Kiiara by Jimmy Fontaine
Floating somewhere in the genre slipstream between pop and trap lies 21-year-old Kiiara. The Illinois native dropped off her slowburn tune “Gold” last year, which made its way to Apple Watch commercial fame, which eventually sent the song up the Stateside charts, achieving platinum status overseas. Perhaps it’s the undecipherable cut and paste vocal blips that make up the hook, or the pixie-esque white girl chanting “Gold up in my teeth,” but Kiiara found herself a hit. In the video, the singer—decked in a studded leather jacket and rose-smattered skirt—is posted up on a leather throne musing about checking out of a relationship that’s no longer serving her. Perhaps that’s some inadvertent symbolism for Kiiara: her sight’s set on being trap queen. With “Gold” currently inching toward 18 million YouTube views, coupled with her fire EP low kii savage, young Kii is on the brink, much to the chagrin of some trap purists (yes that’s a thing).
Deep dive into the comment sections and you’ll find those proclaiming Kiiara the female Future and Slim Thug reincarnated as a white woman. Are those even compliments? Maybe? But to an artist who namechecks her biggest influences as Eminem, Yelawolf, Rihanna, and Skylar Grey, she’s ebbing and flowing into whatever genre she’s feeling. Speaking of which, her follow-up single “Feels” is already proving to be just as much of a banger as “Gold.” Now, as our trap queen readies for the autumn release of her debut album, we talked to Kiiara about the early stages of her fame, the awkward obsession with her former life as hardware store employee, and what she thinks of the haters. Spoiler alert: she has no idea who they are.
Noisey: So, why was everyone so fascinated that you worked in a hardware store before you got signed? Was this a special hardware store?
Kiiara: I have no idea. No, like I had a life. Like aside from that, I was going to college and it was just during the summer I would go back home and work there to have something to do, you know?
It became this thing like, “Did you know she worked at a hardware store?” Oh my God, she had a job!
Yeah, I know, everyone just focuses on that. That’s their highlight: “Yo, she has this album, but, remember, she worked at a hardware store.” I’m like, oh my goodness. Do other college students not have jobs?
So it wasn’t some special hardware store. Got it.
[Laughs.] No, it wasn’t Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium or whatever. It wasn’t like that.
So “Gold” started out as an acoustic track, right?
Yeah, I wrote it three years ago with the initial idea on a classical guitar, and then it was put to the side ’cause that was a time when I was trying to learn how to write better, so I would just write as many songs as I could in a day. I just thought, “Oh, whatever, it’s just another song.” A friend of mine I was co-writing with, really liked it and I’d kinda moved on and made another version, so we decided to meet in the middle and mesh them together. He hollowed it out, cleaned it up. He polished it.
The thing that I think is so interesting about that though, is on YouTube, all of the covers are these acoustic interpretations.
Yeah? I haven’t seen them yet! I haven’t had time to take a look at some, but do they, like, mimic the sample?
No, it’s like usually just like somebody doing guitar tab tutorials on how to play “Gold” or singing the melody. Do you think you’ll ever release that version?
Probably not, no. Unless it’s leaked or something.
Is low kii savage all about one person?
Well, each song has a different message. Like “Feels” a friend of mine wrote, so it all just kinda went with everything. But for “Gold” the whole message was like, “You don’t have to answer to anyone,” so it was more of a defiant mood. “Feels” was just, “It’s all temporary, just keep on going, don’t focus too much on the feels.” Stuff like that. I kind of didn’t sit down and write, “This is all about a person.” It was more [being] connected with the songs and where we were at in the session and how it all just came together.
It’s interesting that you wrote “Gold” years prior, but it fits so well into that concept.
Yeah, we just went back to it and, yeah, none of it was planned. That’s why it is so wild that it ended up being cohesive. Like that’s crazy. I’m kind of stumped on how it all happened like that.
When “Gold” came out, some trap purists had a problem with a song like that having that kind of trap-ish sound and making its way to radio.
Oh. I didn’t really notice that!
Yeah, it was a thing.
Yeah, that never even crossed my mind.
You’re like, “I’m too busy getting record deals and putting together albums to hear you” [Laughs.] No!
No, that’s a good thing! So are you now in the process of putting together an album?
Yeah, we’re putting some final touches on it, cutting a few more records. I’m actually going to the studio right after this, too, so… yeah. It’s almost done. We’re thinking Fall to release it. If all goes as planned.
How do you plan for a whole new project when the EP is just starting to blow up? Is that hard?
I don’t know, I move on really quickly from when I make a song, so it wasn’t too difficult for me. The stuff on the EP is old to me ‘cause it was done, what, a year ago? And then “Gold” was three years ago. So it wasn’t that hard to just go back in the studio and just start making more tracks and stacking songs. I mean, that’s how we made the EP, too; we just kept stacking records and trying to beat each one. So it was sort of just the same process.
That’s pretty cool. So what are your studio sessions like?
I’m always late. No matter how hard I try to be on time, it just never happens [laughs]. It’s very rare if it does. I get there, I usually just lay down on the couch for a second and then the producer will play a beat, I’ll go freestyle a melody off it, and then we’ll go back and just piece it together and write it. So it’s pretty chill. We’ll order dinner.
That’s a very hip-hop way of doing it. Like I know a lot of rappers go in the booth and they get a beat and then they’ll freestyle.
Yeah. That’s the easiest way for me ’cause then I know right away whether the track’s gonna work. If I can think of melodies as soon as I hear it, then I know, “OK, let’s write to this.” But if I can’t and it feels forced, we just go onto another beat or start from scratch. So I feel like it’s the most productive way for me to go about it.
How are you handling this new fame?
I just try not to think about it. I still feel like the same person like nothing has changed, like, mentally, so… I don’t know, I mean, I have a close group of friends I’ll just like—I just try not to think of that piece of it. I still think it’s weird that people wanna meet me. Like it’s wild coming up like, “Wait, why do they wanna meet me?” I just don’t get it. [Laughs]. So I still have not adjusted to it at all.
You recently wrapped a mini-tour, but you didn’t come to New York. You need to come perform out here.
I want to so bad. I love New York, just the vibe, but every time I’ve gone there I’ve only been there for like 24 hours and then I have to leave. I drove through last week. I think I was in the Bronx for a second.
Are you gonna be going overseas?
Hopefully. I think so. I have to look at my calendar. I’m not sure if anything’s set in stone, but I really wanna go overseas super soon.
Yeah, you gotta go to London.
That would be amazing. I feel like it would be just the perfect, like, the energy. It rains a lot, right?
Yeah, it’s semi-gross, it depends, but yeah, it rains.
Yeah, that’s perfect. OK, then, yeah, I’ve gotta go to London. [Laughs].
Wait, you’ve gotta go to London because it rains? You’re like, “Is the weather terrible? Perfect.”
[Laughs.] I know. Oh my goodness. I kinda like that—I need some of that gloomy vibe. I need some rain.
Kathy Iandoli, like Shirley Manson, is only happy when it rains. Follow her on Twitter.