Slayyyter Sells Her Soul
Story by Ivan Guzman / Photgraphy by Breakfast For Dinner / Styling by Malcolm Baron SmithNov 10, 2023
When Slayyyter was 14 years old, she Googled “How to sell your soul to the devil.” Having grown up in Catholic school, she always knew that she wanted to be a pop star and was able to blossom vocally when she switched over to a public high school and joined the choir.
One day, a mean substitute teacher bullied her during a class exercise in which the students were asked what they wanted to be when they grew up. While the other kids said, “a nurse,” or, “a teacher,” Slayyyter confidently answered, “I wanna win a Grammy for being a rapper.” The sub’s response? “You know that will never happen.”
Fast forward more than a decade later, and it seems that Slayyyter’s homemade Devil spell may have worked. The 27-year-old has become one of the most exciting figures in pop since debuting in 2018 with a string of candy-coated singles that made the rounds on “stan Twitter.”
When I categorize the St. Louis native as “pop,” I mean “Pop with a capital P.” In a current music landscape where the mainstream pop girlies seem hyper-relatable and TikTok-friendly, Slayyyter maintains an edge reminiscent of pop stars from the late aughts and early 2010s. (I mean, remember when Sky Ferreira’s mugshot came out? When Lindsay Lohan rocked an ankle monitor? That was some real grit.) It’s an energy present in all of her music, from her earliest tracks to fresh provocative pop single, “Makeup” a collab with French-born singer-songwriter Lolo Zouaï that drops today.
Her new album Starfucker is a testament to that, a thumping pop record with '80s cinema-inspired aesthetics and themes that touch on the dark underbelly of “making it” in Hollywood. It comes from real experience, too, pulling from the period immediately before fame when Slayyyter worked as a cam girl. “I always felt really creeped out talking to dudes on the internet,” she says over Zoom. “I feel like it led to me getting treated really inappropriately by people in the music industry as well.”
Joining PAPER for a chat from her sold-out North American tour, it’s clear that Slayyyter is past those initial growing pains. Below, we discuss the glory days of pop, the bleak current state of the music industry and still using Tumblr.
On tour, is there one thing you noticed that your fans have in common? Like even being on stage? Any sights, scents or specific behaviors from your fans in the audience?
I think in every city, everyone is just super down to party. I'm really blessed to have fans that just go so insane for everything. It's such a fun show, because I feel like the crowd energy is always really good.
You're a student of pop, right?
Oh, yeah, of course.
What were some niche internet obsessions that you had?
Honestly, I was just really into Tumblr. I was a huge Tumblr kid. I loved all kinds of subgenres and subcultures on Tumblr. That inspired me aesthetically from a really young age, just because I would get on Tumblr and see the soft grunge, purple hair thing. I was so obsessed with all of the little music artists and all of the trends that would happen on the internet. I was really into pop music, but I was also, you know, an internet kid.
Tumblr was like TikTok in the way that it influenced music and the music industry.
Yeah, it was so much cooler, though. Like I wish it was still Tumblr. That was such a good era. And it really popped off a lot of artists, you know, like Lana Del Rey and Marina and the Diamonds. And that was a cooler thing that informed the music industry.
And it was queer, in a way. Yeah, I definitely had this hyper-fixation on Marina. I don't know why she was, like, my thing more so than any of the other girls.
Yeah, I love Marina. When I was a sophomore in high school, I saw her on the Electra Heart tour in my hometown. And it was one of my favorite concerts I had been to. It was so good. I loved that album so much. It was such a sick album campaign. It inspired my Starfucker era a lot. Just because I remember being so obsessed with her in high school.
Just the storytelling that went into that album — the girls don't do that anymore. They don't treat their albums like an art school thesis.
I was 14, and there was this weekend where on Friday, I saw Lady Gaga’s Monster Ball tour. Then on Saturday, I saw Marina’s tour. So I was living that weekend.
Crazy lineup. I'm so jealous of the Monster Ball. I don't think it came through to St. Louis. I never got to see that tour. But the HBO special is one of my favorite tours of all time.
Sometimes I think about how 2018 was maybe the last really strong year for pop. You came out of it. Kim Petras debuted at that time, even Rina Sawayama. And I know you debuted sort of anonymously — your single covers at the time were these animated logos. How have you approached presenting yourself visually since you came onto the scene?
Honestly, at the time I was a cam girl, so a lot of my aesthetics were very webcam bedroom aesthetic. But I just wasn't really into posting videos, which is so funny because of how things are now. At that time in 2018 I was like, Oh, if you post videos of yourself, you're super cringe. Like, who would do such a thing? It was all about visuals for me. So I had this anonymous cyborg persona because it was just these shitty-quality images. Everyone was like, Who is this girl? But as I grew, you get to a point as an artist where you'd start doing real photoshoots. It's not so bedroom DIY anymore.
I really loved being anonymous. I think it added to a lot of mystique. A good artist doesn't show all their cards right away. I think the problem right now with music is there's nothing exciting about stumbling across someone on TikTok, and they're like, “Have you ever been heartbroken? This is the song of the summer for you then.” It robs your listener of being able to connect on their own. Fans not being able to find out about you on their own puts everyone into this corny artists category. Which, yeah, music has gotten a little bizarre because of TikTok. I miss the days of anonymity in music where was you’d have to actually set out to find more about your favorite artist.
Yeah, there's no mystery in pop anymore. And with TikTok, these labels would rather invest smaller amounts of money in more artists than really invest a lot of money in trying to build one artist. And that's just kind of ruined the mystique. I don’t want my pop star to be human. I want them to be these sort of unattainable entities.
Yeah. At the same time, though, a lot of these record labels, it's like, they have put money behind people. But then it doesn't turn out and they don't get the return, and no one hits off. So it's almost like a bad investment. So that's why it's like everyone's looking for people with huge TikTok followings. Like, who's got the next TikTok hit? We're just in a weird time with culture and music. And it's the music industry that has taken things into an annoying place. Non-artists are hitting off and being given record deals, and they're starting these careers, but they're not necessarily people that can have longevity. It's so random that they get the one silly hit from making music, but you know, who am I to hate?
Do you think it'll go back to those glory days of pop? Do you think there will start to be these singular pop figures again? Or will it just keep snowballing into TikTok consumption hell?
I don't know. I mean, trends come and go always. So it's like, yes, TikTok is the big thing right now, but who's to say in three years that it will matter? Remember there was a time when Instagram was the absolute end all be all number one [platform]? It's how the Kardashians got so huge. TikTok could go out of fashion, and it could be something else that becomes really big. And then this whole model for music promotion, and the music industry, will mold into something else.
But you know, at the end of the day I’m so focused on just making music that I feel impressed by. Stuff that I want to listen to. I want to leave the studio and be like, Holy shit, that's the best song I've ever made. The rest can either come or go as it wants to. I'm definitely not chasing going TikTok viral as much as people might want me to. Everyone's teams right now are like, We got to make something to go on TikTok. That’s not my prerogative. And it's never going to be, but hopefully the tide will switch and people will just get more into pop music like they used to, or pop music will be more popular than ever.
And when you try to chase it, it doesn't happen. It's always when you don't even try that a song randomly becomes a TikTok hit.
Yeah, definitely. It's so random. That's another thing, too, is all these labels think that you can, like, put money into it? It's so random. It can be anything that becomes a TikTok trend. It can be a children's song, you know, like random.
I think about the pop machine a lot. I'm super obsessed with Aubrey O’Day, and in recent interviews, she's talked about how when she was on Making the Band, it was all these hungry young girls having to really put in the work and sing live for Diddy on the spot and be judged. Even with being judged on those early shows like American Idol — these kids were being put through it. And that's not really a thing nowadays.
You also had to be a star. You had to be able to sing, you had to be able to dance, you had to be in shape. You had to have so much X-factor “it” quality. I think it's nice that now it's a little more accessible to anyone. Anyone can have instant success, but at the same time, it’s like, where are the great celebrities that used to exist? I feel like it’s gone away.
I love your cover of “Monster.” Are you hoping to do more things like that?
Yeah, I love doing covers. Spotify reached out, and they were like, “We’d love to have you do the Spotify Singles series.” For this one, it was Halloween-themed. I was thinking, Should I do “Thriller”? But then I was like, no, you can’t really touch “Thriller.” Then I was thinking, okay, it’s not necessarily a Halloween song, but I love “Monster” by Lady Gaga. I think that’d be perfect.
It was so much fun. I’m not really that into [doing covers] all the time, though. That might be the last cover interpolation type of vibe that I do for a while. I don’t want to be a karaoke artist, but it was so much fun. I just adore that song. It’s one of my favorite songs off that album. So I was super honored to be able to put it out into the universe for Halloween.
Do you think Lady Gaga will ever make a really good pop record again?
Yes, of course. Oh my god, she's done it before, she'll do it again and again. With the current state of music and politics and stuff, I don't really blame her for shifting focus into acting. I've wanted to do the same. Just because music feels so stale right now. Like, it really is hard to feel inspired. I just made this album, and I don't know. It’s just hard to get inspired, like pop-wise. But there's still hope.
How do you go about building a visual world for your albums?
I've watched so many movies. I'm a really big movie person. And for the last album, I was really inspired by more whimsical [movies] like The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland. And for this one, I just watched so many ‘80s erotic thrillers leading up to making the album. I was obsessed with Blue Velvet, Body Double, Brian De Palma and David Lynch films, and all these different things that inspired the aesthetic. I became so obsessed with ‘90s Thierry Mugler as well, like obsessed. I was super into all of his collections and watching videos of it. I was like, I wonder what pop music would be made by these kinds of models and these kinds of women in these outfits. That shaped where I went with everything.
You talked about being a cam girl. Was that when you were already living in LA or was that before you moved to LA?
That was before, when I was living in St. Louis.
What was that like?
It was okay. It was out of necessity for money. I was working as a hair salon receptionist and then I would do that also. At the time I was really young, like 21 or 22. I don't know, you're sold this whole thing where, like, sex work is great. And it can be really empowering. But at the same time, I knew in the back of my head that I didn't want to do this. Like, I always felt really creeped out talking to dudes on the internet. It led to me getting treated really inappropriately by people in the music industry as well, where I didn't have a normal start as an artist because people saw me and my music as so sexual.
Also, I had people leak a lot of my sex work content. When I first started, I made a t-shirt out of it because I tried to make light of it. But you know, people found my other account. I didn't expect my music to pop off. So it was a similar name to my artist's name. It was Slayyyter with three x's or something, and everyone found it. This was when I first started, so I was crying. I was like, Oh my god, my mom's gonna find out, this is so embarrassing.
But I did make pretty good money, honestly. So it was cool. And it helped me pay for beats. It helped me pay for all the single art that I made during that first era — the 3D objects, like for “BFF.” For all the candy, like the cherries, I would pay graphic designers and pay for beats using my cam girl money. I was like my own little label bankrolling myself. So, without that side job, I wouldn’t have been able to afford it on my paycheck. So I really feel grateful. I’d also buy my little designer sunglasses and everything. It started this hyper-sexual persona that I wouldn't trade for the world.
The song that first really blew up for you was “Mine,” right?
Yeah, that definitely was my biggest one. “BFF” started me off right because that was my very first song and it had a little moment online, and then “Mine” is what actually went semi-viral on Twitter and sealed the deal, which was really nice. It was a good one-two punch. But yeah, “Mine” is definitely the song that took it there and then through that, I got a licensing deal with Atlantic Records and I signed two songs to them: “Mine” and “Daddy As Fuck.” So then when “Daddy As Fuck” came out, that one did pretty well.
What was your mindset when you started getting reached out to by these publishers? Were you like, “Oh my god, I have to move to LA to start this whole new life?”
I always had some disbelief over everything. I was always like, Oh, I'm just taking this day by day. But I was so excited about everything. It was definitely crazy, it all happened so fast. I didn't really get a chance to soak anything in. But yeah, I always planned on living in St. Louis forever. I never wanted to move. It wasn't until the pandemic where I was like, Oh, shit, I have to move [to LA]. But I was going to all these label meetings, and then I would fly back home to St. Louis and go to the bar and get wasted with my friends. It was such a funny era of life.
What was your Tumblr name?
Oh, I can't say that. Sorry. I don't think it's still up. I think I took it down. I have one blog that I still use. It's just like an aesthetic one, but I don't want to name what that is because I'm using a lot of it for my next project so I want to keep that a secret.
Yeah, Tumblr is still where it’s at lowkey.
There's a graveyard of really good blogs. There's not a lot of good new content being uploaded. But when you come across old aesthetic blogs, everything's frozen in time. You can type in, like, “sea punk” and it takes you back to this era of internet subculture that's really crazy. Or “vaporwave” or, you know, the Yung Lean aesthetics. It's so wild how it's all still up there.
Yeah, digital artifacts. So you're already working on your next project?
I'm just starting the bare bones of the visual world, I guess. I don't have any songs for it yet, but I'm going to start making it once I get off of tour. I wish I could already have started it, I just haven't had any time. I've been go, go, go. I have not had a single moment to spare in the studio. But hopefully when I get back, I'll have some time.
Do you always start with the visuals? Or do you start with a name?
The visuals. The visuals always informed the music. I know what I want it to look like, which means that it'll be easier to make it sound a certain way. This whole next era, I know exactly what the whole vibe and aesthetic is going to be. That makes it easier to go in the studio and know what references I want to make and what sounds I want to use, just because I know what it's going to look like. I hate when music and visuals have a disconnect. They tie in so much to each other. So when an artist will have a certain visual aesthetic for their record and it doesn't marry the music at all, it's so odd to me. It makes it hard to listen to the music for me, so I always try to match the two really seamlessly.
Do you have a tour ritual?
Honestly, I just try to get a lot of sleep and drink Throat Coat tea right before shows. Me and my DJ have this pre-show ritual where we take a ginger shot, and we'll do it to the song “Time To Dance,” right when the drop starts and they start spelling out “T-I-M-E-T-O-D-A-N-C-E.” We do it before every single show. Otherwise, we’ll have a bad show in our minds.
What do Slayyyter fans have to look forward to after this tour?
Hopefully some more shows and festivals and more music. I'm excited to start another chapter. I really love this whole Starfucker era so much that I think I'm going to live in it for a little bit longer, and maybe release more music that was supposed to be on the record that didn't make it. I want to keep living in this visual world before I switch over. I don't want it to be a short era. But yeah, I'm really excited for everything.
Dress: Busted Brand, Hat: David Giampiccolo, Shoes: Naked Wolfe
Photographer, gaff, art direction, set design, production and retouching: Breakfast For Dinner
Styling: Malcolm Baron Smith
Hair: Robert J Stell
SFX Makeup Artist: Erica Martens de Hoyos
Makeup: Ashley Z
Models: Benjamin D. Trotter II and Jonathon Spagat