The Cult of CLIP

The Cult of CLIP

Photography by Jack Bridgland / Story by Tiana Randall / Makeup by Raisa Flowers / Hair by Jadis Jolie / Styling by Caitlan Hickey

There’s a secret pleasure in rooting for the antagonist. Seeing them challenge the perfect pathways of our uniform world has always been more entertaining to watch, anyway.

This is what it’s like to witness CLIP as she shouts dark dispositions and parades her internal spirals around, while ultimately coming out on top. We've all been love-bombed by self-help anthems, so it's exciting to hear the 23-year-old slur, "I'm just a fuck-up, my baby," atop distorted synths on a song like "Villain," off her new Perception EP. But her shadowy identity doesn’t appear as a monolith; she transverses both light and heavy energy through ambient instrumentals and hazy production.

Since the beginning of her career, CLIP has flipped between candidness and concealing herself from public view altogether. But it wasn't always like that: Before her popularity, she remained nameless, genderless and faceless on the internet under a hyper-surveillant upbringing. This anonymity allowed her to explore alternative identities that she couldn’t live out around her Caribbean parents and mostly white peers. As she grew more comfortable sharing opinions and experiences from her everyday life, CLIP gained a cult-like following online — one that had access to all her thoughts and connected with the same frustrations.

Which is why her debut single, "Sad Bitch," offered such a profound message, introducing CLIP for the first time ever in 2020 as a digicore artist embracing her complex emotions and shortcomings. CLIP never intended for music to be the creative outlet to balance out her anxieties, but after a few playful studio sessions with friends in New York dubbed the “Burn All Sex Dolls” collective, she went from shit-posting to repeating every oozing thought onto viral tracks about the plights of her life and internal strife.

Bra: Coach, Top: Priscavera, Necklaces: Martine Ali, Grills: SPYLXN

While it could be easy to pass CLIP off as a full-time villain, as the artist suggests on her EP, she has shy eyes and a sweet demeanor in person; she speaks profoundly of others and admits that moments from her past are "learning lessons." She has always had an underlying urge to find the positive in everything, even if that's not the first step in telling her story.

CLIP explores her distorted public image and how she views herself throughout Perception. "I'm always overthinking/ I'm sorry that I'm crazy, but I can't help it/ I don't want to be sad/ I just wanna be happy," she sings in soft, melodic tones over a fast-paced drum-and-bass beat on her song, “Happy.” Here, CLIP offers another side of herself, demonstrating why her duality is worth sticking by.

As she leads listeners between light and dark, she talks PAPER through the sentiments and inner dialogue inside her EP — ones that haven't already been shared on the internet. "I want to be in my healing girl era," she says, with a widely ambitious attitude that speaks volumes amidst her self-denouncing music. Join the Cult of CLIP, below, with a New York-inspired fashion shoot featuring models Jason Santore, Euro Trill and hooz.

(On hooz) Top: Nike/Jordan, Bra: Coach, Skirt: Advisry, Necklaces: Martine Ali, Glasses: Bonnie Clyde, Shoes and socks: Nike (On Euro Trill) Clothing: Telfar, Shoes and socks: Nike (On Jason Santore) Top: Mr. Saturday, Pants: Dion Lee, Necklaces and bracelet: Martine Ali, Shoes and socks: Nike (On CLIP) Necklaces: Martine Ali, Grills: SPYLXN

Tell me about your early life. What demographic did you grow up around, and what did you realize about humanity early on?

My parents are from Jamaica and then they both got soccer scholarships in New York. I had to deal with being a kid of immigrants. We ended up moving to Texas during the end of my high school years and it was really crazy for me. It was a big switch from New York because I was the only Black girl around a bunch of white and Hispanic people. It took a toll on me because they weren't very accepting at first. I mean, it wasn't on some hardcore racist shit, but it was definitely little things here and there that would bother me or stuff that I knew wasn't right.

I also knew that I wasn't meant to be there. Everyone around me was just different, not even in an egotistical way. I knew that I saw the world in a different way than them. Even my family too, they grew up on beliefs I didn't agree with. And I'm glad that I knew at a young age and was aware of that because that's what really helped me stay grounded in myself.

Every kid grows up feeling uncool in their earlier years. Was there anything that made you feel cool at an early age?

I was always big on the arts. I loved writing and making music. I really admired my interests. I thought I was the coolest kid ever, everyone else was just trying to be like each other to fit in. And I never sought out to be that way. I could see it in other people, realizing that they're dimming their own light to please other people. I'm glad I didn't let my environment or my situations mold me to be someone I'm not.

(On Jason Santore) Jacket and top: Willy Chavarria, Glasses: Bonnie Clyde, Shoes: Nike (On CLIP) Bra and skirt: Miaou, Jacket: Rhude, Grills: Spylxn, Shoes and socks: Nike (On hooz): Clothing: Collina Strada (On Euro Trill) Jacket: Who Decides War, Jersey: Mr. Throwback, Top: Willy Chavarria, Pants: No Sesso, Necklaces: Martine Ali, Shoes: Nike

You and many artists like Frank Ocean have talked about making it out of Texas. What was that process like?

Speaking of Frank Ocean, when he dropped the album, that one bar where he goes, "Working on a way to make it out of Texas, every night," I heard that and was like, “I gotta get out of here.” I always knew my plan was to do really good in school because it was my only way out. I wasn't dating anyone, I stopped doing all my extracurricular activities and I didn't want any ties to Texas.

Did your parents have any pushback on that?

My dad was really controlling. He wanted me to go to a school right next to his house. And he moved to the butt-fuck country because he wanted to be off the grid, so I was like, "Oh no." I cut him off. And then my mom took me leaving too personally, she didn't see it from my perspective. I can't be in this environment, especially this house with all this trauma that we all experienced. It was draining.

(On Euro Trill) Clothing: Telfar, Shoes and socks: Nike

I feel like when mothers feel something then the whole house has to feel it too.

Exactly, it was just too much to deal with. She took it as a personal attack. After that, I was using one of my biggest coping mechanisms: It's when I go on autopilot mode, basically. I mentally blackout until I get what I need to get done and then I process it afterward. So I was on autopilot mode and I didn't care. I wasn't thinking about how my parents felt or how my siblings felt, which I do regret because I didn't realize the toll it would take on my siblings because they loved me. So leaving was crazy, but I was in selfish mode. I didn't really care about my friends back home, I ghosted them. Yeah, it was a lot, but I had to do what I had to do, honestly.

Was that transition from Texas to New York easy? Were there feelings that were submerged and brought up when you moved to New York?

That's a complicated question. At the moment it did feel really easy, because I was on autopilot, everything was happening so fast. I felt like I didn't really have control of my life, I was floating. I wish I had more control, but I was young and I can't be too hard on myself. But I found an apartment in the Bronx for $400 and I was going to college while working at Urban Outfitters. I was happy going from being sheltered alone in my room everyday in Texas to going to New York, making my dreams come true at the time and working. Because actually, my mom did not want me to work, she was very overprotective. I couldn't even hang out with friends, honestly. But going from being boxed-in to being fully independent felt really good.

(On CLIP) Hat: Nike, Grills: Spylxn

Did you have this immediate feeling of knowing or finding yourself better in New York?

Honestly, it was quite the opposite, because I thought I knew myself well enough, but I didn't. And then when I first moved, I didn't really take the time to sit down and take time for myself and develop into the woman I am today. I was really dissociating during that whole period. After I dropped out of college, I really sat down and was like, “I need to figure out what I'm doing.”

When you move to New York, you can essentially be whomever you want to be. Who did you want to be then?

This might sound corny, but I was just trying to be happy and find peace because I didn't have that for a minute. I wasn't seeking to change myself or develop an image. I had a little following on Twitter because I would overshare. I would use Twitter as my diary because I didn't have anyone else to talk to, so I’d just tweet. So I guess you could say that my internet world was very much my image. I was really focused on not being miserable and depressed.

(On Euro Trill) Top and necklaces: Martine Ali, Pants: Levi's, Belt: Telfar, Shorts and shoes: Nike (On CLIP) Clothing: Priscavera, Grills: Spylxn, Shoes: Nike

You spent some time in New York where you weren't doing music; you said music essentially was never the big focus or plan. What were your aspirations during that time?

I thought I was gonna be a journalist like you. I still love writing, and I wish one day I can still do it, because in high school I wanted to be someone who helped other people. I want to use my words to be able to help people. My teacher took me under her wing and helped me with my college applications. I didn't have help from my parents or anything. Honestly, journalism was my life, it consumed a lot of me. And my mom hated it, she wanted me to be a lawyer or doctor. She thought she knew what was best for me.

Online, you met a group of like-minded people and were associated with a group called Burn All Sex Dolls. Was that the catalyst for making your own music?

The real jumpstart for me making music was when I got my first iPod. I would be messing around making covers on GarageBand. So I had the GarageBand experience, but in 2019 I met my group of friends and I didn't know at the time that they were all living in a music studio. It was a big building, like a hundred rooms, and they were living in one. It was not livable at all and there were six of them.

I would go there and they were genuine and wholesome, I was really anxious and shy. I barely spoke, but they didn't bother me or get in my space. They also treated me as if I belonged, I’d never experienced anything like that really. So I would sit and watch them make music and make money by getting people to come over and record. One day I was like, "I want to record something," and they were shook. They were gassing me, they're like, "No, honestly, if you actually sit down and tap in, you could go crazy." So then I kept that in my head, and one day I was bored on YouTube looking for beats, then I found the "Sad Bitch" beat and I just made that for fun. And then it went viral, which is really crazy.

(On Jason Santore) Pants: Willy Chavarria, Necklaces and bracelet: Martine Ali, Shoes: Nike

Is it hard to build a persona off of being online and living behind a screen? Do you feel like you've put a lot of trust into the internet?

I hate that it's a coping mechanism for me to be chronically online. I've learned lately to be more in the real world. I've been realizing this especially because more attention has been drawn to me and to any little thing I say or do, it can be perceived in so many ways. And that's why I named my EP Perception. Younger me was saying whatever and using [the internet] as my diary.

The internet can be a very dark place. Is this the first place you found a safe haven for the thoughts you couldn't share publicly?

That's why I started on Twitter. I was anonymous at first and sharing whatever, and then I gained a following. But that was really my outlet. Especially in Texas, I was doing nothing besides school. I would go home and just be on the internet or play Sims. I was just saying anything. It’s crazy — my ex-best friend sent a list of tweets to my mom. That was a learning lesson for me because I didn't really have internet training, I didn't really have internet experience like from Facebook because my mom was so strict.

I also had a slight eating disorder, but once I got on eating-disorder Twitter and ED Tumblr, it really jump-started [my eating disorder] badly. And then I got really sunken into that, and it got really hard for me to get out of that part of the internet.

(On Euro Trill) Clothing: Kesier Clark, Necklaces: Martine Ali, Shoes: Nike (On CLIP) Clothing: Sacai, Shoes and socks: Nike (On Jason Santore) Sweater: Who Decides War, Vest and pants: Willy Chavarria, Necklaces and bracelet: Martine Ali, Shoes: Nike

Before music, how were you handling those anxious thoughts and overwhelming feelings?

Honestly, I don't know how I was doing it. I guess I was finding an escape through other things. I would write a lot or take walks. Especially living in Texas, there's nature everywhere. I'm an earth sign, I don't know if that plays a part in my love for nature, but I love being around trees and flowers. Instead of making music, I listened to it. I think I got dropped into a world with so many harmful distractions around me and I've kind of succumbed to it.

It's not hard to feel you succumb to your own madness and spiral within that. Can you speak more about the relationship you have with controlling your thoughts through music?

All the songs in my EP were made during this era of chaos and madness. So I appreciated my studio time because it was like a therapy session. I can pinpoint a specific situation, experience or emotion and make it into a song. My emotions are used as a muse, you know? It was easy for me to create because I had so much to talk about and so many feelings that I was suppressing. Even though some of the situations I've gone through were shitty, I made some of my favorite songs out of them.

(On hooz) Top: Nike/Jordan, Skirt: Advisry, Bra: Coach, Necklaces: Martine Ali, Glasses: Bonnie Clyde, Sweatband and shoes: Nike

Does it feel scary to bare all these emotions and let people know your inner thoughts?

Sometimes I catch myself thinking about that and getting scared because I don't know how people perceive me. But I try not to think about that because, at the end of the day, it's my art. At the time when I made it, it was what I needed. I made this for myself. I never had the intention of making music to attract an audience.

How do you deal with upholding your boundaries? As you become more widely known, does it feel off-putting for people to feel like they know you based on your lyrics?

Yes, I really have no boundaries and that's the main thing I'm working on right now. I'm such a people-pleaser. I need to take this time really, especially moving across the country to a whole new environment, to reflect on my past, my bad era. This is what you're doing now, you're an artist. It's time to step it up now and take the shows as a serious career instead of a coping mechanism for a little hurt girl, you know?

(On Euro Trill) Top: Mr. Throwback, Pants: No Sesso, Necklaces: Martine Ali, Shoes: Nike

You're in your healing era. You're not all darkness. You mention wanting to bring light to people. How do you balance those energies?

It really depends on my moods. I'm trying to have balance and structure in my life, especially with music now. I go through major emotions and then whatever happens, happens, whoever can relate, relates. But I want to actually think it through and orchestrate it.

Do you believe in a higher power?

I do. I was raised Christian, but my dad ruined that for me because he turned crazy. Anything he did bad, he would validate it through religion. So I got turned off by it. But then going to New York, I met a group of friends. And my friend at the time, Sandy Taboo, put me onto the universe, manifestation, angel numbers and life path numbers. It was nice to have something to look up to because I didn't really have parental figures or older siblings for guidance.

(On Jason Santore) Jacket: Willy Chavarria, Glasses: Bonnie Clyde (On CLIP) Bra and skirt: Miaou, Jacket: Rhude, Glasses: Bonnie Clyde, Grills: Spylxn (On hooz): Clothing: Collina Strada (On Euro Trill) Jacket: Who Decides War, Jersey: Mr. Throwback

Do you think this higher power has you in this current position of your life for a reason? And what do you think you're learning right now?

Honestly, yeah. I used to be so big on throwing pity parties for myself, I would always focus on all of the things going wrong. With focus, I'm encouraging positivity and trying not to get myself sunk into a bad place. I did believe that my career happened then for a reason, because when I blew up it was honestly one of the worst times in my life. But since then I was like, “This is happening for a reason.” So it's up to me now to make sure it lasts. Whether I still do music — who knows where it's gonna take me — as long as people can connect to me and relate to me. I get so many DMs every day about how I help people feel less alone, and that really makes me feel so good inside, because growing up, I felt so alone all the time.

You sort of live a double life. While on billboards and performing at Rolling Loud, you’ve posted from your part-time service job. What part of maintaining both of these parts of your lives helps the other?

I like being able to get up every day and be a part of society and go to work. This is a thing that I noticed in this whole music world too, a lot of people treat it as a fairy tale. They act like they're above society in a way, which is fine, but I don't want to be like that. I want to be as grounded as possible. I don't want to turn into people that I've met that are lost and evil, you know? I like being a regular human in society, it feels good. It keeps me on my feet and in reality. And then also being able to call off work to go to Rolling Loud, that's a privilege. I don't see it as how other people see it, I really see it as a privilege or a side task. I take my career as a privilege because it could go away.

What do you expect of your future self?

I want to be wiser in all forms. I want to be successful in anything I do, whether it'd be music or wherever this journey takes me. I want to be successful and happy, and I want everyone around me to be successful and happy. And if I have the power to make that happen then that would be cool. I wanna keep helping people with my words and my existence.

Photography: Jack Bridgland
Makeup: Raisa Flowers
Hair: Jadis Jolie
Styling: Caitlan Hickey
Set design: Luiza Rosa

Models: Jason Santore, Euro Trill and hooz

Video: CyCy Sanders
Music: CLIP

Lighting direction: Ryan Hackett
1st assistant: Shawn Robert Cuni
2nd assistant: Eric Martin
3rd assistant: Alicia Henderson
Digital tech: Charley Parden
1st AD: Edsta Illie
Retouching: INK
Hair assistants: Tiffany Beach and Nichole Llewellyn
Makeup assistants: Yanni Peña and Aya Tariq
Styling assistants: Cassie Jekanoski and Dylan Andrews
Fashion intern: Giorgia de Bari
Set design assistants: Callan Christiano and Anthony Lamboy
Creative production: Will Foster
Production coordinators: Elise Sullivan and Chelsea Wooten
Production assistants: Errinn Whitney and
Will Gavalindo

Editor in chief: Justin Moran
VP production: Katie Karole
Graphic designer: Maren Anscheidt