Before her brash breakup anthem "STUPID" hit TikTok like a flaming petrol tanker, Ashnikko was the larger-than-life, blue-haired pop maven who began popping up in YouTube cameos and viral Twitter memes in fall 2019. Ashnikko knows that she's often made the butt of jokes online — an army of trolls commenting that she looks former Disney Channel star Allisyn Ashley Arm, for example — but it doesn't seem to faze her much in terms of trajectory. She's entered the market to dominate, and winning is the only option.
The viral persona she's crafted is somewhat grandiose. The opening of "STUPID" is undeniably catchy while still off-putting: "Wet! Wet! Wet!" is the only introduction necessary, shouted over a buzzing bass. In the video for the track, she's blood-drenched, iconic teal-blue locks hyper-visible. She's ferocious, but more than anger is determination. In the case of her most recent EP, Hi, It's Me, she's bolstering her own self-confidence post-breakup.
The success of the EP and its accompanying TikTok-famous trend, which notably got the Miley Cyrus treatment at its apex, has been swift from the outset. For Ashnikko, it only seems appropriate. A few hours before opening for Danny Brown's NYC show on his U Know What I'm Sayin? tour, I ask her if she's ready to headline her own shows, and her answer is immediate: "I'm so ready for that. All attention on me, baby!"
None of Ashnikko, the artist, comes across as particularly manufactured. Her synthetic gurgling bass lines, almost neon hair, and overly in-your-face performance style aside, Ashnikko is simply reacting. She concentrates a lot on topics like heartbreak, positive self-talk, and clapping back at doubters during her interview with PAPER, but not once does the viral artist gloss over the topics as if they exist in her life as the pop culture buzzwords they've become.
Read Ashnikko's full interview with PAPER, below, to find out her international backstory, her launch as an artist, her take on TikTok commenters, and a recent wild night out in Connecticut.
It's hard to decipher your story online. You obviously see on Twitter all the people asking, "Is she from the Disney Channel?" All that nonsense. Can you map out for me how we got here, to your first US tour?
I'm not from Disney Channel, and fuck everyone who says I look like that girl. So, I grew up in North Carolina and then I moved to Estonia when I was 13, then I went to public school there for a year, then I moved back to the states for one school year and my dad sold the house and cars. Then we moved to Latvia, which is the country below Estonia, and he put me in public school there. So 13-14 in Estonia, ninth grade in North Carolina, and then when I was 15 we moved to Latvia. When I was 18 I moved to London by myself, and that's where I still am.
Yeah, Brooke reached out to me on Instagram because she wanted me to do a project with her, and then she came to visit me in London. We wrote her whole album, which is crazy. And with Yung Baby Tate, it was all through Instagram. It has been such a good tool for me, connecting with people who I want to work with. For Yung Baby Tate, I just reached out and said, "I'd love for you to put in a verse on this song," and she really completed it. It was a really good verse.
Related | Yung Baby Tate Is Every Woman
So Instagram facilitated it, did you use SoundCloud at all?
When I was younger I used to use Soundcloud, but I never really—
Did you produce?
Oh, fuck no! I used to rip beats off of YouTube. Like, Nicki Minaj beats. I have not learned how to produce. I should, but I write my stuff, yeah.
When did you become aware of your music's impact on TikTok? Did you consciously put it on there?
I had no idea. I think me and my friends were asking ourselves, "Wouldn't it be funny if I went viral on TikTok?" Two months later, I went viral on TikTok. We were like, "Holy shit, what's happened?" Somebody uploaded it as their own sound, but was nice enough to put my name in the song title. I was really lucky that they were so nice to do that, but then my label went in and changed that sound to my official song. They sent me a screenshot when it was 600 videos and they were like "Oh my god, people are using this song." 600 videos? Fuck yeah! And now we're at 3 million? It kind of snowballed.
Do you feel separated a bit from the song now?
A little bit, I think. I see a lot of teen girls using it. That's like, a thing now. It's wild to me. I think I'm just open to it taking its own shape because you can't control it once it's out there in public.
Are there songs you've made that you'd be a little bit more unwilling to give up to such a large platform? Ones that mean something to you personally, where it'd be tough for you to see it take on a worldwide persona that you don't control?
I don't care. I really enjoy seeing people interpret it, and what meaning they find in my music. My brain is just an echo chamber of my own thoughts and most of them are crazy, so I like to hear other people's opinions. It's nice.
When you were making this most recent EP, what was the earliest song that you started with?
So it started with "Hi, It's Me." I didn't realize that the EP had a concept until I was packaging it up, and I realized that it was my breakup EP. I was really angry. These were my coping songs, because I was going through some real ridiculous mental breakdowns, and I really needed a confidence boost. So these songs were my personal confidence boosts that I wanted to put out into the world. From "Hi, It's Me," I was like, "I'm gonna choose songs that compliment it." And "STUPID" was a last minute addition that I had to convince people was a good idea to put out.
It's interesting how that was your reaction to a breakup, since they're all such strong empowerment anthems. When I'm going through a breakup, I'm not always thinking, "Oh, I don't need that guy anymore."
The thing is, I was really sad. I was so fucking sad, I was going insane, but my only coping mechanism was to write a song about how I wanted to feel. So I would write, "Working Bitch" and "STUPID" out of a place of anger because that's how I wanted to feel, but I was really going through it. I was really fucking mad and hurt and heartbroken, and now I'm fine.
You manifested it!
Yeah, I'm a firm believer in manifestation. I was waking up everyday and I had this love letter that I wrote to myself. I was reading it to myself every day, and I was like, not believing it all. I thought, "This is fucking bullshit." But my friend told me to do it. She was like, "Bitch, you better do this." I was reading it to myself every single day. I just thought I could do the same thing with music and write myself a really positive uplifting song, a powerful song. A confidence booster. "If I write one of those a week, then eventually I'll believe it." It worked. I'm the most confident I've ever been in my life.
Where did that melody come from in "Working Bitch?" It really is one of the more positive ones on the record.
I was listening to Dolly Parton that day or something. It's like a take on "9 to 5" by Dolly. When the country guitar comes in, I just lose my shit and I think it's so funny. I wanted to write a weird country mash-up. It's so funny to do it live, because there's girls in the front screaming "Working Bitch!" and I'm like, "Babe you're going through it right now!" We're all going through it, and we are just screaming in each other's faces. I think the melody is so funny because it's just happy.
It's almost a parody in a sense, but obviously it comes through in a bubblegum pop way, too. Do you think about production when you're writing, even though you don't produce?
I'm a backseat producer. I know what I don't like, what I do like, and I'm very vocal about that. I work with people that I have a good working relationship with and are understanding that I have a certain vision, but don't necessarily know how to vocalize that all the time.
Are there any producers that you want to work with that you haven't yet?
I really wanted to work with Mike Dean, and I worked with him a few weeks ago and I lost my mind. It was great! I want to work with Hudson Mohawke. "STUPID" has opened so many doors for me, it's really nice. I'm starting to be able to work with some of my favorite producers and I'm super jazzed about that.
Before "STUPID," though, You had "Invitation." You had other songs gaining traction. Did you feel optimistic about that growth?
I'm the type of person that always thinks everything is going to be okay, all the time. I'm just completely disillusioned into thinking that everything is going to be OK for me in the end, which works out because I'm just relentless. It was horrible for my parents, growing up, because I used to sneak out all the time. It has helped me in my business, but yeah, it was going up before "STUPID" happened. My music videos were hitting a million views on YouTube and I was super, super excited about that. And then "STUPID" just came and pummeled me in the face.
Did you have the video in mind for "STUPID" before it got made?
No, actually. I worked with this really sick director, Lucrecia Taormina. She's an Argentinian director and she did my "Hi, It's Me" music video. She has these crazy ideas, and she plans all of her music videos down to the second. It is so frustrating, but so beautiful to work on, because I'll be like, "Can we have a snake on the set?" She'll be like, "No." I'll still be like, "Please, let me have the snake."
It's really down to the second.
She let me have the snake for two seconds. "STUPID" was blowing up and I was like, "I need a music video right now. What can we do?" I wanted it to be tongue-in-cheek, but I wanted silly and morbid. She was like, "Okay, you're going to kill a bunch of dudes."
You're like, "Time to go!"
"Love it! Let's do it!" Yeah, we always sit down beforehand and go over the treatment and I revise it. I actually really enjoy collaborating on things like that.
Being open to collaboration, that's the whole ethos of letting the songs live their own lives on TikTok.
Yeah, if I was like, "I do everything," I would be insane. I'm already losing my marbles, so if I was like, "I direct my own music videos too," I'd be lying and I just don't have the mental capacity for that. I like working with women directors. I really enjoy the vibe that it creates on set. It's nice to see her boss up and shove men around. I like it.
With a song like, "STUPID," you have to have that. Otherwise it'd be—
My best guy friend is a director, and he's a lovely boy, but it just changes the dynamic of the set.
Were you an internet person before your rise? You said you were on Instagram all the time.
I definitely had to reassess my relationship with the internet, now that majority of my mentions are people telling me to fucking kill myself and that I'm ugly. Oh, that was dark.
Before, I was like, "Sick dude, that's hilarious," and now I'm the butt of a lot of jokes, so I'm just like, "Whatever, I don't care."
Do you find a difference between Twitter and Instagram for you?
Yeah. Twitter is fun, but I don't read my mentions. Well, I do read my mentions. Well, I go back and forth. Sometimes I read my mentions when I want to hurt myself and then sometimes I don't. When I release new music or have an interview, like when I did that Genius "Verified" thing, my mentions were going crazy.
I'd say the fans that ride for you ride hard.
Yeah, my fans are real ride-or-dies. If someone slightly insults me on Instagram in the comments or anything, they just fucking go to town. I'll say something sarcastic, and they'll just be like, "You fucking piece of shit, how dare you insult our queen!"
That's stan culture for you. TikTok is one of those platforms where the comments aren't exactly filtered in a way where the "best" comment is up there. It's usually the most liked comment. So you're going to get whatever the majority wants to agree with.
Oh my God, the TikTok comments, a cesspit. There's just nastiness. I just can't.
Now that your songs have dances associated with them on TikTok, have you thought at all about dances when making your tracks.
My arms and legs are too long to be into dance, but I like to dance. I was in the club the other night, going crazy.
What music do you like to dance to? Is it the music that sounds like yours or not?
Who was I listening to the other night? I was fucked up off my face the other night. I have no idea what I was listening to. All I know is that they were bangers.
Was it in New York?
It was in fucking Connecticut.
That's a place to do it, I guess.
I wasn't expecting it. It was the night before a show in New Haven and we went out. Some girls came up to me and were like, "We're going to your show tomorrow!" I was like, "Fuck. Thank you. Forget this space. Don't look at me."
You're like, "Who?"
Of course there was a guy with us who had my merch on. Ihad my hair in pigtails, obviously, because I just had them in. I was like, "Okay, yes! But I'm drunk as shit, so let's just not talk right now!"
Photography: Megan Walschlager