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Meet K Rizz, the Filipina Pop Star with Magical Assless Chaps

"I'm a new breed of American."
January 15, 2015, 11:00pm
K Rizz (Photos by Lauren Gesswein)

Walking into Jeepney, a Filipino restaurant in New York City's East Village, K Rizz dramatically snaps her fingers over her head and purses her gloss-frosted lips. "Yaaas!" she squeals when she sees me, "Thank God you're Asian." A brief bonding moment before she continues to get up, holding a fertilized duck egg in one hand, her cowboy hat in the other, telling me where she buys her signature assless chaps (The sex shops on West 4th, in case you're wondering) Standing under the decal of a topless Filipina woman atop the words "God Bless"—a touch the owner explains is a subversion of Filipino Catholic rigidity—she turns on performance mode, effortlessly commanding the entire room's attention. After all, the only thing it takes is for her to roll up the bottom of her black turtleneck to attract bemused looks from the two buttoned-up men beside her.

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It's obvious that K Rizz is a shock value visionary. The 22-year-old "Filipina princessa pop star" cites Marilyn Manson and Missy Elliott as major inspirations, and for the three hours that we're holed up from the arctic freeze outside eating Filipino delicacies, she doesn't stop spouting quips and solid life advice.

"People always think I'm doing it for the wrong reasons, being half-naked," she says, rolling her as she takes another bite of her kare-kare. "But I demand respect. They will admire me for my art, my talent, and the fact that I'm a woman."

This firecracker demeanor is an essential part of her Sasha Fierce-like persona, which she nicknames "Slay Rizz"—an embodiment of third-wave feminism mixed with bare bottoms and immaculate make-up. While she's proud of her identity as a Filipina raised in a staunch Catholic household, she makes it clear that her empowered sexuality is what makes her a woman. Frankly, she'll do whatever the fuck she wants, whatever makes her feel like K Rizz.

K began making music with a crew called LEEK92 (Letting Everyone Everywhere Know Since 1992—the year they were all born), which also includes her boyfriend and main producer, Roc'well. "I don't know what happened, but my boyfriend and I started making music together and when we were together we made something excellent," she laughs. "It was very reminiscent of Missy Elliott, Aaliyah and Timbaland working together. And then I just thought I'd continue."

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Four years down the road, she already had a few independent releases, including 2012's Boobie Trap, which has a cover eerily similar to Madonna's upcoming Rebel Heart album, a fact she rolls her eyes at, saying, "I'm always ahead. I can't even hide this shit."

However, last summer's "Pinay reggaeton" anthem "Salbahe" could easily be dubbed her breakout moment, a song that perfectly sums up what she's all about.  After all, "Salbahe" is Tagalog for "naughty" or "bad," but K Rizz turns it around, owning it as a stamp of pride. This idea of re-appropriating what should be shameful into a source of confidence is at the root of her identity. Growing up in Queens as a self-confessed rebel child, K Rizz spent her formative years in a predominantly white Catholic school, where she felt stifled by a hostile environment where people "didn't know what a Filipina was and would say, 'You're a chink, stay over there.'"

Not that bullies would've stopped K anyway, as she displays a sort of drive and stubborn confidence that she attributes to her strong Taurus personality, giggling whilst making a set of horns with one of her hands, "I'm all about taking life by the horns. That's my 'Salbahe' look and it makes sense with my personality and what I feel inside as a rebel child."

It was only when she began attending the High School of Art and Design in Manhattan that she felt inspired to explore her own identity. A welcoming environment where she could walk around in 80s pantsuits and be whoever she wanted, high school is where K Rizz came about. She experimented with a variety of pop culture references, from the primadonna disco-pop single "Imagine If" to the dutty dancehall-inspired "Paradiso."

"I reference a lot of things I grew up with. But I realized that in a lot of [pop culture], the brown girls are misrepresented," she sighs, pausing to gather her thoughts. "I was like, 'How can I make it better?'" This is an unfortunate, though common, sentiment amongst second-generation Asian Americans, who grow up with next-to-no media representation and an 'American Dream' mentality foisted upon them by hard-working immigrant parents. As such, many create new narratives to suit their needs, and what K needed the most was a Filipina superhero who proudly eschewed the "meek, submissive Asian" narrative in favor of a enthusiastic appreciation for her culture and a bold, all-encompassing sexuality.

"I'm not claiming to speak for everyone, but I am claiming to be the future of the future," she intones cryptically. "I'm a new breed of American." After all, forging a new identity by cherry-picking a set of influences is quintessentially American—K just turns it up a notch. Or ten, because make no mistake about who's in control of her story.

"Sometimes I just got to be me: a crazy Filipina from New York City wearing assless chaps," she shrugs, the candlelight catching her enormous rhinestone hoops. "If that gets us to the bigger picture then so be it. I'll hold the torch."

Follow Sandra Song on Twitter - @sndrsng