Tumblr went from burgeoning underground waterhole for art, music, and writing to full-on cultural stalwart at such a dizzying rate that hindsight hasn’t had a chance to make sense of it yet. Only recently have we been able to start processing what Pitchfork’s Lindsey Zoladz calls the “proto-social media era.” A time when AIM away messages provided a new way to express yourself aesthetically and, all too often, emotionally. Enter the Internet sad girl: She’s the anti-Stepford wife ten years her junior, the tween or teen girl taking to the Internet to identify with others who don’t identify with anyone in their small town or big city or wherever their angst might hit them. The early blogging days latched onto solidarity in suffering, a social media trend that rode into the mainstream media on Tumblr’s coattails. These days, however, are no longer the days of early blogging. There’s a sense of exhaustion with the overly emotional and bone-dry irony coding itself into the zeitgeist. It’s refreshing, now, to have music and art come out of Tumblr that doesn’t take everything too seriously or too lightly. Kitty is an example of this wave of Tumblr artist. She's someone who’s not so much interested in exclusivity or superiority through tightly wound artistic intent. In fact, she’s thankful that her fan base is younger than her (slight) 21 years.
I like to be a role model, kind of, so I’m really glad I have younger fans. Before my generation, kids who were weird or different or liked something that was out of the ordinary were going…well, I don’t even know what they did because they were before me. Obviously they weren’t on forums and Twitter or spending all their time on Soundcloud and stuff like that. Now it’s easy, when kids like that are looking for stuff that they identify with, then they find me and I’m saying something that they can relate to. But, at the same time, I’m also the type of kid who spent all my time on the Internet once I was allowed. My fans started out as people who read Vice a lot and like were cool, Brooklyn, hip people but I was like “This isn’t really who I want because I don’t really get you guys.”
Before I met with Kitty I was that Vice-reading, search-out-the-alt-before-it’s-understood type that didn’t really understand that things could just be. I thought all of the Internet was just a sad girl-sanctioned space for well-crafted caustic art and the New Aesthetic. Aloofness as a defense mechanism didn’t seem to have an antidote, just a downward spiral. But it turns out that there is a spectrum of artists, specifically female artists, between all those zeros and ones.
As I sit down with Kitty in Greenpoint, a relatively quiet, tree-laden part of Brooklyn, in a coffee shop emanating Scandavaian-import fetish and filled with people who look like they were cast in an American Express Small Business commercial, I expect her to feel a little out of place. The setting seems to be a little too sleek and straight-laced for someone I've previously described as “Tumblr Chic,” but Kitty quickly proves this to be just one of my many faulty projections onto her as a musician and female Internet persona.
Rushing in 10 minutes later than the 10 minutes late I told her I'd be, she is sprightly and accommodating, not only unfazed by my tardiness but upbeat. She remains unfazed by the constant twitch of cell phone notifications that buzz steadily throughout our conversation. Restraining myself from flinching with each of her notifications, I fiddle with my Voice Memo app, nervous it will accidentally delete the entire interview. As I fiddle, she just laughs, calm and present, relaying the time she lost all but one minute of a Q&A she did with 50 Cent. My mind is almost always somewhere else; hers appears to remain right there with me on Manhattan Avenue the whole time. I can't help but wonder how she filters through all the reblogs, favorites, retweets, texts, and more that flood her iPhone at all hours. But my mind moves on to a different place, quickly guiding our conversation to her new EP, impatiens. Or should I say, the artistic intentions I project onto this EP. I’ve written about them before, but it wasn’t until I asked her that I realized how woefully wrong my assumptions about the album—and her—had been.
My ex-boyfriend would make old, Geocities-type websites for himself and I was like, ‘Why are you doing this? It doesn’t work very well.’ And he was like, ‘No, that’s the point. It’s supposed to remind.' I don’t know. I just don’t get the point. I just like the way it looks, and always have. I’ve just never really grown out of it. I’m not really trying to ‘throwback’ to anything really. It’s just the type of aesthetic that fits me.
The thoughtful piece that Zoladz wrote last week identifies the space that nascent social media of the early 2000s carved out for “feminine sadness” to be expressed and validated, especially within the now-hackeyend “emo” music subculture. No, Impose is not rebranding as the reactionary vigilantes of female experience and its representation in music media; Zoladz just really hit the mark. My interview with Kitty, which occurred weeks before Pitchfork ran that piece, adds to the conversation Zoladz started about a particular way of being female in an age of hyper-connectivity. As Zoladz notes, emo music soared in with the sadness of white dudes just about the time LiveJournal and AIM started dominating dial tones around the country. At that particular cultural moment, as this outpouring of brooding/murderous emotion rose in popularity, women were (not so noticeably) missing from the storytelling side of the emo music bandwagon. Enter Internet. Now girls not only could join the ranks of the wronged but outdo the boys and eventually their gender allies in a peacocking match. Whoever could express the most suffering in the most aesthetically pleasing way won.
For the subsequent Sad Girl domination of away messages, Xanga, MySpace, and, then, the vacuous visual net that consumed them all, Tumblr, Zoladz cites “defiance.” Defiance against a culture that expected silent unwavering beauty, defiance against maintaining grace under pressure with a smile, and, perhaps most importantly, defiance against veneer. Somehow, though, the ever-important line between veneer and transparency doesn't seem to be fully defined.
Under a dominant culture, subcultures swing in reaction, both to each other and to their dominator. Conflict drives narrative. Now, a decade into social media, Lana Del Rey seems to be in the lead for Sad Girl trophy and, as Zoldadz astutely points out, Del Rey's malaise may be the same size as the hole left in wake of Scovell & Sandberg's Lean In, the latest widescale false promise of feminist freedom to “do it all” as a synonym for happiness.
Kitty doesn’t really like narratives.
“That’s why I don’t really like music videos,” she says. “Once I watch a music video, that’s what I see for the song when I’d rather picture my own thing…I like more visuals better.” Most of her videos are just that: even when they have actual figures, they are just something to look at while listening—open-ended. Each song on the four-track impatiens has a visual accompaniment. Only one features more than flashing pixelated images, though, and even that one steers clear of a story arc. Kitty admits some of her videos that she had less of a say in do have a bit of a storyline (perhaps “Orion’s Belt” with Riff Raff, or “Hitting Lixx”), which she may not regret but won't let happen again: “It was confusing and I’m like 'Tthis is why I didn’t want to do that!'”
Shirking off her past seems to be a running theme in her career-life right now. The day before we met, she deleted all but three of her albums from the face of the web, starting over with a new account after steadily releasing songs on her old “jokersintrousers” Bandcamp for years. She dropped the surname “Pryde” from her stage name. Since we spoke, she’s deleted all but one of her Tumblrs, too. In a Alice In Wonderland-esque series of links leading from one site to the next, you eventually land on a prompt to sign up for her mailing list, which seems arcane coming from a social media-made 21-year-old. While Kitty says the name thing was just about avoiding possible copyright headaches, she more readily admits the Bandcamp purge was some sort of image control: “One of my best friends just tweeted at me the other day ‘Oh, this one’s my favorite’ and it was one of my really stupid, really old songs on my Bandcamp and I was just like ‘Stop this. No. No more of that.’ I don’t want anyone who is listening to my music now to go back and say ‘Oh, yeah she’s a joke.’ It was a completely different thing.”
Both these recent changes stem from the same thing: Kitty's youth. Everyone changes. But Kitty's age also set her apart—if only by a handful of important years—from the pioneers of the Sad Teen-Girl Aesthetic. Even though she’s 21, her parents have had her on surveillance since high school. All her quirky, joking teenage rap experimentation not only occurred in front of an audience, but lived forever on the same page as the new (and much improved) music she made once she wanted to get more serious. It’s the equivalent of deleting your Xanga, except if your 2000-word emotional diatribes are what garnered the very fame that landed you in Harper’s, which of course linked back to your entire Xanga archives.
Kitty’s Internet age factor also means that the Sad Girls of Tumblr are her forebears. The Internet-cultural reaction in which Kitty’s experience falls is part of a different generation than the one Zoladz explains using the 28-year-old Lana Del Rey as an musical archetype. In fact, as we were talking about super fans, Kitty brought up Lana, along with Charlie XCX, Marina and the Diamonds, and Sky Ferreira. According to her, most of her fans are not just obsessed with her, but obsessed with all four women and the social platforms that brought them to fame. “We all kind of did the same thing but went in different directions,” she explains. Del Rey, especially inciteful, takes the Sad Girl theme to, if not beyond, its logical extreme.
Though she came up at the same time as Del Rey, Kitty’s corner of the Internet, including collaborators like Danny Brown, Hot Sugar, and most recently, Chrome Sparks, has a decidedly less bleak worldview than the emo origins from whence Zoldaz argues the Sad Tumblr Girls came. Kitty's people aren’t paralyzed by hopelessness; with the exception of Brown, their well of maybe-depression doesn't last much longer than it takes to tweet “w/e”. But adding boys to this picture is not to say Kitty's experience isn’t gendered. To the contrary, it very much is. As Zoladz writes, “To be a girl is to be seen, even in the moments when you wish you could disappear.” It’s that section of the female experience, especially in fame and on the Internet, that connects Kitty to Lana Del Rey the most.
The issue of the unflinching gaze.
The most traditional music video of the four visual counterparts to the impatiens EP, “BRB ( ˘ ³˘ )”, features 12 girls in varying stages of undress, dancing in front of their laptop and cell phone cameras in bedrooms (and I think one airplane bathroom). A mix of friends and Tumblr followers who responded to—what other than—a Tumblr post, Kitty wanted to make sure the girls were aware of the kind of music video audience they were bedroom dancing into. A “creepy” one, as Kitty herself described them. But she wanted to safeguard these girls, simultaneously reassuring them she’d help while admitting there’s no way to escape their glare. “I told them, ‘I’m going to try to protect you as best I can from people being assholes,'” she says. “'I made it so you couldn't comment on YouTube but they’re still going to be there.’” The comments never really got to her that much. She knew going into it though that the ones that bothered her the most where the ones about her body.
“I made it really clear when I was posting that I wanted everyone to feel comfortable. I wasn't looking for 'hot' girls. I wanted to have every kind of body. But, you know, someone's always going to be a dick.”
That just seems like basic compassion. And sometimes that's all a “reaction” is, a little step back to where things came from in a space where it's been rebelling for a while. Not every reaction breaks barriers, but maybe a slower frequency can refocus the lens so we can all see the distinction between veneer and truth a little more clearly before reacting again.
Stream Kitty’s latest track, “Marijuana” (produced by Chrome Sparks) and see dates for her upcoming July run with KITTEN below.
30 Columbus, OH @ A&R Music Bar
01 Detroit, MI @ Shelter
02 Cleveland Heights, OH @ Grog Shop
04 Toronto, ON @ Wrongbar
05 Montreal, QC @ La Vitriola
07 Cambridge, MA @ The Sinclair
08 New York, NY @ Highline Ballroom
09 Philadelphia, PA @ District N9ne
10 Washington, DC @ Rock N Roll Hotel
11 Raleigh, NC @ King’s Barcade
12 Atlanta, GA @ Masquerade
24 Dallas, TX @ Club Dada (w/ Awkwafina)