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SydPhotography Fumi Nagasaka, Styling Alison Marie Isbell

Syd talks fame, keeping it real and striking out solo

Sydney Bennett came to fame with Odd Future before forging a path with The Internet – and a new solo album offers yet more proof of her peerless talent

It’s no accident that Sydney Bennett, aka Syd tha Kyd, dropped the last two words of her alias for the release of her debut solo album. From the moment she stepped into the limelight – as a member of the hip hop collective Odd Future, aged just 16 – she’s been on a mission to grow, as a human and as an artist. Last year, after releasing three albums with The Internet (the band she formed with fellow Odd Future member Matt Martians), she revealed work on a solo album of her own. Fin is an album of formidable sultry R&B, braggadocio-filled hip hop, and stark vulnerability. “There’s nothing you can tell me,” she sings on album opener “Shake ‘Em Off”, “I’m grown.”

That’s not to say she’s leaving The Internet behind. In fact, Fin’s lead single, “All About Me”, was intended as a riposte to those asking if the solo side project was a permanent move. It isn’t. Instead, it’s simply a way of offloading some creative energy – of which she has an abundance – so as not to compromise The Internet’s very specific sound. Now it’s out of her system, she says, “I think it’ll make for an amazing next Internet album.”

Syd spoke to us over the phone fresh from a photoshoot to mark the launch of Pharrell Williams’ new collaboration with G-Star RAW, the clothing brand he co-owns. Williams helped design 25 new prints for the brand’s iconic 3D silhouette, hand-picking five artists to find a print that reflected their unique personalities – including Syd. “Syd’s tone is amazing,” Pharrell says, “It feels like clouds.” As she was driven across NYC from one hectic appointment to another, Syd chatted to us about her choice of print, as well as her new album, the highs and lows of fame, and why her gender and sexuality doesn’t define her.

You’ve just done your photo shoot for Pharrell’s new G-Star RAW line. What made you pick the print you chose?

Syd: I had a hard time picking one, so I ended up picking a few. My style is kind of specific, so thankfully it wasn’t hard to pick a few. I also admire Pharrell’s taste in clothing a lot, so all of them were pretty cool. There was a pair that I didn’t think I would like, and when I tried them on they were my favourite. 

You said a few years ago that you were still learning to pose for photoshoots. How do you find them now?

Syd: They’re easier when I stop posing, I’ve realised. When I just kind of look into the camera, don’t make any facial expression, don’t try to pose... honestly, I start stretching. (laughs) And it looks like I’m posing. It works!

Congratulations on the release of your debut solo album, too. You said recently that you see this as more of a side project. Have you found that people assume this means The Internet is over?

Syd: Maybe people who haven’t read into it that much would assume that the band is splitting up, or that I’m trying to go for a more mainstream sound. For me, I’m just trying to keep it fun, keep it interesting, not get stuck on the same sound, the same wave for too long. This album allowed me to do that, and I think it will make for an amazing next Internet album.

“I read somewhere today that privacy is the new fame. I feel like nowadays it’s cooler to be low key” – Syd 

There’s a line in ‘All About Me’ where you say, ‘I see fame as a nuisance.’ Is that true?

Syd: Um, yes. To an extent. Like I said (in the song), I don’t take any of it for granted, but sometimes it can be a burden. It can be inconvenient sometimes, and I’ve become more private over the past few years. I read somewhere today that privacy is the new fame. I feel like nowadays it’s cooler to be low key… but maybe that’s just me. 

In what way did you see fame as a burden?

Syd: There are people out there who can be inconsiderate, honestly. For the most part, we have really amazing fans, but every so often you run into someone who’s not a real fan, and (they say), ‘Hey, are you so and so’s sister? Are you Tyler’s DJ? Can I have a picture?’ It’s like, ‘You don’t even need this picture!’ I think the selfie age is kind of making fame annoying. I’m sure it was always a burden in some ways, even before Instagram and Snapchat existed, but now everybody has a camera and everybody wants a picture. Just so that they can show their friends that they met you, or so that they can lie and tell their friends that we’re working together or something. Other than that I’ve been really blessed to have a really supportive fan base. 

Lyrically, there’s an interesting mix of playful bravado and vulnerability on the album. Was that a balance that you deliberately tried to strike?

Syd: Yes, but also I think that’s just a human balance. I think everybody goes through times where they’re vulnerable and then times where you’re confident and cocky. And at this moment, I’m very confident in myself, but I’ve realised that the key to making good art for me is to use my vulnerability, know when to use it, when it’s appropriate, and channel that. It makes for great art.

The closing track, ‘Insecurities’, seemed like quite an honest account of being in a relationship that isn’t necessarily very healthy and taking a while to figure that out. Would you say that’s accurate?

Syd: That’s exactly accurate. I wrote that song about sticking around in a relationship that wasn’t working, because I was insecure and felt like I couldn’t do any better at the time, and I think a lot of people can relate to that.

“I’m very confident in myself, but I’ve realised that the key to making good art for me is to use my vulnerability, know when to use it, when it’s appropriate, and channel that” – Syd

In terms of where you are in the world of hip hop, a lot of people treat you as an anomaly – an article referred to you as ‘a woman in a hyper-masculine space and a queer person in a collective often accused of homophobia.’ Do you see yourself in that way?

Syd: I dunno. How do you see yourself? It’s weird when you’re living in it, you’re just you. I’m just me. I don’t see myself as what most people see me as. I also try not to play up on categories, I’m not trying to play up on being gay or being a woman in the music industry, I’m just trying to make music.

It’s probably quite important to other young people who are figuring out their sexuality to see you being so casual about it.

Syd: I get it. When I first became attracted to women I was, like everybody, searching for like-minded individuals. I was searching for TV shows and music by other gay women. I understand the need and the desire to find common ground with people because I've been there. 

It sometimes seems you’re asked to answer to hip hop’s homophobia more than your straight male counterparts, particularly when you were involved with Odd Future. Do you find that? 

Syd: Completely. I felt like I was a get out of jail free card for a long time, and, honestly, I didn’t have a problem with it in the beginning, but eventually it just got to be really annoying. Also almost patronising to an extent. If I was in a homophobic group it wouldn’t even make sense – that’s completely ironic because they probably would not let me in.

What do you mean when you say you were used as a get out of jail free card?

Syd: I felt like they were able to be ‘homophobic’ and use all that language and whatnot because they could say, ‘Well no, we’re not homophobic, we got Syd.’ It was OK, I didn’t really mind it much, but after a while, it did start to feel unfair. It wasn’t the fault of any of my group members, it was nobody else’s fault but the media and the press. I get it, they’re trying to find some controversy so they can sell magazines.

“I feel like I’m real honest in my music. Even if it ends up being an exaggeration or a fantasy, it’s a fantasy that’s real to me” – Syd

There’s another lyric on ‘All About Me’, where you say, ‘When I die my grave will be my music’. Do you already think about your legacy in that way?

Syd: Yes, I do now. In the beginning, it was all experimental, and it was all free-form, easygoing, and I had to learn the hard way that people read into things a little too much sometimes. Now when I’m gearing to put something out I’m more aware that it’s out forever. I can’t take it back, and that makes you take it a little more seriously I think.

If someone listened to your music with no idea what your story is, would they have an accurate impression of who you are as a human?

Syd: I think my music embodies me for the most part. At least at the time of creation – I’m always changing like everybody else. But yeah, I feel like I’m real honest in my music. Even if it ends up being an exaggeration or a fantasy, it’s a fantasy that’s real to me.