It's been a hot minute since we've heard from Slayyyter. The last time the independent pop artist promoted a full length project, the world hadn't quite yet descended into the unmatched madness of 2020. Yes, there were a few releases last year — a devilish trap banger, a throbbing ode to giving good head, an unauthorized Britney Spears remix-cover that has since blown up on TikTok — but they weren't exactly the colossal, flashy statements par the course for a pop star on the comeback trail.

Now, as a brand new year unfurls, Slayyyter is ready to take her pop princessdom to the next level. And this time, she's serving full choreo.

Released today, Slayyyter's humid new single "Troubled Paradise" is her most unabashedly pop yet, delivering a delectably saccharine hook and the sort of pulsating, '80s house-inspired production that wouldn't sound out of place on a Kylie Minogue record. (High praise, we assure you.) Like so many iconic, crying-on-the-dancefloor pop anthems before it (see: "Dancing On My Own," "Wrecking Ball," "Thank U, Next," "drivers license" may just end up on the list, too), the emotional yet cathartic track was written about the agonizing, inevitable deterioration of a relationship.

"It wasn't a relationship-relationship, though, more like a — in millennial terms — situationship," says Slayyyter about what inspired the heartbreak-laden track. "It really broke me down and made me feel really bad; seeing someone that you like with someone else is always hard." She wrote the song quickly last year during a studio session in LA, where she now resides full time. ("I get more vitamin D here!")

In the glossy, neon-bathed Munachi Osegbu-directed music video for "Troubled Paradise," Slayyyter is a Jane without her Tarzan (or fellow Jane, as the artist is bisexual), striking dramatic poses in a tiger-print catsuit and flipping her hair back and forth as she dances through the heartache in a phantasmagorical jungle. The exotic spectacle culminates in a tropical storm, with the singer quite literally washing the pain away under a rainy downpour, her drenched hair clinging to her cheek.

It's the big, shiny "main pop girl" moment the St Louis native has been building up to ever since breaking out with her bawdy take on the genre three years ago, which she worked on largely while holed up in the makeshift closet studio of her childhood bedroom in Missouri.

"Troubled Paradise" isn't just a dance-pop anthem. It's also the title of Slayyyter's forthcoming debut album (out June 11), and represents the complex dichotomies and consequential life changes that the musician has experienced over the past year or so. This time around, Slayyyter's feeling a little less tabloid-era, Heidi Montag-meets-Paris Hilton pop, leaning instead into the experimental, glamorous early 2000s pop a la Gwen and Fergie, who she worshipped as a young girl.

"A lot of the songs [on this album] are more emotional than past projects I've done. It's less sexual and a little more about me and my emotions, heartbreak, and depression. Troubled Paradise summarizes everything about life in two words: Sometimes everything seems like it's going really good for people, everything's on the up-and-up; then something bad happens and you feel depressed." We can relate.

Below, Slayyyter tells PAPER about how Love. Angel. Music. Baby. and Dante's Inferno influenced her debut album in equal parts, why it took her so long to realize she had gone viral on TikTok, and what it was like getting soaking wet for her biggest music video yet.

What inspired the jungle fever dream-meets-Garden of Eden visuals of the "Troubled Paradise" video?

The production of the song is so tropical and wet, in the sense that it sounds dreamlike. When I would listen to it, I would see this jungly paradise; a Garden of Eden visual in my head. I haven't had a visual yet that has really brought my music to the next level like that. Munachi absolutely knocked it out of the park, like he killed it. For the first time, people are seeing me in a big-budget pop atmosphere. The video really brings the song to life.

Munachi has directed some really big, luxe videos (see: Megan Thee Stallion's "Hot Girl Summer"). What was it like working together?

It was so much fun. It felt so seamless and effortless sharing ideas together. He honestly just understands everything that inspired me about pop culture when I was younger — it's the same stuff he's inspired by, so we would just talk about Gwen Stefani music videos and K-pop music videos we love. It was refreshing to sit down and talk to someone that is totally on the same page, who knows what makes a big pop girl video special. I feel like we both created something really magical together.

The pop star dancing in rain is such a fierce pop tradition. Do you have any favorite "wet pop star" moments?

My favorite wet pop star moment is definitely Britney during the Dream Within a Dream tour, when she's wearing the cowboy hat. Oh my God. That awakened something in me as a child, like: "I'm gonna be a pop star someday! I will get soaked, it must happen!"

What was it like getting soaked down while in full glam? Uncomfortable? Exhilarating?

It was funny, because that was the very last shot of the day. I rolled up to the set at 9AM and that shot was at 10PM. We literally shot all day long and that was the very last thing. My adrenaline was rushing at that moment — I was wearing a wig, in full makeup, and I remember thinking, "Oh, this wig is gonna be ruined after this, but let's sell it, let's go for it." I definitely gave it my all at the very last moment there.

It's worth destroying the wig for. What was the most fun outfit to wear?

My favorite look is the tiger catsuit I wear in the dance sequence. My stylist Cody Allen literally pulled a miracle for this video. He got so many looks together in under a day. That catsuit was finished the day of the video, it was custom-sewn. They brought it to the set and I had to do a fitting for it at midnight the night before the video. It was so hectic and wild, but I feel like that look turned out so well; it looks so chic. The high neck of the bodysuit, I'm obsessed with it. I love it. It's in my closet now and try it on sometimes for fun.

You mentioned Gwen Stefani earlier — the Troubled Paradise album artwork features a Wizard of Oz aesthetic that feels reminiscent of how Gwen channeled Alice in Wonderland for her debut album. Was Gwen an inspiration for your new music era?

Absolutely. Love. Angel. Music. Baby. came out in 2004, so I was pretty young, but I remember that being one of the first big pop moments for me. I have memories of listening to "Hollaback Girl" on the radio and seeing the "What You Waiting For?" video on MTV all the time. Those visuals, I was like, "Wow, it's Wizard of Oz, it's Alice in Wonderland" — very dreamlike, very escapist. I always thought that was so cool — the visuals, the fashion, everything was a storybook. That era of hers has definitely been a big inspiration. I love her fashion, all the Vivienne Westwood looks … For my new album, I wanted to do my own spin on a classic character like Dorothy. I was Dorothy for three Halloweens in a row as a kid. I wanted to bring that character to life through futuristic, bright, K-pop-influenced imagery.

Why did you gravitate towards the Oz theme?

The main song, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," reminds me of searching for paradise, searching for something better, searching for happiness in life. The symbolism of the rainbow fits really well with Troubled Paradise. The album is sad in a way; there's a lot of sad songs and bitter breakup themes throughout it, but at the very end of the album, there's a song about finding love. The Wizard of Oz, just like "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," is about looking for something beyond you. It fit into everything that I'm inspired by.

If you could escape to your own land of Oz, what would it look like?

I think my happiest place would be a gold and pink house with a yard and a dog. That's pretty simple, I know. It's not that out of reach, but that would be my Oz. That would be my happy place, my go-to spot.

What did your mood board for the album look like?

I referenced a lot of religious themes, including Dante's Inferno. The concept of hell, the concept of heaven — because paradise is another word for heaven, where you go when you die — I think about those things a lot. There's a quote from Inferno that I had on my moodboard: "The path to paradise begins in hell." I always thought that was such an interesting quote. Before you can reach full happiness in your life, you have to go through the worst things. That quote means so much to me: sometimes you'll be really sad, but you have to know sadness to be able to enjoy tons of happiness.

After our darkest moments in life, after we face our toughest struggles, something beautiful often comes out of it. Those moments help us evolve. When working on the album, did you experience any personal growth that surprised you?

The person I was when I started making this album is so different from who I am now that it's finished. I've matured so much as a person. I moved out and into an apartment on my own for the first time. I moved to a new city. I feel like I've grown up so much. I learned so much from the breakups that I talk about on this record. Now that I'm older, I feel like I have so much more self-worth than I used to. I have more insight about myself that I didn't know before. I'm a better friend to people now. I'm better in relationships. There are so many things that I've learned a lot about just from going through these experiences and writing this music. That's always a good thing — to grow and take steps forward rather than take steps backward.

Is there a particular track on the album that you think is going to surprise fans?

I think the fact that I made a crazy electronic-country song is gonna shock people. One of my favorite songs from the album is called "Cowboys." People are gonna love that one. I love Wild West-themed things. I love cowboys, I love old Western movie visuals, so making that song was so much fun. There's a kind of Roy Orbison flair to it in the vocals.

And then there's another song called "Clouds," which has a really dark theme and very sad lyrics, but is a dance song. It's a fun contrast. I talk about some deep, personal issues in that, but it's also a really fun dance song, so I think that might shock people, too.

So far, the album feels like a bit of a departure from the McBling, MySpace-nostalgia-pop sound you explored on your self-titled mixtape. It's still part of the musical DNA of course, but who or what did you mostly channel for Troubled Paradise?

I'm still very influenced by Y2K visuals — all the colors are saturated, all the fonts and logos I did for this album, everything is still Y2K. But just different — more abstract, alternative. There's some Avril Lavigne influences, a lot of Gwen Stefani, more Fergie. It used to be like Britney Spears and Destiny's Child, now I'm digging into the more alternative-main pop girls, if that makes sense.

So, you shot with a Burmese python for this photoshoot. How very Britney of you!

That was something, let me tell you...

Were you nervous?

I put myself in that situation. I was like, we should do a next-level "I'm a Slave 4 U" vibe and we should have a snake. I was all, "I don't care! I'll hold a snake! I'm not afraid of anything!" And then as soon as I saw that huge creature in a bin, about to go on my body, I was like, "Oh, shit…" It took me a bit to warm up to it. I was a little scared at first, because its head kept going for my head. I'd be like, "Ah! It's gonna bite me in the face, get it away!" But as soon as I warmed up to it, it was more like a workout, honestly. It's just one big muscle fighting you the whole time. It was so, so heavy. But yeah, I love animals, so I wasn't that terrified. I got pretty comfortable with it after a few shots, but my mom was like, "No way!" I didn't tell her what I was doing, I just sent her a picture and she was like, "I cannot believe you. What is wrong with you?" [Laughs]

Since it's the top of the new year, and following a particularly shitty one to boot, what are you leaving behind in 2020?

Self-doubt is the number one thing I plan on leaving behind. I used to be so insecure and definitely had a lot of doubts about myself and my music. I used to have really bad imposter syndrome, which I talk about in a song on the album. But I feel like I have a newfound confidence in my abilities in writing songs and making music. This year, I'm gonna be as pedal-to-the-metal confident as I can and not doubt myself as much.

Is there a song or album that got you through 2020?

"Malibu" by Kim Petras has been on repeat since that came out right when everyone went into lockdown. It just felt so good to listen to that song and escape for three minutes. That was one of my most listened to songs of this year. I also listened to "Free Woman" by Lady Gaga quite a bit. Chromatica really made quarantine more bearable. New Lady Gaga music could not have come at a better time.

Since you're a true student of pop: In your opinion, who's the most underappreciated pop artist of all time?

I feel like all of my favorites pretty much have their respect. Honestly, maybe Fergie? When people talk about the top pop girls, her name isn't always brought up. If you listen to my music and the way I sing-rap, it's so Fergie-inspired. She's been such an influence on so many artists today, but not many people bring her up as a reference.

If you could hijack any music video and claim it as your own, which one would you choose and why?

"Paparazzi" by Lady Gaga, just because it's so theatrical. I remember watching that and feeling like I was watching some avant-garde Italian film. I was so obsessed with that music video. At the end she's like, "I just killed my boyfriend." I love that video. I think Jonas Åkerlund directed that. It's so glamorous and high-fashion, like a '90s Italian cinema, drama, soap opera. I'm obsessed with that video — the fashion, the choreo, everything.

Speaking of claiming iconic pop songs, your "Gimme More" remix is currently going wildly viral on TikTok. Have you watched any of those videos? What was your reaction when you found out it went viral?

The audio that's being used is someone's re-upload of it, so I didn't know [it blew up] until recently. But like, holy shit. I was not expecting that. I made that remix in two days during quarantine when I was super bored. I remember writing that so fast in my little Airbnb, just for fun. The fact that now that everyone's making videos to it, is really cool. For TikTok, the audios people seem to gravitate to are remixes of classic songs that have a new element to it. I'm obsessed. I've been watching quite a few of them. I love the Y2K TikTok girls like Shy Smith and a few others who wear such sick outfits. They make hot girl videos with the lip gloss. Now I just have to figure out how to get it on streaming services.

Photography: Claudia Marin

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