Princess Nokia knows her worth, and she wants others to know theirs, too. The multi-hyphenate New York City phenom's latest single, "Boys Are From Mars," isn't just a kiss-off to fuckboys who can't keep up — it's an audacious ode to self-love and self-esteem.
Featuring a girl-power assist by rising rapper Yung Baby Tate, "Boys Are From Mars" is a cinematic anthem based on the old intergalactic adage that "boys are from Mars, girls are from Venus." Over a bouncy, mid-tempo hip-hop-pop hybrid soundscape, Princess Nokia and Yung Baby Tate take turns tearing down the tragic trappings of toxic masculinity, reminding listeners that "just 'cause his dick good, don't mean good, he will have you stressin'."
But Princess Nokia is more than familiar with the challenges and rewards that come with refusing to compromise, both as a spiritual young woman who exists in a not-so-nurturing patriarchal society and as an unhindered artist who operates in a do-or-die industry.
While many musicians, especially women of color, tend to get pigeonholed into certain genres or labels, Princess Nokia — who identifies as an afro-indigenious queer woman — has spent the past decade-plus brushing off any pressures to fit into a single category or style. She's experimented with D'n'B and trip-hop (2014's Metallic Butterfly); funk and soul (2015's Honeysuckle); trap and old school hip-hop (2017's 1992 Deluxe); emo and pop-punk (2018's A Girl Cried Red); and the list goes on.
Resisting the make-it-quick-at-all-costs allure of modern hustle culture, she's taken the time to truly discover herself; to evolve with herself, musically and energetically; and to embrace all the beautifully disparate, yet harmonious elements of her identity that make her who she is, including all her interests and passions, from photography to acting. Because Princess Nokia has never been just one thing, and she's certainly not going to compromise any parts of herself for anybody.
Hot on the heels of the release of "Boys Are From Mars," PAPER caught up with Princess Nokia to talk about her current '70s sci-fi influences, her desire to try her hand at "folk indie-rock like Jewel," and landing her biggest hit to date with TikTok's viral smash "I Like Him."
Where did the idea for "Boys Are From Mars" originally spring from?
I wrote the song very quickly one day when I was thinking about an experience of mine where I had a partner, a person in my life, who actively pursued me for a long time. I basically ignored them the whole time, and then when I finally relented to their chase, they switched up on me. They didn't want to be with me any more! And I was like, "Men are from Mars, women are from Venus." So I used that experience — the unrequited love, the chase, confusion afterward — as inspiration.
On Instagram, you shared a message about the importance of not letting anyone make you guess your worth. The track also speaks to setting boundaries. What do you hope girls will take away from this song?
I wrote the song as a guidebook for young women, and people in general, to actively use discipline, self-empowerment, and boundaries as a way to remove people from their lives who don't serve them or their higher purpose. It's very easy to keep toxic patterns and to actively allow, specifically men, to gaslight you and make you believe your worth is lower than you're accustomed to; to make you believe that your basic needs and desires and wants are too much. I want young women to use this as a reminder that in any instance, if someone is not respecting you or treating you equally or how you should be treated, you should take it very seriously and run in the other direction.
Visually, the lyric video and imagery appear to nod to Barbarella and retro-futurism. What were your visual frames of reference for this track?
My visual frame of reference was actually '70s sci-fi films such as Star Wars by George Lucas, and Barbarella starring Jane Fonda, which I grew up watching on VHS from the rental store. Those movies and film references were very impactful to my life and helped me understand art history and costume design. For this project, you could say [it was inspired by the] '70s, or some people might say, "This looks so futuristic, but it also looks so vintage!" That's exactly what it is. It's Star Wars, it's Barbarella, it's prehistoric futurism. It's from a time when the '70s were recreating futurism, that's why it looks vintage yet futuristic. I love playing with period pieces and doing cosplay and creating a fantasy world that I really know a lot about.
Will there be a music video?
I believe so! Me and Tate both have really wild schedules right now — I'm literally in the middle of a tour and several projects. But it would be fantastic, so hopefully there will be a video for the song. We'll just have to wait until we're both free.
I really loved it. She was fantastic, and she's really talented. I'm a fan of hers; she happens to be one of my favorite contemporary female artists out right now, so it was a joy working together. We got along really well.
Musically, you've experimented with so many vibes and genres: emo, D'n'B, trip-hop, soul, hip-hop, pop... Are there any subgenres or musical frames of reference still on your to-do list?
I would love to get into Latin music more. I only ever did one Spanish song, back when I was not a fluent Spanish speaker. And I would love to [do it again] now that I actually have the confidence to do Latin music; now that I am an actual fluent Spanish speaker, because that wasn't the case before. I made "Corazón en Afrika" in 2014 when I was still relatively not a Spanish speaker, and now I'm a new fluent person. I think I could just take it on a lot better. But the thing is, because it's not my natural second language, I speak it grammatically incorrectly sometimes. So when I do make Spanish songs in the studio, I have trouble with writing and grammar and it takes a really long time for me to correct things. But yeah, definitely more Latin music. I also want to do country music because I love country music so much. And I definitely want to try folk indie-rock like Jewel. I just want to sing like Jewel!
Your 2020 single "I Like Him" blew up on TikTok and recently went RIAA-certified Gold, marking one of your biggest hits to date. How did you react when you found out? And why do you think that track has popped off so much?
To be honest with you, my response was very emotional and very vulnerable. I'm an orphan child from the inner cities of New York City. I had a very, very harsh upbringing and experienced a lot of emotional trauma and abuse. I think about my origin story a lot, and I don't mean to bring it up as like, "Oh my God, I come from such a dark place..." It's just that this opportunity for someone with my circumstances, who could be suffering a lot in life because of trauma, it's really miraculous to me. Looking at where I've been and where I've gone, it means so much to me and it makes me emotional because I really think about people like myself who share the same storyline as me, who are still fighting for liberation and still fighting for their survival and still fighting against impoverishment, trauma, and systemic oppression. I think, "Wow, one of us made it, one of us did something." That's really wild.
So that's why I take so much pride in it, because I'm not an industry person. I didn't come into this whole thing trying to make a hit. It just happened so organically, beautifully, naturally. And I think it just sold that many units because it really is a hit song. It came from my head, and I wrote it. I think it's so wild that my imagination has taken me to all these unique places. There was no, "Oh, she started working with this person," or, "It happened when she got signed!" It was a natural progression of my journey and how I've grown up. It's really just so special and funny and unique. I find myself lucky at all times.
Having grown up in New York City, and having that be a huge part of your heart and soul and identity, what do you make of people who claim that "NYC is dead," especially amid the pandemic?
It's ignorant. And also I'm like, they must not be looking in the right places! I can tell you single-handedly that New York is not dead. In the middle of the pandemic, you know where I was? At the rave behind the IKEA in Brooklyn with my friends. New York is very much alive and thriving. The rave scene has never been crazier. The youth culture is vibrant. The kids are in the park drinking 40s, smoking weed, skating, hanging out and pulling looks. They are creating a new subculture for New York City. They're keeping it alive. I go to the art shows. I go to the galleries. I go to the under-the-bridge hangouts. I be busy, but the girls are having fun! So no, New York is not dead. New York is far from dead. My best friend in LA is like, "How do you guys just do it so freely?" I'm like, "Yeah, there's really nothing to it." That's the soulfulness of New York City. It's not premeditated, it's not to look cool. It just is cool. We don't try hard here.
Speaking of New York City, what sparked your youth culture and street fashion photography project, After School Special?
It's how I perceive the storytelling and the beauty around me. I've always had an eye for creative direction and cinematography, and taking pictures is a secondary talent for me. I'm a musician. I'm a music director. I'm a writer. I'm a poet. I'm a songwriter. And I'm a photographer. I have many strengths and photography is one of them, and for the last few years I've been exercising that as a personal hobby, and as an artistic experience with After School Special. It's something I wanted to dedicate to what I believe is so beautiful and unique. I'm trying to capture that.
My favorite part was meeting Symone and Victoria, because I had known Kacey before that. I really enjoyed meeting Kacey's team members and our co-stars. And I loved being on stage with Kacey, who is a very, very sweet artist friend of mine, and who I'm a huge fan of. I'm an actual, serious Kacey Musgraves fan. Her music means a lot to me, so the fact that I have the privilege and opportunity to have a beautiful relationship with someone who I admire so much and is so important to me is very special. We had a lot of fun.
I know you're not one to compromise artistically, and you've been independent for the greater part of your career, but you recently signed to your first major label: Arista Records. How are you navigating that opportunity?
Things have been wonderful for me. I like my team a lot, we get along very well. I have always made sure to set boundaries and create environments and spaces where I feel respected and listened to and understood. Thankfully, that has continued even with my major label experience, so it's been a positive experience for me all around. And I always have the final say.
You're gearing up for a new EP, titled Bloom. What sort of stories can we anticipate to hear on this project?
It's about the evolution of Princess Nokia from this small, underground artist to this crossover pop girl. It's kinda cool. I have literally put out so many projects; have made so many different types of music; have created a huge lane for myself considering my origin and foundations; and have stayed current with the times and have still been able to find myself creating. It tells a coming-of-age story about an underdog who becomes her own fairy tale princess.
Photos courtesy of Daniela Spector