There is a lot of talk about dealing with unwanted attention when I meet with 20-year-old Russian-Israeli singer-songwriter Mirèle (real name Eva Lea Gurari) in a vegan cafe in Moscow. Eva was just 16 when she rose to fame as one half of pop duo My (“Us”), becoming a dove-eyed poster girl for Russia’s Generation Z. Growing up alongside her fans has given her a unique emotional connection with her listeners, something that is as challenging as it is rewarding. To my surprise, Mirèle’s inner fangirl jumps out when I mention that I interviewed Billie Eilish, the US singer-songwriter whose own teen success also earned her a reputation as the voice of her generation — someone whom Mirèle is tirelessly compared with. “Did you really talk to her?”, asks Mirèle, raising her signature bushy brows. “My goodness, I need a moment — I love her so much!”
It’s true that Mirèle has more fans than most other 20-year-olds. However, she’s also experienced her fair share of media controversy. Together with her bandmate Daniel Shake, Gurari released five albums as part of My, each full of poetic anthems dedicated to the triumphs and troubles of young love. In 2018, in truly unfortunate circumstances, the duo’s songs became embroiled in a murder case. A Moscow student raped and killed his girlfriend before committing suicide; in a lengthy suicide post on his vKontakte profile, he not only shared the details of the crime, but also specified that he had been inspired My’s song “Vozhmozhno” (“Maybe”). The duo refrained from making any comments after the incident but soon disbanded, briefly reunited, then called it quits for good. The break-up of the band was also a public breakup for Shake and Gurari, who had been in a relationship. In such circumstances, it would have been understandable for Gurari to take a break from music. On the contrary, she moved to Moscow and launched her career as indie-pop singer, Mirèle.
She released her debut solo album in 2016, followed by most recent record, Cocoon, at the end of 2019. It featuring standout tracks such as the self-empowering anthem “Ya – Sila” (“I am the power”), better-off-alone breakup disco banger “Ne So Mnoi” (“Not With Me”), and an eco-savvy love letter to our planet “Zemlya” (“Earth”). Marrying big emotions with minimal, exquisite melodies, and soft vocals, Mirèle finds power in subtlety and firmly stands her ground as one of the most exciting artists of her generation.
Let’s start at the beginning. You grew up across two countries?
I was born in Rostov-on-Don and lived there until I was 14. Then my family moved to Israel. I didn’t want to move at all: I dreamt of living in a tiny Russian village where nobody would know me in a small house with my dog.
I started consciously running an Instagram blog when I was around 12. I used it to spread some interesting and useful ideas to the wider community. It’s still my main goal in everything I do: in music, in blogging.
So you were a blogger first and musician second?
Yes. People would call me “the first blogger-turned-singer”. When I started posting my music, I had already had around 20,000 followers on Instagram.
How did you start making music?
I had just moved to Israel and just turned 16. Danya [Daniel Shake – co-founder of My] reached out to me online. He said he was a musician. After that we started talking every day and realised we had a lot in common.
At the time I had a page on vKontakte, where I would publish my own songs and cover versions. He liked one of my songs, added his own vocals, added some effects and sent it back to me. I loved it. From that moment we started making music together and very quickly gained a sizable following — with absolutely zero promotion.
Did pursuing music ever feel like a risk?
In the beginning there was no fear. I really liked our first records with Danya. I just knew that our music was cool. Recording and sharing our music online wasn’t scary, but performing it live was. I still get stage fright. I can feel myself shaking just thinking about it.
It was also scary to start making new music on my own, once My disbanded. I had zero idea as to my music identity. We were literally called “My” – us – so it was never about “me”. Like I didn’t exist on my own.
Were you not tempted to change your stage name to “Ya” (I)?
No. I think Danya has done that.
While I was making my first solo record, I didn’t really want to release it. It’s like I had to show the world that I can do it. It was released online while I was on a flight to Moscow from Israel. I stepped out off the plane and thought: “I don’t want to go online.” I was worried.
My collaborator Keril met me and showed the cover of my album on his phone, assuring me that everyone was loving it. But I was feeling ashamed of it. I’m still ashamed of that debut record: it’s too eclectic, it’s my downfall. The reviews were split.
What made you choose Mirèle as your alias?
I wanted to have this name for a long time. I looked up Jewish names when I was 13 because Jews can take on a second name. One of the sites I visited offered Mirèle, even though it’s French. In Israel I took two names: Mirèle and a Jewish one, Lea.
As a young artist, how much attention do you pay to music critics and reviews, given you have a direct connection to your actual fanbase?
I care about the people who leave comments on my posts. It doesn’t matter whether its critics or fans. But I’d like to believe that I only care about my own opinion, and those of my close circle of friends.
How does it feel to share your love songs with your parents?
I remember one time I made an upbeat song, and my mother told me: “Listen, it doesn’t work. It’s not you. You need to write about pain, you do that so well. That’s what people want to say but they can’t, so they need sad music that will speak to them. People don’t listen to music when they’re happy, it just becomes a soundtrack.”
That inspired me to write “Ophelia”.
When it came to making my second album, Renaissance, once I’d recorded the first half of it, it sent it to my mum straight away. It’s nice when big publications write about my music. But it always feels like a bonus. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t mean that much. I don’t make music for somebody. It’s like a letter from my heart.
You tend to be pretty honest on social media: about why My broke up, and about your personal life. How do you deal with haters?
I do get angry, but I would like to change this pattern of behavior. I am very sensitive and I am very happy that I get positive comments, but for some reason I don’t respond to them or take them in. I respond to angry comments. I react, they see it, and continue commenting some more. I really need to stop taking the bait. Now I try to disengage.
Have you made any friends among your followers?
Usually, no. I don’t make friends easily. I have a small inner circle. It’s enough for me to talk to the world via music. With social media, it’s frustrating because the boundaries are so blurred. Someone might message me “I love you”, and then continue to message me every day. People who would be polite to a stranger, but would grab my shoulder and ask for a selfie.
How often do you get recognised?
A lot. In Moscow people are somewhat reserved, but in St Petersburg they are very assertive. They push me, demand photos, demand a lot of my time. I’m an introvert and respect my boundaries. And then I get hate for it.
During my first solo show last year I was very worried. I planned to leave the stage during extended outro without saying anything. But the club had no safe exit, I was surrounded by people and couldn’t leave in secret. I asked my friend to help me leave, but he was live streaming for Instagram at the moment and instead of helping me asked if I wanted to take pictures with the fans. I said no, I just wanted to leave, and the internet heard it. I got so much hate: “You say you love your fans, but you can’t even take a few selfies”.
The very same day I was grabbed and accidentally hit by a girl who wanted a photo at a train station. I try to be a considerate person but I did write a post about how it’s not okay to approach me in that fashion, and that girl took our photo down. For two weeks people left me alone and would ask for photos very politely, but inevitably things get forgotten.
Speaking of social media, it was vKontakte that both launched your band and broke it up. You had nothing to do with that news story, yet you were dragged into it. Do you think about the power social media has over you and your music?
I think about it every day. Social media may not be my first life, but it comes second in everything I do. I have to think hard about anything I post.
This news story is a true nightmare. Back then it certainly affected us and I still feel its echo. It all happened at once. I was in my class when I got a text message from an old friend: she simply sent me a link to that guy’s letter. I couldn’t fathom what I was reading. 10 minutes later and I start getting thousands of messages. I closed all of my social media accounts, finished the lesson, went home and just sat there. I was very scared. Even my oldest friends started attacking me and telling me I had to make a public statement, post a phone number for the rape victims, or something like that.
I think when something like that happens to a bigger artist, its PR team handles such statements. While you were a small indie band.
Yes. I just didn’t understand what was going on. Neither did Danya. A friend told me to keep quiet, because whatever we said could have been used against us. So I asked Danya not to make any comments, but he posted an Insta story. It was a very hard long period. At the same time we were fighting with Danya, so all of that had split our band.
How do you switch off from being a public figure to being a normal 19-year-old?
It’s all me. In the end, I just make music. When I want to relax, I stay at home and watch TV shows.
What was the best live show of your career so far?
Probably the ones we played with My. I had never witnessed a show like that, even as a concert goer. We made everybody dance and sing-along, from the front row to the very back. We would never prepare speeches or anything like that: it was all spontaneous and “alive”. I’d watch people in the audience cry their hearts out and realise those were true feelings. I didn’t care if I hit a bum note as long as I hit their hearts, you know? If you make one person smile, then you succeed as a performer.
Who else do you listen to?
I really like Sabrina, Susanna, Manizha. I used to listen to obscure SoundCloud mixes, and more relaxed, chill music. The only Russian music I listened to was Sergey Kurehin [the ate-Soviet rock-vanguard artist].
What would make it easier for you to live and work as an artist in Russia?
I hope people become more environmentally mindful. We can already see change in bigger cities. There is recycling, eco-friendly activities, etc. I hope this becomes a nationwide concern. I hope that everyone gets treated better: women, men, children. Equality is the foundation.
I want to see better food in stores, especially more options for vegans. I hate it when I come to a supermarket and there’s a huge dairy section, but the fruits are horrible and there is only one option of oat milk. In Israel, for instance, they put healthy food at the front and center there, while in Russian stores chips and soda are still at the front.
Can you tell us about your most recent album Cocoon?
I’ve already released 3 albums and 1 EP, and although Cool is technically my third record, in a way it is my debut. It’s very special to me
What do you make of new social media platforms?
I recently started exploring TikTok. With Instagram, you mostly follow the people you already know. But on TikTok you see all kinds of people and so many of them are ingenious and amazing. It made me completely change my mind about Generation Z. How do people learn these dances? How is everybody so creative? It’s incredible.
Do you have a song that has a potential to go viral on TikTok?
Yes and I even came up with a little choreography for it. It’s called “Voobrazhaemyi Drug” (“Imaginary Friend”).
Finally, is there somebody you have in mind when you’re writing?
When I write, I’m addressing my friends. When I think of a person who listens to my music, I see a 16-year-old dreamer, just like me.