INTERVIEW WITH IGGY AZALEA

22-year-old Australian rapper Iggy Azalea may not have an album out yet, but she’s easily one of the busiest players in the industry.

Following the viral success of her debut single, “Pu$$y,” Iggy released her inaugural mixtape, Ignorant Art, last fall. Since then, she’s been hard at work recording two new mixtapes (the first of which, Glory, was released earlier this summer and is available for free on her website) and her first full album, The New Classic.

I chatted with Iggy about all of her various music projects, her side career as a model, her feud with Interscope Records and fellow rapstress Azealia Banks, how she responds to critics who are offended by her music, and more.

How do you feel the sound of Glory is different from Ignorant Art or The New Classic

Well, it kind of experiments with the kind of feel that I think Ignorant Art and The New Classic are naturally. I just started working on a new project called Trap Gold, and that’s really experimental. But Glory is all about trying to make songs that have traditional song structure and exploring and collaborating with other artists. I wanted to try to see if I could write the kinds of songs that I always hear on the radio, and that’s not really what I usually do. It’s a little bit more mainstream than a traditional hip-hop record. It’s not really experimental with sound, but I had a lot of fun making it. I’m proud of it and I think I did a good job with it.

But I’m going fairly extreme in making Trap Gold. It’s kind of like I walk in the studio and start making crazy shit that sounds like nothing at all that’s on the radio, or that any kid would probably ever want to listen to. I feel like I’ve been all the way left and now I want to go all the way right. I just really want to be able to do that, and I really want to be able to explore the two extremes before releasing The New Classic, and hopefully I can find some kind of a middle ground.

So Trap Gold is going to come out before The New Classic?

Yeah, Trap Gold is coming out really soon. Like, way sooner than anybody would think. But we all decided I wasn’t going to say when it’s coming out, because I wanted some identity with Glory. Because of my label mishap situation, a lot of the music I recorded earlier in the year kind of got stuck. Stuck in a hole is what it felt like. There were so many people involved in the project production-wise, and people that I was working with label-wise kept pressuring me to try to get the music out. It became like I felt like this mixtape was held hostage.

Now with Trap Gold, we all said the only people working on it are me, my friend Christian who I do absolutely everything with, and Diplo and that’s it.  Nobody else is working on it.  We’re going to put it out, and nobody can fucking stop us. We have this timeline of when we’re getting it done, and it’s really quick, but it’s already August, so I’m working on it every single day. So all I can really think about is I just need to get it done. I loved Glory, but I didn’t feel the same creative kind of freedom as what I did with Trap Gold. With Trap Gold, I just kind of tried to make it, and I don’t want to think about who is expecting it or what anybody is going to think about it.

That’s what I did with Ignorant Art. I put it out when it was ready. There wasn’t a countdown or a release date, or collaboration with a website to put it out, or signing off, or any of that shit. I’m not doing it.  I’m just going to put it out, and you’ll learn the date it’s out, but I’m not going to tell anybody until it’s just out.

Is that label pressure you mentioned part of why you switched from Interscope to Grand Hustle?

Yeah, definitely. I mean, even when I was with Interscope I was still with Grand Hustle, but that’s why I left the whole Interscope situation. Grand Hustle is more like a family. Eventually I will get a major distribution deal through Grand Hustle, and I will release my album like that.

Ever since I started having all these meetings and it became all about dates and getting this done, and then all of a sudden you’ll find – and I’m sure other artists can relate to this – that you’re kind of in a room full of strangers. They didn’t work on anything with you, and you haven’t known them for any time at all, but they pretend that they know everything about your project, and sometimes they convince you that they really do know what’s best. There are so many people that just all of a sudden come down out of a spaceship and they try to control all your creativity. All of the deadlines and stuff – it can really take the spark away from what you’re doing. I felt like I lost the spark, and I felt really lost in what I was doing. All of a sudden I was in these big, fancy studios, with people that I didn’t know, and producers that I didn’t know, and it wasn’t the way that I was used to making songs.

I’m used to making songs in my friend’s garage at the back of his sister’s house. I was used to writing with the same guys every day, and it became routine, and it got taken away, and I didn’t really know how to find my feet. I lost the vibe of it, and made it kind of weird, because I didn’t really know what to do. I didn’t have the team that I made Ignorant Art with because Interscope kind of fucked them over, and they didn’t want to work with Interscope, so I couldn’t work with them on Glory or any of that project.  Now that I ended my relationship with that label, I’m back working with them in L.A., and things feel normal again. I just felt like I got taken so far out of my element, and it made me lose what I felt was kind of special about my music, and I just I didn’t really know what to do. I had to find it and I felt like I was just floating around. Now with Trap Gold and also with The New Classic, I feel like I’m back to kind of what I know, and I’ve learned a lot as well in the last couple of months to where I can progress with my song writing and stuff like that.

You’ve already worked with some really big names in the industry like T.I., B.o.B., Cee Lo, Mike Posner, Pusha T and Diplo. Which of these people has given you the best career advice so far?

Probably T.I. and Pusha T. Pusha T and I have been friends for around two years now, and I really owe him a lot because I’m a really unorganized person. I do things on a whim and I’m just spontaneous. I never really see a lot of things from start to finish because I’ll get distracted and I’ll start something new. Then I met Pusha, and he really pushed me on through, seriously. “You really have to put a project out. Everybody else is putting projects out, and they’re getting recognition for it, and you still don’t have a project. What are you doing? You’re a good rapper, get it together.” It really motivated me to give my all on a project. I had somebody to report back to, whereas before I wasn’t really accountable to anybody. It made me finish. Believe it or not, I finished it, and I feel like he was a big part of why I finished it, to kind of prove to him I can do it. So he taught me a lot, and I kind of feel like if he hadn’t have – if I hadn’t had the friendship with him, I don’t even know that I’d be Iggy or not. There would probably just be a lot of random songs floating around. I’ll always have love for him.

T.I.’s a veteran. He came into my life at a really pivotal point where I feel like I was kind of losing my balance, not really knowing what the hell was going on. I didn’t really recognize any of my surroundings, and it was like, “Ugh, what the hell? Everybody’s talking about me and everybody wants to talk about other things, not music-related,” and I really had a hard time handling all that. He really helped me kind of navigate through that time where now I feel like I can deal with it and that’s thanks to him.

Speaking of T.I., where did the Toddlers & Tiaras feel of the music video for your duet “Murda Bizness” come from?

Well, I just think everybody heard the song “Murda Bizness” and thought it’d be an aggressive song. But I don’t think people really listened to the lyrics, because I had so many people on social media say, “What do you know about killing people?” I thought to myself, “What do you know about the song lyrics? Have you listened to them?”

“Murda Bizness” is just supposed to be about when you’re doing shit. When you go out, and you’re like, “Oh, man, I killed it! I killed it with my outfit, or we just went out and killed it, and everybody else was wack.” Especially when you’re a girl. You’re like that all the time. That’s what it’s about.

I know it sounds like chopping up bodies or killing people or having guns, and I just feel like people heard the word “murder” and they thought that, but I wanted to kind of combat that and show that it’s actually kind of a light-hearted song. It’s actually one that can get at your soul. It’s a silly song. It’s a stupid, nonsensical song, and that’s why I put it out first.

I kind of have an obsession with Toddlers & Tiaras actually, and I watch it all the time, and I think, “Whoa, this is actually the fiercest competition.” Beauty pageants are the fiercest competitions. Their dresses are flashy. They dress flashy just like I do. I want to get flashy and loud and covered in diamonds. All the things that we do in rap and hip-hop, they do it all in beauty pageants. There are a lot of similarities and they take the competition so seriously. They have their little beef with the different toddlers and tiaras, and it’s crazy. I just like that whole idea of it, and involving and addressing competition, which the song is really about.

I read that you’re working with Missy Elliott on The New Classic.  How did the two of you first get in touch and decide to work together?

Well, I don’t even know when it’s going to happen, but I got a friend to sort that out for me actually. He said, “Are there any artists that you’d want to work with?  It would be cool for you to work with some other singers in the industry.” I said, “I love Missy Elliott. I love her videos and she’s so talented.” So he said, “Oh, I’m really good friends with her. I’ll call her and ask her.” He did, and she said “yeah,” but we haven’t been able to work yet because she’s always in a different place than me. It’s hard to find days when you’re kind of working in the same studio, or you can both make it out. She’s also been really busy because she’s working on her own album and a lot of different people’s projects, but working with her is definitely something that I’m going to try to do before I put The New Classic out. That would be awesome.

While we’re on the topic of other female rappers, I have to ask – what sparked the feud between you and Azealia Banks?

I don’t know. She did? It’s not just me – it’s also Lil’ Kim, Nicki Minaj, it’s whoever. B.o.B. told me something about her just the other day. I don’t know. I know with me it started because she just went out one day and said, “I’m better than Nicki Minaj, I had a song about being a Barbie before she ever said she was a Barbie, here’s the link.” Then she said, “I’m better than Iggy Azalea. I wrote a song called ‘Pussy’ when I was 17, way before she ever had one, here’s the link.”  Basically she was saying she was way ahead of all these other girl rappers.

I tweeted her back, and I said, “You know, you should humble yourself because there’s always going to be somebody that’s going to do it better than you.”  There will.  Just like there’s going to be another girl that’s going to do another song called “Pussy.” I’m not the first girl to make up a song about my vagina and neither is she. It’s been done a million times. It’s just about who does it differently, and it’s about really being the first to do that. She wrote back to me, and was like, “Beef!” and ever since then, she just kind of talks shit about me. People will ask me why, and I’ll say, “I don’t really know. I don’t really know what it’s about.” But it’s just how it’s kind of been for a while now.

Earlier this year you signed a contract with Wilhelmina Models, and next month, you’ll be walking in New York Fashion Week.  What has that training process been like for you?

Oh God, I haven’t even really started yet when it comes to the runway stuff. I’ve been shooting a lot, and I’ve been learning a lot about modeling and photography. It’s really hard! I shot a new campaign a few weeks ago and I felt so out of my element. I was in all denim, had no makeup on, no eyeliner, and no lipstick.  It was just all really natural looking. I had my hair down and it was curly, and I looked like a girl. I looked in the mirror and was like, “who the fuck is this person?” and they kept saying, “stop working so hard at being pretty!” It was really difficult but I enjoyed it!

But if I do this, I want to do it properly. I don’t think a lot of people realize that even though I signed to Wilhelmina as an artist, I signed to the women’s division as well. I am working as just a model, not as Iggy Azalea. I’m just a girl, like all the other girls, and I have to go to the casting calls like all the other girls do. There’s no special treatment in that world and I wouldn’t want there to be anyway. They’ll teach me how to walk, and they’re so awesome, because Coco Rocha, who’s my favorite supermodel ever, is signed to Wilhemina. She’s going to help me learn to walk.  She’s the best. I’m really excited for that but I’m also nervous because I’m such a big fan of hers! Hopefully I won’t disappoint her, and hopefully I’ll get all the skills I need.

I’m excited to see it!

Yeah, me too! I’m nervous. Whenever you’re a beginner at something, at least for me, I’ve got to really practice behind closed doors. I’m brand new. At first I thought, “Oh, I’ve experienced it. I’ve done so many photo shoots!” But it’s not the same. No. I learned that when I was in New York. All the movements, having to try to jump up and down and do all this stuff to make clothes look cool … it’s hard.

When you’re taking pictures of yourself as an artist, you’re showing yourself, you’re not selling clothes. But when you’re modeling, you need to learn how to take pictures that sell clothes. But it’s really cool.  I’m having a good time.  I just want to blend in with the other girls. Whenever I go to Wilhelmina’s for model calls, there will be a bunch of models in the hallway, and I’ll always be like, “I don’t fit in with you guys! You’re like, six foot; I’m five-ten, and you have flawless skin, and you’re skinny as fuck,” and I don’t want to be skinny as fuck!

In the regular world, people will say, “you look like a model,” but when I stand in a row amongst models, I’m like “no I fucking don’t and I need to get this shit together.” I don’t want to be walking down the runway and not blend in. I want to blend in. I want to look like a real model.

What is your response to critics who have called your music too graphic and/or sexual?

Different strokes for different folks, I guess. But when did music become politics? When did music become charity? You know what I mean?

Music is art, and look at art, and look at what artists paint about. They paint about everything. Picasso painted about rape, right? Why are some topics off limits? Why am I always supposed to talk about what’s “good?” Why can’t I talk about sex, and why can’t this make you question why it’s not okay? Why is art allowed to talk about all these kinds of risqué subjects, but when it comes to music, apparently we have to be politically correct or along the lines of the authority? It’s still art, it’s still a canvas, and I think that you can talk about whatever the fuck you want in however the hell way you want to talk about it. And I think if you’re too sensitive for my music, then too bad.

Music is my art and I like to say stuff in it. I like to poke fun at society and the fact that people think it’s overtly sexual or crude – I just think that’s funny. Why do words have so much power?  I’ve always wondered that.

Why is it so hard for you to hear me say the word pussy, pussy, pussy? My mom can handle it. My dad thinks it’s my best work. Why is it so hard for some women to hear that word? Why is it that society has all of these different images associated with that word that it’s become so crass and taboo? I’ve never shied away from that type of thing. I would rather make you feel uncomfortable and reconsider it, and at least ask yourself why you feel that way. Because honestly, I think most people can’t answer why that is. I think it’s something that’s been told to us in media and society as we were growing up. I don’t even think we really know why we think that, we just do. It’s like, why don’t you question it, or at least reevaluate? Is this how it should be? I don’t know. I’m not saying that it necessarily is or isn’t, but I’m just saying, ask yourself the fucking question. That’s what art’s supposed to do, right? Make you think.

That’s a really good point.  So is there anything else you’d like to add about Glory or The New Classic before we end?

You know, I’ve had Glory finished since the start of May. It’s been done this whole time and I’m fucking over it now. I’m over it inside of myself, I’m just so over it. I’ve been over it. I like it for what it is, but I don’t think it – I just don’t think it pushes any boundaries, and I don’t think it does make you think, and I do think that’s what art is supposed to do. I’m trying to make something that makes you think, and Glory is just not that. I want to make shit that makes you wonder. I just want people to take stuff from it, and I don’t know what they’ll take from Glory. That’s fucked up that I would say that about my own project, but at least I’m honest.

I’m not afraid to say what’s wrong with what I create, because I’m an artist, and I’m not perfect. I know who Glory appeals to, and I’m sure they’ll be happy that I made it. And I’m happy I made it too. I love a lot of the songs. I especially love “Flash.” That’s my favorite one. I’m really proud of that record, and I’m really proud of “Murda Bizness.” I’m proud of the video and I’m proud that I did it. But I don’t want people to hear it and think, “is this what everything is going to sound like?”  You know? I just want people to know that it’s not, and it will go all the way left and all the way up and all the way down again before you get to The New Classic.

So I just hope people have their opinions, because there will be things that you hear that you probably will hate, that you’ll think is too corny or radio-friendly, and maybe that might be Glory for you. And then there will be some stuff in the middle that you’ll love, and I’m just trying to find the right balance. I’m just trying to share my journey of finding that balance, and when you get to The New Classic, you’ll see it’s called The New Classic for a reason.

Originally published on PopBytes

TALKING ‘OUR LADY’ WITH JAMES FLUHR

It was a moment that changed Boston University senior James Fluhr’s life forever.

Christmas was just one week away and Fluhr was getting out of work when he received a phone call from his dad. After discovering photos of his son in drag on Facebook, Fluhr’s father immediately denounced his eldest child as a disgrace and completely severed their ties.

In a recent Huffington Post essay, Fluhr recalled his father’s harrowing words. “’I’m not here to buy your dresses … You’re not a quiet gay. You’re a liar. I showed the pictures of you in drag to your 10-year-old brother and he cried because he couldn’t understand why his hero would do something like that. Deal with me as a man. Listen to me, son. Who would give a job to someone like you? Say, ‘Yes, sir.’ Did you hear me? Say ‘Yes, sir.’”

And just like that, Fluhr was left shell-shocked. Like the snow that fell around him, his world crumbled to the ground. All of a sudden, he lost a parent, a brother, his college tuition, and a place to live. But rather than succumbing to the malevolent cards that life had dealt him, Fluhr rose above his situation to rebuild his self-worth and help inspire others who have fallen victim to prejudice.

Now playing at The New York International Fringe Festival, Our Lady is Fluhr’s stunning one-man show that turns his experiences into a haunting and powerful tale of healing, survival, crusading towards equality, and defeating hatred. After attending the opening night performance, I spoke with Fluhr about the show, his creative process, inspirations, and more.

ALEX: At what point did you decide to turn your story into a piece of art?

JAMES: Almost immediately after the phone call, I had to find a way to save myself – re-discover my self worth. I discovered that the woman I created to save me could be inspirational to others who have faced a similar monster of hate in their lives. The decision to make it into an art piece just meant that I would begin to shape the story in a way that could be experienced by others.

What were the biggest challenges you faced along your journey of taking Our Lady from its starting point as a thesis presentation at Boston University to the New York stage?

It’s hard for me to play so many different roles on the Our Lady team. Being the actor, writer and, at times, director, I have to be honest about where my own weaknesses lie. It’s difficult to be so inside of a process and remain objective at the same time. If someone says something is unclear, I have to put my ego aside, decide what member of the team I need to be to fix the problem, and then begin working again.

What was the most valuable piece of advice or feedback you received about putting on a one-man show?

My mentors from Boston University, who helped tremendously with the growth of the show, always told me to keep working, keep writing and keep experimenting. I take this to heart with Our Lady (especially here at Fringe) because I see each performance as an opportunity to continue to tighten the story and try new things.

From where did you draw the inspirations for Our Lady’s scene and costume designs?

When it came to the costumes, I would always push how excessive they could be. If I was going to rise as a queen to save a youthful LGBTQ generation, I would have to be untouchable, glittering, slick and sexy. I also made sure that the ideas of the costumes were way past our budget restrictions so that the team working on them would have to really push creatively to make them come to life with whatever we had. For example, one of the costumes is primarily made with cardboard and aluminum foil that I pulled out of a trashcan.

The scenery is derived from necessity. I need a trunk, chair and light to tell the majority of the story, so that’s all we have. The totems of the boys that circle the playing space are small ways I could honor the LGBTQ children lost to suicide. They have to contain a soul and a spirit and again be made from nothing.

One aspect of the show that I thought was really great was its use of mixed multimedia. How do you feel the various video and audio clips (including music) in the show enhanced its narrative?

The media is a way to help the audience get inside my head. These are the stories in the news that haunt me and stay with me. These are the songs I lip-sync in my room alone. It’s important to share those with the audience in a way that outwardly explores my inner experience. All the sounds and levels of volume have a distinct purpose in helping the audience feel the emotions I am having.

How has your family responded to the show?

They have been very supportive of me and my journey. I know it’s hard for my mom to watch, but she shows up for every performance to stand beside me. I couldn’t love her more.

On Our Lady’s website, you dedicate the final rehearsals to your Aunt Michelle. Can you tell me a little bit about how she inspired you as an artist?

Michelle was really like a big sister to me and I have to credit her with introducing me to theatre. She joined Our Lady’s army and passed away before Our Lady could rise in New York City, but I think it’s important to remember that she is still with us and that she was a loyal advocate for equality and understanding.

Who is your favorite drag queen?

CHER!

Are there any plans yet for productions of Our Lady after Fringe is over?

The goal is a full run in New York City. Nothing is solid right now but I’m determined to share this story with as many people as possible.

Is there a main message you want your audience to take from the show?

I don’t claim that the story or message is groundbreaking or new. I am simply standing up and saying, “Remember that you are beautiful no matter who you are and remember you have the right to live.” I want the audience to know that I stand beside them as both James and OUR LADY.

Is there anything else you’d like to add about Our Lady that we didn’t talk about?

It’s easy to look at Our Lady and write it off as a show that only the LGBTQ community will relate to. But ultimately, at the heart of this show is a story of finding strength. Hate is universal. While it is generally discussed in terms of oppressed minority groups, it is something we as human beings can all relate to. I don’t care what sexuality people are – what I care about is sharing what helped me get through a hard time and hope it can inspire someone else.

***

Our Lady is now playing through August 25th at The Living Theater as part of The New York International Fringe Festival. For tickets, please visit www.FringeNYC.org.


Originally published on PopBytes

TALKING WITH ‘CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER’

Over the past few years, deconstructing the romantic comedy has become somewhat of a standard practice amongst art house films. Movies like 500 Days of Summer and The Romantics have redirected the focus of the genre to ask what happens if the fairy tale was an illusion? What happens if after the couple inevitably ends up together, they don’t live happily ever after?

The latest entry to join this batch of films is Celeste and Jesse Forever. An official selection from this year’s Sundance and Los Angeles Film Festivals, the movie is directed by Lee Krieger (The Vicious Kind) and serves as the screenwriting debut from comedienne Rashida Jones (Parks & Recreation, The Office) and her writing partner, Will McCormack. And in addition to writing the film’s uniquely clever and charming script, real-life best friends Jones and McCormack tackled triple duty by also acting in and executive producing this labor of love.

“The minute I came to set, I wanted to not be in writer mode because I respect and trust Lee implicitly,” Jones told me during an interview earlier this week at New York’s Loews Regency Hotel. “He’s really, really good at his job and his job is to tell me what to do, so I wanted to just be there for him as an actress. I didn’t want to deal with anything business-oriented or writer-oriented.”

“I’ll second that,” continued Krieger. “Rashida was great about coming to set and not trying to multitask between takes. It’s a tiny movie, which is kind of an all-hands-on-deck experience. We needed her to just act because it’s such an enormous responsibility to not only carry that part but to carry the movie with that kind of part. It’s a total tour-de-force performance that Rashida gives and I don’t think she could have done it if she were trying to juggle a million things. It was kind of interesting to see how she could just flip a switch and would show up having produced the day before and all of a sudden just be in actor’s mode. It’s the reason the performance is as amazing as it is. She was totally focused on the role.”

Opening in select theaters today, Celeste and Jesse Forever tells the story of a pair of best friends who got married at a young age, only to realize six years later that they’re better suited to be in one another’s lives in a purely non-romantic way. The film opens as Celeste (Jones) and Jesse (Saturday Night Live’s Andy Samberg) are already in the midst of divorce, yet they maintain that they’re still the closest of friends. They hang out everyday, share property, and even gossip about rediscovering their dating lives.

But as their mutual friends not so subtly point out, Celeste and Jesse’s relationship is a little “weird.” How does a couple go immediately from a divorce to being platonic BFFs? For the two of them, their desire to make this transition as painless and natural as possible makes them deny the complications associated with such a sharp relationship shift. Yet inevitably, these things are never as easy as they seem.

After being rejected the morning following a night of drunken sex, Jesse gives up on the idea that him and Celeste still have a chance of getting back together. The timing of this realization couldn’t be more ideal, as he quickly thereafter learns that a one-night stand he had shortly after their divorce is now pregnant.

With emotions running high, Jesse begins to pursue building a new life with the mother of his unborn child. Meanwhile, Celeste starts to second-guess her feelings towards her ex. Now that there is such a finite obstacle in the way of them ending up together, can she really handle just being his friend? Or does she regret not fighting harder for their marriage to work? Thus, the fragile hilarity and chaos of the film ensues.

“I was really wanting to play a dynamic, complicated character,” Jones said of the flawed and often-hypocritical Celeste. “I think I’ve played a lot of nice, sweet, friendly, affable, sturdy, pragmatic characters. We struggled a little bit at the beginning of writing with how unlikable to make her because at some point we wanted people to go along with the ride. But we definitely wanted her to come off hypocritical and judgmental and myopic because it gives her someplace to go. The idea that it takes so much to change yourself a little was important to us but it’s easier to do when you start somebody at a place where they have a lot of flaws that they’re not necessarily conscious of.”

“I have to say, in the wrong hands, Celeste could be really unlikable,” added McCormack. “I think Rashida’s performance does a great job of balancing a performance that’s tricky.”

Featuring an all-star supporting cast that boasts such names as Elijah Wood, Emma Roberts, Chris Messina, Eric Christian Olsen and Ari Graynor, Celeste and Jesse Forever tactfully protests When Harry Met Sally’s thesis that men and women can never be just friends. In this endearing film, that idea is not only challenged, but it’s tested through an Olympic-size obstacle course that includes every curveball life can throw at its protagonists.

As the film progresses, Celeste and Jesse learn that despite whatever variables may contest their relationship, they’ll forever turn to one another. Their connection is so deeply rooted that they’ll always be in one another’s lives in some capacity – even in ways that may seem unrecognizable or foreign at first. But most importantly, they learn that sometimes to love someone is much more powerful than to be in love with someone.

Celeste and Jesse Forever is now playing in select theaters.

Originally published on PopBytes


(Rashida Jones and I after our interview)