You may not have heard of Curtis Waters yet, but you've definitely heard him if you've been scrolling through TikTok or Instagram Reels in the past few months. "Stunnin'," off his debut album PITY PARTY, has generated over one million videos, becoming the unofficial song for influencers who use the track to showcase their style in different outfits. Premiering today exclusively on PAPER, Waters shares his latest hit "Better" along with its accompanying music video. The song sees the viral 20-year-old creator opening up about his struggles with bipolar disorder.

Born in Nepal, Waters has lived in Germany and Canada, before settling in North Carolina at age 17, which is where he writes and produces all of his music and visuals. With "Stunnin'" racking up over 500 million streams, and even averaging over 4 million streams per day at the height of its fame, Waters certainly piqued the interest of major labels. However, the viral 20-year-old creator became so frustrated with labels bidding on his rights as if he were a product he wrote he wrong a song about the experience before ultimately passing on major labels for a deal offering him full control over his art. "I come up with the ideas and they help me execute it, I just have to deliver my art which is great."

In "Better," Curtis delivers a letter to someone he's hurt, singing "I hope I get better one day, maybe then you wouldn't run away." Waters caught up with PAPER to talk about making "Better" and why he feels so strongly about being open about his mental health, as well as how the song won over his now-girlfriend. Scroll for the full interview and be sure to check out the video for "Better," below.

Walk us through the songwriting process for "Better."

I first started this song by creating a "video-gamey" synth melody, then added the upbeat bit-crushed drums and 808 bass line. I thought the beat was cute and unique so I closed my eyes, put on autotune and just blurted out exactly what I was feeling that day. This was after I dropped out of college and went back home and just trying to get better. I wrote this as a message to this girl I had a falling out with. She had me blocked on every social media platform and I hadn't talked to her in almost a year, but I was hoping she'd search my name on Google and find this song and finally understand how I feel about her. This song is pretty much just a sappy text message over a beat.

How did the music video connect come about?

Every time I make a song I immediately imagine visual ideas for it and when I made this song I had this vision of multiple different versions of Curtis just doing new things to try to better themselves. I told Logan Fields, who directed my "Freckles" music video, about the idea and he came up with a storyboard for it. The really funny thing is the girl I wrote the song about, we actually started dating again recently, so I was able to fly her and my brother out to LA to be in the video. My girlfriend plays my unreciprocated love interest which I think is really funny.

Why do you find it important to be open about your mental health struggles?

I just think it's a super common thing and most of us are actually going through it. I don't see the point in hiding it, that just makes it worse for everyone and paints an unrealistic image. When I was 15 and first going through mental health issues I looked up to other artists that were open about their struggles. It made me feel like even though I was going through hell, I could figure it out one day too.

Have you always been so open about your bipolar disorder?

Yes I have. I feel like I am a pretty open person in general, I don't really think there's much I shy away from. If I feel a certain way I'll probably make a song about it, or at least a dumb tweet.

What do you hope others can get out of your music?

I mostly just make music so I can cope with what's going on in my brain, but once a song is out, I hope it helps people cope with what they are going through too. It's nice when people say they can relate to me and it helps them. It's also totally fair if you just like the cool beat and catchy melodies and wanna dance around to it. If I make your day better in any way that's more than great for me.

You're quite the visionary and write, create and make visuals from your parents' home. How do you keep yourself creative?

The main thing for me is I don't wait around for inspiration to hit. I wake up every day and make art. I am constantly creating things, whether it's videos or beats or songs. Most of them could be shit but that doesn't even matter because creating things is just what makes me want to live.

What's next for you?

Probably conquer the world, I am not sure yet. I feel like I manifested so many crazy things this year that If I say I will do something, it'll actually happen.

Photography: Joyland

curtis waters
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