After LA-based electronic-pop artist Glüme Harlow performs a gig, she’s often approached by fans who will speak to her in hushed tones. “People come up to talk to me about their childhood trauma for a while,” she says. “Some people come up to me and they’ll just tell me their deepest, darkest secrets at the merch table.” Sometimes, younger girls will quietly open up about the turbulent relationship they have with their mothers. ‘It’s totally scary,” she says of finding the courage to speak up. “I can see why I waited a few decades.”
Glüme’s second album, ‘Main Character’ – a record that stages wistful electronic synths alongside large-scale, cinematic orchestrals – speaks to such personal experiences of her listeners because she too has lived them. Initially beginning as a deconstruction of her love life, the album is a much deeper reflection on her own childhood trauma. “I guess it was a lot more open and personal [than 2021 debut ‘The Internet’], and I think also it was a little bit more specific,” Glüme says. “I try to find the universal in the specific.”
A former child actor, Glüme, who’s now in her thirties, spent her early years performing to support her family. Her first job was playing Shirley Temple on Broadway at six years old, and her last audition was to play Hannah in Hannah Montana, for which she got down to the final three. Throughout her childhood, Glüme’s mother gave her various drugs and medications to keep her working, which resulted in a number of chronic health conditions in her twenties, including lupus and the heart condition Prinzmetal angina, which she still battles today. “Everyone has their own different experiences of joy and pain growing up, but I think that a lot of people who go through childhood abuse are expected to lie about it, so to keep the peace,” she says. “And so you can’t really tell your full story and your experience as a human.”
Growing up home-schooled in a “super sheltered”, religious family, the singer wasn’t allowed to consume modern culture or spend time with friends, and instead watched the classic movie channel and rented Audrey Hepburn or Fred Astaire and Ginger Roger films on VHS. “I didn’t really have anyone to be like, ‘Have you heard the Spice Girls?’” she says. She’d listen to artists like Simon and Garfunkel with her dad – who she says is “cooler than everyone” – and talk about what makes good lyrics and storytelling, before she started writing her own songs when she was around 13.
The singer has tried to address issues with her mother since she was young, but their relationship remains strained. “I think the big thing for anyone who has a problem with a parent, or even a partner, you keep thinking, ‘Oh we’re gonna work this out, we’ll talk this out, we’ll have this magical conversation,’” she says. “You’ve got to let go of that. Eventually, you just realise it is what it is.”
There are references to her troubled childhood throughout the new album’s 14 tracks. “Child actor, face the camera / That loves you more / Than all of the people / That you adore,” she sings on the melancholy, electronic elegy and album opener ‘Child Actor’. On the bare, hymnal ‘Female Role Model’, she recalls when her therapist gave her a book on Marilyn Monroe after noticing similarities in their upbringing. “She turned out to be the most iconic woman of all time,” Glüme says. “And I was like, ‘Wait, I’m not a freak, it’s glamorous?’”
The singer’s childhood isolation fostered an affinity with classic Hollywood that can be heard throughout the record, which has an interlude and an overture that you might expect to hear in an old MGM film. “Although I don’t recommend fully sheltering your children from the world, because then that’s a whole problem in itself, I’m half grateful because there’s so much that my imagination got out of those old films,” she says. She still adores La La Land, too. “It feels kind of haunted in a way,” she says, as her gaze drifts out of frame. “There’s a magical feeling here.”
In 2009, when Glüme was living in New York, there was another musician who was leaning towards similar old-school musical influences, who even came to one of the singer’s early shows. Glüme’s manager was dating Lana Del Rey at the time, who would tell both artists to “get over the old Hollywood thing”. She recalls: “He’s like, ‘You guys are never going to make money with this weird obsession. So when she made it, I was just like, ‘Sorry, dude, it worked.’” Now comfortable in her forward-facing, arthouse sound, Glüme says there’s more space to “take risks” with pop music compared to 10 years ago. “There’s still parameters, but I feel like it’s a way more friendly climate to be creative than when I first started.”
‘Main Character’ was released via Italians Do It Better, the synth-pop championing record label belonging to Chromatics’ Johnny Jewel, which Glüme recalls “scheming” to be signed to. “I think [a synthesiser] is the closest you can get to the big sound of old Hollywood,” she says of her electronic roots. The record also features collaborations with some of Glüme’s biggest musical inspirations, including Sean Ono Lennon and Rufus Wainwright. “The ‘Main Character title is supposed to be kind of inverted,” she says. “Growing up, I was not the main character, and so I wanted the album to feel like I was just kind of featured on it with all these grand people.”
Glüme, who laughs often, even when speaking about heavier topics, is gentle by nature and radiates playful energy. In her Instagram bio, she describes herself as ‘Walmart Marilyn’ or ‘Twin Peaks Barbie’, owing to the fact she’s normally powdered and painted with ruby red lipstick and dressed in feathers, diamante or clear PVC. She’s also inked with cartoonish tattoos running up her arms – including one which reads ‘Brittany Murphy’ in a love heart (the late star’s surname being added when Glüme broke up with her ex, also named Brittany).
Today, though, she’s barefaced and a little sleepy after returning from tour with Metronomy, where she spent most gigs fangirling and dancing at the back of the venue after her support slot. “I didn’t think about it much before the tour because I was so busy, and then when I got there, they were playing and I was like, ‘Wait, I’m like a whole fan of this band and I’m opening for them!’” she says.
Besides music, Glüme is working on two film features, Child Actor – in which younger and older versions of herself meet, with the ‘Main Character’ album art being shot during filming too – and American Girl, for which the teaser reads: “In every neighbourhood shop is a girl trying to catch her big break….” Glüme is also moving to Paris for four months for some filming this summer, which will be followed by her European tour later this year.
It’s the lifestyle of a worldly star that younger Glüme could have only imagined. “Tour definitely tested the limits, and that’s okay. My cardiologist is okay with that. He wants me to live my truth and the life that I worked for,” she says of her demanding schedule. “He said, “You could have a bad event out on the road doing what you love, or you can have a bad event sitting at home in fear.” She concludes that embracing the present moment – in all her performative endeavours – is the only option. “I will always have my feet in both waters because to me it’s all connected,” she says. “Part of me wouldn’t be fully alive if I wasn’t expressing myself in all of those ways actively.”
“So, I go,” she concludes assuredly, “and I do everything that I do.”
‘Main Character’ is out now via Italians Do It Better