Authenticity is an elusive quality artists are constantly striving toward. Critics delight in debunking mainstream excitement over new music by identifying the derivatives and smirking as fans take sides. In the controversial book The Rebel Sell, Canadian authors Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter made a bold statement that counterculture proves unsuccessful as a concept because mainstream media (or, for the sake of the point here, mainstream music) is frequently sold to the masses by representing itself as equally rebellious. But once the masses begin to invest (emotionally and financially), the music then self-identifies as mainstream, because, well, everybody is listening to it. New rebels emerge, manufactured or genuine, and either fail or lose their edge to consumer consumption. There can be no counterculture, because it exists only as a transient state, ultimately ending in death or popularity. Point made, I suppose, but then, what is it that those people who enjoy inspirational-quote art are always saying about it not being the destination but the journey that matters?
Kathryn Beckwith is taking us all for a ride.
The teenager, more famously known as Kitty (relax, X-Men fans, she’s finally dropped the “Pryde” from her name), released her fourth EP, D.A.I.S.Y. Rage, at the end of January and used it to launch her first real tour, including the requisite mid-March stopover in Austin for South by Southwest. Before this EP, which was produced by A$ap Rocky collaborator Beautiful Lou, she was a homespun rapper who started out her career making goofy videos with her friends on a laptop. Fickle teens, her friends lost interest but Kitty’s fascination – and audience – only grew. Nobody took her music seriously, though –not Kitty, not her fans and certainly not her detractors. The Internet squirmed trying to decide what to make of this oftentimes bawdy, underaged new face in hip-hop, and Kitty did her best to thwart being sexualized by obscuring her age. This was in 2011. By 2012, she suddenly skipped off the web and into the pages of Rolling Stone, which named her “Okay Cupid” one of the year’s top 50 songs. Not everyone agreed, though, and Kitty spent much of 2012 fixated on “the mean people who are always so much more vocal.”
Now she’s getting widespread critical acclaim for the first time ever, but that doesn’t matter to her as much as the fact that she has yet to read a negative Tumblr response to her new songs. It’s got to be gratifying because, at this stage in the game, she’s become more serious about her music and what she wants to do with it. Yet, her omnipresent girlish nerves continue to cast self-doubt on what she’s capable of.
“Before my release, I literally went home to Florida to be at home, like, with my mom, to deal with all the release stuff that was coming because I was so scared,” Kitty says, laughing. “Then a couple days before it dropped, I was just like, ‘Fuck it, I don’t even care, because it was really fun, and I like it.’ … I’ve never really liked my music before. I’ve never listened to it by myself, and I always thought it was so bad. But this is the first thing I actually do like, so I was like, whatever, if no one likes it, no one likes it. But it was so exciting.”
Kitty is young and attractive, though she recoils at that observation. Yet she craves attention. She began recording in her closet on just a few years ago, and now that she’s in studios, she still can’t confidently conjure her flow if there are eyes on her. Although she has learned to engage her audiences more at her shows, few things seem to make her skin crawl like a frigid crowd whose only reaction to her is to stare. It makes her feel self-conscious, the way you might feel if your roommate walked in on you dancing with yourself.
“At first, I was just really bad at performing,” Kitty says. “I didn’t really want to be doing it, and I just kind of felt obligated to, but now I’m just, like, really into it. … I learned how to interact with people better so that they have more fun, instead of just being like the fucking freak show it was at first. … I don’t want to be the Hunchback of Notre Dame up there, being made fun of by a bunch of people, so I think I’m getting better at actually taking things seriously, I guess.”
But that’s essentially how she got her start anyway. In 2011, she was adopted by freak-show-seeking lurkers from the 4chan Internet message boards who stumbled across her nerdy referential rhymes and confessional songs through her Tumblr site, a pretty-pony place on the Internet that feels as genuine today as it did when she started it. Her greatest fear is to be seen as a gimmick, and on D.A.I.S.Y. Rage, not only does she depart from her typical crushworthy subject matter, she also experiments with her delivery, branching out stylistically, which – while it’s not always as interesting as her typical offbeat flow – at least serves as a strong indicator that she’s not looking to be a one-trick pony.
“Obviously, it’s still supposed to be funny. I want to make people laugh. I don’t want to be like a weird gimmick,” Kitty says. “The word ‘meme’ makes me so fucking mad. And Tumblr-wave, that makes me want to shoot everyone. That’s the worst thing. Music is music. I guess people make music into memes, but I’m a person.”
And as an actual person and not just something to laugh at online (and off), Kitty is going through some of life’s common stages right now. She is in love with her boyfriend, with whom she lives in New York. It’s her first time living apart from her family. She misses her siblings. She even misses how awkward it is when her parents, blind with pride, tell their co-workers and church friends about their daughter’s success, encouraging them to “check out her website,” leading many a clueless clicker to encounter her flippant, tee-hee online persona.
“They see it, and it’ll just be, like, pictures of naked, old people or something crazy,” Kitty says. “So I’m working on an actual website that will link to everywhere, and it’ll link to my blog, but it’ll just be separated. It won’t have anything on there that can make anyone mad at me.”
Beckwith is a student of interpersonal communications at the University of Central Florida. She plans to finish her degree online and credits her favorite professor, Michelle Dusseau, as her mentor, influencing her music in ways more compelling than her hip-hop idols Danny Brown and Petey Pablo.
“I wanted to go into marketing or public relations, but now it’s just … I only have a semester left, I’m almost done,” Kitty says. “And everything that I’ve learned has just been really beneficial in what I do now. It’s really cool, because I started when I was 16, and I was like, ‘I don’t know what the hell I want to do,’ and this seemed like something that I could do a lot of things with it … and it worked out.”
The first track on D.A.I.S.Y. Rage begins with a sigh and ends with a giggle. It’s called “UNfollowed,” and in it, she raps over minimalistic sparkling synths and contrasting low-echo beats with lines debasing an ex as “fool’s gold.” It’s a strong introductory track that also serves to initiate a more mature perspective that takes the diamonds out of the online stalker’s eyes and confronts her character with the rock-hard reality of superficial romantic obsession. Throughout the EP, she’s clever and weird, but she comes from a more grounded (though frequently bitter) perspective that seems – from her lyrics – to be the result of actively scrutinizing every little criticism she’s gotten over the past few years. It’s still personal. It’s still the same girl who legitimately cannot function as a songwriter unless she’s alone.
On “Scout Finch Bitch,” Kitty responds to Antwon’s drug-touting rhymes with a squeamish assurance to her mom not to worry, there’s not really cocaine, calling her mom out for the online-stalking tendencies she owns up to herself on her biggest hit, “Okay Cupid.” When Kitty collaborates, each artist works independently on their contributions, so that instead of reacting impulsively to what Antwon spits in a shared writing space, the rhythm of her responses is established in a manner more like the crafty retorts you’d see on a comment thread. It’s fitting for a rapper whose career is the direct response of an Internet-based lifelong fandom for hip-hop that she’s only recently begun to branch out from.
She’s taking a break from hip-hop now and listening to “very girly, obnoxious pop music” like Charli XCX and Marina & the Diamonds, along with the occasional, random emo, and exceptions made to hear the music her friends make, especially rapper Chippy Nonstop, who was the inspiration behind Kitty’s established beef with Pitchfork, whose opinion she views as overrated, regardless of the decent score the music review site gave D.A.I.S.Y. Rage.
“There are people who literally only listen to music based on its Pitchfork score, and it’s so stupid and political,” Kitty says. “My friend Chippy, she’s a rapper too, but all her songs are like the opposite of mine, and Pitchfork wrote the meanest thing ever about her. And obviously, her songs are really catchy and fun and everything, but it’s not Pitchfork material, which means, you know, pretentious. … And she just never gave a shit about it. I was like, ‘Wow. Why do I care so much about Pitchfork?’ … Pitchfork is not the authority.”
Instead, Kitty relies on Twitter for music discovery. She says she “does a lot of Twittering,” which is obvious just from glancing at her account, @kittaveli. She updates all day every day, from humblebrags like “I only hang out with people who make great music. Not on purpose, it just works out that way” to delightful self-deprecation like “I bet NoiseyMusic would pay so much 4 the video of me falling off treadmill/screaming over loud deadmau5 for my brother to save me just now.” Like her music or not, it seems apparent that despite how timid she is at embracing both her mainstream popularity and counterculture origins, social media has always empowered her to unabashedly be herself.
“With shows and stuff, even if everyone there seems so excited, I’m still nervous, and I still really dread it,” Kitty says. “I think it’s cuz everything is so personal where I’m kind of going on stage and telling a bunch of strangers my secrets. So it’s always really, really weird. It feels weird afterwards. Even if it makes people happy, I’m just like, ‘Dammit, now they know everything.’”
Kitty’s new EP, D.A.I.S.Y. Rage, reflects a grittier world that is intentionally unimpressed by crushes, and it’s some surprisingly somber shit. Check out these dark moments, track by track, that illustrate how stark girlishness can be.
1. “UNfollowed” I only start shit when I get Bacardi and I’m brave / I heartily forgave you for lying but I’m pretty sure I’m dying / And my room is like a grave.
2. “DEAD ISLAND” I love N.Y. cuz there’s so many bridges to jump off.
3. “Aw Shawty 3.0” I should be less creepy and less easy-sounding / Please can you freeze me up zero degrees freak me.
4. “$krillionaire” I hope your toast lands where it’s buttery / I hope you stub all of the ruddy toes on your muddy feet / I hope you do a lot of coke, end up with bloody teeth.
5. “NO OFFENSE!!!!” You differ like the timezones / Every trend you’re on the dick of it, I’m really sick of it.
6. “Scout Finch Bitch” And the audience has always got a sprinkle of / Bitches that I wanna pinch and / Wanna punch ’em in their stupid face / But I’m busy rapping super bass.
7. “R.R.E.A.M.” I never say yolo, I never say cheese / I don’t wanna pose cuz I don’t want ’em to see / The anxiety rash I’m hiding under my sleeves / It looks weak, to get all red and / Itchy when I’m barely upset but / It’s bad enough to make ’em call a medic.
8. “Hittin Lixxx” I’m more mischievous than previously thought and I’ll admit it / And the minute that you dare me to, I’m scared but I’m committed.