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To say Kitty has experienced the best and worst of the internet throughout her musical career would be an understatement. The 26-year-old singer, rapper, and producer has been exalted by Tumblr blogs, lambasted by puritanical music snobs, and financially supported by fans and strangers who wanted to see her succeed on her own terms. Kitty’s career looks a lot different these days—her internet fame has cooled, and on Friday, she released her sophomore studio album, Rose Gold, without a manager, publicist, or label. But if this downsizing limits her reach, it also affords her the opportunity to do whatever the hell she wants.
“I’m just going to kind of do what feels right, and I feel like people are more receptive to that,” Kitty tells the Daily Dot. “At least the people that already care about me. I don’t know how conducive that is to growing my audience, but I don’t really care.”
Kitty, born Kathryn-Leigh Beckwith in Daytona Beach, Florida, first breached the music industry as a teenager with dreamy, lo-fi bedroom bangers about love and teenage malaise. Assembled from bootlegged Madlib and MF Doom beats and replete with her flirty, childlike talk-rap delivery, these early tracks set Tumblr afire and caught the attention of artists such as ASAP Yams. Her 2012 song “Okay Cupid” went semi-viral, with its music video earning nearly 2 million YouTube views. Rolling Stone premieres, Riff Raff collaborations, and tours with Danny Brown and Anamanaguchi followed, and Kitty moved from Florida to New York at 18 years old to pursue music full-time.
But her viral success also invited the wrath of staunch, usually male hip-hop heads. The backlash may seem undue in an era when two-bit SoundCloud rappers run a dime a dozen and Lil Xan can score a top-10 album after trashing Tupac in an interview. But in 2012, rap fans loved to get mad online about any artist who didn’t meet their arbitrary standards or seem to honor the genre’s forbearers—and Kitty made a perfect target.
“I was like, damn, this is the first time I’ve seen these people get mad about something like that in so long,” Kitty says of the Lil Xan fiasco. “It’s funny that I spent so much time being like, ‘Oh my God, I need to prove myself to all these people on the internet, and [new rappers] don’t have to care about it anymore. Kids can just be like, ‘Yeah, I don’t care. I’m still real. I make the best shit ever.'”
Kitty released several mixtapes in 2014 and moved to Los Angeles to further pursue her career. In 2015, she launched a Kickstarter to fund her debut studio album, Miami Garden Club. The campaign more than doubled its $25,000 goal, capping out at $51,863. After several personal and professional setbacks–severing ties with an esteemed collaborator, getting her suitcase full of lyric notebooks stolen at LAX—Kitty released Miami Garden Club in August 2017. It was a smart, richly produced retro-pop album that pivoted away from the lo-fi, meme-able rap songs of her past. Yet despite the obvious creative strides she had made, Miami Garden Club was met with a cool commercial reception.
“I was like, ‘You know what, there it was, my last try. I’m done. I’m not doing this shit anymore. I am not good at it,'” Kitty says. “It was really sad. It was a blow to my ego.”
She immersed herself in learning recording techniques and music theory, scoring video games, and voice acting, writing songs on the side in the meantime. She started singing in American Pleasure Club, the indie rock band led by her husband, Sam Ray (who performs solo as Ricky Eat Acid and famously beefed with Car Seat Headrest’s Will Toledo in 2017), whom she married in 2016. The two also formed the gonzo EDM outfit the Pom-Poms, which released its eponymous debut EP last year.
“Joining Sam’s band and making the Pom-Poms was honestly the thing that motivated me to put out this album, because honestly, I wasn’t gonna put any more songs out as myself, like at all,” Kitty says. “I was like, ‘Whatever, I’m in other bands, I have other obligations. I don’t need to do this anymore.’ But then I was like, ‘Wait, no, it’s fun.'”
“Fun” aptly describes Rose Gold, another sprawling, multilayered pop album with rap breaks, contemplative interludes, and several moments of pure, unbridled snark. It’s a logical successor to Miami Garden Club that contains enough nods to her Tumblr-wave origins to satisfy day-one fans.
Releasing the album independently also afforded Kitty the luxury to sing about whatever she wanted. She flexes gleefully about her findom side hustle on “B.O.M.B. (Peter),” boasting, “That’s right, I’m back on my bullshit/ You’ll wear my footprints on your back/ Call me a cab to the nearest bank.” (For the record, Kitty says, “Peter” is a real person—though she’s changed his name—and he loves the song.)
On the album’s closer, a reworked version of her 2013 song “Florida,” she takes several thinly veiled shots at producer and ex-boyfriend Nick Koenig, who performs under the stage name Hot Sugar. Last year Kitty, along with several other women, alleged that Koenig physically, emotionally, and sexually abused them; an Instagram account called @realhotsugar was launched to bring these allegations to light and provide support for the alleged victims.
“That’s a cool thing about knowing that people are probably not going to write about this album very much,” Kitty says. “I wasn’t super worried about people picking things apart, ’cause if they want to do it, at this point, it’s going to be on a small scale. There’s probably not going to be any big Reddit threads trying to decipher one thing that I said like there was in 2013.”
The internet fame game has changed drastically since Kitty first blew up seven years ago. But streaming services and social media have further democratized the music industry for independent artists, which means Kitty can enjoy a longer, more measured career as a respectable pop artist, rather than a viral supernova. (That’s not to trivialize her online presence—she has 34,000 Twitter followers and has built an impressive cult of personality over the years.) Streaming algorithms can make it harder for smaller artists to break out, but they also incentivize them to release more music at once—which suits the prolific Kitty.
“People would encourage me not to just post songs online whenever I wanted, and there should always be a plan and whatever. Now it’s kind of like, the more you put out, the more eight cents you’re going to get from Spotify, so you might as well do it,” Kitty says. “And I think it’s better that way, ’cause you actually get to hear things, and there is a lot less of people getting too big for their britches and being like, ‘Oh, well I got a 7.8 on Pitchfork, so no, I’m not going to play your show with you. Shit like that. I just don’t notice that as much nowadays, ’cause everybody’s swimming upstream in the same river.”
For Kitty, Rose Gold is just another means of releasing the art she wants to make and communicating with her audience on her own terms. She’s always been vocal about her professional struggles and battles with anxiety, depression, and anorexia. But for the first time in a long time, she feels like she’s in control of those issues, and she wants her fans to know they can conquer the same hurdles in their own lives.
“I always have been just working, like getting through stuff, and—I think from the time I moved to New York and upset my entire life plan—was just kind of treading water and trying to figure out what I was doing,” Kitty says. “I was a kid, and I just had the weird luck to end up making all of my stupid mistakes in front of a lot of people. So I can’t really take that back. But the thing that I can do now is just show people that I am through this now. I’ve made it past all this shitty stuff, and I feel good, and I’m doing good. And you can too. No matter how crazy the shit is, it still gets better.”
Bryan Rolli is a reporter who specializes in streaming entertainment. He writes about music and film for Forbes, Billboard, and the Austin American-Statesman. He met Flavor Flav in two separate Las Vegas bowling alleys and still can’t stop talking about it.