I always feel weird and intrigued seeing photos or videos of Sky Ferreira doing her job of being a pop star, because she feels like one of us. She’s obsessed with pop culture and fascinated by the corner of humanity she’s become a part of since she was first noticed online at the age of 16 for her cover of Miike Snow’s “Animal” and her own song “One.” Sky just feels like someone I follow on Tumblr who also marvels at the humor behind celebrities’ ways of publicly presenting themselves, but she is also really good at performing and has to publicly present herself, too. And so I wondered, how does such a gorgeous teendreamdancemusicmelodymaker remain true to herself when she is aware of the traps of insincerity in the WILD WORLD OF POP MUSIC? I stroked my beard and met her for an interview.
She apologized for being tired—she’d been up until 6 AM the night before watching Weird Science and videos of Whitney Houston on YouTube. She seemed eager to talk but chose her words carefully, aware that taking control of your own identity is no joke, and that the stakes are high when you’re in a position like hers. She seemed still a little skeptical about her place in a world of publicists and photo ops, but glad to know how to be skeptical. Now 19, and coming out with a very personal debut album after a string of dance singles, Sky Ferreira knows she doesn’t need to fit into a mold of one type of artist or another, but is free to be one of those “human” people who have different phases and facets.
Also? Please watch this video.
Sometimes, when it is very late at night and I’ve stroked my beard until it’s become that of a tired old man exhausted by the world and its many questions, it makes me tear up a bit.
TAVI: Do you want to introduce yourself to our readers?
SKY FERRERIA: I’m Sky Ferreira. The Great and Talented Sky Ferreira. [Laughs] No, I’m kidding. I don’t know! I’m the worst at that type of stuff.
Is it ever hard riding the line between full-out bubblegum-popping teen-girl pop and being so interested in music that would be considered more alternative?
I know exactly what you’re talking about. It’s almost a problem. I’m in this weird thing where I’m not Katy Perry but I’m not like Kim Gordon either, so I’m in this weird, hazy… I would say it gives me more freedom, but it also really restricts me. There’s this rule that, like, if I do pop music, I’m never allowed to do anything else, or since I did dance music, I always have to do dance music, but someone like Beck can do whatever he wants. I appreciate pop music, but that’s not really what I plan on doing for the rest of my life.
Is it hard wanting to do so many different things at a time when it seems so important to have a consistent personal brand?
Yeah, it’s ridiculous. The whole thing is ridiculous. My record label told me a year ago that only two girls were allowed to come out and be on the radio for the next three years. Everyone thinks there’s this, like, movement with girls, because there are all these girls dominating the pop charts, but there’s actually a very calculated formula to all of it, and they don’t like people that they can’t completely control.
I was sitting in a meeting the other day and they were telling me how to get a song on the radio. They were like, “You have to remind someone of something.” You can’t make something new. They were like, “How about you make, like, a Blondie song, but a new version?” You always have to be the new someone. I could be the new Lana Del Rey, and she came out like six months ago. [Laughs] They really don’t do that to guys at all. “He’s the new Justin Timberlake!” You never hear that.
Even though someone like Justin Bieber could be considered the new Justin Timberlake.
The way female musicians act towards each other is so weird, because I think we get pitted against each other. It’s really competitive, but in a passive-aggressive way, because you can’t really get into a fight. There are so many rules—which I haven’t really been willing to follow; maybe I would’ve been way bigger a lot faster if I did! [Laughs] But I don’t really care, it’s not really my goal, anyways, to get big.
If you’re doing your own thing, you don’t have to feel like you’re competing with other girls. Is it weird, as someone whose version of pop is very ironic and self-aware, that people who are non-ironically poppy, like Miley Cyrus or whoever, are your peers? You see them at events, pose for pictures…
I actually like Miley Cyrus more than a lot of them because at least she’s not trying to be edgy—she’s still Miley Cyrus. I appreciate that. That’s how I felt about Britney Spears, too. She always stuck with—I don’t want her fans to go crazy on me—but her bad jeans and stuff. She didn’t try to get edgy.
It became a bit of a burden, too, for her, I think. People wanted her to stay innocent, and when they found out she had had sex, they got mad.
Right. But what do you expect? You had her in a schoolgirl uniform when she was 16! And the thing is, every woman is supposed to look like a little girl now, which I find so weird and disgusting, because I never thought of being a teenager as sexy. I never felt that whole Lolita thing, but [adult female pop stars] are way past the age to be singing about it…it’s sick.
In what way?
I don’t know, I feel like they make music that sounds like ringtones for people to jerk off to. It’s so gross. [Laughs] That’s how I feel about it! I kind of don’t want to be involved in it. I’m not trying to be an indie artist either, but I don’t want to be involved in that.
The Lolita fantasy is confusing to me, because teenagers are actually really sweaty and we have acne.
I know. I’m already pretty awkward-looking in general, but I had such a terrible awkward-looking face until I recently started growing out of it. I got braces when I was like 15 or 16. Like the worst time to get them! I was permanently awkward for like four years, and I didn’t feel sexy at all. I was just trying out things. I was writing songs not really based on me, but just ideas, like the way I watch films—like telling a story. But that didn’t come across so well. People were like, “That’s who she is.” Like the “Seventeen” video. I was like, no. That wasn’t some weird pedophile anthem type thing. Also, “Sex Rules” wasn’t directly about sex—it was a bit of a joke when I wrote it. I wasn’t like, “Yeah, sex is awesome,” because I’m not really a sexual person to begin with. It was more an ode to songs of the ’80s, like Prince and Vanity 6 and even Madonna, ’cause it was just so blatant. Everything is so overly sexualized now, but it’s all hidden.
Yeah, that’s why it’s so weird when like, a girl pop star is trying to show she’s “grown up” and is expected to act sexual, but is then ridiculed for it.
And young girls aren’t supposed to be like that, either. There’s an unspoken rule. You’re supposed to be sexy, but not in a very forward way. It has to be in a cutesy way.
You’re supposed to look sexy, so other people can benefit, but you’re not supposed to actually be sexual so that you benefit. Anaheed told me she had a professor in college who was like, “I don’t understand why women don’t try and look sexy all the time—if you have that power, why wouldn’t you?” But being a girl isn’t about being sexy all the time or getting your strength from that.
But that’s what people think it’s about because that’s what we’re told. I wouldn’t say we’re forced, because a lot of girls want to do that. But it doesn’t mean every single one of us wants that, or not necessarily all the time. And it’s hard to balance it out, because there are times I do wanna be [sexy], but there are times I don’t. But it always has to be one way or the other.
I’m amazed when I look at stars who have a very consistent image growing up, because when you’re young you go through so many phases.
That’s the worst part. People can look at photos of me on the internet from when I was 14, or find, like, my cousin’s Facebook and put pictures from it from when I was eight on Tumblr. Then they’re like, “She’s changed since then.” Duh! And it’s weird when you’re young, because older people get really pissed about [your success]—they get really negative and weird.
Yeah. They belittle you with “Oh, she’s just a kid.” But it’s like, well, you’re getting really mad about someone who’s “just a kid”!
Yeah, “She’s just a kid but I’m still gonna pick on her for no reason.” Choose one or the other! You just can’t win with a lot of people, I’ve realized. There are too many expectations, especially of pop musicians who are girls.
It’s hard to be taken seriously.
It’s so hard to be taken seriously, because you’re automatically stupid. But you can’t be stupid if you’re that successful, you know?
So now that you don’t care what people think and you have a clear head and are able to see all these inequities, how do you think about yourself now, and how do you want to present yourself and your record?
I want to be honest and make a record that speaks to people. All of my music is really honest, but this [new album] is more straightforward. I just wanted to make something different, I guess. And I did want it to speak to younger women. I don’t really feel like there’s anything new at the moment that does that for me personally. That’s not about going out or being sexy. This record’s not about that at all. I don’t know how well it’ll do, but personally I’m gonna be really happy with it.
When does it come out?
The end of summer.
What I like about the song “One” is it sounds like dance music, but the lyrics are sad.
It’s a sad song. It has a lot of weird hidden messages. There’s a song called “108” that’s kind of about how I was exploited by some people. I watched this weird Swedish silent film when I was in Sweden about this girl in this mental institution who’s in love with this imaginary man who’s a thousand years old. I mixed both of them together. It was based a little on Laurie Anderson too, with the effects. The Auto-Tune wasn’t a crutch, it was an effect. I can sing without Auto-Tune! I’m making sure my voice is actually showing on this record, because that’s the number-one thing that bothers me, is that people say I don’t sing. But you don’t have to belt like Adele to sing.
Your cover of the song “Animal” is similar. The Miike Snow version always sounded way too casual for the lyrics, to me.
The lyrics are so powerful compared to the rest of the song, and I feel like when I did the cover, people actually paid attention to the lyrics. It’s obviously a great song, people know it’s a great song, but [my version] got the message across clearer for some people.
Why do you like about writing lyrics as opposed to poetry or prose or whatever?
I’ve always written really simple lyrics; it gets the point across stronger. My brain moves too fast to think of something that sounds beautiful. When people are like, “What’s the process of you making a song?” I really don’t know how to answer. Because when I try to go through “the process” of making a song it doesn’t come out very well. It comes off either very generic or just not very good. I can’t go into something like, “I want a song like this.” Once you start overthinking it, you get crazy.