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Issey Cross

Issey Cross makes tantalising, technicolour pop music that has your back

The London-based artist has set the tone for leftfield pop in 2021 with her menacing debut ‘Who’ – with an EP imminent, she talks her hopes for post-pandemic music-making, modern fan culture, and sisterhood anthems

Who the fuck is this bitch? And how the fuck she know your name?” demands Issey Cross with her sensual, seething voice over ghostly electronic beats. A striking opening lyric that pierces the newcomer’s debut single “Who”, and follows through with a cutting takedown of a cheater. Cross, originally from Kent and now based in London, melds vivid storytelling with textured leftfield pop, R&B and hip hop’s sonic sensibilities and attitude. Her accompanying visual for “Who” tells us even more about the emerging musician – in it, Cross paces while the menacing rhythms encircle, demanding more of the unfaithful partner, as more women come to join her looking ready to pounce on her word. It’s a slick, tenacious visual and aural ode to sisterhood, reflective of Cross’s mission to make music that has her friends’ and fans’ backs when they need her.

Her sound orbits the worlds of Arlo Parks, Girl in Red, and Dominic Fike, and 2021 is set to be a year for getting to know Cross rapidly, with more single releases, visuals, and two EPs slated. Below, we catch up with Cross about the direction of mid and post-pandemic pop, growing up among the apple orchards of Kent with the sounds of Amy Winehouse, and a creative point of view she likens to Jenny from New Girl.

How does it feel for you to be debuting amid the pandemic?

Issey Cross: It feels quite strange to be honest! I'm so happy ‘Who’ is finally out for everyone to hear, but I’m sad that I can’t start performing live again yet to an audience. Nothing can beat actually being in the same room with people to connect with them properly.

‘Who’ is about all encompassing heartbreak and all its intense emotions and waves. The video also feels like a moment for sisterly solidarity. How do you capture those vast, messy feelings with your lyrics and the production?

Issey Cross: I wanted to make a song that would capture the pain and hurt you would feel if you were being cheated on, as well as the impulsive things that you might do in that situation. For example, ‘you thought I wouldn’t find out but I followed you’ and ‘you left your gps on while I was waiting for you to come home’. The song is almost like a manhunt, tracking a partner down to find the evidence, yet with the thought in mind already knowing they have been disloyal to you. I wanted the girls to be in the video so that the song came across as more of an anthem that girls can sing along to and feel empowered by. I think the video shows that we all have each other’s back.

What was the scene you grew up in in Kent like, and did moving to London impact your output?

Issey Cross: Growing up, I lived with my family in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by apple orchards. It was a beautiful place but there wasn’t much going on and I couldn’t drive either. I would spend most of my time upstairs in my bedroom making music, practicing songs all day, and in the evening, my dad would drive me to the local open mic nights to sing them.

When I was younger, my parents used to play a lot of Amy Winehouse, Michael Jackson, a real mix of everything. Moving to London at 18 definitely impacted my musical output as I started working with different producers and diving deeper into R&B and hip hop which really influenced my upcoming EP.

“I find it really fun to take someone else’s story and write it in my own way, thinking about the thoughts and feelings I would have if I was experiencing it myself” – Issey Cross

Do you have any dream collaborators?

Issey Cross: There are so many artists and writers that I hugely respect. Ashnikko, Doja Cat, Headie One, Unknown T, Julia Michaels, Lorde, Kehlani, and Chance The Rapper are all artists I'd love the chance to work with someday

What lyric are you most proud of?

Issey Cross: I have so many lyrics that I love but it would probably have to be from a track I've written called ‘Different Planets’. It's a song about being in a long distance relationship, which means a lot to me. ‘When we're lost on different planets, something in you keeps me grounded’.

What’s your most memorable, stand out gig? 

Issey Cross: I don’t really have a most memorable gig, as I used to do so many! But I do remember that one of my favourite venues to play at was The Troubadour in Earls Court. I was only about 16, but you had to be 18 to play, so before we left the house I caked on loads of makeup. Luckily I didn’t get asked for ID, but while I was on stage my little sister fell asleep across a bench with a coat over her and I remember seeing my parents trying to wake her up without distracting me.

What does your personal style and aesthetic say about you?

Issey Cross: I think my half-and-half hair is almost like my personality… I can be really happy or sometimes feel really sad but that’s when I write all my songs. The cross I draw under my eye I have had for years, and then one day someone asked me, ‘does the cross under your eye stand for your surname?’. I hadn't really thought about it, but I guess it does. It feels like it has become part of me.

Obviously you’re a big music fan, I noticed from your socials you’re a big Lorde fan particularly. What do you make of contemporary stan culture, and how does it make you consider your own work as an emerging artist?

Issey Cross: I’ve never really been someone to obsess over an artist to the point where I follow fan accounts, but I’m definitely a sucker for listening to a song on repeat until I get bored of it! I think it is amazing that nowadays it’s become so easy for fans to be able to feel a connection with the artist, and I’d hope that in the future fans of mine would be able to feel that connection too.

Are you the main character in your songs? What fictional character do you most relate to?

Issey Cross: A lot of my songs are written from personal experience but some songs, like ‘Who’ for example, I wrote from someone else’s perspective, which I love to do. I find it really fun to take someone else’s story and write it in my own way, thinking about the thoughts and feelings I would have if I was experiencing it myself. 

I think I most relate to Jess from New Girl! I can be awkward sometimes, clumsy, and say the wrong things at the wrong time, but I’m also very independent like her and creative. She can be very emotional, which is also similar to me, but I think that’s what helps me write so openly. She also puts people before herself at times which ends up hurting her – I relate to that a lot. 

What are your plans for 2021?

Issey Cross: Everything is a bit uncertain at the moment. I would’ve loved to do some writing trips and start performing live again but nobody really knows yet when things will start feeling more normal. My main goals for this year are to release my two EPs, and hope people connect with them. I’d love to start writing more for other people too, even if it's over a zoom call.

What do you think 2021 will sound like in pop, or where would you like to see it go?

Issey Cross: There are a lot of young new producers now producing in their homes and bedrooms, so I think pop in 2021 could have more of a lo-fi feel to it, with music videos being made at home too. People are becoming a lot more open with mental health, so I can see music feeling more honest with lyrics to empower and relate to their fans and what they are going through.