Leyla Blue isn't afraid to admit that she's a mess, but quickly clarifies: "I'm a hot one." On her new single, the rising pop artist joins forces with Baby Tate and Rei Ami to collectively flaunt — and reclaim — all their imperfections. "I'm batshit, but at least I look fantastic," Blue brags on "Hot One," before the hook takes off: "Chill, I ain't got none/ But if I'm gonna be a mess, I'm a hot one."
Her first release as a newly independent artist, "Hot One" holds deeper meaning for Blue, who finally has the ability to own her narrative without any major label dictating her decisions. So while her lyrics celebrate being "blacked out" and "insane," much like your classic party anthem, Blue hopes that it inspires listeners to find the power in their flaws.
Below, PAPER caught up with the New York native to talk about writing "Hot One" from a random iPhone note, using TikTok to build her fanbase, called "Blue Crew," and what to expect in 2022.
How does “Hot One” signal a new chapter for you? Especially with regards to being a newly independent artist?
I absolutely love this record and the way it celebrates imperfection. Music is what allows me to escape into emotion rather than out of it, and this song does exactly that. I believe that flaunting one's flaws is the ultimate empowerment. My first independent release doing that feels symbolic for my future: I’m owning everything I’ve been through and letting it make me stronger. I’m very proud to be an independent artist. I’m proud of the place I’m in and all that has gotten me here.
What sort of challenges do you experience now without a label? What freedoms?
I have an album’s worth of songs I love sitting in a Dropbox folder and now it’s on me to present them to the world. This is an incredible freedom, as I can do that however I want, but it’s also a lot more work. This doesn’t scare me, though: I’ve always wanted to be involved on the business side. Artists, especially female artists, have long been infantilized when it comes to the money talk. I think that needs to change. Knowledge is power and experience is the best teacher.
The hook is so smart. Talk through the songwriting process that led to this idea.
I wrote this song with my closest collaborators, Jesse Fink and PomPom, in the summer of 2019. It was summer time and we had been in the studio writing for a week straight. I was dealing with a lot of anxiety and panic attacks at the time, and wanted to write about it, but after a week of serious work we were tired of the heavy stuff.
We Postmated tons of chips and guac, and PomPom started cooking up this Latin-style percussive beat. I started looking through my iPhone notes for something funny and inspiring that still felt true to what I was feeling, and found the line: "If I’m a mess, I’m gonna be a hot one." Jesse quickly fit it into the melody and added the, "Chill, I ain’t got none.” We wrote the first half of the song in like 30 minutes, honestly as a total joke. I didn’t think I would put it out until I played it for my team and they freaked out.
"Music is what allows me to escape into emotion rather than out of it, and this song does exactly that."
What’s your favorite "hot mess" memory?
[Laughs] It’s so hard to think of just one. My life is a series of me feeling horribly nauseous and on the verge of a panic attack in a situation where I’m supposed to be cool, calm and collected. It’s insanely hard for me to hide how I feel, my face shows it all. It’s hilarious to live in LA where everyone is so good at faking it. I’m always the awkward one who says the wrong thing at the wrong time. I think it’s because I grew up in NYC. New Yorkers just kinda say what we feel.
How has TikTok changed the way you approach making and releasing music?
TikTok is all about quick hooks, which can sometimes make songwriters feel pressured to prioritize “catchiness” over meaning. But I enjoy the challenge. I grew up listening to the catchiest 2000s pop and R&B, and my goal has always been to create music which satisfies my craving for addictive melodies, but is also poetically rich and introspective. Amy Winehouse and Lana Del Rey really inspire me with their ability to do that.
I feel lucky to be releasing music during the TikTok generation. The success of my song, “What A Shame,” could not have happened without it. Thanks to TikTok and social media, artists no longer need the middleman to connect with fans and to be heard. My fans and I are really close. They’ve already heard snippets of my upcoming music and it’s so cool to see them getting excited about it already. They call themselves the "Blue Crew." We’re a little family at this point.
How’d you connect with Baby Tate and Rei Ami on this release? How do you think they represent the song’s message?
I am still in shock at how perfectly it all came together. My manager knew Tate from high school and reached out to her. I heard she was into it, but knew it was still a long-shot, but then one morning I woke up to a text and it was her verse. She did not disappoint. I was obsessed from the moment I heard it. It reminded me of the early 2000s girl-power bops, like "Lady Marmalade," and I wanted to lean into it. I’d been a huge Rei Ami fan for years. We’d met a few times, so I texted her the song and asked if she’d get on it. I knew she’d be perfect and she sent me her verse within a few hours. Everyone freaked out.
I love and admire both of these girls so much, they are fearless. I didn’t even realize how much they embodied the song until we met in person at the video shoot. These girls have a story to tell. They are so talented and strong in their music, message and presence. I am honored to share a track with them.
Who’d you work with on the music video? How do you think it builds off the song’s themes?
The music video was directed by two amazing women: Clare Gillen and Boni Mata. It began as a brainstorm with my cousin, Agusta Yr, who directed the video for my song, "What A Shame." She helped me come up with a general direction, which I then pitched. When I saw Clare and Boni’s treatment, I thought it was so chic and powerful: three bad bitches wearing Mugler, singing about our struggles in absolute girl-boss fashion. “If I’m gonna be a mess, I’m a hot one,” emphasis on the hot. That’s what it’s all about: you don’t control what happens to you, but you do control the story you tell yourself about it. There’s so much power in that.
"You don’t control what happens to you, but you do control the story you tell yourself about it."
“Hot One” was your last release of 2021. What can we expect from 2022?
As I said, I have a ton of music sitting in a Dropbox folder that I am so excited to roll out this year. Music sustains me, it is my poetic exploration of self, helping me process my emotions either by heightening confidence or lyrically intellectualizing sadness. I want to engage listeners in a dialogue — between myself and them, as well as among themselves, inspiring introspection and helping each other feel safe and supported no matter what we’re each going through. Storytelling is our greatest gift, allowing us to step into another’s shoes and in doing so find common ground and universal truths. I’ve learned so much, and I am excited to share that with the world and begin this journey together.
Photos courtesy of Leyla Blue