A healthy balance of all things lives at the core of how Minneapolis musician Dizzy Fae treats herself, and how she treats her creative process. Enjoyment is intertwined with discipline, and free expression goes well with Fae's refusal to let others narrowly define her. This fluidity could be informed by her background as a dancer, or the fact that she was raised in a household of strong, assertive women.
And while Dizzy is a Leo just shy of 21 years old, she knows who she is at this point in time, which makes her second full-length project, a mixtape called NO GMO, feel so cohesive. Its 11 songs — which include catchy, fluid singles "Altar," "Company" and "Lifestyle" — swim a sea of various sounds pulled from R&B, hip-hop, and pop's great touchstones, without feeling particularly indebted to any of them.
When we meet to talk about her process and what motivates her, Dizzy's presence is both very much here (so she can "talk some real shit," she asks her manager to leave the room). She detests "small talk," meaning she can't say anything that doesn't feel totally true in the moment. And on the other hand, Dizzy is also very much not here, prone to describing her music as "asparagus," and totally meaning it, her beatific face flitting between expressions of wide-eyed, imaginative wonder and almost godlike serenity.
One word that could be used to describe her is "ethereal," but that has been used to compare her to artists such as FKA Twigs, another musician of color with experimental edges. And both artists have had their sound described as "alternative R&B," a category popularized by music critics assuming that R&B, in its essence is somehow not capable of offering alternative points of view or experimentation. Rather than broadening a conversation about all R&B can accomplish, labels like "alternative" boxes them in. Are such labels a way for white audiences to comprehend that Dizzy or Twigs are... not like "the others?" And what does that mean, exactly?
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Dizzy defines herself. Going through the NO GMO tracklist, she describes how each song makes her feel. On "Gut Talk," Dizzy thinks about "ice cream falling on the sidewalk, but it moves like a river once it's landed." On "Love On You," she's inside a "bubble, made of bubblegum, hopping on the clouds." And on the tape's last track, "Now 'N Later," Dizzy invites listeners to an eclectic dinner party where she's the host and mistress of ceremonies.
PAPER caught up with the queer artist the week of New York's World Pride, commemorating the 50 year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Dizzy opens up about performing her new music for a growing fanbase alongside some groundbreaking names (The Internet, Jorja Smith, Kehlani, Lizzo, DJ Maya Monés, Troye Sivan, and Charli XCX, to name a few), social media, and what she does to maintain her authenticity.
What does NO GMO mean to you?
NO GMO means a lot of things. I'm a very profound thinker. It kind of means the basic where it's something that you... the organics of it. [Dizzy asks her manager to leave the room, adding "I need to talk some real shit."]
I grew up having a single mother, you know, and struggling. Made ramen noodles, ate McDonald's damn near every night, and not being as healthy. Once I started grocery shopping for myself I just started noticing no GMOs on all the things that were more beneficial to my health. So, with that being said that's something that was swimming into my subconscious. I think with titles of things I just like to let them come to me. That's the last thing I want to worry about, because that shit can get kind of stressful. Let it flow. You know? NO GMO really just represents not knowing you need something until you have it, then you crave it, then you do need it. It's like [a metaphor for] food for thought.
That's interesting. The record does feel very organic, the rhythms all blend together cohesively.
Exactly. It's all the same fabric, but sewn together at different times. It's that kind of concept of all being under one umbrella, but there's different parts of the umbrella that you're under. And it's a mixtape. When I think of mixtape, it's a collection of songs, they don't have to be cohesive.
This one happens to be though.
Thank you! I think I'm tapping more into common themes. I made all the songs at different times [of my life]. There's a song called "Afterhours" on the project, and that song is two and a half years old. It's all a body of work under the same umbrella called Dizzy Fae. If there's any expectation of what Dizzy Fae delivers, I'm trying to get people to have no expectation of my name.
Because you get to decide that, especially when it comes to experimenting with your sound.
I was actually talking about that today. I think we should stop asking our kids, "What do you want to be?" and start asking them, "Who are you?" That's such a big thing. Have you read Michelle Obama's book Becoming?
"If there's any expectation of what Dizzy Fae delivers, I'm trying to get people to have no expectation of my name."
Not yet, that's on my list.
It's so good. I was like phew... I knew it was going to be good because she does no wrong. I was really impressed, and she's actually the one who said we should stop asking our kids, "What do you want to be?" and then I kind of ran with that and was like, "well, then what would you ask them?" to get their minds thinking. It's more than okay to be profound and deep. But, I think it's the moral of being okay with change is what's going to get people through a lot of things. Things are constantly developing and changing... That's something I'm trying to show with my platform.
I noticed a post your wrote about the Stonewall Riots for Pride. You admitted that you didn't know the full history but you learned and were using your platform to share with your followers what you learned.
Thank you. I don't like the structure of school, but I like learning. That's part of change. And I know there's so many people riding that same wave and I think vulnerability is the move. It didn't feel very vulnerable to me to be like "yo I didn't know this shit, but I know it now, so here you go". But, I have been getting that feedback where people were really warmed by that. I think I'm just going to start doing that more because it's okay to ask questions. I think we're so afraid to ask questions because we think the internet and everything has all the answers and people are like "I already know it... because I have a phone."
I think people on the Internet are either totally uninhibited or too afraid of saying the wrong thing. As a young person who has built an engaged following online, how do you navigate that culture?
I grew up with a flip phone, and now I have an iPhone. It's crazy how much we're evolving. I don't think we give enough credit, because there's so much still happening yes, but we don't think to sit and think about how, ten years ago we didn't have something reading our face to open up our phone, which is so sus. But with navigating what I say online, on top of being queer, I'm also POC, and I'm a woman, it's like life will definitely come and grab me by the neck real quick. But I think the key is just being myself. It's a very broad term, the self, but I don't think you completely figure yourself out, ever. But, I think to understand your intuition and to flow with your gut and your passion and your feeling, that is who you are. That's just what I've been trying to do. I also look at social media like I'm trying to be genuine, but it's also work. I try to limit the time I'm on social media, so I can do real life things. I try to stay connected with people in real life. I also don't follow anyone on Instagram.
I noticed that.
Honestly, I just try to hit people up. I don't know, I'm not a small talk sort of person and I think social media has made small talk a bigger thing, where people don't have real conversations anymore. I was actually at a party not too long ago and my homie was like, "I don't even know how to talk to people anymore. I don't know how to be social." It was crazy. And statistics have risen with how many people have gotten anxiety since social media has been a prominent part of people's lives.
The roots started from the ground, and now, face readers open up our phones. I don't have all the answers when it comes to this shit, because we're in the midst of it. Maybe 10, 15 years from now, we'll look back and think about how weird this time was and learn from it.
I know you're doing more Pride shows and shows for queer audiences. As a queer person, how does it feel to see queer people responding to your music?
It's totally an exchange. Any performance is an exchange. But like, I think everyone in the world is queer. It takes time to figure it out. [Laughs] But yeah, so when I do know it's a predominately queer audience there's nothing but love in there. So, every show I try to give this exchange of I see you. I look people in the eyes, I dance, I vibe off the energy they're giving me. And I think with the queer show, the festival I did in LA there was a lot of young people. I think they were really excited but they also didn't know how far their excitement could go at a show, and it could go bananas. You can let it go at shows, and luckily for me, with every show I've had, even headlining shows in Minnesota, they've all sold out and they've had amazing energy. People ride! I think I created some riders. Coming out of Minnesota, that's home base no matter where in the world I go.
"There's no one who inspires me more than myself."
Minnesota produces some icons, for sure. Lizzo, who you toured with is having such a big moment, and of course Prince, may he rest in peace.
Right! Literally. It's a home, it's home base. You just get so much space in comparison to New York. New York has a lot of buildings, not too many trees. Minnesota is so full of nature, even in the city there's like tree, tree, tree. It's funny when you grow up with that kind of space, and then have to navigate the music industry, it's like the deeper you get in, the more space you need.
Yeah, I get that because you have a lot of people crowding around you.
Yeah and you have a lot of yes men and no men and people... a lot of yes men. But everyone I fuck with is super genuine.
How do you maintain because you're still quite young right?
Yeah, I turn 21 in August. I'm a Leo. I grew up with fucking four Leo women in the house. It honestly taught me everything I know about having those discussions, being independent and not needing to rely on people to say what only I can.
I imagine that comes down to defining your vision, too. Too many men pulling the strings.
It's really just like, This is my vision and I'm going to stick with it. I feel very fortunate to talk about exactly how I feel with anyone I want to and feel okay with that. A lot of people have anxiety and other things that stop them from feeling that way. I also have a really good team. My manager, he's my partner in crime, he's really about it and he's a white man in the industry. He's kind of one of a kind, but it shows me that there are people out there who are just good people looking out for you. My team rides for me. And you know I don't fuck with anyone but riders. You feel me? You need people who just believe in you and don't have an agenda. If I could give any advice it would be that. Just get you some riders. At the end of the day when no one else is there, they'll be there. That's what family is supposed to be. So I think with being in the industry and being so young, I really just created a family and I'm moving with them. I come up, my homies are coming up, too. You know?
What else is changing for you?
I think right now... I just got my own apartment in Minnesota. I'm for real grown now. [Laughs] I'm buying my own groceries and everything. But that has really pushed me to figure out how to center myself and how to know, "Okay you're flustered right now. Let's figure out why you're flustered," like literally in my own head. I constantly remind myself that and I think that helps me prioritize self-care. I've seen interviews where people are like, "Everyone in the industry is sad." I'm really not trying to just sit around being sad.
Are there people in the industry that you look up to who model self-care for you?
There's no one who inspires me more than myself. You know?
What do you make of how people describe your music as "alternative R&B"? Some people feel that such a label is limiting, as if to say R&B somehow isn't progressive music.
I've had arguments with my manager –– because that's the first question that I get a lot is I tell someone I make music, and they ask what kind of music I make. That's the one question people ask when I tell them I'm an artist. At first, I was like, "I don't know," but then I started getting asked the question way too much to not know or at least give an answer. I'm just not a small talk person,like I said, and I really have to just be real. I started out calling my music alternative R&B, pop, experimental, but that wasn't right. I like to base it more off of a feeling. I've done honestly a couple interviews where they're like, "What's your music?" I'm like, "Asparagus." Once you start listening to my music, maybe you start craving it and you think it's actually good for you. So that's a feeling for you and it's a feeling that asparagus gives me. I like comparing my music to abstract things because I was running into the problem where people would automatically be like, "Oh, you're an R&B artist," and I'm like, "Well naturally I could do that. That just runs in my blood, in my veins." But you're not going to catch me singing over every R&B track. We're past that. We're so past genre, it's insane.
You starred in Khalid's short film accompanying his Free Spirit album. How did that come about?
My manager was like, "Hey, so you're going to do this audition, and yeah it's with Khalid it's a short film and we want you to audition for the main part." At the time, I was on set with Nike in Mexico. My first time being by myself in another country. So I memorized the entire script within the six hours of travel [from Mexico to California for the shoot] and we ended up improving the entire thing. It was a very heartwarming experience. I still fuck with everyone I met on set. Everyone was so real and Khalid is so sweet. For how big he is, he's such a gentle, laid-back, and kind soul. I definitely want to do acting more. I'm not afraid of a camera, so that's a blessing. It's also good to tap into someone else, somewhere else. I'm real me one day, and an Avatar the next. I'm really trying to be an Avatar though.