Cody Critcheloe, the man behind SSION's audiovisual fusion of art, pop and high camp, tells us how he went from making unlistenable punk to becoming a zeitgeist-riding, real-life pop star
“Doing countless interviews where they wanna talk about being queer or having queer politics is a drag,” Cody Critcheloe says, winking as he sips a mysterious energy drink of his own recipe from a stainless-steel thermos. It’s Fashion Week in New York City, when walking through Soho becomes the equivalent of a bad trip through a hall of funhouse mirrors, as the city’s young styling assistants, blog fixtures and editors-at-large erect a sartorial manifestation of Tumblr, piling on as many loud trendpieces as possible in the desperate hope of being photographed. It’s sort of like Halloween, only not as fun and more stressful. Critcheloe, dressed plainly in a pair of dirty turquoise jeans with a t-shirt and Nikes, is one of the least conspicuous pedestrians.
“I’m campy and ridiculous, or whatever. Big deal,” he continues. “Talk to someone else about being a gay icon. I’m trying to be less indigo, more crystal.”
This year saw his first official label release with Bent, an electronic pop record that was originally put out in 2011 as a free download for one month only. This bewitching LP has similarities with early Madonna or Soft Cell; it’s equal parts erotic, apocalyptic and narcissistic, albeit in a very self-aware way. Songs like “Psy-Chic” and “My Love Grows in the Dark” found popularity through their surreal and candydelic music videos, and opening track “Li$ten 2 the Grrrls” has been picked up to soundtrack the campaign previewing the final season of teen-soap sensation Gossip Girl. “Bent is hands-down the most pop thing I’ve ever made,” he says, explaining that it was written when he had no iPod and listened only to Top 40 radio. “I think of it as almost a collage. There are so many cryptic references to all the shit I was hearing. Honestly, I could have given ‘Psy-Chic’ to Ke$ha – the hook is ridiculous, it’s an earworm. I remember recording ‘My Love Grows in the Dark’ and thinking, ‘This is so embarrassing, it’s perfect!’ I can’t wait to sell ‘Nothing Happens at Nite’ to a car commercial.”
As we hit the west side of town, a trio of young gay men stop dead in their tracks, pointing and staring. One of them asks for a photo. “Do you want an autograph?” Critcheloe asks, joking. They laugh with him, but what’s funnier is that they clearly do, only now they’d be too embarrassed to ask. It seems that no matter how well-known SSION becomes, it might not truly occur to him that he’s famous. Perhaps unknowingly, he may be on his way to becoming exactly what he set out to be – a bonafide pop star.
The depths of Critcheloe’s pop obsession may, in fact, be previously uncharted in both the art and music worlds. A week prior to this interview, he released a demo on YouTube of “Kim”, in which three famous Kims (Zolciak, Gordon and Kardashian) lipsynch using his mouth. Madonna, Love and Roseanne Barr often find their way into his imagery and his videos, and he’s found an internet fan in pop icon Boy George. He’s also worked with many emerging pop stars on their own imagery and videos, including MNDR, Santigold, Beth Ditto and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. (“After ten-plus years of friendship and admiring Cody’s art, he is still re-wiring my DNA,” says Amanda Warner of MNDR. “Pure genius.”)
Always outspoken in defence of pop-star delusion, Critcheloe surprised many earlier this year when he took issue with the flamboyant and patently awful Katy Perry. “Just saw that Katy Perry movie,” he tweeted, of her self-financed and critically panned concert documentary Katy Perry: Part of Me. “Feel sick. I hate the world.” He then followed it up, tweeting, “Katy Perry is a horrible role model.
“I feel like we could have grown up together,” he says now, with a bit of distance. “We could have gone to the same church or church camp together. I don’t know... It just felt off. Here she is, this beautiful big-boobed chick in a bunch of campy costumes talking about what it’s like to be a weirdo. Seriously? What the fuck is a weirdo any more? It doesn’t sit with me. On the one hand it’s fine, you know – do your thing. I get why it’s popular. ‘Teenage Dream’ is an amazing song that an amazing team of people worked really hard to make. But the weirdo culture that she and so many of these pop chicks are promoting is just so bogus. We’re just beyond that now. I’m going out of my way to think of better ways of describing things because words like ‘weird’ and ‘punk’ mean basically nothing. It’s just a white wall. All that said, I’m sure Katy and I would get along really well. I would love to drive off a cliff with her, Thelma & Louise-style. Wouldn’t that be so cute and punk and weird?”
This interview was taken from the November issue of Dazed & Confused. Watch our behind-the-scenes film of SSION HERE. Bent is out now on Dovecote Records.
Set Design Cody Critcheloe
Photography by Colin Dodgson
Assistants Zach Van Benthusen, Kevin Schowengerdt , Brandon Nemuth, Megan Mantia, Alec Nichols