The early reality of Amethyst Kelly is difficult to imagine. There was once a small home in the tiny Australian town of Mullumbimby, made of red brick, cemented by mud and laid by her father's careful hands. Her mother would spend her days emptying trash bins at a motel as a vacation rental cleaner, a path Amethyst would eventually follow at age 14. Water didn't always run, clothes were never new, and bathrooms were separated from the home by a muddied path. It's a tale of immensely humble beginnings, a hemisphere away from the life she would come to inhabit as Iggy Azalea a decade later. And while her origins are unfathomable for some, it's Amethyst's American dream that remains universal.
I first witnessed a glimpse of that dream in the fall of 2011. It was through a cracked iPhone screen, held casually by my friend. "You have to see this bitch," she announced, flicking her perfectly coiled locs and turning up the volume. "She's every-fucking-thing!" There, on the screen, was a tall, curvy woman with ice-blonde hair and creamy incandescent skin. She was surrounded by two brown cheerleaders in matching green uniforms, strutting in towering heels and rapping furiously: My world, rhyme vicious/ White girl team, full of bad bitches. Immediately, I recognized her: this confident, eccentric girl who didn't fit into preppy white hierarchies. While others girls were quoting lines from Mean Girls, imagining themselves Regina George, she appeared as someone I knew. A girl unruly and self-possessed, always late to class, always blasting D4L. I could see her crafting beats with her knuckles and strolling into class hours late, another detention slip placed on her desk. We were sold.
If "My World" was the bait, "Pussy" was the hook, line and sinker. Iggy, Iggy/ Pussy illy/ Wetter than the Amazon/ Taste this kitty! Her accent was thick and affected, reminiscent of our cherished childhood favorite Diamond from Atlanta's Crime Mob. The "Pussy" video was a Boyz N The Hood homage with ATLien pastiche. There were ice cream trucks and babysitting, front porch posing and concrete runways, sherbet-colored pants and shredded shorts. And we weren't the only ones taking notice of Iggy and her ways. Seemingly overnight, our private cafeteria secret had become a viral phenomenon.
Press came quickly, grand and bold. The New York Times suggested that "all this proximity to blackness characterizes Iggy Azalea as a person who is no stranger to black culture and communities, suggesting it's no anomaly for her to rock the mic." The Los Angeles Times described her flow as "brash and aggressive," while Complex decided that she was ready to "really make her mark on the game." Classmates had her image as their screensavers and sprawled across their Tumblrs, and were dropping her name in new music debates. She performed at small venues in Atlanta and cars across the city boomed with Never not better/ Law should ban it! A few months later, when "Murda Bizness" featuring T.I. dropped, her dream was actualized. She was not a one-hit wonder. She was a star, poised to rise.
There are many forgotten Iggy freestyles from that era. In one, she raps over Chris Brown's "Look At Me Now," prophesying her divisive nature. In another, titled "Home Town Hatred," she reflects on her time in Australia and her desire to leave. Over Kanye West's ominous "Hell of A Life" beat, she details how industry executives told her to dumb it down. But it was her 2011 "D.R.U.G.S." freestyle that first illuminated the parameters of her ignorance.
Reflecting the industry's tendency not to look at things too deeply, at first the song went unchallenged. (It would be a year before its lyrics were critically examined). In fact, Complex covered the freestyle, commending her craft and comparing her to fellow white rapper Yelawolf. The following January, Iggy signed to major label Interscope, tweeting, "Get used to me + Jimmy [Iovine] smashing shit, cause that's the plan."
In February of 2012, she landed the coveted cover of XXL's Freshman Class issue: an annual declaration of hip-hop stars poised to break big. Between up-and-comers French Montana and Future stands Iggy in a lush green fur. She was the first woman to ever grace the cover — a backhanded achievement. For many, XXL is a bastion of hip-hop excellence. To be a cover star and stamped with their approval was to suggest an imminent dominance. If Iggy could be shot, styled, and photographed for her buzz, where were the black women who broke the boundaries, paved the lanes, and inspired her craft?
It was Harlem-born musician and artist Azealia Amanda Banks who first articulated concern about Iggy's image and her space within hip-hop. On Twitter, Banks wrote, "Iggy Azalea on the XXL freshman list is all wrong. How can you endorse a white woman who called herself a 'runaway slave master'? Sorry guys, I'm a pro black girl. I'm not anti white girl, but I'm also not here for any1 outside of my culture trying to trivialize very serious aspects of it."
Media outlets immediately crafted Bank's criticism into a heavily publicized rap beef, thrusting Banks into the insidious stereotype of bitter black woman. The line Banks referred to was a re-interpretation of a Kendrick Lamar lyric on Iggy's "D.R.U.G." freestyle. In Kendrick's 2010 track "Look Out For Detox," he raps, When the relay starts/ I'm a runaway slave. In Iggy's version, she says, When the relay starts/ I'm a runaway/ Slave master/ Shittin' on the past/ Gotta spit it like a pastor.
Sunglasses by MYKITA, Jacket by MISBHV
Conversations surrounding the lyric lacked necessary context. Journalists missed questions and painted simple proclamations. In October of 2011, Banks had tweeted, "how sexy is iggy azalea?? It's kind of ridiculous…*tugs collar to let out steam*." In January, she wrote "Iggy Azalea's hair looks really great in her new video. How long do you all reckon that hair is? 40" in? By March 2012, the dream was dented, with Iggy being called out as misappropriating at best, racist at worst.
She issued a heartfelt apology, which fell on mostly unsympathetic ears. Two months later, Iggy was dropped by Interscope. Her debut album, The New Classic, stalled indefinitely. But still, there was room for redemption. In April 2013, Iggy signed with Mercury Records, a UK subsidiary of Universal Music Group. After recording new music in England, she returned stateside, armed with a completed album and a firmly set 2014 release date. During press runs she's tested: asked if she's an imposter; if her body is enhanced; if the cringe-worthy assumptions about her mentor T.I. are true. Old tweets were dug up, which made the disdainful murmurings worse. She's asked to freestyle on Sway, but instead inexplicably recites a line from her own album. Her music begins to change, becoming less lyrically explicit and trap-influenced, and more poppy and prim. Now a Complex cover star, she fumbles when asked about her divisive rapping accent. She's quoted saying, "This is the entertainment industry. It's not politics." Soon enough, that statement would no longer be true.
In 2012, political discussions had begun to dominate all forms of media. The slain lives of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis became proponents of combustible change. Movements like Black Lives Matter materialized, refusing silence or forgetfulness of the innocent and slaughtered black people, churning hundreds of American murders into global narratives. Each case, though singular and specific, represented the transgressions of America's not-too-distant-past and its perpetual present. If there was once a time when innocent victims could be smudged from history and their murderers left unscathed, that clock no longer ticked. Images of callous violence circulated more than music. Cellphone and camera footage displayed women being beaten, children being shot, and men being strangled. Language seemed to shift, relegating all ignorance to silence; expanding itself to capture the expansive feelings of others. And at the top of the same year, "Fancy" was released. Like lightning, Iggy's dream merged seamlessly with reality. She was now a star with a verifiable hit.
With her Clueless themed video for the inescapable track, 2014 became the year of Iggy's art. She held the number one spot on Billboard's Hot 100 for seven consecutive weeks. She luxuriated in the second spot too, appearing as a featured artist on Ariana Grande's "Problem." Billboard claimed Iggy tied with The Beatles and attached her name to the legacies of Mariah Carey, Missy Elliott, Lauryn Hill, and Nicki Minaj. She was now booking prime-time television spots — appearing on Good Morning America with Charli XCX — and on the covers of grocery store aisle magazines. Forbes declared her "Hip Hop's New Queen of Rap" and she was nominated for four Grammys. Simultaneously, America's racial rhetoric and division began to feel claustrophobic. In early February, Yvette Smith was murdered on her front porch. In August, Michael Brown Jr. and Ezell Ford were shot and killed. November was the month Laquan McDonald and Tamir Rice became portraits of unfinished lives. In July, Eric Garner was placed in an illegal chokehold, his last words becoming a symphony of unbearable sadness. The dichotomy between a world callously slaughtering black people on one end and rewarding a white rapper with success and visibility on another was dizzying.
What is it like to attach oneself exclusively to a dream, to pursue it even as the odds are stacked against you?
By 2015 the dream dissolved completely. Iggy was accused of racism, cultural appropriation, minstrelsy, and ignorance, becoming the perfect conduit for whiteness and all of its horrors. Her silence during racist events was considered complicit. A world tour was canceled, and neither a follow up album or a Top 10 hit reappeared. In 2016, she announced Digital Distortion, her sophomore album that was ultimately held after three singles — "Team," "Mo Bounce," and "Switch" — and a leaked music video. This year, Iggy released "Savior" with hopes of a refresh.
To some, she was an untalented white supremacist Barbie, infiltrating a space crafted by black people and laughing to the bank. Her dream — an innocent one of music, money, and acclaim — had become grotesque. To others, she was an iconic legend who was just easily projected upon. Now a refracted mirror for public opinion, a line was permanently drawn: black or white — no in-between.
But for me, there's always been a gray area. In art, in music, and in life, there is a space where the eye can shift inward to ask and answer questions. What might it look like for a young girl in Australia to re-discover life through hip-hop? What did it look like to want to manifest a world of make-believe, to create art once unseen? What is it like to attach oneself exclusively to a dream, to pursue it even as the odds are stacked against you? What do you do when you can't separate criticism from hate? When each day you're bombarded with projections based on media machinations? What does it look like when your dream comes true, when it's finally real, only for it to be mocked? To me, it's a perfect portrait of America.
At The Roxy Hotel, in New York City, I sat with Iggy Azalea. We spoke about her life, her dream, her craft, and her upcoming music. She was thoughtful and articulate, eyes glinting with Gemini humor and intellect, deeply apologetic and severely misunderstood. This is what transpired.
Can you take me back to your childhood? I read that your hometown is called "The Biggest Little Town in Australia." What was it like?
I still don't know why the fuck they call it that. It was a really small town, incredibly rural, but there's a looser, less stereotypical element to it. There were a lot of crystals and hippies, weed smokers, and horoscopes. The town was split between this hippie, carefree fairy spectrum, or conservative farmers and their crops. My parents were on the fairy spectrum, but I went to public school. Everyone there was straight-laced with names like Amber and Stephanie and there I was as Amethyst, with platform shoes, and immediately it was like, Okay, bitch prepare to get bullied.
What were the students like?
There were two schools. One was private and more artistic, and that's where all the people that could be considered carefree and more imaginative were able to go. The public school was very sterile, very conservative. The private school was expensive and my family had no money for that, so I went to the public school and I was miserable. These were the children of bricklayers whose parents drove tractors and guys who played football on the weekends. I got teased for everything. Literally everything, there was no winning with those kids.
I'm ignorant to Australia — I've never been — but there is the classic stereotype of the tanned, athletic, white Australian. When we think of whiteness, we often forget its specifications, even the types that are lauded and coveted. For instance there's the archetype of the popular blonde. You were tall, pale, and curvy…
Oh my goodness, yes! And I was never that girl. Not even anywhere near that girl's posse. I never fit in and there was a time I really tried to fit in. I remember getting teased because I hadn't shaved my legs yet. I was only in sixth grade and I had never even thought of something like that. They would call me "monkey" everyday. One day I got my mom's razor and shaved my legs thinking it would finally be over and it wasn't. There was always a new thing. My hat. My mole. My weight. All of these things now seem so dumb, but I didn't do anything like them and there was no appeasing those kids.
When did you first think of leaving?
I always knew I was going to leave because I knew I didn't belong with any of the people that lived there. I only decided I wanted to go to America when I visited the states with my grandparents. I was 11, and I remember seeing all the showgirls in Las Vegas, all their sparkles and rhinestones. They were the most fabulous girls I had ever seen. I had only seen something like that on TV, and it blew my mind. Then we went to Hollywood, and there were all these wig stores and the Star Walk, and just seeing all the ways people dressed, how they styled their hair, the color of their wigs, I wanted to be able to do all of those things. When I wanted to dress like this in Australia, I'd get shitted on. But coming to America and watching people put on a show, watching them being ridiculously fabulous, no one was doing that where I was from. Nobody was even wearing high heels in Mullumbimby.
Shirt by Faith Connexion, Boots by Fendi, Earring and Ring by Tiffany & Co, Pinky Ring by Lillian Shalom
When did you put the plan in action?
That happened when I really started to get into music. I was insanely confident, with the kind of deluded grandeur that I think you need when no else believes in you. I thought I was good at it even though in retrospect I was bad still. I was about 14 and that's when I started writing music. I'd go to open mic nights and take the bus all over the city. I'd go to battle raps, I'd get booed. There was a sound audio engineering school, called SAE, and the first music I ever recorded was there. From 14 to 16, that's when the plan formed. As soon as I started writing, I knew music was what I had to do. Even if I wasn't a rapper, I thought I could be a sound engineer or a writer. I just knew I wanted to be involved in music. And I knew I had to get the fuck out of where I lived. It was suffocating me. I wanted to live in a place where the sky was the limit, a place where my dreams weren't strange or weird, where others had even crazier ideas than me. I knew all of that was in America, and that's where I had to go and that's where I thought people were going to accept my wild thoughts. I tried Sydney and Melbourne and they just weren't it. Nothing else was.
"I wanted to live in a place where the sky was the limit, a place where my dreams weren't strange or weird, where others had even crazier ideas than me. I knew all of that was in America."
Why Miami first?
They had a SAE campus in Miami. I thought I would be able to get in and get a student visa. I saved up enough money to live there for a couple of months, but I didn't have enough to live and go to school, so I ended up not going.
Next was Houston. What was that like?
I only lived there for a year. This producer found my music through Myspace, and he said if I was ever in Houston to let him know. Then he told me all the people he produced for, and I was so excited because I really loved Rap-A-Lot records, so I went. I met him and he was really cool. We recorded a bunch of songs and we would go to Metropolis. It was in a strip mall and everyone would just hang out in front of their cars, and inside one side was reggaeton and the other was a Slim Thug record chopped n' screwed. The plan was to give the DJ your cd and hopefully he'd play it, which they never do. Then you'd hangout in the parking lot until someone has a fist fight and then you go home. Those were my nights there. Just absorbing everything. I made some friends and then Hurricane Ike hit. Most of my friends were moving to Atlanta because their homes were destroyed. I went too.
How were you making money?
Two of my friends introduced me to their sound engineer and his girlfriend would come to the studio and drop him off lunch. She and I ended up becoming roommates. I told her how I had gone to Thailand before and how fascinated I was with the hair. How you could get in bundles and stuff. She said we should save up money to go and then bring it back and sell it to salons. So we saved up and went on our last dime. She had just graduated college and was working at Bank of America and we went out there and got a bunch of hair. When we came back we sold it super quick, wholesale, to all the salons. It was insane. Technically, even though I didn't have a work visa it isn't illegal if you invest in someone's business. So she registered it as little corporation under her name and I invested in it.
There's this idea that there was "Fancy" and then boom — immediate success! But there were a lot of setbacks.
Obviously there are years that people don't know about. I was in Atlanta for nearly two years just writing for people. I was doing so many writers camps for other known artists, just trying to get my spot. That's why there were a lot of pop demo references that came out. Everyone accused me of wanting to be a pop star and that wasn't something I've ever been interested in. I would write pop music with other people and try to get it placed. I've always rapped. Even the video that came out of the pop song, that was just some shit I did with my friend. We were playing.
The wildest thing is that there are so many reports that I used to be a model and that's always been strange. Just last week on my Spotify profile my bio says, "Iggy Azalea was a high profile model before she became a rapper." When?! I would have loved to be a high profile model, but last time I checked I'm a fucking size eight. What the fuck runway or editorial model do you know that size? There's so much of those kind of rumors that have a mind of their own now.
Dress by Fendi, Pants by Faith Connexion
How did you end up in LA?
The music I was making in Atlanta, I started putting a couple of songs online. They didn't have anymore than 300-400 views. I still don't know how the fuck they found me, but an A&R at Interscope messaged me. He told me he had asked his girlfriend at the time, "Who do you think is cool?" And she played him my music. I was skeptical but he ended up being legitimate. He said I should move to LA and as soon as my lease was up, I went.
When I moved there they put me with a bunch of people. They were trying to help me make connections, but they didn't really understand what I was doing. I met these guys who make up "D.R.U.G.S." about a year after I moved to LA. We'd record in their garage. YG was there. Mustard was there before he was DJ Mustard. Ty Dolla $ign was there all the time. That's where I made Ignorant Art and put out "Pussy."
Related | Ty Dolla $ign: 'I Was Never a Rapper'
That song was such a success, Interscope must have been happy.
I had gotten to the end of things with Interscope and was at the point where I felt like since they didn't understand me, this would be a "fuck you." As soon as I put out "Pussy," they called me and said they totally understood the vision. It was a "what the fuck" moment. For nearly a year I had been trying to explain it to them, and suddenly when I did it on my own they want me? I don't think they truly got it, I think they just saw the numerical element to it.
Were you signed to Interscope yet at that point?
I finally had my meeting with Jimmy Iovine after that, and they wanted to sign me. The problem was my A&R wanted to manage me. Interscope, at the time, was working on an in-house management team with LMFAO. They wanted me to sign a document that literally detailed how signing would be a conflict of interest. They gave me two options: sign or leave. I had so many potential deals with other labels but in the end I chose Interscope. We got all the way down to the agreement and, the day of, the deal was dead. Completely done. I had bigger offers, better offers, and I stayed to be loyal to the people who helped me when I was in Atlanta.
That was a Jimmy situation and it had a lot to do with Azealia Banks. They wanted to sign her and it became a conflict of interest. Once that happened, everyone wondered why I wasn't signed, why Jimmy didn't want it, and it brought into question my worth as an artist. No one wanted to fucking touch me at all. I couldn't get a deal anywhere after that. Before this I could've asked for a fucking elephant, a Ferrari, four monkeys, and a million dollars — after there was nothing. People wondered, What was wrong with Iggy Azalea? That's how it works with these things. I was done.
What'd you do next?
I had to go to England. I got new management based out of the UK and went and recorded a bunch of music in Wales with a few producers from America. I recorded "Work" and most of The New Classic there and went and shopped a deal in England. They were the only place that didn't give a fuck about what had happened in America. I signed to Mercury Records and after putting out my music there, I came back to America to get upstreamed through Universal Records. I put out five singles through Def Jam before I ever had "Fancy." I toured with Nas before "Fancy." I toured with LMFAO before "Fancy." I toured with Beyoncé before "Fancy." I toured my own tour in Europe and North America before "Fancy." I had done five tours before I ever made "Fancy." "Fancy" was truly the last attempt. Not for me to quit music, but for the label to quit me. They had given me four video budgets, none of them exceeded their expectations, and "Fancy" was their last hurrah. For them it was like either this works or it doesn't, but we're gonna put the album out and see if it sells. I decided to do something left and do Clueless, and it worked. Luckily, we had so many attempts before that with the label and this one worked.
What was that moment like?
I was really happy and surprised. I've always known the art I make is pretty left. I didn't expect it to connect. Music has changed a lot from when I first started, but at the time, my music was considered left. There was a lot of monumental success from "Fancy" that I didn't anticipate. All these people were discovering my music and suddenly I'm doing shows with 6,000-7,000 people. It was way more than I ever imagined. I thought I'd be doing basement shows or college parties and even that was so cool to me. I thought I had fully made it! I didn't think beyond that. To see brands that I knew, magazines, all of these mainstream fixtures, people, and media embrace my music, I never could have dreamt that.
When "Fancy" gained such visibility, the media seemed to adore you. Billboard said you tied with The Beatles and bested Michael Jackson. Forbes declared you "Queen of Hip Hop." What were your thoughts during that time?
It was very strange. I never said I was the queen of rap, I've never even thought that. I truly think it was like a great white hope, similar to the film Rocky. All of these people were championing me and branding me these things because of their own projections and not only were they outlandish, they were all incredibly premature. I had just started and there was this influx of, "Queen of rap! Queen of the world! Best record ever! Song of the century!" And so everyone starts saying, "No she's not, fuck her! She has some fucking nerve!" And all of those are things I never said.
What were your thoughts when you were then nominated for four Grammys, including Best Rap Album and Best Record of the Year?
I remember sitting at the Grammy's praying to God I didn't win, literally crossing my fingers, hoping there was no media frenzy. I didn't ask to be nominated. I don't even think I deserved nominations. People were so frustrated with those headlines and all those articles became attached to me personally. People assumed that's how I saw myself, or how I thought of my music. It's never been that. There was this element of trying to humble me, a moment where it seemed like, "Oh this bitch thinks she's this? We're gonna fucking show her that she ain't shit."
Did you ever anticipate that side of fame?
I've always known that I'm controversial. I love to move the needle. Things like "Murda Bizness," yes — I'm going to put toddlers and tiaras in a music video and I know many won't understand it. Or with "Pussy," yes there is a child and I know it pushes buttons. But I think that the best things in pop culture are polarizing. I knew I would always come with controversy, but that was a different kind of controversy. I didn't anticipate that. I didn't even anticipate the success. I didn't think that would be the thing that made it all come crumbling down.
"I think that the best things in pop culture are polarizing."
What is your biggest regret during that time?
I wish that I would've handled criticism better in the beginning. I knew I was polarizing. I aim to be polarizing, sometimes too polarizing where I've pushed the limit too far. When I first got here, there was so much I thought I understood that I really didn't. I've really had to learn a lot of things by being here and having friends and seeing things play out in real life. Especially in the last few years in culture and how far conversations have come, I look back and cringe.
Things like the Kendrick lyric, something I profusely apologized for and have learned from. That wasn't okay. It was insanely ignorant. That wasn't an experience to toy with. Sometimes you have to learn the hard way, specifically with that line, like fuck, I hate that I said it. There was so much criticism that came with "Fancy" and I wish I would've handled it better, but it felt very thick.
Everything was coming from every angle. My success. Being worn out. Having lawsuits. I had five different court cases and all of that factored into my responses. It was hard to decipher what criticism was valid and what criticism was just hate. Even with Azealia, we've since spoken and in retrospect, I'm sorry that I trivialized the way she felt about her experience as a black woman navigating the music industry. She and I have our own history and beef about other shit, but when she went on the radio and spoke there was validity to it. Those were her experiences that many others could relate to and I can't take those away, but at the time I thought it was her saying 'fuck you' and trying to hate on me.
Sunglasses by MYKITA, Jacket by MISBHV, Pants by Faith Connexion x Kappa
You felt what she said was valid in the end?
There were so many critiques she made that were valid. I wish I hadn't been so defensive and emotional, but it invalidated important conversations that shouldn't be overlooked. It created a situation where it looks like I'm unable to be accountable, or I'm unable to accept criticism, that I'm tone deaf, and a fucking idiot. I felt like I had to defend myself against everyone, and that attitude didn't work in my favor. I wish I didn't give impulse responses and say things that made it worse. I was just popping off shit, and I wish I would've thought before I spoke. The problem got so big that I didn't know how to handle it, and I just thought I'll just go away and wait until it blows over or gets better. But it won't just get better, I have to acknowledge it and have conversations about it because otherwise it seems like I don't give a fuck or I'm not ready to take accountability.
Why do you think you weren't able to hear the criticism at the time?
I think when you're an artist and you're just starting out, especially as someone who isn't American, there's a difficult line to walk. I came here when I was 16 and people don't seem to understand that that time period truly defines who I am. They don't get that a lot of these things are my genuine influences, the same way they were informed and influenced by their surroundings. I really did live here. I lived in apartment full of people from Jamaica and after work we'd battle rap by the pool. I really did have friends that were involved in illegal activities. I was actually in the south, recording with Dem Franchize Boyz, listening to Outkast, Dungeon Family, Field Mob, Crime Mobb. And that seems incredibly hard for people to swallow. People think I should rap about Australia in an Australian accent but I'm 28-year-old woman now. I can't rap about being 10 and living in Australia. That never inspired me. My time in America, my time in those cities, were when I really started having life experiences that were worthy of going into my music. It all happened here in this country.
"I wish I hadn't been so defensive and emotional, but it invalidated important conversations that shouldn't be overlooked."
On some of the leaked tracks for Digital Distortion you didn't seem afraid to acknowledge it. Tracks like "Middle Man," "7Teen," and "Elephant" were incredibly aggressive and direct. What happened with that era?
For the record I love Def Jam, there are a lot of people that I truly respect and like. The problem I had during this time was that I was preparing to address how I felt. I had gotten so pop, and when you have success as a pop artist it makes the label a lot of money, so they pushed me to keep churning out hits. They pushed for more branding money, more endorsements — that's their job. And I made the conscious choice to go along with it because I was making a lot of fucking money.
But in doing that I think I isolated a lot of my original supporters. I also stifled myself creatively because I wasn't making the kind of music I wanted to make. If I wanted to make endless hits, I would have been making pop music from day one. I just lost my passion. I didn't feel motivated in the studio. When I told them I was going to make an album, I sat there with the president of the label and told him that his 10-year-old daughter is probably not going to like the songs. I said, "She's not gonna want to come to the concert," and I could see a look of pure horror etched on his face. The expression of, "Fuck, the money maker is going to make some weird, non-radio album."
They weren't backing you up.
There was no support in my decision. They couldn't understand it unless it fit into a radio format, but I knew I would never have success again unless I connected with my original fans. That's what I knew I needed for me to have authenticity and for me to feel passionate. Not only that but for me to just endure life. Everything was falling apart and I need to love the music I'm making and truly believe in it. When I delivered the album, they wanted to know where the radio hits were. All they wanted to create were songs like "Switch." And those songs are great, but pop records don't work without a foundation. Those big songs are supposed to be cherries on top, not just a roof with no house. Pop records are like Skittles, they taste really good but if you eat too many you'll feel sick. They're not a creative meal. Here I am at the darkest period of my life, contemplating suicide, and I'm singing "Switch."
Can you tell me a bit about this new era — Surviving The Summer?
Releasing "Savior" was incredibly therapeutic for me. It felt good to have a record where I can talk about depression, and just let down all my cards. It's completely different from a lot of the other tracks which are heavily rap.
Who are you collaborating with?
I'm working with Detail. I'm working with Pharrell. There's still going to be those unexpected Diplo elements like my early mixtapes. I'm really taking it back to that place. I started with Digital Distortion, but that was really aggressive and angry. I'm not in that place anymore. I'm happy. I know my fans want me to rap and I want to give them that. I want to give them the hard shit that they love, the shit that's different, that moves the needle. I hope people will support it.
From your rapping accent, to your pop accolades, you're constantly criticized for being inauthentic — specifically within the hip-hop realm. What do you think, ultimately, of those debates?
The way I've always felt about music is that I never approached anything as partial to a genre. There's never been a sense of this is a pop record, this a rap record. Even with the way music is today, there are so many melodies and variations to any song, any genre. I think a big part of the judgement in those things — not exclusively for me, but for most women in the music industry — is misogyny. Do you know how many men are on pop records? When they do it, it's rewarded and they're considered smart for reaching a bigger audience.
People like to pick and choose the rules. We bury things that don't give our theories sense. Everyone does it, it's human nature. I feel like with me, there's a lot of reasons why people are trying to invalidate me. Is it not authentic because I make pop music? Or is it because I'm from Australia? What about the fact that I've been here for 12 years? What about white rappers who are saying the most absurd things about hip-hop, but in the club everyone's singing their songs? Other rappers are allowed to do the things that I do — even things I would never even think of doing — but it's okay because they have likability, or a different perception attached to their image, or a fucking dick. People are misogynistic. It is what it is.
"Fuck what I was doing before, I'm doing new shit. It's exciting."
Do you feel like you're a new artist now?
Yes, 1000 percent! It's almost harder now because when you're new people have no preconceived notions about what you are or what you represent. When you become mega successful and you go mainstream, no longer is the sky the limit. It becomes, "Oh she's mainstream, she's had a Steve Madden deal, she's on Cosmo," and the art becomes dissected in a new way with more eyes. But I like it. Sonically, when I'm in the studio, it's fun approaching music as a new artist. Fuck what I was doing before, I'm doing new shit. It's exciting.
Photographer: Brian Ziff
Stylist: Douglas VanLaningham
Stylist Assistant: Jeremy Friend
Hair: Iggy Rosales (at Opus Beauty)
Makeup: Anthony Merante (using Marc Jacobs Beauty at TMG-LA)
Set Design: Eamonn McGlynn
Location: Goya Studios
Main Image: Top by Vivetta, Skirt by 3.1 Phillip Lim