Photo: @sphialiv / Courtesy of Motormouth Media

Slayyyter’s Inferno: In Conversation with the Logged-on and Laser-focused Pop Starlet

Following a chaotic and self-destructive year, laser-focused pop starlet Slayyyter prepares to ascend with her debut album of noisy pop bangers, Troubled Paradise. She tells us her story.

Troubled Paradise
12 June 2021

Pop music is in limbo. A night out to pretty much any metropolitan gay bar (ground zero for flirty, girly earworms preparing to squirm into the psyche of the public) suggests that pop music simply hasn’t existed in 10 years — or at least, not in any way that matters. The biggest stars of the early 2020’s skirt the pop definition slightly, from Billie Eilish’s subdued and gothy approach to Ariana Grande’s rap-inflected posturing. Those acts who’ve stuck to the pure pop sound are CVS Pharmacy fodder, bastardizing the sounds that once dominated clubs and radios to the most boring possible ends, appealing to the lowest common denominator, shirking fun entirely to churn out glorified Hulu ad jingles.

The only songs that still send gay dancefloors into a screeching, yaaaas-ing frenzy are practically breaching on oldies status: “Womanizer”, “Teenage Dream”, “Hollaback Girl”. All signs point to a bitter reality: pop music, in all it’s bubblegum-flavored, bleach-blonde, champagne-soaked, bikini-clad glory, has been driven underground.

St. Louis-born, Los Angeles-based singer and songwriter Slayyyter knows this and plans to bring it back to the surface with her debut album, Troubled Paradise. It’s her first release on the FADER Label and the follow-up to her widely beloved self-titled mixtape. The spirits of Britney, Gwen, and Gaga speak through her, and thank God she speaks to me.

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I’ve always felt like the most impressive thing about you as an artist is how quickly people started talking about you in the same breath as Gaga and Britney and all these pop powerhouses. Even before you had an album out, you entered the conversation about real pop stars super quickly, and I feel like that has to do with the fact that you just clearly really love pop music. Who did you have in mind when you started shaping your idea of your artistry?

It was always women in pop that did it for me the most. I grew up with Britney Spears, Madonna, Fergie, Avril Lavigne, Gwen Stefani. Gwen Stefani was my style icon. I thought she was so cool. She’s probably the reason I dyed my hair so platinum when I first started music. There were a few male influences, too. I loved listening to stuff my mom grew up on– I loved Michael Jackson, I loved Prince– but even when I’d have phases with other genres, I always came back to pop.

Yeah, I mean, even for those male influences it’s all about the visual iconography just as much as the music. I think when you put out the cover for your first mixtape, a lot of people were like, “Oh, she really gets it.” You were the first up-and-coming star in a really long while that seemed to really give a fuck about getting the look right. You understood that it was just as important as the music.

Oh, absolutely. Visuals are just as important. If you have a really strong body of work, but the album cover is some boring photo. Granted, I get a lot of criticism for my visuals too. People either love that tanning bed cover, or they hate it and think it’s tacky. Same with the Troubled Paradise album cover, but I kind of prefer it that way. If it’s a boring image that no one has a lot to say about, like, “Ohh, you look pretty,” or it’s a 35mm grainy photo, it’s like, “Okay…” I feel like the music doesn’t have as much of an identity without that “wow” factor.

The photo is always done in my brain way before it ever comes to fruition. The Wizard of Oz concept, I was like: “I know this sounds weird, but I can see it in my head: there’s like a rainbow over me, I’m in a weird Dorothy dress that’s kind of slutty… and I’m on a hill, I’m on like a small hill,and everyone’s like “Uhh, we’ll try our best.”

Yeah, it stands out so much against this inarguably tackier approach to visuals that so many other artists are doing right now. This Urban-Outfitters-ready album cover style where they’re too afraid to look insane.

Yeah, I feel like people are too cool to be even a little bit tacky. But I always pride myself on having tacky nails or doing my hair weird or buying sexy clothes from, like, porn stores. I feel like when it comes to visuals, I like people who commit to a distinct image. Something you can’t forget about.

Totally. Plus, at the time when you first started, it seemed like nobody was doing what you were doing because pop music had somehow become really serious. It wasn’t so much straight-up pop anymore either, but this sort of R&B or rap-inflected pop. Did you sense that void?

Definitely! I feel like things were shifting toward more of an indie sound or at least less traditional styles of singing. At first, I was like, “The way that I sing and the way that I like to write is soooo 2010, nobody is going to like it.” But I think it was missing so much from music that people really glommed on to that pop traditionalist approach. I feel like music is just like fashion, where trends cycle every ten years. Pop music has been absent for so long that pure female pop music is going to come back as the next reigning genre. It’s slowly trickling back, but I think we’re about to see it be more culturally relevant than just one-off streaming songs that people don’t really think about. I feel like that Doja Cat song “Kiss Me More” is a sign that it’s already starting to surge again.

It feels like since you broke, too, a lot of new artists are jumping on the, uh, “bimboification” train– which you were way ahead of.

Thank you! {Laughs.}

Photo: Courtesy of Motormouth Media

What do you think is making people take an interest in that sort of traditional, fun, sexy popstar look that was out for so many years?

I think it’s just the Y2K resurgence in general. All the designer styles at that time were so skimpy and sexualized. The skirts were like micro, micro miniskirts, and it was like, tall high heels, belly-baring tops, low-rise jeans– everything was so sexual. It was such a sexy time for fashion and music. I think the Y2K thing coming back on TikTok is making artists think it’s dope again to be horny and sexy and slutty. {Laughs} I think before people thought that aesthetic was trashy or tacky, but I’ve always loved it, so I’m glad it’s making a comeback.

Yeah, I think one of the benefits of it coming back is that a lot of people– yourself included– are reimagining this period of pop music that was never really that sexually explicit. Like, Britney couldn’t have sang “My pussy tastes sweet like candy.” It’s interesting to see how people have pushed pop lyrics to be even more horny and graphic, like “What’s the craziest thing I can say?” Do you think people remember that time being even wilder than it actually was?

Definitely, it’s sensationalized. Even the girls who originated that aesthetic like Paris Hilton or whoever definitely weren’t publicly being like, “I’m a slut!” even if they were seen that way. I think people remember that time as a more heightened place of sexuality.

The sexier songs in Britney’s catalog never come right out and say anything that crazy. The wildest example I can think of is “If U Seek Amy.” She was always so much more “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” about it than a lot of people are doing today, which…

Yeah! But isn’t it funny, though? I always remember her songs being so much hornier and sluttier. I think about a song like “I’m a Slave 4 U”, and then I go back and listen to the lyrics, and it’s so much more cryptic than I remembered. It’s like, “I could’ve sworn these were crazier!” Isn’t there a word for that? Like when people think The Berenstain Bears is “The Berenstein Bears”… The butterfly…

Oh, uh, the Mandala effect? The Mandela effect? Some shit…

Yes! Yes! The Mandela effect. It’s like the Mandela effect but for people who thought pop stars were, like, singing about their pussies but they really weren’t. It’s crazy.

It just felt like they were! Even people who were way less clubby and sexy than Britney ever was. I remember thinking Gwen Stefani was a total sex symbol, but in her whole discography there’s really nothing graphic. It’s crazy.

Yeah, in “Hollaback Girl,” she’s like “Uh huh, this my shit.” That’s not sexual at all. That’s not anything!

I think so much of it does come down to the visual. That’s why the look is so important. All those pop stars made people feel like “I’m the hottest, horniest, sexiest person in the whole world.” And they weren’t even going the whole way. That’s what I’ve always appreciated about your music– how it pushes that forward even more.

Definitely, yeah. I like to take it to the extreme, I guess. {Laughs}

So, after your first mixtape, you talked about not wanting to do a redo of the super-poppy McBling style you were doing. That mixtape was obviously really indebted to Blackout Britney, so who were your muses for Troubled Paradise?

It ranged across a lot of different things. I looked to a lot of the alt-pop stars of the 2000s. Obviously, in today’s terms, they aren’t exactly “alt,” but those people who weren’t the Britney Spears of the industry. Fergie and Gwen Stefani inspired me a bunch, Avril Lavigne, too. I’d been on such a Britney Spears kick during that whole mixtape era, and just the sort of music that’s associated with that McBling visual too: Destiny’s Child, Cassie. For Troubled Paradise, I shifted a little more alternative but still in the Y2K zone.

The Gwen and Avril influence is really clear on the new album, but like we were talking about, it’s still this kind of twisted reimagining of what those artists were like.

Yeah. I tried on this album to have more of my sound in a way. The mixtape– which I love, I’ll stand by all the songs on it– was more of an emulation of the things I was inspired by at the time. With Troubled Paradise, I feel like I really found my sound, my voice, how I like to stack vocals. It all has a twinge of the influences, but it’s not so matched up. It’s more futuristic.