What do you feel you can do in a song that you can’t do in a short story? I mean, obviously you put it to music, but just in the feeling of putting it down on the page.
With songs, you listen to the lyrics and you know that not all the words and not all the details and not all the exposition have been included—you kind of expect to take leaps of faith. One sentence can illustrate an entire experience or concept in a song, which I think is really cool. There’s a song called “Afterlife” on the new Arcade Fire record—I don’t know if you’ve listened to it yet, but you should, it makes me incredibly happy—and it goes, “After all the breath and the dirt and the fires that burn,” and it takes you right through that idea and extends it, then it snaps you right back: “After all this time, and after all the ambulances go.” It manages to make something huge in that first verse without really saying much at all. That was the last thing I listened to the lyrics of and I was like, Fuck, I am so glad I am in this medium. This is what you can do with it, this is the potential. It rejuvenated me.
I love that. Have you seen the video of when they did it at the YouTube Music Video something-or-other Awards?
I have! With Greta Gerwig dancing!
And the little girls!
So good! I’ve been doing a lot of alternative radio festivals and playing with Phoenix every night and with Arcade Fire for a couple of them. It was so cool, because every night I got to experience dream artists live. Arcade Fire are just on another level. If you ever get a chance to see them, you have to go. Just the energy is like…there are no inhibitions, everyone is just having an amazing time onstage and really letting loose, and for a couple of the best jams from this album they set the disco ball going—I’ve noticed that they only do that in certain moments that feel like you could just lose yourself in and do this kind of dancing [Does noodle-y dancing] and just have such a good time because the grooves are so fantastic. It’s great.
I love hearing you fangirl.
I’m such a fangirl, I know! And then Win was like, “When are you going on? I’m gonna watch your set.” And I was like, I’m gonna die right now.
Have you had moments of just like, “Whoa, my life has come full circle”?
Definitely. I don’t want to do the weird name-dropping thing, but like–
Meeting David Bowie was like that. To have someone like that tell you that listening to you felt like listening to tomorrow.
OH MY GOD.
I was like…I could creatively die and just be happy forever. I never tell anyone about that experience, because it meant so much to me, and I feel like it would be dulled or something if I always talked about it in magazines or whatever. It’s my special thing.
Do you want us to not include it in this?
Oh, I mean, it’s OK. It was super cute, though—for some reason we were holding hands and just staring into each other’s eyes and talking, and I was like, This is David Bowie’s hand, what am I doing? It was insane. A beautiful moment.
I’m also really inspired by a band like Phoenix, because they make pop music too, but they exist in this kind of incredible realm that I’m very interested in. Their live show is perfectly simple and easy to understand and they have confetti cannons and all that, but it’s inspiring to me in ways that I don’t even fully understand. It’s one of those shows where you just have waves of stuff wash over you—you experience the sound and they use backgrounds and lights to put you in this visual world, and then about two-thirds of the way through, this huge, amazing mountain comes up behind them and you hear the crowd go [gasps]. So cool.
Can you talk to me about Kanye, who I know you’ve said you love? What do you love about him?
First of all, I just really like the music that he makes, apart from anything else. I’ve been listening to it since I was a little kid. I think his ability to evolve from album to album and still make something that I think is really incredible is super cool. That’s way harder to do than people think. I heard someone say that Kanye will do something first, and everyone will think it’s weird until six months later, when everyone else is doing it. So Kanye kind of takes the fall by being the pioneer. Like with 808s and Heartbreak, everyone was like, “We don’t understand this.” And then Kanye kind of predicted something but because he was the first one, people thought it was weird. I love how he is just such a single human being—he seems to not have much creative dependence. He just seems so at one with who he is creatively and that is really admirable, I think. And then, just as a performer, I often find myself telling people, “Can we just make this a little bit more like a Kanye performance?” [Laughs] I was on Jools Holland the same week as him, and he did this performance of “Bound 2” with Charlie Wilson. I saw three minutes of it, and to this day it was the best musical performance I’ve ever seen. His dedication to the classic nature of a single person on a stage, as a performer, I find really inspiring.
I like hearing you say that, because he gets so much shit.
This year’s been pretty crazy for him, I feel.
When people started to look at “Royals” as a critique of hip-hop, how did you react and feel?
I mean, it’s one thing for kids who fight in the comments section of YouTube and who use “gay” as an insult to take offense at what you’re doing; but when it’s highly intelligent writers, all of whom you respect, you start to question what you’re doing and if you have done something wrong. I have grown up in a time when rap music is pop music, and I do think people were maybe a little bit selective about the parts of that song they used to make those arguments, because a lot of it is examples of rock excess, or just standard pop culture “rich kids of Instagram”-type excess. But I’m glad that people are having discussions about it and informing me about it. Also, I wrote that song a few months into being 15, and now I’m a 17-year-old looking back on that, and I didn’t know then what I know now, so I kind of am not too hard on myself.