The California rapper shares her new video for ‘Paper or Plastic’ and talks to us about sobriety, having a parent in the porn industry and how Sia saved her life
Some images in pop culture are so iconic that they exist, like an imprint, in your mind forever; Britney Spears with a snake draped around her neck at the 2001 VMAs, drag queen Divine in a blood red fishtail dress and a raised gun, Kim Kardashian’s oiled behind across the cover of Paper magazine. For me, one of these images is of Brooke Candy – metallic silver braids swinging, tiny neon-green lizards crawling across her face and into her mouth. That was in 2013 for “Everybody Does”, the attitude-packed club-rap anthem she released shortly after appearing in Grimes’ potent, candy-dipped video for “Genesis”.
Three years and a handful of releases later, and she’s on the cusp of releasing her debut album, produced exclusively by Sia. Regardless of the mainstream recognition she has gained since, Candy has always kept one platformed boot firmly planted in the underground, and this album is no different – although this time, there’s a little less rap, and a little more sticky, synth-stuffed pop, all delivered with her signature, strip club swagger. Despite its pop-tinged sound, there are dark themes simmering beneath the surface. “We got problems, we got pain, we got issues, we’re insane,” she sings in “Happy Days”, her voice floating over a thick dollop of electronics. “We got stacks of bills to pay, it’s getting darker every day.”
In her new video for “Paper or Plastic”, Candy plays a farm girl getting violent revenge on her patriarchal oppressor. “This video was scheduled to be released last week, but after the numerous terrible tragedies involving gun use in America escalated, putting it momentarily on hold felt like the right thing to do,” she explains over email after our interview, “I have always been a strong believer that art should not be subject to censorship, and so after much thought, I have decided to release the video this week, in its original unedited form. I have been working on this video and this concept for over 2 years. It is very important that it be understood that this is an ARTISTIC STATEMENT that was conceived as a satire on oppression and the current state of the world.”
In person, she looks just as striking as she does in her eye-popping music videos. She has “Everything Dies” tattooed across her forehead, “Kill Em All” tattooed underneath her left breast, and a middle finger tattooed on her lower back. When I meet her at a hotel in central London, she is clutching a wig in each hand. “Look at my wigs!” she blurts out, before trying on one that looks like it was taken directly from Christina Aguilera’s iconic “Dirrty” video. “Dirrty is my favourite video of all time – it was my favourite era, actually” she confides, before we sit down to speak about her new album, getting sober, and how Sia saved her life.
Hey! So tell me a bit about your upbringing.
Brooke Candy: I grew up in the Valley, and you could say my upbringing was strange. My mum is a nurse, and my dad works for Hustler, so he was involved in the porn industry and the gambling industry, which was pretty dark and intense – he’s actually an expert in both worlds, which is weird.
Was he quite open about his job when you were growing up?
Brooke Candy: We didn’t really talk about it, but when I went to his office there were stacks of porn magazines and sex toys. So I remember seeing those things and having an understanding about what was happening, but not fully comprehending it. But he’s not wild or anything, and he’s a really good role model. He’s very straight-laced and works really hard, plus he is a nice guy, so it wasn’t a big deal.
The first track of yours that really caught my attention was “Everybody Does” back in 2013. How have you changed since then?
Brooke Candy: I feel like I am actually reverting back to that weird, otherworldly ‘Everybody Does’ aesthetic. But I always want to be ahead of the curve, and I could never make myself more commercial and marketable. That kills my spirit. I have to be constantly doing something new. My label wanted me to be the same as I was three years ago, with the braids and all of it, but I couldn’t because I have evolved and I like to progress. The satisfaction that I get on this planet is from my art, and if I don’t make it I just feel so sad. I am a sad person naturally.
“My dad works for Hustler, so he was involved in the porn industry and the gambling industry... when I went to his office there were stacks of porn magazines and sex toys” — Brooke Candy
Have you gotten happier as you’ve gotten older?
Brooke Candy: Yeah, I think I have. I have gained some tools and have a bit more wisdom. I understand gratitude, which I never understood before, and I am grateful for small things like having hands and fingers. I’m just trying to appreciate things like going into the forest and hiking. Everything else is an added bonus.
I don’t party anymore. I did party when I was in a really dark headspace – back then, everyday was one big party. But now I go to the movies or I cook food. I just like to be healthy. I got sober last year, so that took about four months, and then after that I had to get used to living without substance in me at all times. That took a bit of time. Then recently, I have just trying to fully formulate the aesthetic I am going to be bringing to my new album.
Since you have been sober, have you found it easier to be productive?
Brooke Candy: At first, no – I felt like there was some kind of void that needed to be filled and I felt like I didn’t know how to exist in my own skin. I felt like I was a better artist if I was, you know, fucked up. So initially it was actually really difficult to find inspiration. But now, I don’t know what the fuck I was doing for the past six years. I wasted so much time. I feel so much more focused now, and I work more efficiently. Sia actually inspired it – she saved my life. She’s sober and she pulled me into sobriety. She was like, ‘You fucking need it. I can see myself in you and you are a mess. Get it together.’
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Brooke Candy: Well, I think it is really easy to get swept away when you get any kind of attention, and at one point I was chasing this delusion and was hanging out with a lot of dark people that are famous or whatever. Anyway, Sia told me ‘You don’t have to hang out with other famous people to be successful. Just chill.’ And I was like, ‘You are so fucking right.’ Just hang out with people you have been hanging out with since you were fifteen, go on hikes, enjoy yourself, be real, be authentic and keep your feet on the ground.
In the past, you’ve spoken about how mainstream artists often appropriate from the underground. What are your thoughts?
Brooke Candy: Mainstream artists are quick to rip the aesthetic without ever experiencing the culture. To me, that is just plain and clear bullshit. I just feel if you want to dress like a club kid, or if you want to reference some drag queen culture, or you want to represent the street, then you need to know what the fuck you are talking about, right? To me, they are not artists – they are props and vehicles.
“Mainstream artists are quick to rip the aesthetic without ever experiencing the culture. To me, that is just plain and clear bullshit” — Brooke Candy
You’ve always been such a fashion force in my mind. How important is fashion to you?
Brooke Candy: I’ve always valued a strong aesthetic because I am a very visual person – it says a lot about me, and the art that I create. But as far as fashion industry goes... I don’t fucking care, you know what I mean? Like, if my friend is a designer I will wear that shit, or I’ll wear stuff from a thrift store or an Adidas tracksuit. For me, that is much cooler than going to an expensive high-end boutique and buying some designer shit. I don’t chase trends, or value that.
I think that’s way cooler! So, tell me about your new album. Your most recent tracks sound poppier than your old stuff – is that the direction you are going in?
Brooke Candy: Yes, but the message will always remain the same. I have a platform, so I might as well use my fucking voice. I feel like it is my duty, like I can’t be silent with so many people listening. So the message is the same but the music changes and it is intentional because I like to widen my platform. I do have some shit I have to change, because no one else is doing it!
What do you mean? What would you like to see change?
Brooke Candy: Everything. I would like to see a world that is more peaceful, cleaner and happier and more beautiful. I think it is possible. I’d like to see a fearless planet.