Interview: Kiddy Smile Can Do It All
Music, movies and movements: Kiddie Smile isn’t asking for you to make space, he’s taking it.
Kiddy Smile had just woken up from a nap. It was 8 p.m. in Paris, and he was catching up on much-needed rest from a busy schedule. Beyond releasing his newest music video for his song, “Slap My Butt”, Kiddy has been really active lately. A debut album (titled One Trick Pony), Gaspar Noé’s Climax, and more than a few tour dates later, he is poised to catapult into your headspace with his brand, irreverent to what people think of him. Our conversation looped through many of the aspects of Kiddy: his musicianship, his acting, his creativity and his resilience. Being a black, queer French man, Kiddy Smile is not only ready to catch your attention with his creative output, but also break down barriers of societal expectations and take the space he rightfully deserves.
What is your creative process, whether it be in the studio making music or coming up with an idea for a video?
I write lyrics first, then I get in the studio and work with mentors to help me. I do the first draft on my own, I don’t want my vision to get lost in other peoples’ vision, but I always push myself to make the most of my ideas before I present them to my collaborators. It’s hard when you’re thinking about music, because not everyone speaks about it the same way. I have a friend that speaks about it with colors, which I don’t understand. I was a dancer and I consider movement and rhythm more when talking about music. The more I can put in my draft before the big shots contribute, the better, and then they step in to make it the way it should be.
How do you pair your visuals with your music?
I’m always trying to create visual stories. It always helped me when I was younger to see people like me. I work with a creative director, Hakim Ghorab, for most of my videos. Only two videos haven’t been his ideas: one was with this crazy lady director who said, “Let’s put some dicks everywhere”. For “Slap My Butt”, we were inspired by Pose, the show. I’m usually very hands on in the vision for my videos, but this time I let people do what they wanted to do. [Hakim] knows me a bit more now, this is how we started doing it. I handled all of the styling though, that was me.
Are you looking at fan comments and things when you release new content?
I don’t look at comments; I’m the kind of person that could look at 100 compliments but the one negative comment I see gets to me. If I don’t know you, I’m not going to pay attention to your reaction. Unless you come to me in the streets, then I’m not reading it online. It’s not the look. I put so much time and money into my projects, negative comments… you could at least be constructive.
How did you get exposed to voguing and how did you get so good at it?
I used to be a hip-hop dancer, so that’s where I got exposed to it. [Voguing] never really spoke to me, but when I stopped dancing, I was getting a lot of DJ gigs and I got a residency at a club in Paris. I was looking for a concept for a party and my friend, who had been showing the culture to young gay kids, reached out to me and asked, “Could you help us with a ball?” We thought we’d do a little ball at the beginning before the event, it’d be great helping my friends and I’d get my concept, two birds with one stone. When the party happened, I saw all these kids expressing themselves and their identities, and I realized they really needed this space. I felt like I needed to do something to make this regular. It felt similar to when I was doing hip-hop, when I could connect to class and race. I was jealous of these young kids, being able to connect to their sexualities at such a young age, but I knew that I needed to encourage it.
You have been branded as somewhat of an LGBTQ+ icon, breaking barriers and changing perceptions of queer people in France, especially as a person of color. In your new video for “Slap My Butt”, and a lot of your work, you use your sexuality as a large aspect of your art. Is this purposeful, and do you feel like it helps or fuels your activism?
I am honestly just speaking about my life and what I go through. I didn’t realize when I was just being me that I was the first in France. There was no one doing what I was doing before me, even around the world. I had to be a role model, which I hate. I fuck up all the time. I don’t want to be looked at as a role model, I think I’m a pretty decent human being today, but I was brat. I am good person, but maybe not a role model.
“Slap My Butt”, even though you see black queer people sexualized, it’s not often that black people can tell their own stories. It was important to me as a plus-sized person and a person of color; I didn’t want my sexualization to have a twist, not of comedy or something else. I wanted to be a symbol of sexual desire like they would treat someone with a more fit body. I had to fight with the director a bit on this, he wanted to have something a little funny. If I’m showing my butt, it isn’t a joke. I’ve been a joke one too many times in my life. It’s a statement for plus sized people. Not so long ago, people were laughing at me in the streets for my body – I don’t want that anymore.
What keeps you going, not only as a creative artist but as a social warrior, when you face pushback or criticism?
I love being on stage, I’m a performer. When I’m on stage, it feels like all of the sweat, blood, tears and doubt just go away. I’m able to be myself. Sometimes when I do things, I don’t even think about it. It’s something that’s very natural to me, how could this upset so many people? Then, you get a message from someone who is going through the same things, and that’s where you get the drive to keep doing what you’re doing. You help someone feel like they’re not alone.
Climax has gotten tons of critical acclaim and captured somewhat of a cult following. What was it like to be a part of this movie and to work with Gaspar Noé?
It was amazing! I always wanted to be in a movie, never thought it would end up being a Gaspar Noé movie. I didn’t think there were even black people in his movies before Climax. I met Gaspar a long time ago. The first time, I think he was very drunk and didn’t remember me, but when I saw him again, I was in drag. I asked him, “What the fuck are you doing here at this ball?” He said he was invited by a dancer there and he came and stood next to me and asked so many questions. I couldn’t answer them because I was judging the ball but I told him he could reach out and ask me later. He texted me to grab coffee and told me about this idea for a new movie revolving around voguing dancers. I said, “That’s very nice of you, but this shouldn’t be about voguing. This isn’t our story to tell. The legitimacy of making this movie will be questioned; we need to involve other kinds of dance to make it more about a political movement and finding your identity through dance.”
I used to dance in the same dance group as Sophia [Boutella], who he told me he was casting. It was so funny because I’ve known her forever. The experience was very enjoyable but a lot of stress. I shot it between two knee surgeries, finishing my album, some commercials and touring. I had all of that to do, but it was really nice because Gaspar made space for me to keep involved. He is very sweet.
Lots of big things happened for you for the first time in 2018: first album, first magazine cover, first sold out show. What’s the biggest thing you hope to do or accomplish for the first time in 2019?
I would really love to perform at Coachella. I know that it’s not what it used to be, but it would mean I’m doing well in America. I, of course, want to do well and make it in my home [of France], but Coachella would be so much fun.
This interview was condensed for brevity and clarity. The video for “Slap My Butt” is below.