Category Archive : Music

“I always knew how to rap,” JT says. “I was born with this gift. But did I think I was gonna be a professional rapper? Hell no.” She’s calling from Los Angeles, where she’s preparing to release her debut solo project City Cinderella this Friday. “I never thought I would be a celebrity growing up, but I always wanted to be,” she continues, the clacking of her nails audible through her microphone. “Like, who don’t want to be what they see on TV?”

Raised between Carol City and Liberty City, Florida throughout what she has referred to as a “chaotic” childhood, wealth and fame never seemed to be in the cards for JT — and when they first appeared in her hand, the game revealed itself to be rigged. Most of the world heard her for the first time as one half of the rap duo City Girls in their brief uncredited feature on the highest-charting song of summer 2018, demanding “the black card and the code to the safe” on Drake’s “In My Feelings.” The morning of the song’s release, JT left a recording studio and self-surrendered at the Tallahassee Federal Correctional Institution to begin a 24-month sentence. While her voice traveled around the world, JT found herself trapped behind bars. She had simultaneously arrived at the precipice of her wildest dreams and her gravest trials.

Just over six years to the day after she first entered prison, nearly everything has changed. Today, JT is more inescapable than ever: her first solo singles “No Bars,” “Sideways” and “OKAY” have each progressively surpassed one another, with the latter track becoming her first solo Hot 100 entry. Dubbed a “rising fashion fixture” by Vogue, JT has made front-row appearances at Paris Fashion Week, and starred in campaigns for Mowalola and Poster Girl.

Last October, JT announced in Interview Magazine that she would be releasing her first solo EP in 2024; in June, Yung Miami seemed to confirm that the City Girls had officially disbanded. By the time JT unveiled City Cinderella in July, her solo EP had evolved into a 16-track project.

“I would have never thought that today, I would be a week away from my first solo project,” JT says. “Not in no way, shape or form.” When she made that initial announcement in October, she explains, hardly any of those 16 tracks existed yet. Most of City Cinderella was recorded between Los Angeles and New York in the months since.

City Cinderella is definitely a mixtape,” she clarifies. “People work on their albums for a year, albums are just different. So City Cinderella is not my first album, being that I made this project so damn fast. I had to create this project throughout the tour and moving around, so I didn’t have time to really nurture and doctor it. This is just something that I’m putting out with my pure instincts.

She adds, “I mean, seven songs isn’t bad, but why not give a lot of music? I talk entirely too much to be doing [only] seven songs.”

City Cinderella reveals a new maturity in the 31-year-old rapper, most present in her vulnerability and her focus. Lyrically, JT is at her sharpest. Her beat selection is precise and varied, lending the project a sense of cohesion that is rare for a mixtape. “Immediately, if a beat talks to me, I already know what I’m gonna go in there and rap about,” she says about her process. “I kinda know the lyrics before the flow.”

Sprinkled throughout the runtime are hints of the kind of rap JT grew up listening to, from a song named after Uncle Al to the “OKAY” remix with Jeezy, the latter of which JT dropped two weeks ago as a single. “I wanted to be a surprise, but it sounds so good, as soon as I heard it, I was like, ‘I want it out this week,’” JT explains. “I’m so thankful to Jeezy — I’m such a fan.”

Brash and self-assured tracks like “Servin’” allow her to truly flex her muscles with plenty of the slick punchlines and addictive catchphrases that have become her signature, and the prophetic “JT’s Coming” is deliciously cocky with its victorious horns and drumline. With just a handful of features, it feels like a long-awaited pleasure to get so many minutes of JT laying down bars uninterrupted. The fuel behind her verses tends to rise throughout the course of a song, resulting in crescendos of energy and lyrical deftness that peak higher the longer they build.

City Cinderella’s standout, however, comes right at its beginning. “Still the same bitch, ain’t shit changed/ Still a lot of trauma eatin’ at my brain,” JT raps in the opening track. “Intro (Hope)” is easily the most emotionally unguarded and confessional she has ever been on a record: “Young, Black and lost, but never lost hope,” she repeats, reflecting on how far she has risen with awe.

The inspiration behind the project? “Just wanting to win, to create a project of my own,” JT says with a sigh. “I just wanted to authentically be myself and make music.” Previously open about her frustrations with a lack of promotional strategy or creative control within the City Girls, it is no coincidence that JT frames the creation of an authentic project of her own as synonymous with winning a battle.

JT’s solo era makes a compelling case for the value of returning the reins to the hands of the artist; each decision, from her album artwork to her music videos to her selection of beats and lead singles, feels refreshingly true to her. After being denied personal and artistic agency for so long and by so many — from record label executives to the carceral state — she is at a point in her life and career where she is finally her own sole authority. The City Cinderella is rising from the ashes for good, ready to take full advantage of what she calls her “second chance at music.”

JT was born Jatavia Shakara Johnson, the eldest of her mother’s three children and among the youngest of her father’s 16, the rest of whom were her stepmother’s children. When she was about five years old, JT’s mother was incarcerated, and she went to live with her father and stepmother in Carol City, where she often felt ostracized. “I always felt like I was the black sheep in my family,” JT told Angie Martinez in a 2023 interview. But despite that, she found a way to connect with her siblings.

“I was in a [rap] group when I was a little girl, called The Protegees, with my sisters and brothers,” she says. “I used to write my raps down. I was such a little girl that I don’t even remember much about it, but I know that I was writing my own music, and I was writing my sisters’ and brothers’ too.”

Throughout her teens, JT alternated between living with her aunt in Liberty City and sleeping on the couches of her friends’ homes. One such friend was Caresha Brownlee, also known as Yung Miami, who would eventually make up the other half of the City Girls.

Beautiful, popular, well-dressed and notoriously slick-mouthed, JT was known among her friends for the freestyle raps she would come up with in her car and occasionally post on social media. Knowing she had potential but too shy to record and release a song all by herself, JT recruited Brownlee to rap with her.

JT and Yung Miami uploaded their first song, “Fuck Dat N*gga,” to SoundCloud in August of 2017. Over an earworm sample from Khia’s classic “My Neck, My Back,” JT sets the tone from the opening line: “Give me the cash, fuck a wedding ring!” What had originally been a diss track directed at rival girls in the neighborhood had become a scathing critique of sentimental men seeking romance without the means to fund a lavish lifestyle.

In her early 20s, JT studied Fashion Merchandising with dreams of becoming a designer. But she was no fan of the broke college student lifestyle, and her dreams weren’t panning out as quickly as she’d hoped. Her friends would borrow her car for the weekend and mysteriously return with bags full of designer clothes and shoes obtained through credit card scams; one day, JT joined them. Working jobs at the Miami Seaquarium, Burger King and Whole Foods, she was no stranger to hard work — but that hard work simply wasn’t paying enough. “Every two weeks, $500? $600? Like, what I’ma do with that?” JT demands in a clip from the documentary Point Blank Period. “They need to pay people more. The rush with scamming was you gon’ get all that stuff you wanted. In a bad way, but you was gon’ get it.”

I see myself being who I am, who I know I could be, which is larger than life.

A week after recording “Fuck Dat N*gga,” JT was charged with seven counts of aggravated identity theft and a single count of unauthorized device access, following an arrest for a fraudulent purchase in the shoe department of Nordstrom. By the time her sentencing date arrived in January, the two girls had become the first women signed to the Quality Control Music (QC) imprint under Motown and Capitol Records, giving them just six months to record their first mixtape.

“I know I gotta go, I gotta wear my punishment,” JT says, gazing out of a car window in one shot from Point Blank Period. “I should have never did it.” She pauses. “Well, I don’t really think I should have never did it… I don’t know what I think.”

“‘Cause who wanna be broke?”

The cultural influence of the City Girls was difficult to quantify. Their signature affirmative “period,” along with its phonetic derivatives like “periodt,” saw significant spikes in colloquial usage on Twitter following the duo’s official rerelease of “Fuck Dat N*gga” through QC in December 2017 and the arrival of their first mixtape PERIOD the next summer. In the years following, they shifted the way an entire subset of their generation idealizes sex, lifestyle and romance. The City Girls were infectious; they made you start talking like them, joking like them, thinking like them, demanding like them.

“This is alter ego music,” JT told the Miami Times in February 2018. But it is also not a coincidence that the particular alter ego that resonated with so many is that of a savvy, scamming, powerful woman — one whose power is derived from the manipulation of men, the weaponization of her own hypersexualization and a disregard for social norms and the law. The modern woman is expected to work and make her own money, but women still only earn 82 cents to every dollar earned by men as of 2023, and Black women only earn 70 cents to every dollar earned by a white man. For a generation raised amid the Great Recession, rising inflation, flatlined wages and an increasingly unaffordable cost of living, there is a cathartic honesty in the ruthlessness of the city girl mindset: an acknowledgement of the savage norms of heteronormative romance, the extortion of financial restitution and a mythological sense of triumph over the phallus. The city girl takes her power back on terms that you can count in dollars and cents.

After all, it’s merely a self-protective measure: “If you pay attention to male [rap] lyrics,” JT points out in Point Blank Period, “when they fuck a bitch for free, they make fun of them. They make fun of you!”

In late 2021, a snippet of a JT verse emerged online, the first hint of a solo track since her “JT First Day Out” freestyle in 2019. “My titties perfect, they plastic,” she spits, “I like my money Jurassic/ This pussy pop back, elastic/ You bitches don’t want no static!” The clip went viral immediately, spreading through the corners of the internet and accumulating hundreds of lip-syncing videos across TikTok.

“I hate that song, lord,” JT says now with a laugh at the mention of the clip, called “White Noise.” The song was a throwaway in her mind, one of the many tracks she recorded while she was living in a halfway house in Atlanta upon her initial release from prison. She had no idea so many people would love it. “That’s why I don’t have a doubt in my mind about City Cinderella,” she admits, “because y’all like the most stupidest things I put out sometimes, and I’m like, Oh my god, this is cringey as fuck!”

I plan on being a huge star.

“White Noise” was never meant to be a solo JT song, but the reaction to it was an indicator of the kind of hunger for her solo music that she could come to expect. In fall of 2022, JT posted another snippet, this time of what would become “No Bars.”

“‘No Bars’ is literally a freestyle, it was something I just needed to get off my chest,” JT explains. “It was so me. That song was the gift that kept on giving. Every time I thought it was over, it was something else in that song that went viral.”

JT finally released “No Bars” last June, and in the year since, it has sold over 500 thousand units. As of today, the audio of the song’s closing line “mwah, no bars” has been used more than 122,000 times on TikTok. “I couldn’t hold it,” she says. “I was like, This needs to be out. People kept begging; it was almost a year and people were still asking for that fucking song.”

“One time, I remember being really depressed about our record sales,” JT recalls. She is referring to the October 2023 release and underwhelming commercial performance of RAW, the third studio album by the City Girls, which triggered a wave of online mockery when it was projected to sell between 6,000 and 8,000 units in its first week. “I was like, Oh my God, it’s fucking over, and then ‘No Bars’ went viral again. That song got me through a lot, it will always be so special to me. I’m sad that it’s not even on my debut project, but I feel like it did what it had to do to get me where I’m at today.”

The music video for “No Bars” opens with a dedication to Monica Suh, JT’s late friend and creative partner who encouraged and helped JT as she made her way into the fashion world. When Suh’s name is mentioned, JT lights up. “I will always wanna talk about Monica. Oh my god, I can talk about Monica all day,” she says, reflecting on the early days of their friendship. “I’m a brick wall. I don’t let people in easily, but Monica was such a Leo and she had thick skin.”

In January of 2023, Monica took JT to her first Paris Fashion Week. “I remember having a meltdown in Paris, saying that I do not belong here, I’m not gonna fit in,” JT says. “I was freaking out, going the fuck crazy on her and she was just staring at me in the calmest way, saying, ‘Well, you definitely belong here.’”

JT had no stylist with her, but she did have a makeup artist. So they decided on an all-black look, to draw the attention to her face. “That’s when my viral lip came out, when I did the black lip liner with the little deep cut at Mugler,” JT says. “Monica was so happy. I remember her never shutting up, like ‘I told you [that] you was that bitch, I told you, I told you, I told you!’ She told me, ‘You definitely belong here. You don’t belong anywhere else in the world. You are a fashion girl.’”

Sitting front row, JT even participated in the show as part of a staged tug-of-war with Arca, who stopped halfway down the runway to “steal” an unreleased Mugler bag out of JT’s hands before continuing to walk. A few months later, Monica would help JT book her first campaign with Poster Girl for their Fall 2023 line, once again pushing JT out of her comfort zone and into something new.

“I went crazy on her about Poster Girl, I went crazy on her about Mugler, I went crazy on her about everything,” JT says. “But when I look back, those were my most special moments. Monica would always tell me I was an it-girl. And it ain’t no shade, but she always wanted me to be a solo artist.”

I was like, Fuck it. I’m gonna take the risk.

Monica passed away in a car accident in Los Angeles in April of 2023. Since then, JT has been public with her grief and enduring appreciation for her friend. “I love her,” JT says, using the present tense. “I’m always gonna talk about her because it’s so easy to. She’s such a good person and she deserves to be talked about.”

Later that year, JT would star in a campaign shot by renowned fashion photographer Hugo Comte for a collaboration between Mowalola and Beats by Dre, as well as return to Poster Girl for their Spring 2024 campaign. Lauded for “bringing visibility to alternative Black girls,” her distinctive image has proven to be as inspiring among fashion lovers as it has been controversial in the urban media landscape — but JT says that controversy has also “opened so many doors,” catching the eyes of collaborators who understand her taste.

JT’s follow-up to “No Bars” came this year in February, with an accompanying video and cover art that paid homage to Florida rapper Jacki-O. “Sideways” debuted even higher on the charts than “No Bars”; then, in March, JT announced a string of upcoming club performances. Reluctant to crowd her Instagram with club flyers, she compiled the dates onto a single graphic and posted it, leading some to interpret it as her first solo tour.

“It was mind-blowing,” she says of the club tour. ”I kind of underestimated myself a little bit with what the outcome was gonna be, because when I announced it, people was clowning me. It wasn’t a real tour — I put all my bookings on a sheet and they took it as a tour. I kid you not, I thought that when I went out there, I was gonna really be in restaurants and waiters was gonna be walking past me while I was performing. That’s how scared them bitches had me on the internet.”

JT laughs: “They really had me tricked. I was afraid, a little bit, but I was like, Fuck it. I’m gonna take the risk.” When she stepped out in front of her fans, who she playfully refers to as her “Juvies,” those nerves melted away. “I’m like, Oh, I did this before, like, What the fuck are you talking about? And it just started getting better and better and better. My fans have never not showed up for me.”

A highlight of JT’s club tour was a segment of the night called “Rap Cam,” when she would challenge her fans to rap her songs on stage, word for word. The ingenious idea was JT’s own. “I was like, I know they can get on stage and kill this,” she explains. “‘Rap Cam’ is literally my favorite thing to do. I love to see their confidence. I love to know that they know my music, and that they get their little five minutes of fame to be celebrities and be on stage. I love to see that for them.”

She giggles, “And I love when they just get to booing people like we at the Apollo. They be like, ‘Get down!’ It’s so funny.”

Now, JT is gearing up to embark on her first official solo tour in August, with 21 shows across the United States. “I’m so geeked, I’m like, Oh my god, I got a real tour on Ticketmaster,” JT says, her voice becoming earnest. “That is what I’m really, really most excited for, to see my fans be able to buy merch in the venues, do meet-and-greets, you know, like the real tour experience — because we had some rough days at them clubs, baby. I’m happy for my fans to really get to sit down and get professional treatment, with real production and all that shit.”

In a seven-year-old clip, JT’s hair and lips are a matching bubblegum pink, her Miami drawl is thick and she smiles with a mouthful of braces. “Y’all not takin’ my rap career serious yet,” the then-24-year-old says in the video, pulled from a 2017 Facebook livestream. “I’ma have to make it so y’all can take me serious. When I make it, then y’all gon’ be wantin’ to take me serious, so y’all better take me serious right now.” Despite the obstacles she was facing, the young woman in the video seems to have a premonition of what is to come.

When asked where she hopes to be seven years from now, JT answers without missing a beat: “I plan on being a huge star. Like, I’m already a star, but I plan on having a successful business, having a successful family, [performing in] arenas, making change in my community, giving back to my city, Miami. I want to build a juvie house for unfortunate kids.” Some of that work has already begun; her No Bars Reform initiative launched last summer and provides employment, housing, and therapy resources for recently incarcerated women.

She continues, “It’s a lot I want to do in seven years, which will come fast, ‘cause baby, time be going by fast. You would think that seven years is a long time from now, but it’s actually tomorrow.”

JT takes a long pause.

“I see myself being who I am, who I know I could be,” she says, finally. “Which is larger than life.”

Photography: Leanda Heler
Styling: Briana Andalore
Hair: Tevin Washington
Makeup: Eden Lattanzio
Nails: Tiny
Set design: Milena Gorum

Lighting tech: Emilio Tamez
Executive producer: Jenn Sarkis, Studio Matière Première
Photo producer: Alyson Cox
Stylist assistants: Alexandra Harris, A’kai Littlejohn, Gabby Weis
Production assistant: Kennedi Hollaway
Set design assistant: Coco

Editor-in-chief: Justin Moran
Managing editor: Matt Wille
Editorial producer: Angelina Cantú
Music editor: Erica Campbell
Cover type: Jewel Baek
Story: Brook Aster
Publisher: Brian Calle
Location: Rein Studios

From a rapper’s grandiose penthouse delight to the sleaziest dive bars spinning vinyl, PAPER is giving you a first-hand look into the Big Apple’s most hype-worthy music experiences in Seriously, What Are You Doing? — straight from the music editor’s mouth. Are you or someone you love feeling restless in the city that never sleeps? Here’s what you should be doing (seriously!).

Every year, only once a year, I head to Café Carlyle to see Hamilton Leithauser‘s (of The Walkmen) winter residency. I love the teeny little jazz club, with its hand-painted walls and dangerously good martinis they’ve been serving since 1955. It’s special, a treat, a delicious splurge that hits me the same way a super sweet decadent slice of cake does. It’s perfect every once in a while, but I’d be a bit mad if I tried to eat it everyday.

Enter Close Up a fresh, relaxed, red-hued jazz club located on 154 Orchard Street in NYC. It’s got all the sweet music, yummy drinks and a vibe that gives you an excuse to put on your best fits, all without any of the pomp. Owned by 20-somethings, aimed at 20-somethings and sat right in the bustle of the Lower East Side, the new spot is as approachable as they come.

On the night I stopped by I was pleasantly surprised by the space high school friends Daniel Gaynor and Solomon Gottfried had created. I felt chic and in-the-know without feeling out of place, everyone was friendly, the menu was sensational (I’m still daydreaming about the empanadas) and that’s even before we get to the music. Later, speaking to Daniel I find out how much of a labor of love the club was. How he and his friends pulled together resources (like vintage chairs from his parents) and know-how (like the DIY sound engineering that makes the quality of the room sonics hit you where it needs to) to make their dream of a less stuffy, younger option for enjoying jazz possible.

Domo Branch Trio took the stage on the Saturday. I donned my best silver boots and sipped on sparkling wine (still thinking about that, too) at Close Up. The music was mesmerizing and I even remarked later on my lack of desire to pick up my phone — nary a desire to scroll in sight. Domo, a young New York drummer who (literally) fits the Close Up bill, brought a delightful energy to the room, and by the time the music stopped I was already plotting my return to the club.

It was the kind of evening that reminds you why you came to New York City in the first place. A dimly lit room full of well-dressed guests happy just to hear a good set with a drink in hand and (again) no cell phone in sight. It made me feel good about where the city and the music that makes it run are heading.

If you’re ever up for a little bit of optimism and a lot of good music, hit me up and we’ll go to Close Up. See you there.

Photography: Annika White, RJ Meyer, Lauren Hogan

Anderson .Paak can’t just be one person. The rapper, singer and all-around Renaissance man finds the most joy in dipping into different personas. “I’m really a person that doesn’t like to get too comfortable doing one thing,” he tells PAPER.

The California musician has just released his new album, Why Lawd?, as NxWorries, a music duo he created with producer Knxwledge. Aside from the brand new LP, he’s set to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his debut album, Venice, and embarking on a US tour in support of his critically acclaimed album, Malibu. Not just that, but he’s making his directorial debut with upcoming film K-POPs, which was inspired by creating YouTube skits with his son during the pandemic. It’s safe to say that he’s pretty busy these days.

NxWorries isn’t the only project that .Paak has become known for. He also is DJ Pee .Wee, his DJ alter ego who has played some of the biggest festivals in the world and will hit stages around the world in the coming months. He constantly tours with his band Free Nationals and, most notably, created Grammy Award-winning duo Silk Sonic with Bruno Mars.

There’s nothing .Paak can’t do, it seems. So to get the scoop on it all, PAPER sat down with him after Paris Fashion Week last month where he made his front row debut at the Louis Vuitton show.

How was Paris Fashion Week?

I mean, fashion week can be a pretty nerve-wracking, weird experience, because even if I’m not performing, I still feel nervous. Everyone’s looking, and you want to look your best. Then I think about how I don’t need to be nervous. Like, the people putting on the shows should probably be the most nervous. So I just get to hang out, watch all these incredible designs, beautiful models. It’s really a feast for the eyes, and it was cool to be able to be invited to the Louis V show with my boy Pharrell for the first time and in Paris. I didn’t get to see what they were going to dress me in, but I was confident that it would be cool, and it exceeded expectations. So I had a really good time.

Tell me about Why Lawd? How do you think this album situates you in your career, especially with the 10th anniversary of Venice coming up?

It’s a full circle moment, and I’m really blessed to be able to come back to it and have this outlet to be able to to make music with one of my best friends, Knxwledge, who I think is one of the greatest producers of our time. I think it was a needed type of therapy for me to be able to circle back and work on this album. I always had plans on finishing it, and I’m just really appreciative of Knxwledge and my team for just allowing me to venture off and try different things, like going out on tour with Bruno and working on our album as Silk Sonic, and doing tours with the Free Nationals and working on their project. I just did a lot of side quests and a lot of different things, and no one was making a big fuss out of it on my end. I was able to come back and finish what we started with this album. It feels really good to have that balance in my career and to see the response. It’s been so much love, and I’m just really grateful and appreciative.

The side quests seem like the most fun, in a way.

Yeah, for sure, man. It’s a great outlet, you know? I’m really a person that doesn’t like to get too comfortable doing one thing. I like to challenge myself, and I have a lot of fun with my musical personalities and my alter egos. And it’s cool to be able to put them in certain places, whether it’s Nxworries, or DJ Pee .Wee, Anderson .Paak, Silk Sonic, Free Nationals. All these things make up one artist, you know? All these different facets.

And you’re making your directorial debut with your film K-POPs!, right?

Yeah, K-POPs! is my labor of love. I’ve been working on this project for about three years now, and it started in quarantine when I was just hanging out with my family, and my oldest son was telling me he wanted to be a YouTuber. I was like, “Cool, we’re going to be YouTubers.” But we started just hanging out, doing sketches and skits with him, and that’s when I started thinking of that idea. I was like, Wow, this kid is really talented. He’s a natural. I wanted to write a script where we’re both in it, something funny that we can kind of showcase all these things that we’ve been doing together, and it took a while to get it on its feet. But thank God for Stampede Studios, the production company that we did it independently with, and Live Nation. I got with a cowriter, Khaila Amazan, and one of my best friends, Dumbfounded, helped me produce it. We sat there and went draft after draft, and eventually we got it done, man. I got to shoot, direct and star in it. We shot in Los Angeles, Korea and al-Ula, Saudi Arabia, and I’m really proud of it. It’s just been so much work. Acting, directing and just film in general is something I’m really loving and want to do a lot more of in the future. I’m enjoying learning the process as well.

It’s a family comedy. It was a great way for me to be able to get some quality time with my son and learn a lot about him and have just a whole lot of fun making memories and telling a story that I think is going to be very unique to my experience and is going to be something that people haven’t really seen before on the screen. People ask me, “Is this based on a true story or anything?” And I like to say that it’s based on a true family, and it’s definitely not what happened verbatim in my life. It’s just like a fun comic book version of things that inspired me somewhat based on it, but nothing that was really based on what actually happened — just like a fun version of it.

More kids nowadays want to be YouTubers than, say, astronauts like they did back in the day.

YouTube is the new cable, and so the people on YouTube are the new cable/movie stars of our time. When I was coming up, I wanted to be like those people I saw on TV, too. So it’s good to have some good representations, some different things out there for people to see. But yeah, it’s pretty much based on BJ, who’s my character, and he’s a washed up musician that plays in a live karaoke band, but he finds out that his kid that he doesn’t know he has could be the next K-pop star. It’s a lot of fun.

You’re touring Malibu in the fall. What made this the right time to take this album on the road?

I decided that I was going to do the Hollywood Bowl show and do Malibu in its entirety, and I just got such an overwhelming response. And once we put that out, people got so excited and were hitting us up from all over the world. I was like, You know what? Let’s just give the fans what they want and take the show on the road. Why not now? I just think it’s going to be a cool experience for us to be able to play some of these songs that we’ve never played before as well, and I really love amphitheaters. I think it was just the perfect combination.

What’s inspiring you generally right now?

Right now, it’s just life and travels in general. That always inspires me. I’m constantly working and on the road, so every conversation, every audio clip, every book, every movie, just looking out the window is me just chasing inspiration everywhere I can. And besides that, I’ve been working in the studio with some very talented artists that inspire me. I’ve been listening to some music. I’ve been really enjoying this artist named Mk.Gee and working with artists that I’ve been developing on my label. That’s pretty much it.

Thanks so much for talking to me.

Thank you too, bro.

Photos courtesy of Louis Vuitton

Have you or someone you love been a nasty girl this summer? Looking for someone to match your freak?

Well, so has Tinashe, the singer behind the viral “Nasty” hit track and our summer muse. Speaking of inspiration, Urban Outfitters recently tapped the star for the Shift Happens Back-to-school campaign, and PAPER was there Wednesday night at New York City’s Chelsea Factory as the campaign came to life.

After walking through multiple rooms made to inspire design ideas and elicit grins (or maybe that was just the wine and adorable to-go bouquets?), we took some time to chat with Tinashe and ask her firsthand how to survive this scorching summer heat while looking good and keeping it “nasty.” Her answers didn’t dissapoint.

Watch our interview, exclusive shots of her performance (yes… she does the TikTok dance) and get your summer survival guide straight from Tinashe, below.


@Tinashe spills all the tea on her song of the summer, keeping it nasty in this heat and if she’s team edward or jacob at the @Urban Outfitters space shift event 🙂‍↕️❤️

Tell us about your collab with Urban Outfitters. Why did you want to get involved?

This collaboration has been super fun because I built my own “match my freak fort,” which is so cute. I’m still looking for someone to match my freak. Urban Outfitters has been a great brand to collaborate with because they’re super to expressing your individuality, and I feel like my personality could really come through today. So, it’s very cool.

What’s your advice for keeping it cute while still keeping it “Nasty” in the summer heat?

The summer heat is very intense so to enjoy the summer heat while keeping it nasty but keeping it cute at the same time you definitely have to wear some tiny little shorty shorts. These shorts are up my butt crack, but that’s exactly the way it should be during the summer.

Tell us about your new album. What can fans expect?

My upcoming album Quantum Baby is coming soon, August 16. I’m very excited about it. It’s definitely a journey through different genres. I love to play with different sounds and different vibes. I think the old fans will love some of the music that feels very nostalgic as well.


song of the summer queen @Tinashe performing at @Urban Outfitters last night in NYC 😍😍😍 #nasty

What’s your song of the summer?

My song of the summer is “Nasty,” obviously. I have to pick her. She’s just been slaying all summer.

Team Jacob or team Edward?

This is an OG question, but I’ve always been team Jacob since day one. I never really saw the hype with Edward. I just never found his pasty glittery skin attaractive… that’s just me.

Photography: Elvin Abril

It’s impossible to be across all the new music out each Friday. Luckily, PAPER is here to help you out: each week, we round up 10 of our favorite new songs from artists — emerging and established — to soundtrack your life. From the surreal to the sublime, these songs cover every corner of the music world. The only criteria: they all have to absolutely rip.

Subscribe to our Sound Off Spotify playlist here and check out this week’s tracks, below.

Kylie Minogue, Bebe Rexha, Tove Lo – “My Oh My”

Charming and unapologetically silly, “My Oh My” is a perfect late-summer confection, down to Kylie, Bebe and Tove name-checking themselves on each verse.

Metronomy, Nourished by Time – “My Love”

Off-kilter synth-pop that’s atmospheric and catchy, “My Love”’s low-key tone belies a profound hookiness.

Moses Sumney – “Gold Coast”

Moses Sumney’s latest self-released single is diaphanous and funky, even as it remains staunchly committed to minimalism.

Molly Nilsson – “Naming Names”

Big fan of this dewy-eyed power ballad from Berlin-based underground star Molly Nilsson’s new album Un-American Activities, a rich exploration of communism and freedom.

Ice Spice, Central Cee – “Did It First”

Defiant, icily-toned Jersey club from two of the biggest young rappers of the moment, the culture clash between British and American rap creates an appealing friction.

Clairo – “Add Up My Love”

A jubilant highlight from Clairo’s brilliant third record Charm, “Add Up My Love” is filled with small, sweet details that make it feel like a self-contained universe.

Remi Wolf – “Soup”

Dewy, ’80s-indebted electro-pop from Remi Wolf, whose ability to glide effortlessly between genres is remarkable.

Miss Madeline – “OMG”

Miss Madeline takes on liars and cheaters on this goofy, fun electro-clash track.


Madison Rose takes it back to the era of maximalist 2010s EDM with “FALLING OUTTA HEAVEN,” appropriately capturing the genre’s woah-oh-oh euphoria.

Jonah Almost – “Clean Cut”

The latest track from rising New York producer Jonah Almost is a furiously-paced techno rager that speeds by in an instant.

Photography: Ragan Hendersonagan Henderson

A few things I’d like to say about The Beaches: First, their song “Blame Brett,” a fun pop-punk alt-rock ditty about giving up on dating rock stars, is so infectious that it plays in the background of my mind constantly. Two, I once met them at Lollapalooza, Chicago for an interview and they were every bit as delightful as their song. Three, their new track, “Takes One To Know One,” proves that there are more hits where “Blame Brett” came from. We love a track that wades in on the messy vulnerability of love over rising guitar riffs, and, bless The Beaches, they’re happy to do it with a sing-along melody, not to mention the ridiculously well-written lyrical admission: “God, you’re a piece of work/ Oh, it takes one to know one.”

“I wrote our new song, ‘Takes One To Know One,’ about my new relationship with yet another complicated person,” lead singer Jordan MIller tells us about the track, premiering today on PAPER. “In ‘Blame Brett,’ I said that ‘I wasn’t ready to take accountability.’ In this new song I’m finally holding a mirror up to myself and am beginning to see that perhaps I also contribute to the flaws in my relationship, because I’m also a complicated and flawed human.”

The Candian band hope that “when people listen to our new song, they take away that it’s okay to be messy and imperfect.” “Those are the things that make us unique,” Miller adds. “One of the steps to being a happy person is embracing those flaws. And one of the ways to have a happier relationship, is embracing and loving the flaws of your partner.”

The band are set to launch off on tour with dates in North America opening for The Rolling Stones and Greta Van Fleet. For now, they’re just excited to share a fresh song with listeners. “We’re so proud of this new single,” Miller says. “And we can’t wait to keep sharing new music with our fans!”

Photography: Meg Moon

River Moon and LSDXOXO are NYC staples. Wait, are they?

When I referred to River Moon as a “NYC it-girl” last week in PAPER’s LadyLand write-up, it inspired a jubilant response on X. “Omg paper magazine called me an NYC it-girl!” River wrote. “I haven’t lived in this city in 5 years. Period!!!!!!!!!!!!” Okay, so I may be guilty of spreading some light misinformation, but who can blame me when the Berlin-based DJ, producer, artist and meme scholar can be seen gracing NYC stages year-round?

The same goes for fellow Berlin-resident, LSDXOXO, who made his name in our beloved metropolis but has been busy buzzing around the world as both a DJ and performer for years now. With an album due September 13 and a brand new music video styled by Shayne Oliver, LSDXOXO isn’t slowing down any time soon.

That is except to have a quick chat with a comrade. The two DJs and performers have a lot in common, from their mixing styles (genre-fluid, hard-edged, sensual, ever-moving), to both opening for Beyoncé at her Renaissance tour, to now gracing stages under the K Bridge at Ladyfag’s epic pride fest, LadyLand. Needless to say, there’s much to gab about for these two. And PAPER was lucky enough to sit in on their chat, which moved a mile-a-minute, but always stayed the course.

River Moon: Let’s keep it PG. We’re in PAPER magazine.

LSDXOXO: Do you have to be PG for PAPER? I didn’t realize that.

River Moon: Well, [PAPER social media editor] Alaska works there. So I don’t think it’s that PG anymore.

LSDXOXO: But she’s a Disney princess though, so I don’t know about that.

River Moon: This is our first podcast episode. Sponsored by PAPER magazine and Alaska Riley Inc.

LSDXOXO: PAPER gives you wings.

River Moon: I thought they were gonna send us dirty questions [to ask each other], like goofy questions, but this is really professional.


River Moon: I was about to turn PAPER magazine into Toilet PAPER Magazine. [Reading question:] “As friends, what inspires you about the other person’s creativity?” The deepest question out the gate!

LSDXOXO: I think your pen inspires me. Also you are really good at beat selection. I guess as a producer and DJ, that’s something I pay attention to from other artists, when they’re tactful with choosing their beats, because it’s so important. If you want a dookie beat then nobody wants to hear your music.

River Moon: I could do something hot on a dookie beat.

LSDXOXO: I’m going to ask you not to.

River Moon: I just got a dookie beat in my email last night.

LSDXOXO: Okay Ice Spice with your skat fetish.

River Moon: Woah! I told you this is not toilet PAPER Magazine. What inspires me about your creativity is your ear for samples. You would hear something from a movie, like a line from Kill Bill, and you will take that one part and turn it into a whole song. I’m talking about from back in the day, the Tumblr mix days. I’ve been listening to you since I was a child. You would take the wildest sample. I think my favorite one was “CODENAME COTTONMOUTH.” No one else does that. Yeah, producers take things from other songs and that’s cool, but I think your references with film and other media other than music is kind of unmatched. The girls are playing catch up.

LSDXOXO: Why, thank you. I feel like that was bred from necessity because I was not a vocalist back in the day. So I had to create the vocal from somewhere in order to provide a narrative. I didn’t want to be one of the producers that was just dropping beats which is fine, but that just wasn’t what I wanted to do.

River Moon: I also feel like you have ADHD.

LSDXOXO: Clocked! Not a soul can clock!

River Moon: You also told me about the Baltimore club mixtape CDs that you would have. And the Philly club CDs that you would have. I feel like we both pulled from the same cloud, because I had a lot of those DJ K swift mixes that I downloaded from Limewire.

LSDXOXO: Not Limewire! Not Kazaa!

River Moon: What was the other thing called? Napster?

LSDXOXO: I never used Napster. That was for the bros.

River Moon: Okay, I was one of them. We had to make do. I grew up with a bunch of boys in the house and it was Napster. Girl, what’s the next question?

LSDXOXO: When it comes to performing live, which song, track or a moment, gets the fans most excited?

River Moon: I don’t have many live performances. Without having my recording artists music out, I don’t have that much material to perform. But the one that always gets everyone up, like the straight bros, the gays, the girls and the dolls, is “HOT” with Manny Dee.

LSDXOXO: Absolutely. If you didn’t say it, I was gonna say it.

River Moon: Yes, I performed it live for the first time opening for Coucou Chloe here in Berlin. I put it right at the end. The way the club went up for that one. Even when I just play it in a DJ set, people are like, “What’s that track? What’s that track?”

LSDXOXO: The pen was on.

River Moon: The pen was not on! That was completely freestyle.

LSDXOXO: That was freestyle? Then, it was the medulla. The medulla was on. But I think for me, it’s probably, I mean “THE SATISFACTION OF BEING A SICK BITCH”. Whenever I perform that, even if it is just like a stereo mix and it’s not super clean, it just wakes the girls up. It just does something to the people.

River Moon: The crunch!

LSDXOXO: I think it’s the combination of the crunch and the sleaze with the lowbrow techno. It gives the girls what they need. And I think that you and I might have to be performing her for the first time at LadyLand.

River Moon: I love a surprise special guest moment. Do we need choreography for that?

LSDXOXO: We don’t need choreography but you will need a trap door for you to fall through.

River Moon: A trap door? Okay don’t make fall through the thing like Fifth Harmony [at the 2017 VMA’s]. Okay, for those of us making our Pride summer playlist, which tracks should we be adding?

LSDXOXO: I feel like that new “f@k€” by Shygirl ft. Kingdom (VTSS remix) goes so hard. And then there’s this track called, “People Are Still Having Sex” by LaTour. It’s an oldie, but she’s Pride for sure. She’s queening out.

River Moon: That’s for the old queens?

LSDXOXO: I don’t know about “old,” but —

River Moon: Seasoned!

LSDXOXO: It’s for the seasoned girls.

River Moon: What’s your last song? It should be one of yours.

LSDXOXO: “Mutant Exotic” in that case. That’s very much my pride song.

River Moon: You were queening out.

LSDXOXO: People like that from all walks of life. Like my mom loves that song. Because it just gives bad bitch energy. It’s like an affirmation, you know? What about you?

River Moon: I think I’m gonna go really cliché with my first choice, but it’s just the song that brings me so much euphoria.

LSDXOXO: Is it RuPaul?

River Moon: Anyways … it’s “Free” by Ultra Naté. It was one of the dance tracks that my dad played for me. It just opened my world a lot. So whenever I hear that song, it just reminds me of childhood and asking myself, “What does this music mean?” It’s very like gospel-ey. And it’s an affirmation. It makes me actually feel proud about being queer. That makes me feel like we’re united, kumbaya, you know? And my second track is my Leo sister, Dua Lipa, “Whatcha Doing.”

LSDXOXO: Right, her disco slay. Her Donna Summers slay.

River Moon: Right like Quincey Jones and Donna Summer, their spirits were in the room that day when she recorded that. Shout out to Tame Impala. Shout out to Danny L. Harle. They tore. And I guess my last track would be “Hard 2.0” by myself and Only Fire.

LSDXOXO: Fuck it up! The next question is: What was it like for you to open the Renaissance tour? And did you learn anything from that experience?

River Moon: That whole day was such a blur for me. We landed in Houston and went to the hotel. We spent about an hour at the hotel, went to the venue, had an hour of soundcheck and then it was showtime. It was the least nervous that I’ve ever been in my life. I was born to do it. And that was the most people I’ve ever played in front of. And the thing that I learned was that you can do anything. So to me, I don’t remember much of that experience. All I remember is the show. I think because it was so overwhelming that I didn’t have time to process it. Like, I still haven’t celebrated that. That was the first time that my family saw me work with someone that they know, because I work with the underground girls. They don’t know what’s going on in our world. But they know Beyoncé. You know that’s someone who I grew up on. So it was a thing that my mom and dad can finally be proud of.

LSDXOXO: Yeah, I feel that for sure. It’s the same thing for me. It was similar. It was a lot to process. I did two shows so I was in their travel party at some point and it felt very much like a fever dream. Even during sound check, Blue Ivy standing over my shoulder. I don’t need to do anything else in life ever again. But it was so fun. And I mean, as far as learning anything from it: I just learned that Beyoncé is a bad bitch and she could do anything. Watching her perform for three hours straight, not a single note missed, right? Like, she was on. It was commendable, a commendable experience.

River Moon: And I just want to know how her hair stays like that?

LSDXOXO: Girl, it must be witchcraft. It’s sacred.

River Moon: What does it mean for you to be performing at LadyLand?

LSDXOXO: When I left New York six years ago, I set off to figure out what I was going to be able to get in my career. I had the inkling to create an album, but I wasn’t there yet. I’m just happy to be going and excited to see what it’s giving, back in the city with my friends. It’s gonna be a very cathartic experience for me because I did just finish an album.

Photography: Jason Thomas Geering, Santiago Felipe

In June, Simon Cowell announced he would be holding open call auditions to find the next big boy band. In an attempt to capture the lightning-in-a-bottle phenomenon that Cowell once did when he formed One Direction in 2010, the industry veteran encourages any boys ages 16 to 18 to show up and try out.

“Every generation deserves a megastar boy band and I don’t think there has been one to have the success of One Direction in over 14 years,” he says. “It usually takes someone from outside to put a group together.”

It’s true — the best boy bands don’t just appear out of thin air. Throughout pop history, the most zeitgeist-defining boy groups have been meticulously formed and trained like they’re being put through basic combat to serve teen girls (and boys and nonbinary people, of course) all across the country. But with the TikTok-ification of the music industry in the past few years, it seems that pop boot camp ideal has been traded for overnight viral sensations.

A boy band is an ephemeral thing. When that really special one pops up once every decade or so, everyone pretty much knows that they won’t last long. The boy band formula is almost designed so that there’s that initial honeymoon phase, a couple years of chart dominance and then one of the members will shine too bright and break out as a solo artist, leading to the group’s demise. But that’s what makes it so magical in the moment — the subconscious knowledge that it soon will end. It’s all about giving into the fantasy and savoring the boy band while it lasts.

Over here at PAPER, we’re all about submitting to delusional pop culture fantasies. Maybe relatability is over, and it’s time for some mass market pop consumerism again. Below, we’ve put together an anthology of our favorite boy band moments in history.

No. 5: Menudo’s Many Morphs

Menudo were like gay Puerto Rican Power Rangers. I mean, they weren’t even gay, but look at the costumes in this performance of “Cannonball” at a telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association in 1984. The group was arguably one of the most popular acts in Latin America at the turn of the century and became known for shifting the idea of what a boy band could even be. Formed in the ’70s by music producer Edgardo Diaz, the five-piece group is an ever-evolving entity with new members rotating in and out throughout the decades. Menudo has gone through more iterations than you can count on one hand (a 13-year-old Ricky Martin even got his start with them in the ’80s), and they even relaunched just last year with a Gen Alpha version that hasn’t quite stuck, at least in the US. But that’s Latin American history right there.

No. 4: Backstreet Boys Pave The Way

Maybe it’s controversial that the Backstreet Boys aren’t higher up on this list, but I was always like, Why would I listen to Backstreet Boys when there’s *NSYNC? I do have to give credit where credit’s due, though. BSB came first and were under the same management and label as *NSYNC, sort of acting as their more experienced older brothers. They truly paved the way for the Max Martin-led bubblegum pop that would come to dominate the turn of the century, and that $2.1 million “Larger Than Life” music video is really something. The harmonies and hooks were there, but the natural charisma and raw chemistry wasn’t. Maybe my brain was too Disney Channel-pilled, but even as a kid, I remember feeling like the Backstreet Boys were for older people. The one with the mustache was always a little creepy to me. But respect. And shoutout to Charli XCX’s cover of “I Want It That Way.”

No. 3: The British Are Coming

I can’t just talk about One Direction. I could also talk about The Wanted and the entire early Obama-era context that made the US’s British pop invasion possible. 1D was surely the era’s most glistening stars, though, seemingly AI-generated twinks plucked from obscurity on The X-Factor and shipped off to Western shores to make teen girls quiver. For these five lads, it was less about the mass market and hyper-produced choreography and more about crafting relatable narratives surrounding each member that girls from Minnesota to Mumbai could feel through their computer screens and diligently write fan fics about. One Direction was for the Tumblr Girl generation and truly gave the world hope for the future of boy bands. There was also that one time Zayn did drag in the “Best Song Ever” music video. He was real for that.

No 2: The Jackson 5 Create The Blueprint

It’s safe to say that The Jackson 5 was the effervescent engine behind the modern-day entertainment industry and birthed (quite literally, in the form of Michael Jackson) what the Pop Star with a capital P even is. Joe Jackson also set the stage for the inevitable toxicity and unethical working conditions that unfortunately get tied to a lot of young boy bands working their way up the industry. Still, we’ll choose to look at the positives: The Jacksons were the American Dream. Coming up around the same time as The Beatles, the Jackson brothers were more homegrown and down to clown with full choreo and cheesy, in-your-face poptimism. They taught you how to spell. Literally the fundamentals of family and evergreen euphoria, as fresh as it comes. There will never be another one like it.

No. 1: *NSYNC Takes Us To The Moon

*NSYNC burst the boy band bubble. They really took it there. The discography is unmatched, and the whole package is undeniable from top to bottom. I could point to their performance of “Tearin’ Up My Heart” (one of the best pop songs of all time) at the 1999 MTV Spring Break with a simultaneous beach runway show. Or when they flew through the air like actual angels in the arena during “Sailing.” Maybe I could talk about the perfection that was the concept album No Strings Attached, where every music video carried the throughline symbol of the boys being puppets on a string, a nod to freedom after parting ways with their long-time management and label RCA. But I really wanna point to the music itself, the original ‘Hyperpop’ and a treasure chest of tracks that could, and did, go toe-to-toe with Britney Spears at the time. The songs aged really well and still sound fresh. Until Adele dropped 25 in 2015, *NSYNC held the record for the highest one-week album sales in the country, and it felt deserved. They were doing flips on stage, literal acrobatics, and making sure that they infiltrated every part of your eyes, ears and brain. It was a golden era. I remember running straight to Toys “R” Us and buying the Hit Clip with “Bye Bye Bye” on it. Having these pop gods as a physical cube in my hands was true bliss, and I wonder if we’ll ever have anything like *NSYNC in pop culture again. To be honest, I don’t know if these eBoys have it in them, but who knows? The Poptimist in me is hopeful.

Photography: Getty

Brace yourself, America; Good Neighbours are coming.

The UK band have been bringing their high-octane sets and feel-good tracks to venues worldwide, and now they’re kicking off a fall tour with stops in Toronto, New York City, Los Angeles and more. In February, they dropped their debut single “Home,” which has amassed 200 million streams and counting), made it to No. 26 on the UK’s Billboard Hot 100 chart and found viral success as fans use it to soundtrack their TikTok videos.

Earlier this week, they dropped their single, “Daisies,” a track that, according to Oli Fox, started with a voice note. “It was right at the beginning of when we were writing,” he tells us of the message Scott Verrill sent him. “Usually, I’ll be sending Scott murmurs of me singing. This was the first one he sent, which was basically the first voice melody all the way through to the chorus. It was produced as well. I remember cycling home and hearing it and being like, ‘Fuck, we need to write this as soon as we can.’”

At the time, Fox thought Verrill was saying “I look so good I could cry,” on the track. “I though it was a cool concept if you could flip it to something that wasn’t egotistical,” Fox adds. “Then we found the follow up line of ‘I see myself in your eyes.’ It felt like something really cool I’d never heard before especially sung so unapologetically.”

They wrote it in an afternoon, a chill organic process that you can hear and feel in the song’s production. “Oli totally flipped it into this self-love thing,” Verrill says. “It feels free and euphoric and a lot more uplifting than the music that’s been around the past couple years.”

The band has plans to release an official video, but they decided to share the track with visuals from their live performance, a way to show the world what their fans have been experiencing at their gigs. “People always came up to us after the gig and to say, ‘Wow, that lifted the room.’ It was nice to hear that people had such a physical response to it. We wanted to put that out online to show people a little bit of what a Good Neighbours show looks like. That’s when we’re having the most fun is when we’re on stage. It’s a special experience for everyone who comes to see us, it’s really joyous. I feel like we captured that nicely, especially for the most joyous song of the set. Hopefully more people will want to see us live now.”

“On ‘Daisies,’ we’ve played it and people have already known the words to the chorus,” Verrill says. “We were in Australia playing songs we haven’t released, and people are still singing along.”

Fox describes being on stage as an incomparable moment. “That’s the one time you can feel the love … not through your phone,” he says. “As soon as we jump on stage we hear people screaming and it’s like ‘Oh shit! People really know us not just a username.’”

Speaking of high-energy shows, the band is more than ready to show off their sonic skills in the US. “What sets us apart is sheer energy,” Fox tells us. “We bring a festival show to every stage. It’s bombastic. It’s a house party on stage. Lots of sing-a-long bits. It’s us and our mates from London on stage, we are just having pure fun when we’re out there. Very sweaty and fun.”

Photography: Courtesy of Good Neighbours

“Hold on, you gotta see this,” Philly-born, Los Angeles-based singer Orion Sun tells me. We had been chatting for a long while over Zoom about life, music and weed, and I was politely moving our conversation to a close before she jetted away to grab something. She wanted to show me the artwork for her forthcoming self-titled album, Orion, a hand-painted portrait of her head, colorfully rendered, floating in the water, with a small city landscape jutting out of her scalp and hair. She pointed out its intricate details: the city’s buildings are her thoughts, she tells me. The hair encroaching upon it resembles fog. She pauses for a moment to laugh. “I’m just so excited,” she says. She’s giddy like a child showing their teacher a new collage. “I just love analog.”

That earnest embrace of creation — as defined by all of its joys and challenges — could be felt throughout our conversation, which centered on Orion’s next chapter. Since her self-titled debut, 2017’s self-released A Collection of Fleeting Moments and Daydreams, Orion Sun has helped define a strain of genre-fluid indie music that has one foot in the internet and the other in the dusty sunlit interior of a bedroom studio. Marked by a charming DIY quality, there’s a lovable tactility to her music, the strong sense that the singer and producer you’re listening to is giving you something straight from their hands and heart.

That’s all helped Orion maintain an exceptionally close relationship with her many fans around the world and grow a listenership that is uniquely large for an indie artist. Songs like the pleading “Dirty Dancer” off her 2022 EP, Getaway, or the punchy “Antidote” from her debut have streams in the tens of millions. Her tours sell out rapidly. All of these career milestones are flashy and fun, but they’re only important in the sense that they genuinely allow her to sustain a life in the arts, a life that is, miraculously, rarely, dictated on her own terms. “I never want to conform,” she tells PAPER. “I never want to get into a position where I’m making TikTok songs or making stuff that doesn’t serve me first, selfishly.”

Today, she continues on that self-directed path. She’s announcing her headlining US Rising Sun Tour (dates here), which will bring her around the country, and allow her to finally perform an album that she’s been honing for years. Orion, out September 20th on Mom+Pop, is a continuation of all that’s connected fans to her world thus far. But with the benefit of time and space, Orion is a clear expansion, a chance to reflect on this past stretch of her life, which has been marked by a move across the country, a breakup and a dream-like ascent into becoming a globally known musician.

“Mary Jane,” the second single off that album, released today, ruminates on the push and pull between the desire to express oneself and the strain of being watched. An aching rumination on her long-term relationship with marijuana and its attendant feelings of solace and paranoia, “Mary Jane” is an introvert’s ode to the things we do to feel whole and human.

PAPER caught up with the busy musician to talk about nature, this epic album process, and the joys and challenges of touring the world.

Hey! Thanks so much for taking the time. I’m excited to chat.

I’m very hyped for this. I don’t really like talking on social media, so I really value interviews.

To be honest, that’s quite rare with musicians.

Maybe it’s because I’m such a geek about being an artist. Watching other interviews with my favorite artists has become very valuable not only to my artistry but also to how I shape myself as a human. This is such a moment right now: us trying to figure out social media and the internet landscape. It’s kind of similar to the first person ever to try a dragon fruit. They had to have been so brave because it looks so wild when you think about it. “Like, no, you try it first. Are you gonna die?” You know what I mean? There are a lot of things right now, but blogs, PAPER, just the written language … it’s not going anywhere.

You’re right in the thick of it right now because you’re entering album release mode. How are you thinking about that if you have this trepidation with social media?

It just excites me cause I love learning new shit, and I like to grow. I told myself, I could either get left behind or just try to figure it out in my own way. I don’t think getting left behind is bad per se, but with the goals that I have, it’s not really conducive to what I want to accomplish in terms of creating as much shit as possible before I die. So you gotta get up and be like, Okay, this is weird, but how can I do what I wanna do and feel good about it? Hopefully it works.

It’s very much just like, if this works, cool. But I’m more focused on what feels good and what I want to leave behind. I’m the kind of artist who [believes] everything in time. I’m not planning on going anywhere. I want to do this forever. So let me just figure it out and see where I can take it.

It helps that you have fans who are really committed to your work and have been for a while. People have a really deep relationship with your music and have been for years now.

I’m really grateful. As I continue to grow, I’m realizing I’m speaking to myself, but I’m also speaking to who I’m actually connecting with. It really makes me feel good, because I know when I started writing and getting into music, I always felt alone. So whenever I go on tour, or I happen to see a comment or something where it’s just like, “Thank you. I was thinking this too,” it helps me on my worst day. I have it saved in a little mason jar where it’s just like, “Okay. Don’t lose the plot like. This is why I’m here.” It’s very dramatic, but it’s just like, If I’m not doing this, I could not tell you what I’m here for. So that means I gotta roll with the punches. But whenever I do feel that connection it makes it all worth it, you know?

I was suprised that it’s been so long since you put out a full length album, because you’ve been consistently in the mix with your EP and collaborations. What has the process been like of putting together your first full project in a while?

When I put out my first album with a label, Hold Space For Me, there were a lot of “firsts” in that wave of things. It was just so many eyes on me, and that was the turning point for me, because it was just like, “Oh, I’m not putting it on Soundcloud. I’m just giving it to a label.” I had to re-ask myself, like, Okay, do you want to actually do this? Because fame is not something that I got in this for. I actually think that will be one of my biggest battles in terms of it not changing who I am or making me disgusting and weird.

I just want to express myself. There’s something about being able to create songs and then go out and sing those songs. When I hear them back I’m just, Okay, I’m ready to tackle anything, including myself, to make sure that I can do it again. I had a sneak peek of working with other people with my EP, but this album was the first time that I did that with a full-length project. I was meeting so many people, trying to figure out who the right fit may be, finding the right vibe. I’m so sensitive, so it has to be perfect for me. And that just takes time. It was a lot of pushing through doubt. I wanna make good shit. I’m happy with whatever I make. But there is an added pressure that I can’t deny when you get to a certain point in your career where you are thinking, “Where are these things gonna be played? Who’s even listening?”

I was sitting down like, “Okay, all I have to do is show up every day. If I make something cool, cool. If not? Also cool, but at least I showed up.” I was doing that for a couple of years. And I had to sit down too, and be like, Hold on, I can keep making shit forever. I know I have something here. So at the end of last year, I sat down with everything over the course of a couple of years and carved out this story of what I was going through at the time, which was a breakup and finding myself again.

It’s interesting when you break up in your mid-20s. You were dating since you were 21, so there’s a lot of growth that has to happen, because I was just kinda chilling, not experiencing real life in a lot of ways. So it was also dealing with that, and juggling my personal growth with my musical growth. And that’s why I wanted it to call it Orion, because it really feels like my first project. I know who I am more than I ever have before. To the point where I feel like a child. The last time I felt like this, I had to have been like six or seven, just very curious about the world, wanting to try everything. That really is the process. A lot of thinking, a lot of pushing through. And I allowed myself to have a little bit of fun, too. But I did kick myself in the shins, cause I would have been done way earlier.

I’ve only heard the two songs so far, but I’m loving how it still feels connected to your old work, but still definitely like a progression. How are you thinking about shaping the sound of this next chapter?

Going into this, I knew it was important to build upon the world that I already had. I do notice that a lot of artists that are relatively “new” — even though I’ve been doing this for a while — drastically change their sound or direction, kind of like David Bowie, which I love. But I knew that I was in this for a really long time, so I wanted to just kind of stretch that out. My main concern was like, Okay, I want people to know the name. I always joke like I’m on a Key and Peele skit with the substitute teacher, where he’s like, “Hey, A-aaron.” I get people saying my name like “oh-rih-on” and want to make a statement that it’s “oh-rye-on” and just make what feels right.

You were largely in LA while you were making this?

Yeah, I started in New York. “Already Gone” was written in New York, but I was just feeling claustrophobic. I wanted that city to work for me so bad, being from the East Coast and idolizing that city so much. But it just wasn’t conducive to what I needed. I needed to heal. I needed to breathe and grind differently, and New York was just very loud and bustling. I realized I love to visit there, but come home to Los Angeles. And it just felt right. You know, it was really the people. I’m still not used to seeing mountains every day. You are a product of your environment. I really do feel like it’s changed me for the better.

I know that nature was a big part of this album. Did the natural landscape of Los Angeles find its way into the project too?

Nature is definitely a through line in all of my projects, only because I’m very connected. I have to be present to even be tapped into what I’m feeling. It’s almost like magic where I could be having the worst day and go for a walk out here. It’s just different [from New York], too, because you can walk out here and not see anybody. It’s just something about seeing the ultimate creation as a creative.

It gives me inspiration every time, and also grounds me cause I think this is the most pressure I felt with the project because of the long time since the last project. You just never know if people are gonna fuck with you. It only matters to me because I wanna live off of this. I don’t genuinely care if they like the shit. It’s just like: Can I pay my rent? [laughs] I never want to conform. I never want to get into a position where I’m like making TikTok songs or making stuff that doesn’t serve me first, selfishly.

This interview is coming out with “Mary Jane.” And I’m super excited for that song. I’m listening to it at the exact right time, because I used to be a stoner and am thinking a lot about my relationship to marijuana right now. I know it’s also a metaphor, but I’m just curious what you were thinking about when you wrote the song?

I wrote that on tour in 2022, because I had lost my wallet in Toronto, and it really shook me for some reason. I’m just like, I don’t lose that.I don’t really lose things in general, even though everyone was like, “This happens.” But I was just like, We’re on tour. I’m super stressed. It’s my first headline tour, and I lost my wallet. So I was just feeling down, and I was in the band with other stoners too. But all eyes were on me and I was super nervous being on tour. I wasn’t smoking, and I remember looking over, being like, I wish I could [smole] in this moment, because I hate this feeling.

And then I got back from tour, and I was able to sit with it for a little bit. It made me think about my coping mechanisms and just how I get through life. [Weed has] just held me for so long. I remember being really grateful for it, because when I couldn’t talk to anybody, when I didn’t want to talk to anybody, but I knew I had to be here still to see this life through, it got me through. But the more I started having more responsibilities, or just having to socialize more, and not be this hermit that just tinkers away in the studio, it began to betray me, and I was really sad about that, because I was like, Well, what do I do now? I guess I have to talk to my friends about my problems, to step out in the world and be a person, even though it feels safer to just be in my little weed bubble. So when it gets to the bridge of the song, it’s about everything I have to face when I’m not smoking.

So it’s a lot of fear. Even thinking about it moves me, because weed in a lot of ways hyperdrives through that paranoia so I can just get to the other side and be like, I’m exhausted [raises her arms in exasperation and laughs]. It’s that tug and pull, and you’ll see as the album progresses, my relationship with it, because I had to take a break. But when I do take a break: now I have nightmares. It’s just the battle with it being a good thing for me. But I love that song, because it’s like, Please work for me still, because I don’t know how I’m going to navigate this part of my life without it?

You mentioned tour being stressful. This is also gonna come out with the announcement of your next tour. What’s your relationship with tour now? Has it changed?

Thank God for growth, right? I mean, shout out to my fans that continuing to support me, buying my merch, buying these tickets, streaming my music because I’m able to grow my touring team. So my most recent tour was opening for Daniel Caesar and I had tour management. The more you grow, the more you can make it comfortable for yourself by having people looking out for certain things, because things get wild.I’m not the kind of artist that’s like, I don’t want to see my fans. I don’t care if there’s no setup for the meet and greet. If they want to meet me, if they went out of their way to contact my tour manager or one of my bandmates, I’m going to pop out. But that can be dangerous.

And I just don’t want to ever become just a product. I think my fans understand that I’m very human. I post when I wants to, or when something’s coming. I want to be a human first, product, second, like I’m self aware enough to know that I am both things. But on tour, it’s elevated right? They don’t give a shit. If you’re tired, they don’t care if you’re talking to this person. They want a picture. Now, you have to just really learn how to navigate all these different mirrors right?

Like, I don’t see separation between any of us. I look at them, I see myself, and I hope they look at me and see themselves whether they’re black or not, whether they’re a woman or not. I take all of that into consideration, and I think I put that on myself and make touring difficult, because outside of that, it’s really fun.

I see something new almost every day [on tour]. And being the introvert that I am, that’s so important for me. Thank God for my job because I’m still healing from trauma. It’s not really natural for me to be like, “Let me go to Paris today.”

I get to see the world and come back to tell my friends, tell my family, who might be more afraid of the world than I am, you know? and it gives them hope. You’re an inspiration, like, I want to leave my block. I want to leave my hometown. That moves me.

Photography: Eric Johnson