficult than I thought and that I had a lot more to work through and a lot more to understand about it. And I’m still working through it; I’m still trying to understand. And, yes, everyone always says that sexuality is complex — as is gender, as is everything in life — but I think I’m only just beginning to understand what that means and still understand myself more.
So when it comes to identity, are you still using the bisexual label?
I think it’s easier to say bisexual because that’s what I am. It’s hard to even talk about what love is for me and what attraction is for me because it just keeps shifting. I still don’t really know myself very well when it comes to relationships. So, I just don’t think I can land solidly on talking about any of that. All I know is that I’m bisexual and that means something to me.
It’s pretty incredible to think that six million people watched you come out on YouTube in 2017 with “I’m bisexual — a coming out song!” That’s a lot of people. How do you reflect on that moment and coming out in such a big way?
I think it’s very sweet. I think I have a lot of queer fans. A lot of young queer fans, right? At least I definitely did at that time, probably following a song that I put out when I was even younger than that called “She,” which was about liking a friend of mine who was not bi or gay in any way. Also, before I even knew that I was, it was just this vague, flirty song about really finding someone attractive and kind of knowing what it was, but not really sticking a pin (on) it. It just makes the whole feeling so much softer when I understand that so many have gone through that feeling and are now going through that feeling.
Bisexuality still seems to be taboo. Do you think we’re past that? What is your personal experience with that?
I think we’re past it in a way, but I still think there’s so much stigma inside that label even. To be fair, I see it talked about on TikTok a lot in a very nice way, in a comforting way, where people explore how you can be bisexual but still be in a “straight” relationship. Just all of the complexities. Basically, your history doesn’t have to align with your orientation. It’s just a very confusing mess that I think people still don’t understand because the world looks at things in a very strict putting-in-boxes way when really, of course, everything is more nuanced than that.
When I think of boxes now, the boxes are even less so than the boxes that I had to put myself in.
I would have lost my mind. I don’t know what I would have done. I mean, I still am because the inner bi-phobia (is) still there. Sometimes I lie in the bath and I’m like, “Oh, fuck! I think I’m gay.” Like, “Oh fuck, I’ve been lying to everyone, I’ve been lying to myself.” And I’ll be like, “Shit, I must be completely straight, I just love girls, like everyone else, oh god.” I still flip back and forth because we’ve all been brought up in this “either-or” world and then as soon as I find the word bi again and I really understand what that means, I’m like, “OK, everything’s better now.”
I’m interested in knowing a little more about your queer fans, because you have such a following. What kind of fans are they?
Yeah, they’re very sweet. I mean, I haven’t really come into contact with them for a while. You know, for at least a year or so. (Laughs.) But I’ve seen so many grow up, kind of, with me. I get really emotional when I think about how weird I felt as a teenager, or a kid even, just like a complete outsider, and very dramatic and deep-feeling.
And yeah, OK, I’ll say it: I have a friend called Elle Mills. She’s a YouTuber and she’s really cool. You can tell her fans apart from mine because hers are all the cool kids in school, and mine are all of the arty-farty fairies who are a bit weird. And like, I felt… I don’t know… slow in the hierarchy of school. And now I understand there wasn’t a hierarchy at all; it’s just kind of people. And I feel like I’ve collected a community of them and that makes me feel really good.
That’s really sweet. Do you have a name for these fans? You know, like Mariah has her “lambs” and Gaga has her “little monsters.”
(Laughs.) I toyed around with “doddlers,” but I didn’t want to imply that we’re an army or anything like that. I didn’t want to be like, you know, the leader of this army or whatever. I think that’s strange.
And yet you kind of are that leader. It’s you who brings these people together, right?
Kind of. I don’t know. I like it when I become a very separate thing. There’s a sort of fandom that I’m not even really a part of. I really love that. I think that’s so sweet.
What do you hope your queer fans take away from your example in living so openly in regards to your sexuality?
I would love for them to feel better about the complexity and the guilt of it all, I think. I don’t really know how many (songs) exactly are about being queer; I’m sure it floats in and out of all of my writing. But in “She” and a song called “Rainbow,” there’s a lot of struggle. As much as it is a celebration, there’s a lot of pain and shame in there. I would hope in sharing that it lightens their load a bit, because I know that it’s a really heavy thing to carry around. And I would love for us to share that and feel better together.
Celebrities were once people who seemed so unattainable. But you’ve built an entire career on being your most authentic self. Do you think it’s important for people in the LGBTQ+ community to be able to relate to the artists that they listen to and that they love?
I don’t think it’s necessary. I wouldn’t want to enforce a breaking of boundaries on anyone. I grew up seeing, yeah, you’re right, celebrities as these like unreachable aliens that I didn’t really understand existed. And so when I kind of became someone that people knew about, that I probably would have deemed to be famous when I was younger, I wanted to break that and almost reach into my younger self and shake her and be like, “Look! These people are human and everyone is human. You walk this earth with these people.” Yeah, I’m not sure if it’s necessary or incredibly important, but I do find it interesting and I like that I am someone who can do that.
What will you be doing to celebrate Pride this summer?
I haven’t even thought about it. Isn’t that so weird? I think probably just connecting with people online. I don’t know. Maybe I should work on that. Maybe Pride is something I should partake a little bit more in.
It sounds like you’ve had some new thoughts about sexuality in the last several years, so maybe it’s time for a follow-up to “I’m bisexual.”
Yeah. Though I don’t know if I’m ready to share them yet, because I don’t even know what they are. I still don’t understand myself, really. Maybe I’ll just say that.
As editor of Q Syndicate, the LGBTQ wire service, Chris Azzopardi has interviewed a multitude of superstars, including Cher, Meryl Streep, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, Vanity Fair, GQ and Billboard. Reach him via Twitter @chrisazzopardi.