We speak to the rising pop provocateur about going viral on TikTok, collaborating with Grimes, and crocheting a hat made entirely of dicks
Ashnikko has been prepping for the apocalypse her entire life. “I’m super paranoid and have horrible anxiety, but it kind of has manifested into like, I know how to make a fire and kind of know how to forage if the world ends,” she says. It’s December 2019, and we’re meeting at London’s Savoy Hotel, her trademark electric-blue hair turning heads as we speak. “I like post-apocalyptic adventure games,” she says between syrupy mouthfuls of pancake, citing Horizon Zero Dawn and The Last of Us as favourites. “I just love the apocalypse, the aesthetic of it.”
A few months later, in the middle of a global pandemic, and Ashnikko has had a change of heart. “Now, I just crochet all my anger away,” she says over the phone from North Carolina, where she’s quarantining at her mum’s house. “I’m crocheting a hat made entirely of dicks.”
This summer, Ashnikko – real name Aston Casey – was meant to be touring festivals off the back of her 2019 EP Hi, It’s Me. Last year, the 24-year-old shot to viral success with her memeable TikTok hit “STUPID”, a raging hype song with Casey screaming over a blown-out trap beat: “I know you think about me in the shower / PornHub in your browser / Fantasise about the pussy power.” The track was picked up by Miley Cyrus and her boyfriend on TikTok, who recorded themselves lip syncing to the video, goofily swinging their hips to the chorus: “Stupid boy, think that I need him.” That video has now been viewed over 270 million times, and is just one of three million TikToks set to the song.
“STUPID” became an overnight hit, soaring to the top of Spotify’s Viral 50 chart almost instantly, thanks in part to the ‘hip-swaying’ TikTok challenge, and a shout-out on Saturday Night Live. Shortly after, a music video was released for the track, where Ashnikko, whose highly-pigtailed hair and anime aesthetics draws regular comparisons to Japanese virtual pop star Hatsune Miku (“People call me Hatsune Miku on crack,” she laughs), goes on a Carrie-esque bloodbath to her ex-boyfriend’s house, laughing maniacally as she murders him with a hatchet, casually.
With all this momentum behind her, 2020 was set to be a huge year for Ashnikko. Then, of course, the pandemic hit, and her plans got put on hold. “Ah yes, the virus,” she sighs. The enforced slowdown has allowed her to take stock of everything that’s happened to her. She describes having a “hard time” dealing with sudden stardom – “I gained 170k followers in one month,” she says – but is still appreciative of how TikTok has empowered both her and her fans. “TikTok is a fucking blessing in my life, and I’m so happy it happened, really and truly,” she says. “I’m so glad loads of young people are finding some power in that song. If it influences a new generation of girls who stand up for themselves more, and won’t tolerate emotional abuse, sick.”
Ashnikko’s new single, “Cry”, sees the artist join forces with fellow traveller Grimes on “an angry-ass song about my ex-best friend sleeping with my boyfriend”. In the music video, Ashnikko is on the warpath again, this time as a digitally-rendered avatar with three heads. “Bitch, are you trying to make me cry,” she sings from inside a third-person shooter-style video game, before regenerating her broken body via a Sailor Moon-style power-up sequence (it’s apt, given that the rapper actually has a Moon Stick tattoo on her wrist IRL). “It’s a little bit like pop-punk, Evanescence sad girl, mixed with magic fairy and dragon kingdom music,” she says of the song.
How did the collaboration with Grimes come about?
Ashnikko: She messaged me on Instagram, and we were going back and forth. I asked her if she wanted to feature on the song and she said yes. She’s been one of my favourite artists for a long time and having her on the project is a dream.
The song has a bit of an early 2000s Evanescence vibe to it.
Ashnikko: I love Evanescence. I think it’s quite comforting to really make nostalgic early 2000s inspired music for me, personally. I think it just reminds me of being a kid again. And that was a nice time.
Your videos are mad, visually and conceptually. How do you come up with the ideas? Do you work with a team or is just you?
Ashnikko: “Working Bitch” was just me. I wanted alien girls line-dancing in a hall. It had to be that. Casual, right? Some of the others, like “Hi, It’s Me” and “Stupid”, were a collaboration with director Lucrecia Taormina. She’s a true artist, plans her videos down to the second. I just like how she interprets my music.
“It’s not even real, but it’s become such a huge part of our lives. People are more concerned with how they’re perceived online than in real life” – Ashnikko
The video for “Hi, It’s Me” really reminds me of Aphex Twin’s “Come To Daddy”.
Ashnikko: Right? I really want to play it in an old person’s home. That’s the dream.
Publications have used words like “fiercely feminist”. How do you relate to that?
Ashnikko: It’s interesting, I’m from a really conservative, suburban town, and a majority of my family are very patriarchal. I mean, I love my family members, but they’re slightly misogynistic, very closed-minded. But I’m sure a lot of us have families like that.
It was only when I discovered Tumblr that I was like, ‘Oh my god, feminism?’ What the fuck! This is crazy!’ I lost my mind. I started to teach myself about gender and sexuality, but it was all self-taught. None of it was through my own family members or school.
How do you want someone to feel when they’re listening to your music?
Ashnikko: Confidence. I want people to feel confident when listening to my music.
All the stuff you say in your songs comes off as so relevant to women right now. You’re basically telling them not to make themselves smaller for a man.
Ashnikko: Growing up, all I learned was how best to diminish my own light for a partner. As for the lyrics, I think of it as like a goddess archetype that I can kind of tap into when I need it. I think all of my music, it's like I write all that for me, so I can channel that as well.
So they’re sort of like mantras?
Ashnikko: 100 per cent. I went through a horrendous break-up – a gross, life-shattering break-up – two years ago, and I would write myself these love letters. There were five I would read every day because I couldn’t get out of bed, so I figured I’d put them in my music for others. That’s where the Hi, It’s Me project came from.
How did you find the confidence to put them forward?
Ashnikko: Everyone has their own timeline, which I had a hard time coming to terms with because I was like, “I want to be a successful woman at 18, I want to be this massive artist,” and life was just like, “Bitch, you’re not ready for that, chill the fuck out.”
I have a really hard time still dealing with being, like, ‘on the rise’, so I can't imagine what 18-year-old me would have felt like if I were in this position. But as far as being confident goes, I’m still working on it. There’s not an end goal, right? It just ebbs and flows.
“If (‘STUPID’) influences a new generation of girls who stand up for themselves more, and won’t tolerate emotional abuse, sick” – Ashnikko
When do you have a hard time with your confidence?
Ashnikko: Like, every time I do a video on Genius, their audience is very male, and it’s just tough. They’re like, ‘Fuck you!’ Being a woman in the music industry is ridiculous. I get quadruple the shit a boy on the same level as me would get. The amount of hate is just a lot. I’m still learning how to deal with it and readdressing my relationship with social media.
How do you cope with hate?
Ashnikko: I don’t read my messages or my mentions. I just don’t read them. There’s so much love, but the bad stuff is really mean. So yeah, I just need to readdress how I deal with it. I need more friends who also deal with it so I can ask them how they deal with it. I’m going to start reaching out, because people are mean as fuck on the internet. It’s not even real, but it’s become such a huge part of our lives. People are more concerned with how they’re perceived online than in real life.
What do you think of TikTok in general?
Ashnikko: I think it’s funny, you know? At first, I was like, ‘Ah man, the e-boys and girls are just cringe,’ but now I’m like, fuck people who are like ‘TikTok is lame.’ Like, who gives a shit? Just let the kids have fun! I’m talking like I’m an old woman.