“I’m not America’s sweetheart, I’m more like Jeffrey Dahmer/Rather be hated for what I am than what I’m not,” Brooke Candy spits on “Freak Like Me”, a seething cut from her new album SEXORCISM. Candy is a performer, musician, director, visual artist, freaky princess, high priestess of sluts everywhere. Having spent years in a record label purgatory that saw her fighting to keep her subversive image, her message of queerness and sexual rebellion that is at odds with the industry machine, Candy remains a champion of the avant-garde and all the scuzzy, uninhibited underground of artists with a freaky side.
Think back to that iconic Grimes’ “Genesis” video, where a sherbert-braided Candy danced in the desert dust in a look that recalls Hajime Sorayama’s feminine robot illustrations; the Dazed-produced “Everybody Does” video using geckos as accessories. In the years since, she’s been garnering an indomitable discography and wealth of collaborators from Charli XCX to Rico Nasty and Lizzo, while her aesthetic has hopscotched from hypersexual femme cyborg, to a latex-dripping spin on the classic femme fatale, Siouxie Sioux 2.0, and BDSM kitty cat. Now she’s back with SEXORCISM, a testament of Candy at her truest, most confident self; a stunning display of sexual liberation and nonconformity across 12 tracks, a six-breasted feminine monster queen holding court on the confronting album cover art.
Shot by photographer Roxy Lee for Dazed Beauty – who Candy met IRL for the first time at London’s first Trans Pride march, which she covered for Dazed – Candy shows us a captivatingly raw side of herself. She’s stripped back to what she calls an “almost uncomfortable state”, naked, her most loved tattoos on display, devoid of make-up except for singular swipes of cherry red lipstick and black eyeliner, avoiding retouching.
Today, Dazed Beauty speaks to Candy about her ongoing journey to self-love and body acceptance, and how she fights the good fight for reclaiming female sexuality with her art and her aesthetic.
Let’s talk about this gorgeous shoot – it feels like a new vibe for you.
Brooke Candy: So I met Roxy at the Trans Pride march in London – she was so cool, didn’t seem to be impressed by anything. I was like ‘fuck yeah, I love you, I love that’! The shoot felt uncomfortable for me in a way I needed – it was so raw and real. There’s very little make-up, just one wig with long, dark hair, and nothing else covering my naked body in most of the shots. It scares the shit out of me to be exposed like that, but I try to do it as often as I can. Roxy’s work reminds me of Nan Goldin or a David LaChapelle fantasy.
What is it like for you as an artist, squaring those feelings of being uncomfortable or unsure of your body and look, while pushing what's really a vital message of sexual and self-liberation in your music?
Brooke Candy: I have to constantly remind myself that most of the things I’m looking at online have been through Facetune! Not understanding what was real and what was fake messed me up for a while. Even seeing the photos from this shoot threw me – like, this is really what I look like, without retouching. Sometimes I look in the mirror and I’m still unsure what’s really me. This shoot truly felt like a ‘wow’ moment – it’s coming at the right time, with this album, to feel not as bad about myself, to feel like I can love myself as I am.
That’s beautiful! No matter who you are or where you are in your life, how you feel about yourself is an ongoing journey.
Brooke Candy: For real, it’s such a battle! But that still feels crazy to me that you can be in this self-destructive war with yourself – we don’t get to choose this flesh that surrounds our soul, the light and entity within these bodies. Yes, we can mould and shape them to a certain extent, but there’s so much power in accepting something you didn’t get to choose, loving it anyway. But you know, it’s a symptom of capitalism, to not love yourself – you need this La Mer moisturizer for $200, this blending brush before you’re perfect. I think it’s one of the coolest things in this hellish environment that we live in to do, just love yourself despite the garbage we’re sold and the facade that’s put up online and off.
Sure – and we’re in that late stage of capitalism that we’re being sold back our own faces: Glossier’s ‘no make-up make-up’, Ordinary skincare.
Brooke Candy: We’re being sold this fake version of self-love and acceptance. “Look natural, but not too natural, the natural you have to pay for”. But then I’ve done make-up collaborations because I also believe that make-up as a form of self-expression, it’s amazing. Hiding yourself, not so much. Sometimes it’s about putting on a fucking mask and going crazy on stage, that’s cool too.
“This shoot truly felt like a ‘wow’ moment – it’s coming at the right time, with this album, to feel not as bad about myself, to feel like I can love myself as I am” – Brooke Candy
You’ve talked about dealing with body dysmorphia before. How are you coping with that now?
Brooke Candy: Body dysmorphia and love is an ongoing struggle. Before shows I get anxious and I’ll eat less. That’s not healthy for the kind of touring and performances I do, but then the costumes fit me differently and it gets me in these delusions that I have to be this certain shape and size. I was taught that by people around me during my first record deal. Sometimes I would be on set, I would grab some food, and they would slap my hand. Now, I think I’m getting better. I’m around a lot of women who are like really really confident and don’t give a fuck about what they fucking look like. Working with Lizzo was hugely fucking life-changing. And with my videos and my music, I’ve been putting myself in the uncomfortable position of being naked to face my fears. It’s getting to not be a fear anymore – I’m going to show you my saggy boobs, all my tattoos, the cellulite on my ass. I’ve also recently gotten sober, and that’s been good for my mental health.
How does this album reflect your current perspective on your sexuality and your self?
Brooke Candy: I’ve come a long way I think, and SEXORCISM is the peak of what’s been a wild, tough journey. I grew up with a dad who worked for Hustler magazine, I hung out in San Fransisco and LA and found a queer scene that I loved, I started stripping. Stripping is when I truly began the journey to loving my body. I really embraced my sexual identity. With this album, I just want to push this progressive agenda for sex and love and knowing your body. Sex is an avenue to so many great things – pleasure, knowing every bit of yourself. It’s still frowned upon for women to be sexual beings and I wanted to show it in all of its amazing extremes.
You’ve also been practising Japanese shibari – what has that been like?
Brooke Candy: That really tested my body. It was a test of pain and endurance. I wanted to see what I could possibly do under the most intense pain possible. Could I do a 30-minute set tied up in thick, tight bondage ropes? I really began to understand the tenacity I have at my fingertips.
I remember, before even working at Dazed, seeing that incredible “Everybody Does” video and wanting to know you more.
Brooke Candy: God, I got $600 for that shoot and it’s still my best and most viewed! “Opulence” cost like over a million. Creativity trumps money any day. Any fucking day.
I’m thinking about Grimes’ “Genesis” video too – how have you honed your visual identity over the years?
Brooke Candy: When I started out, my aesthetic was very club-kid-meets-Hajime-Sorayama, transhumanism. We made my outfit for Grimes’ video out of metallic paper. I went through a period of mixing cultural inspirations that I wouldn’t do now. When I signed with Sony, they really toned down my image.
I’ve had a lot of time to reflect, I’ve gotten all these tattoos and I’ve dyed my hair back too. Now, my aesthetic is driven by me, I’m proud to be my own storyteller. When I look in the mirror I can identify who ‘Brooke Candy’ is more than I ever have before. I’m not that ‘crazy rat-braid girl’ or ‘blonde pop chick’ anymore. I feel like I lost myself for a long time, and I finally found her – my music reflects that transition to my real self.
Tell me about the cover art – you’re this six-breasted female monster, it’s incredible.
Brooke Candy: It was originally just going to be single art, but it totally blew me away. We were shooting and listening to very horny, ‘strippery’ anthems. I was squatting with my tongue out, it all just came together. It looks like a sexual exorcism. I mean, this is my sexorcism! It’s a release of what I’ve had pent up for years, sexually, creatively. I’m saying what I’ve been trying to say for years. I mean, I’ve got a song about rimming with Aquaria and Violet Chachki!
“Stripping is when I truly began the journey to loving my body. I really embraced my sexual identity. With this album, I just want to push this progressive agenda for sex and love and knowing your body” – Brooke Candy
How has that drag scene been integral to what you do?
Brooke Candy: Drag culture has saved me from myself in a sense – in my lowest moments being able to put on a wig and perform a character has helped so much. It’s an escape into a fabulous life when maybe you don’t feel fabulous about yourself. Bob the Drag Queen and Detox have remixed our song “Rim”. Detox is like my nasty alter ego. I love the culture and the ability to escape.
Your partner Kyle England is a tattoo artist – how do you creatively interact with each other?
Brooke Candy: When I was really depressed I covered myself with really depressing tattoos of guns and a guillotine. Kyle gave me all of these angels and flowers, old Renaissance statues, doves kissing. He helped me recover my body. The second I saw him, when he tattooed angels on my arm in a shack in the desert, it was love. My most recent is my love birds tattoo – it’s so cute.
What’s some of your most favourite recent looks?
Brooke Candy: At Charli XCX’s show in Portland, I wore these amazing silver lashes which were handmade by @byamelia.pdx – it was very Lady Gaga at the Met Ball. I love working with Anthony Nguyen and Cuntress, and my number one is Jake Gallagher for hair.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve got from make-up and hair artists?
Brooke Candy: These people are incredible – they beat my face for hours, do my hair and they’re the first to lift me up when I need it; really, they just help me be positive. My favourite people on the planet are the people that I get to sit in a room and do hair and make-up. The glam team rule.