Okay Kaya Traded In Dirt Roads for Catwalks, and Now the Recording Studio

Okay Kaya Traded In Dirt Roads for Catwalks, and Now the Recording Studio

V & D K N Y present Okay Kaya, a model turned musician who will take inspiration anywhere she finds it

V & D K N Y present Okay Kaya, a model turned musician who will take inspiration anywhere she finds it

Photography: CHAD MOORE

Styling: Havana Laffitte

Text: Whitney Mallett

This story appears in V103, on newsstands September 1, available for pre-order here

“I moved here and I bought a guitar. I had some things on my mind, basically,” recalls Norwegian-raised singer-songwriter Okay Kaya, aka model Kaya Wilkins, about moving to New York six years ago. “Now music is what I do,” she adds. “I guess I’m, like, a cute girl who writes love songs. I don’t consider myself that, so it’s weird, but I’ll take it.” For the record, Okay Kaya’s look is more ethereal than cute, and her songs are spacious sojourns through pining and heartache, quiet odes to the power of welcoming one’s own shortcomings, accentuated by a minimal, atmospheric production. They sound like a soundtrack.

Wilkins was raised outside Oslo, in Nesoddtangen, a village on a narrow peninsula. “Growing up, my road was a dirt road,” she says. The area was a hippie community occasioned by a seasonal bloat of rich Europeans summering in second homes. One of Wilkins’s five brothers was in a black metal band. He taught her how to play a few Satyricon songs, but back then, she was mostly focused on dancing. She planned on going to Paris one day to study modern mime—which is closer to modern dance and physical theater than silent clowning. “Now, I’m happy I didn’t,” she says, laughing.

Although Wilkins doesn’t study movement seriously anymore, she recently choreographed a dance for a new music video. The premise, she says, is an AA-like meeting in a drab school on Staten Island. The dance, though, is inspired by a Scandinavian custom she grew up with. “In Norway, we hold hands and sing and dance around the Christmas tree, so I incorporated a dance like that into the group meeting,” she explains. “Just moving with other people like that, I think it actually brought us together, which is the message in the song, that there’s weird community if you allow it to happen.”


Wilkins also draws on her dance background in the 16mm film for “I’m Stupid (But I Love You),” directed by Sam Kuhn, full of pantomimed gestures and moody clouds, while the video for “Clenched Teeth,” directed by Supreme designer Ricky Saiz, finds Wilkins on a lonely stroll through the streets of Tokyo amidst hazy neon lights. Wilkins is excited by the possibilities of combining sound and image. “Making those videos really helped me pinpoint what I actually wanted to express in sound and movement,” she says. “I would love to do film scores.”

Wilkins moves through the world a bit like a large-eyed fawn, with careful steps. “I’m writing pretty much everywhere I go,” she notes. Mostly, she writes about emotions and communication. Her lyrics are like that voice in which you pretend to talk to your crush. “My biggest problem in life,” Wilkins confesses, “is assuming that other people know what I’m thinking.” But she’s learned to embrace the resulting vulnerability. “Being sensitive is definitely crippling at times,” she says, “but once I stopped judging myself for being sensitive, essentially, it became more empowering.”


Makeup Maud Laceppe (Streeters)  Hair Kei Terada (Julian Watson Agency)  Manicure Holly Falcone (Kate Ryan)  Set design Orly Anan  Photo assistant Adam Levett  Stylist assistants Rochelle Adam and Jay Hussa   Makeup assistant Aya Watanabe  Hair assistant Mario Sisneros  Retouching Vision On  Location Root Studios


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