If you haven’t heard Kiiara’s name, you’ve almost definitely heard her impossibly catchy 2015 single “Gold,” where she sings confidently about nonchalantly exiting parties and leaving her ex in the dust. Since then, she’s released a remix of the song featuring Lil Wayne, the EP low kii savage, and several more singles and remixes, in addition to collaborating with Linkin Park on the song “Heavy.” On October 9, she’s releasing her much-anticipated debut album lil kiiwi, which includes “Gold” and 12 other songs she’s recorded in the five years since.
Previously shy about letting fans into her life, Kiiara’s goal with lil kiiwi — a title based on a nickname of hers — was to do just that. “Early in my career, I never really let people in,” she explains. “I wasn’t super transparent. I didn’t do a lot of interviews. I didn’t really feel comfortable answering questions because I didn’t know myself well. So this album is like, come into my world. Here we go.'”
True to her word, the album is as emotionally vulnerable as it is infectiously rhythmic, with lots of vocal warping and EDM effects. On the upbeat “Sick,” she condemns an ex who was too quick to move on, “Feels” describes dealing with “too much emotion,” and “Don’t Get Confused” tells off men who assume she’s interested in them. In one of the rawest songs, “Never Let You,” she gets honest about questioning her career path with lyrics like “should’ve never picked up that guitar.”
“Sometimes, I’m like, do I even know what I’m doing? Is this even a good song?” she explains. “I’ll call my friends, and I feel like a lot of my friends too will go through this phase: ‘I’m just gonna quit.’ And I’m like, what are you talking about? And we have to remind each other, ‘Look what you’ve done. Take a step back and look. You’re so zoomed in and looking at it up close, you’re not realizing how far you’ve come.'”
Self-doubt is something that’s plagued Kiiara throughout her career, not just with regard to her music but also with regard to her body image. “I was just trying to hide, and that’s why I didn’t do a lot of interviews,” she says. “Even when I performed, I just hated my face. It was not done purposefully — ‘I want to look like this or be mysterious’ — it was just that I was scared. Doing Lollapalooza was my sixth show in my entire career, so I was like, ‘I want to wear baggy clothing.'”
The 25-year-old Chicago-based artist describes having battled an eating disorder, sometimes not eating for days before music video shoots so she’d achieve the appearance she wanted. Seeing a nutritionist and a personal trainer helped her lead a healthy lifestyle and focus on health instead of weight. “I was like, ‘Oh, I need the energy, I need nutrition.’ No wonder I was so angry or moody early in my career — I wasn’t eating properly,” she remembers. She’s also gained confidence in herself as an artist by taking voice lessons early in her career.
A lot of the songs on her new album were written and recorded on the spot right in the studio. She collaborated with a number of producers and songwriters, including Ali Tamposi (who’s written for Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera, and One Direction) and Livvi Franc (Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, Rihanna). “I’ve kind of stepped out and worked with a lot of people out of my comfort zone,” she says. “I would go in and I’d get there and be like, ‘This is what I’m going through, this is what happened, this is what was going on in my life,’ and then we’d just write about it.”
Even as her album comes out, she’s continuing to return to the studio and record new music, and she also has plenty of songs already recorded that she hasn’t yet released. “The past five years, I was in the studio all the time,” she says. “Some of the songs, I don’t even have on me — someone will send me them and I’ll be like, ‘I forgot about this.'”
Today, she’s approaching her work with increased confidence and self-forgiveness, with regard to both her music and her self-image. She recently realized how much progress she’d made when she appeared on camera despite feeling bloated. “[I thought] that’s how it is right now, and we’re going to deal with that,” she says. “I know I’m not perfect. Nothing’s ever going to be perfect. I have to accept myself at all times.”
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