The Wizardry of Magi Merlin

Montreal musician Magi Merlin spoke with Complex Canada about her new EP 'Gone Girl,' her partnership with Funkywhat, and being assured in her feelings.

Magi Merlin wearing a leather jacket.

Image via Feng Jiang

Magi Merlin wearing a leather jacket.

Until she was six or seven, Magi Merlin thought her name was Kayla. After complaining about it to her parents, she was told that Kayla was her middle name—and that she had another eponym to choose from. 

“My grandparents were getting this dream before I was actually born of a little girl being like, ‘Oh, I want to be named after that star in the sky’ in their dream. And my grandpa was like, “OK, what’s the name of the star?” So the little girl in the dream was like, “It’s Magi.”

Magi Merlin pushing up on her gums to reveal her teeth.

Immediately Merlin knew what she wanted, and started going by Magi (MADGE-eye). This sureness of self from such a young age is on-brand for the Montreal starlet, and she’s just as audacious on her new EP, Gone Girl, out May 27. Produced by Funkywhat, the project is Merlin’s most confident effort to date, partially due the pair’s lengthy working relationship. It helps that Funky and Merlin are buds outside of the studio, regularly hanging out and skateboarding together. 

“Before I had met him, honestly? I felt a little bit flip floppy. I was kind of floating in the wind, you could say. And I think that it’s just years of just kind of developing what I like and being OK with what I like.”

On the surface, Gone Girl reflects effortlessly cool notes of acid and house music. Still, Merlin says it’s just as inspired by Yussef Kamaal and the winding rock of Radiohead’s In Rainbows as it is fellow Montrealer Kaytranada. This seamless blend is indicative of the vision that she and Funkywhat have come to together.

“The type of music that I wanted to make kind of required another person there to kind of work with me,” she continues. “And I feel like that really solidified me and my artistry.”

In cementing that vision, Gone Girl is Magi Merlin’s full bloom into a glib confidence in both sound and prose. While her ice-cold wit permeates on “Free Grillz,” her first stab at rapping, she’s just as quick on “Pissed Black Girl,” an ode against white suburbia and performative allyship. Written in the summer of 2020, the track validates the anger experienced by Black women, which is often reduced and ignored, sometimes even by those closest to them. 

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For Merlin, one of these reductionists was an ex-partner. After trying to tell him that actions speak louder than words, he turned the discussion into an argument. In response, she wrote him a letter. “I tried to be super concise and not too upset so that the points that I was trying to make were going to come across,” she explains. Despite being collected, she was pinned as irate by her ex, as though she shared her words only to quell her own emotions. 

It was this experience among others that inspired Merlin to reclaim the “Pissed Black Girl” narrative, allowing herself to be assured in her anger in all aspects of her life. “It’s good to be able to just be angry, and it not be because of my identity or whatever,” she says poisedly. With that, she points back to her upbringing in Saint-Lazare, QC, now able to reclaim that as well. 

“It’s cathartic in many ways, because it’s kind of neat, taking that space as a Black woman, and not rejecting it, but also feeling confident enough to be able to speak on these things. Because before, it [was] like, ‘Oh my God, I don’t know if I should’—because my experience, I don’t feel like it is the quintessential Black experience. But it is, right? Because I’m Black and I experienced it. That’s really all you need.”

Magi Merlin standing with her hands behind her back. She is wearing a camouflage print shirt and blue jeans.

In early May, Merlin left Montreal to embark on her first European tour. She said she’s most excited to see Milan, likely in part due to her interest in fashion. She does all of her own makeup looks in a style she calls “minimalist maximalist,” experimenting with shapes and eyeshadows in lieu of heavy foundation. Working with her friend, designer and stylist Gabrielle St-Cyr, she’s able to attain a distinct style that’s all her own. 

This sharing of resources among friends and colleagues is part of what Merlin loves so much about the Montreal arts scene. “Nobody’s gatekeeping each other... Everyone seems to be like, ‘OK, let’s push each other up,’ at least in the little niche communities.” She says this is also true of Bonsound, the label that’s recently taken her on. 

“I feel like everyone at Bonsound is really sweet, and I’ve met a few of the other artists and they’re all really nice. It’s just a very pleasant, sunshine rainbows vibe for sure. In regards to Bonsound, I think I’m really lucky to have that as a label experience.”

It’s fitting that Gone Girl is Magi Merlin’s first EP for the agency, as the record itself is just as sanguine. “I wrote every song at different points and different periods,” she says, “but they all kind of have the same self-assured feeling to me, and that’s how I felt when I was writing them.”

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