POP-ED: Iggy Azalea

POP-ED: Iggy Azalea

A talk with the Australian rap glamazon years after she became an international phenomenon.

A talk with the Australian rap glamazon years after she became an international phenomenon.

Text: MATHIAS ROSENZWEIG

In our new column, Digital Editor Mathias Rosenzweig writes portraits of individuals who've shifted popular culture as we know it today.

Exactly how Iggy Azalea became a walking, talking think piece remains up for debate. At just 16, the Australian rapper moved to Miami, where various figures and overlapping social circles within the hip-hop world took her in and began grooming the then-teenager for stardom. Seemingly overnight, she shifted from being a nightclub headliner with an intense, cult-like following to queen of the charts, hitting #1 with her 2014 track “Fancy”. Afterward, a feature on Ariana Grande’s “Problem” landed her at #2, making Azalea the only act besides The Beatles to have their first two Hot 100 tracks chart simultaneously. Next, the visibility of mainstream success turned Azalea’s identity and artistry into a slew of debates centered around race, authenticity, cultural appropriation, etc. But in arguing against Azalea’s worthiness of fame, some people were too quick to discount the many reasons why she actually achieved it.

Azalea’s charisma, drive, and general swagger made her stand out in a crowd—enough so that the aforementioned hip-hop insiders saw a bounty of potential. It turns out, they were right to do so. She might not have “grown up” rapping, but Azalea did have an affinity for the genre and was able to hone her craft enough to pen (dare I say?) one of the most iconic tracks of the last decade. Now, a single Instagram post to her 12.3 million followers will be taken, recontextualized, and reported on countless times. Which is to say, something about Azalea continues to captivate—people still click—and to attribute that entirely to her race or impossibly good looks would be reductive (and sexist, in terms of the latter).

Azalea’s new Survive the Summer EP is a notable step away from the mainstream pop tracks that made her an international phenomenon. Her grit and bite on the album further establish the artist's idiosyncratic style and voice, two pieces of the puzzle that have been overly scrutinized in the past. It’s worth listening to if for no other reason but to remember why Azalea became a star in the first place. Two days before she dropped the new material, Azalea and I spoke about her return to the stage, the importance of perception, and making music you can stand behind.

Before we start, I have to tell you that I saw you perform at a club in San Francisco in like 2012. You sat in a booth next to the stage and combed your hair while the opening act went on. Everyone was cheering for you instead of her.

[Laughs.] Probably. That sounds like the kind of ratchet shit I would do.

Are you excited to perform more of the new material live? Do you have more fun on stage or while recording it in the studio?

Yeah, I mean I love being in the studio because I get to be creative and play around with ideas, but I haven’t toured my own show in years. So I’m just happy to be able to sit down now and have so much music to choose from. And pick the right set with the right balance and make a show. It’s a bit like making an album in a way because you are picking from a big group of things that you made. And you’re handpicking a smaller, I guess, playlist. It’s similar in that way. When you have so many things to choose from, and I do, it’s like you really can curate what the energy of the show is going to be. Because I could go in a more pop direction with my show. I don’t want to. I want to have an aggressive energy, bring back some of the mixtape things. You know, you get to make all of the music transitions, just like making a show, as much fun as making an album I think.

Do you like to include throwbacks like “My World” for some nostalgia? Maybe you can pick out the fans that have followed you for a while now because they know the words. 

Hopefully people will know the words to some of those songs. I guess for me, I’ll add a few, not a lot, but I’ll sprinkle some of those moments in. I think I want to make it just cool transitions and little nods to it so it doesn’t really matter if you know the words to that song, or if you were around at that time, or you weren’t. You’ll still enjoy it hopefully. Just enjoy it for the music and dance, or whatever’s visually happening around out at the live shows. I don’t think it will really matter how many people in the room necessarily know the words. I think they’ll still enjoy it anyway. But I’ll be looking for people who know the songs, for sure.

When you have new music coming out, are you watching the way people are reacting? Or do you take a day to yourself and not really pay attention?

When I put music or anything out, I make a point to hyper engage with the internet. That’s my job; when something comes out, is to give the good reactions a platform for other people to see or enjoy. Or funny moments. Like I’m always sifting through trying to find those moments to then put on my platform that are positive in response to whatever it is I put out. I suppose that could be, whether it’s a song or performance, I’m always hyper engaged in the days following those releases. And then I think I feel like, okay, so now I've done that. It’s not healthy to be that level engaged all the time on the internet. Now I disengage and go back to making stuff, or whatever it is I was doing. Can’t be that level engaged with the internet. It’s too distracting. But I do it when the songs come out for a couple of days.

The Internet is extremely engaged with you, personally. Like if you post a picture there are articles about it or whatever. So it can become a crazy loop.

Yeah, I keep an eye on it. When I see it’s getting to be a certain level of low engagement I’m like, "Okay, it’s time for me to step back and engage." But yeah, it’s definitely weird because it’s like we use the Internet daily and we interact with it so much that it is a reality. It is real life, but it isn’t. All because the perception of what happens on the Internet or what we think people’s lives are, the things we’re engaging with, aren’t necessarily a true reality of life. But perception is reality, so I don’t know about stuff like that. I don’t really know how to untangle all of that. I just know that it’s not healthy, I know that for sure, to be that level engaged. I’ve got to, for example, this week I’ll shoot. Tomorrow and the next day I’ll shoot content that will end up on the internet, but then my project comes out on Thursday night. And I have two days with my schedule free. And really, I know I’ll spend all day long for two days on the Internet engaging with people and finding moments to select to put on my platform. It’s like, I take time off my schedule on those release days just to talk to kids on the Internet. So it’s a real thing to consider. The Internet and all its inner workings nowadays find its way into my schedule.

Yeah, well I honestly think you do it really well and in a playful way. I did see you were reposting people’s reactions to “Kream”, for example. 

Yeah, I like to keep a good balance between things that are curated, obviously. I think if you look on my timeline you can see it’s curated. It’s thought out. It’s aesthetic. I like to keep that more. I guess I don’t really look at that as an insight into my life. More just things that I think are aesthetic or that fans would usually like. I think I use my Instagram stories as a place to more share what I’m doing in the day. Or if I want to post like funny dances, or girls I think are sexy, or ones I think are funny. Just all those moments. I think it’s better to just have those things up for 24 hours and then just go off into cyberspace. But my actual page I think of more of like as an art type project. Like I don’t really want to post my food at a restaurant on there, you know what I mean? But I will on stories. It’s up 24 hours. But I don’t want to look back in 3 months aesthetically and see my pasta. For me. I like that on other people’s pages, but that’s the way I like to use it, or that I figured out how it works for me. Because I did leave social media for a while. I felt like this level of interaction with the world, sharing with the world, doesn’t really benefit me or give me anything as an artist. I don’t really like, feel I’m being creative. I just feel like I’m getting moreso violated with my privacy. Whatever you post, they’ll have an article around it. It’s like I don’t really want this kind of article being written about me. Not that I think they’re negative. I just don’t really feel as an artist they really do anything for me musically. I guess to your level of fame it can help, but I’m not really interested in that. But I think I found a way that works for me now where things are more about what we’re visually doing more so than my letting you know what kind of socks I want to wear. I want to share my creative ideas with everyone, so I’ve been doing that lately. I think it works. It’s good. It feels good to me. I feel like I still get to be creative and everyone still gets to be engaged, so it’s like win-win. I’m glad I found a balance that works for me.

When it comes to the visuals for album art or your music videos, does that come while your making the music or is it an afterthought? 

I guess it’s a little bit of both. First always, it’s music. And I just make a lot of whatever the fuck I feel like. And then I guess I kind of cherry-pick from that. Like, "Okay, what’s an overall direction I feel works for me with this?" And then I’ll keep making music. Like when I first started making Survive The Summer, there were a lot of different energies happening within the music. Some of it was sad and melancholy, and some of it was very aggressive. And I had a lot of different things to choose from within that broad spectrum. And then I sat and listened. "Okay, what am I thinking?" I just felt really drawn to the more aggressive stuff, so from there I was like, "Okay, so this is what we’re going to focus on making more of. This is the direction that we’re going in." And then I started to think about what does that look like visually for me? And making mood boards and things like that. And then from that, I started to think about what does the video look like? What does the album cover look like? And then with that in mind, knowing that now, what does my Instagram look like? Making sure that’s aesthetically somewhat in line with it in terms of color palette-wise or energy-wise. I’m trying not to steer too far away from that kind of thing in the moment, in terms of keeping it all in the same dynamic family. But I think I do a good job with it. But I think it definitely starts with music. Music first.

Right. And then the visuals are just to keep everything cohesive.

Yeah. Music and visuals to keep it cohesive. Me personally, I just don’t like when you have a project and it has like a billion different types of fonts. Or one single is really bright and summer and then the next one is disjointed, I guess. I prefer for things not to be disjointed. I like them to be very much cohesive if I can help it. I’ve gotten better at that with me. I’m always like that, but I haven’t always been the best with it either. It’s hard to critique myself, but I’ve worked on it and I think I’ve gotten better at it. But I really prefer things to look like one dynamic family.

People are more drawn to projects that are more full circle.

Yeah. It takes a lot of organization to be that thought out. In retrospect, looking at my projects, a lot of things could’ve made them better or what I think maybe made them not cohesive at times. It’s just doing stuff and then not being thought out. Then a song may pop up and it’s like, "Oh, this is totally a different energy." Like when I did “Mo Bounce” a year ago and did “Switch”. And I like them both, but it’s not cohesive and dynamic. And it’s really just because I didn’t have a project. I wasn’t thinking far enough ahead to be that organized. Where this time around I have been. It’s good. I think it’s better that way, if you can help it, but I understand why you’re not able to at times. But if you can, you should. It’s more engaging and it gives people more of an understanding of what to expect, what’s happening, you know what I mean? I don’t know. It’s just better.

Well when you’re a new artist you don’t necessarily have the privilege of being thought out because you just have to take the opportunities that are given to you. And those can be kind of sporadic.

That’s true.

And once you have a certain level of success, you can be like, "Okay, now I can be picky or now I can take my time" without having to jump at every opportunity. 

Yeah, I get what you’re saying. For sure. I think it’s definitely harder when you’re not able to pass up on certain opportunities, to have control over those kinds of things for sure. Because I see myself saying no to things all the time now that I’m like, "Oh, I definitely would’ve said yes to that three years ago or four years ago." You know, now I’ll be like, "That doesn’t fit within this." It might be something I even like, or I’ll say, "You know, I like this thing but it doesn’t fit within what I’m doing right now. So I’m gonna pass on it. But I do like it, but no." Just to be able to do that, to have the luxury to do that, because I know how it feels to not be able to.

Who did you collaborate with on the new tracks? 

Yeah. I only have two. I kept it really light. I just have the collaboration with Tyga on “Kream” and I have my collaboration with Wiz Khalifa on the record, as well. The song we did, “OMG”, which I really like, but that’s it. I keep it light on the collaborations because it’s only a six-song project. And the point of the project being that short and keeping the songs short is because I really wanted it to be listened from start to finish without you having to really skip over and think, or not have time to hear it all the way through. It’s short. It’s about, I think it’s like 20 minutes long, the project. It’s just one kind of burst of energy. I guess with my like, what I was trying to achieve with it, I just wanted something to be played back-to-back in the right order that I have. I don’t want a bunch of features. Those are the two that made sense to me. The other four songs are just my vocals because I don’t think there’s enough time for there to be a lot of features. There’s no time to spread them out. If it was a full-length project, I would’ve done more. But just for this, because it’s so short, it’s just the two. Just really simple. I didn’t want to go too crazy with that kind of thing.

Yeah, I mean people have really short attention spans, unfortunately, so sometimes you have to cut the fat.

[Laughs.] They do, but I mean I understand because I do too. There’s other people’s projects I still haven’t listened to because they’re long. And I think to myself like, "Oh, I really want to listen to that, but I’ve gotta sit down and make the time to really hear the whole thing." So I haven’t listened to them yet because I haven’t made the time to sit down and do it. But I just think, I don’t know, I really like when projects are shorter. When I put out Ignorant Art, it was short. My projects put out after that, Glory was six songs, are short. I’ve always just liked things being shorter than longer. I like to get to the point, I feel like. And it’s like, I don’t know, I kinda feel like if you have a story and you write your essay and you go over it then, and you put a red line through the things you don’t really need in order to tell your story, it’s kinda like for me, that I don’t really need 12 songs to tell this story. I can do it in six and it’s just more to the point and it cuts the fat off the whole thing, which I think is better that way.

How do you gauge success in your art? Are you caring about fans’ reactions or charts? Or what is your goal?

I don’t know. I mean, not really. I do, but I don’t. I think charts are always going to be, it’s something that we like, that we all would love. I know I love it when my songs are on the charts, but I also feel like if you chase the charts you’re kinda chasing your tail like a dog a little bit. Going around in circles. So it’s kinda like, not really. I don’t really measure my success. I guess just personally in terms of artistic growth or me as an artist, do I measure that by the charts? No, but I also am signed to a major label and I know that they measure my success by the charts. So it’s a conversation that I guess I have, but it’s not really at the forefront of what I’m doing. And same thing with fans. I want fans to connect, but I also think it’s more important, I love when they do, but it’s more important that I’m making whatever I’m making and I’m satisfied with it. Because I’ve put out things that have been more successful than the stuff I do now, but I don’t really feel like I can stand behind some of those things as much as I can stand behind like this project that I’m doing right now. So at the end of the day, it really has to be something I can stand behind and be proud of, you know? If it gets criticized, everything always does when you’re an artist. I need it to be something, first and foremost, I can stand behind and feel like I like this. I want to play it in my car. I want to listen to it. I like it because when you create things, you can create stuff with somebody else in mind and still feel like, "I did a great job at that," or you can create something kinda more for yourself. And I feel like that’s the kinda success I prefer, I guess. If it could be combined, that would be awesome. The ultimate would be to just make something that you love and the world loves it too. That would be the ultimate if that could happen. If the stars aligned. But if I had to pick between making something for the world and they love it, but I don’t really love it, or making something for myself that I love and think is the shit, I pick me. Sorry, I’m selfish. I want to love it because I feel like I’ve been making stuff for the rest of the world for years. And I don’t know, I deserve to love it again, don’t I? Shouldn’t I? Fucking don’t I deserve a passion project? I think I do. I made one. But I think that by doing that, it’s a funny thing, because when you make something that’s just purely for you or just purely your passion, it kinda invokes or connects more with other people. And they feel passionate about it. So it’s sorta like doing your own self a favor by not worrying about that anymore.

It's definitely a luxury to get to finally do that, not have to worry about what other people will think. 

It’s a luxury for sure. Just like when we spoke about what you can say no and what you can say yes to. Doing something without having to worry about it charting is a luxury everyone can’t afford. But I’m really happy I’m in a place I can do that. And yeah, I think it’s very happy. I’m very lucky. Lucky to be able to go and make whatever shitty music I want. [Laughs.]

It’s not shitty. It’s not shitty at all.

It’s like I don’t have to, it’s just whatever the fuck I want to do that forever. It’s just more fun. There’s no rules when you do that. And that’s what art should be like, music and art, creating shouldn’t have rules. Sometimes we have to think about well, I spent like three years of my life for a little portion there, wondering, "Can I say that? How will that work on the radio?" It’s like, "Oh man, fuck that shit."’ I don’t want to think about that. I want to fucking say whatever the fuck I want. And I have been. And it just feels good to not have to worry about that for a little bit. It feels very freeing and good. It feels like back when I was starting, when I started making music, like with “Pu$$y”. “Pu$$y” couldn’t play on the radio. It was good. A good feeling to just say, "Fuck that shit." It feels good to be able to do that again, to have that luxury again, because it’s hard when you get successful. You have to take care of people. The people that work for you, that have full-time jobs, that your success becomes dependent on. And it’s like you don’t really have, not just for your own self but for everyone around you, you don’t have the luxury of saying, "Well, you know we’re not going to worry about that anymore." So to be at a place where I can do that, it’s really good again. It feels good.

Credits: Images Via Iggy Azalea

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