XKYLAR Is the Next 'HOT' Pop Girlie

XKYLAR Is the Next 'HOT' Pop Girlie

By Justin MoranMay 02, 2024

You’ve likely seen XKYLAR’s work without realizing it, especially if you’re a devoted Bunhead. Kim Petras stans will immediately recognize the California multi-hyphenate’s nostalgic, lo-fi visuals from her Feed the Beast World Tour, which XKYLAR closely documented the making of on TikTok. XKYLAR’s innate understanding of pop, but especially Petras’ brand of sexed up glitter-pop, comes from having her own solo music career — and she's really good.

Previously released songs like “Life Is Good” have simple, straightforward lyrics (“Life is good when you have no job”) and accompanying self-made visuals that check all the essential pop star boxes: from hot pink cars to metallic, barely there bikinis and a trashy, above it all attitude. Now, XKYLAR doubles down with “HOT,” premiering today on PAPER, which sees the artist reclaiming her sexuality: “I can be empowered and strong, while also being hot and delusional,” she says.

I first stumbled on your work through TikTok, with you detailing the process of making tour visuals for Kim Petras.

Honestly, one of the best experiences creatively. Kim has been one of my favorite artists for years, so working with her was a pinnacle moment for me as a visual artist. Her creative director Eli [Sheppard] and I have very similar taste, so I had so much freedom creatively to do whatever I wanted. Also it’s a testament to how being delusional works out, because I saw [Kim] at Coachella and turned to my friend and was like, “I feel like I would crush visuals for her.” Then, six months later, I somehow met her manager in a ceramics class of eight people (I've literally never done ceramics before and have yet to go back), and then ended up doing visuals for her tour. So stay delusional. Working to music as good as hers was so inspiring and fun.

Was this type of work your entrance into making music or did it re-inspire this part of your creativity?

I actually got into making visuals from my music project. I’ve always been pretty DIY with my project and started posting videos of myself DJing online with my visuals in the background and started taking self portraits religiously during the pandemic. Eventually people started to reach out to me to do it for them and it was something I always wanted to try. I also needed a new way to support myself, 'cause I was at the time just responding to tech emails for an app and was barely surviving. So I took a break from music and decided to try doing that for a bit, and couldn't have imagined how amazing it panned out. After working for an artist like Kim [Petras] and the sense of accomplishment that gave me, it kinda felt like the perfect time to dive back into my project.

How has the process been for finding your own voice as an artist in pop?

I can take myself too seriously sometimes and put way too much pressure on myself, so when it comes to music and art I just want it to be a space that’s fun, weird and creatively free. With my art in general, it feels like a great way to express myself and try things that I wouldn’t necessarily do in my personal life. I can be a hotter and more confident version of myself that can look and say whatever she wants, and that is so liberating.

Who do you work with on the music-making process, between production and lyrics? Would you say you're pretty hands-on?

I’m pretty hands-on, I produce all my music by myself. One of my best friends is a music producer too, so I’ll have her help me record vocals or ask for production feedback and minor adjustments. I love collaborating, but I think the best art I make is when I’m producing on my own because then I can create without any judgment and allow myself the room and freedom to experiment. Maybe say some crazy shit I probably wouldn’t with someone else in the room.

As a visual artist, how do you think the imagery helps tell the story of your music?

We live in such a visual world now that I think it makes the overall vision of my artistry so much stronger because of how much they directly influence each other. It's been cool to see visually how my music has changed over time. As my taste shifts towards different color palettes, I notice a change in my music as well. With my visuals and self-portraits I’ve been using more bold colors and I’ve seen how that’s reflected in my music, 'cause “HOT” is so bold lyrically and attention-grabbing production-wise. For each song I really want to build out a world that feels unique to it.

The chorus of "HOT" is pretty straightforward: "He wants to fuck, he wants to fuck." Is this about one person in particular?

It’s just about every guy I’ve “dated,” men that couldn't care less about me but I convince myself they're in love with me cause they wanna fuck. I have terrible taste.

Talk through the creative for the "HOT" video. What look are you going for and what was the process?

I’ve been very inspired by music from around 2007 to 2010, and the visuals from that era were very loud and unserious. I’d been wanting to make a video that gave “sexy iPod commercial,” shot on a green screen where I could showcase my abilities as a VFX artist. My best friend Danielle King is a director and choreographer, and she was like, “Let’s just do it.”

We threw the shoot together in a week, found dancers, she choreographed, I styled it, made a mood board. I have a ton of insanely talented friends that came through and helped us shoot the video and take photos (thank you Lissyelle [Laricchia] for eating the cover art). It was an all-female set, so it made the shooting process so fun, 'cause I felt like I could express myself however I wanted.

Since I knew it would be super post-driven, I went into the shoot being like, “I just want to have a good time.” I knew whatever footage we got I could work with it. It’s the first time I’ve really self-funded a music video for myself. I’ve been on so many sets, so since it was for me I was like, “I just want to enjoy this,” and I think it really came through in the performance and overall video.

"HOT" follows a string of other bratty pop songs, like "Life Is Good." What perspective do you think you're bringing to pop in 2024?

Music for the girls and the gays. I want to show that women can be taken seriously even if their music isn't “serious.” I produce all my own music, make all of my visuals myself and edit my photos, and just want to create art from a female perspective while also inspiring women that they can make art on their own. I feel like society paints women in a one-dimensional way and sexualizes them on their terms. I want to reclaim that sexuality and talk about all the sides of womanhood. I can be empowered and strong, while also being hot and delusional.

Photos courtesy of XKYLAR