Inspired by Dante’s Inferno and The Wizard of Oz, the singer’s Troubled Paradise album is a euphoric expression of her love of pop
When I first found Slayyyter on social media, I thought she was a bot. She had a small following with a blurry webcam picture that looked like it was taken in 2008. It had all the makings of a cam girl Twitter profile – a “message me!” vibe but with a disconnect, as though she lived purely through the screen. “BFF”, her debut single, was a whirling trip, with a dark, synthy bassline and Slayyyter’s growling vocals, making it one of the most thrilling songs in her catalogue.
Fast forward to 2021, and Slayyyter has come a long way. Her debut album Troubled Paradise is out and it’s a thrilling addition to the hyperpop canon – a melting pot of genres and delicious, scream-along pop choruses. It was the album she was always going to make, but it’s been a long road getting there.
24-year-old Catherine Slater was born in St Louis, Missouri, before moving to LA to pursue the pop star dream. Raised on a diet of Britney Spears and Heidi Montag, she’s a self-styled Y2K princess with a provocative grasp of X-rated lyrics and old-school pop star power. She’s a MySpace-era superstar in the wrong decade – her sex appeal as infatuating as her musical prowess.
When I jump on Zoom with Slayyyter, it feels like a rare glimpse of the ordinary girl behind the pop veneer – like seeing a drag queen out of drag, in the best way possible. “OK, disclaimer,” she says. “My hair looks so fucking ridiculous today. I slept on wet hair last night and I promise I don’t look like this all the time. I just had to let you know, because I keep seeing myself on the screen and I’m like… this is messed up, I have to say something.” I tell her I’m absolutely judging her and can’t wait to tell everyone that Slayyyter has the messiest hair. “‘Oh, she’s actually really ugly!’” she says. It’s a gorgeous start.
“It seemed like it happened overnight. One day I was a receptionist, the next day everything changed” – Slayyyter
Our chat’s focus – her new album – has a shiny ode to The Wizard Of Oz as its artwork, with Slayyyter imagined as Dorothy Gale if the queen of Kansas somehow ended up in a sweaty gay club at 4am. “In early 2020 I was watching The Wizard of Oz,” she explains. “It’s always been one of my favourite movies since I was a kid, but this time I was like, ‘God, I relate to this so much. This is my music career.’” It’s easy to draw parallels between Dorothy getting swept away to a magical land and Slayyyter leaving St Louis for LA. “The whole ‘We’re not in Kansas any more’ (thing) felt so true. I’m in this crazy world that I never realistically thought I’d end up in. It seemed like it happened overnight. One day I was a receptionist, the next day everything changed. It just really fit the music I was making.”
Slayyyter elaborates on the process of how she created the Troubled Paradise era, and how it differed from her 2019 self-titled debut mixtape. “When I was making my mixtape, we actually started the title track,” she says. “I was like, ‘Well, these don’t sound very Y2K. I’m gonna save these for my debut album where it’s more my own sound.’” She was right to do so. Slayyyter’s mixtape was great, but Troubled Paradise is a step to a new level. The title track is the centrepiece of the album, a huge, synthy, power pop moment that is pure euphoria. For Slayyyter, the bridge is one of her favourite moments on the album: “I didn’t actually realise how long and weird it was until people were like, ‘32 lines? Woah!’ and I was like… ‘I guess that is pretty long.’”
Slayyyter clearly knew which songs would define her next era. “I feel like I have a good sensibility of what my favourite songs are in my own music,” she says. “Originally I wanted “Villain” to be the lead. I was reading Dante’s Inferno, and there was this quote like, ‘The path to paradise begins in hell.’ So I was like, ‘Right, OK, the most hellish, angriest song on the record is “Self Destruct”. That has to go first. I started sticking to this (idea) that all the songs are either heroes or villains.”
Slayyyter’s affinity with pop radiates through her music, and it’s something that sets her apart from other artists. She really gets it. “It helps being a fan of pop music because I feel like I know when things aren’t cool,” she says. Moving from its angry opening salvos into big pop moments and ending on a softer note, the album goes through ever-shifting moods. “I wanted that first half of the album to be insanity. Party songs, self-destruction. I wanted it to have a bit of an interlude and then open up into a more emotional space. My life over the past few years was in such a scary, bad place. It’s shifted and started to get better as I’ve worked through stuff and grown, so I needed the album to reflect that. Being in that bad place, but moving on to paradise.”
The sound that Slayyyter had originally envisioned for the album is a million miles from the finished result. “The idea and sound I was going for was meant to be this shoegaze, 90s, New Radicals-type project. I’d probably have lost all my fans,” she explains. “I just wanted to do this really weird, indie-rock album that was like nothing I’d ever done before. After a while I was like, ‘Oh, fuck this. I love pop music.’ I feel like there’s a way to incorporate (different genres) while still staying in your lane as an artist. The music I was trying to make didn’t have any identity. It was not my sound.”
Slayyyter goes it alone on Troubled Paradise – why aren’t there any collaborations? “Um, I have social anxiety and I don’t like asking people to be on songs with me!” she says with a laugh. “I’ve done some fun collabs recently that will be good for my next era, but it’s like, I’m so small, no one’s going to fucking wanna be on my song. Like, I’m not even gonna ask. Because the thought of someone saying no is way worse. But when it’s just you, the vision can be a little clearer. The spotlight’s really on me – on my writing and my singing.”
There is one artist she currently has in mind for a dream collab, though. “I do want to make a song that I can get a Nelly feature on, just for like a St Louis hometown thing.” Slayyyter has previously recorded a “Ride Wit Me” cover. “A Y2K rap kind of sound. I’m speaking it into existence.”
Despite these coworking insecurities, she’s no stranger to a link-up. When Charli XCX announced the No Boys remix of “Click” featuring Kim Petras and Slayyyter, it felt like a huge hyperpop moment. “It was super cool working with (Charli). It was really fun. She texted me the instrumental; I cut my verse so fast in the studio. It was a dream come true, because I love (Charli and Kim’s) music so much. I’d love to work with them again in the future, they’re amazing.”
Like artists such as Charli XCX, whose unreleased catalogue is as beloved as her official one, Slayyyter has songs that haven’t had a full release but have become fan faves. One of these is “It Girl” – a one-minute song used in Christian Cowan’s recent fashion campaign. Fans are hungry to see it released as a single. “I’d love it to come out, but it’s hard,” she says. “I was really trying to get my “Gimme More” remix (Britney cover) on streaming. I don’t want to say too much about it, because I still don’t know the state of it. But I’d love to get it out there properly. There’s a lot at play with (things) like that. Being on a label now, it’s not easy to just release random songs while being in the middle of an album cycle. It’s taught me a lot about why there are certain marketing strategies, and why certain things just work.”
With this era and with her label’s promotional muscle behind her, we’ve been able to see Slayyyter kill it in music videos in a way we’ve never been able to in the past. “Being able to make music videos for “Troubled Paradise” and “Clouds”, where we just had so much budget to work with, was so special. Like, it was a huge moment for me. It felt like my wedding day. I’d never done anything like that before, I’d never done choreo before. If you watch the behind-the-scenes video, I just have the dumbest smile on my face. It was such a long, gruelling day but I just thought, ‘I don’t want to be anywhere else.’ Being able to put those videos out and have people see me for the first time in full HD, knowing I’m not some MySpace hologram. It felt like my proper debut.”
Slayyyter exists because of internet culture; it permeates her work, and has done since she began. “Yeah, I am heavily on the internet,” she says. “My personality and sense of humour is very internet-based. My selfies, moodboards, little videos – it all came from the internet and that’s how I got my fanbase.” Her fans are on board for the full package of Slayyyter – as a person, not just for the music. “If the music stopped, I still think I could just be a meme account,” she adds.
“We’re shying away from albums, eras, and artistry and it’s about these quick singles that are going to have a massive moment and then burn out” – Slayyyter
Even so, Slayyyter feels ambivalent about TikTok’s impact on the music industry in today’s landscape. “Honestly, it’s a love/hate relationship,” she says. “It’s pretty cool that anyone can find instant success just from their song going viral. It really is overnight success. Kids will put their song out, make a TikTok to it and the next day they’re signing to a major label. But I think it’s creating this landscape of people making songs specifically for them to go viral on TikTok. We’re shying away from albums, eras, and artistry and it’s about these quick singles that are going to have a massive moment and then burn out. They’re not going to be seen as influential songs the way singles and hit songs used to be in the early 2000s. I don’t think hits today necessarily have that.”
With no way to predict what TikTok users will take to and how to craft a hit, the music industry must be in a panic. “It’s so random,” says Slayyyter. “When you look at Doja Cat and “Say So”, that song went so big because a random TikTokker made a dance and it completely took off. Record labels are definitely panicked. But I think it is cool that it has an unpredictable edge.”
It can feel, sometimes, like pop stars have become more underground and alt than ever before. Dance pop sounds that dominated the chart like “Teenage Dream”-era Katy Perry would never top the charts like they did in the early 2010s. “I agree that pop music has gone out of style,” she says. “Trend cycles are the same with music as they are with clothes. Seeing Olivia Rodrigo absolutely crush it and have so much success, I feel like pop music is going to have a resurgence and be everybody’s favourite thing again.”
One of the best things about Troubled Paradise is the way it establishes just how great a singer Slayyyter really is. “In my early stuff and on my mixtape, I really was just trying to do my best Britney Spears impersonation,” she says. “I don’t know what artistic liberties I took for me to think that was necessary but I just wanted to sound so much like her. But for this album, I just really came into my own sound and voice. You can really hear me singing my heart out – singing as me rather than emulating other artists. It’s so nice hearing people praise the vocals, because people told me I was a shit singer but, nope, I’m actually pretty good, you guys!”
So, what’s next for Slayyyter? “I have my next album title, theme, and concept all picked out, because I’m a psycho. I was so nervous after this record that I didn’t think I’d be able to come up with an album idea. I thought, ‘Well, that’s it!’ But I got back to it, I’ve got a lot of sounds I want to play with and genres I want to dabble in and more collabs. I’m really excited for the next era. I’m trying to finish it as fast as I can in a way where it’s still really good, but I think early next year I’ll be ready to have something new for the world to listen to.” If it’s anything like what we’ve had so far, the world’s in for a ride.
Slayyyter’s Troubled Paradise is out now