A producing, singing Londoner is exactly what Klein is – if you’re only looking on the surface. Underneath and within, Klein is a young adult with an infectious laugh and a vision for music that transcends those of her fellow artists. Rest assured; her love for Zayn does in fact run deep, but her Nigerian roots and down-to-earth nature are just some of the folds of her multi-dimensional image.
When did women become incapable of complexity? Why do we feel more inclined to follow other peoples’ dreams and expectations of us? Why are pop songs so empty? These and more were questions we exchanged, from one Black-British teen to another, using audio notes on a giggly Saturday afternoon. We spoke about anything and everything: from angst to The Weeknd, Nollywood to Zayn; pop propaganda to Drake and alter-egos to Taylor Swift.
In the period between our interview and its presence on the screen before you, she released her début album ONLY, where Klein (and only Klein!) shines through – which is what happens when you decide to “put something out in the world that you like for you”. Listen to it as you read on, and be happy in all its angst:
I was just listening to your Hello!
You know what, someone actually said the Hello video looks very Nollywood! *laughs*
Now you mention it… The Nollywood vibes were shining through all those twinkles and that Missy Elliot-style dance. It was based on Adele’s Hello, right? Because I just heard “when you call, you never seem to be at home” and I was like, I’ve heard that before…
Looool, yes. Like, [at first] I really wanted to make a really generic Hello cover? But when I recorded it, it ended up sounding really intense and angsty, which was very interesting.
What made to go down that route versus, I don’t know, the average acoustic cover?
It was weird because I was sorta looking at the lyrics, and I was thinking – God, I wonder how, like, Adele feels? So I was kinda just trying to bring out the inner, angsty Adele in me.
And the video? Why did it turn out like it did?
Basically my boyfriend Josh Homer, who films the videos, found this really spooky place. And I had this idea to do this Azonto Nigerian dance move. Like – I don’t know, I’m rambling.
The thing is, the song and video is very angsty but it’s very happy. Like, you watch the video and you’re near a river, and there are stars, and the stars are like reflecting in the water… we were just basically being like – black magic and black excellence, you know, being happy amongst all that angst. Actually, the boy in the video was my crush from a few years ago.
If I don’t do stuff like this with my crush in a few years I’ll be disappointed to a v high degree. Anyway… wait, your boyfriend and your ex-crush?! That must have been awkward.
You know what, in regards to doing the vid with the boy I fancied [and] with my actual boyfriend… filming it was so fucking jokes. Like, it’s kinda ridiculous, it is kinda ridiculous, but fuck it? This boy, I don’t even like him anymore – it’s literally been ages. But I was like – look: you’re Nigerian, you’re dark skinned, let’s put some black magic into this video *laughs*.
Do you know what, it actually wasn’t awkward for my boyfriend to shoot my ex-crush, because I literally don’t fancy him anymore? He’s literally just an airhead! I mean, he just has a really nice chiselled face. *laughs*. So I just thought I’d exploit him! *laughs*. Men do it all the time to women! They just sorta use us as props. So I thought: It’ll be interesting to try using him [as a prop]. *laughs*.
You sounded all jokey about using that dude as a prop, but you got me thinking about how men tend to treat girls like shit in music videos – especially hip-hop and RnB ones.
It is true though, we women always get treated as props. Even in songs by women with videos directed by men! So why not turn it around, really?
True! I was also gonna add that watching your Hello made me desperately want to pop my chest to the beat, and knowing you drew inspiration from the scary witchcraft obsessed Nollywood is the shit.
Oh my gosh, I literally love Nollywood. Yeah, I’m Nigerian – actually, I’m Yoruba! It’s just like… the propaganda! They’re always really, you know, [going for it] – I guess that’s something I take inspiration from.
I was scared shitless of Nollywood films as a kid!
*laughs* Nollywood films are so jokes! I’d say Nollywood, and pop music, and Tyler Perry *laughs*– [they] all have this sort of agenda or themes in culture. They kinda want everyone to go with the flow – whether that’s like, being weird: that’s the new in. Or wearing creepers; that’s the new in. Or – I don’t know, I’m actually rambling.
Oh gosh, when creepers were in. That was a bad time for humanity.
Referring back to what you said on propaganda – if you think about it, Nollywood and pop music have that in common.
I was literally just saying that to my friend, and it’s so disappointing that – wait, have you heard of a guy called Dev Hynes, aka Blood Orange?
Blood Orange!!!!!!! Is literally my lifeline!
Blood Orange! He’s legit everything! He literally makes really good pop music, and it’s written really well, and because of that he stands out. It’s so weird [because] I’ve played his music to some people and they’re all like, “ooh this is a bit weird isn’t it?” – it’s literally not. It’s literally classic pop music, but because it’s actually really good, it’s almost really weird? Because you just don’t get good pop music anymore.
Also: Have you ever been on his Instagram? He’s literally so cute – he’s like a 2016 Michael Jackson. Which is so weird, because I think The Weeknd thinks he’s Michael Jackson himself?
What about Blood Orange’s Twitter?? I love his Twitter! As for The Weeknd: In the I Can’t Feel My Face video he manages to pull some very Michael Jackson –esque moves. Plus, In The Night is so Michael Jackson it’s confusing.
Oh my god, The Weeknd so wants to be Michael Jackson though. *laughs*
Do you ever look at other artists’ lyrics and draw inspiration from there?
In terms of artist lyrics, I just tend to look at them and just fucking laugh. Especially with like, pop songs – they’re just so ridiculous.
Pop music never seems to have any thought put into it, which is kinda worrying – yet very curious to think about.
Most of them, actually, are so incredibly, like, basic? But it’s so weird [because] it works. It’s catchy. That’s what drew me to Adele’s lyrics: it’s actually quite complex. And to actually make pop music, you kinda have to actually be like, really basic? [The songs are literally] *starts singing different keys* A, B, C, D, E, F, G, G, G, G.
I mean, even in the charts – have you noticed? Everyone’s always following a sort of… like, I mean, it’s either Taylor Swift or all the boy bands – y’know, One Direction. Everyone’s sort of scared to put what they want on paper without following a certain formula? Which I find very interesting, actually.
Isn’t mainstream just about going with the flow? If something that’s considered mainstream wasn’t mainstream, it’d be considered weird. “Normal” is just our accepted weird; our average weird.
Speaking of mainstream: for like the two songs that I put out, I had to use conscious effort to do something that is almost pop-y, but still me – do you know what I mean? Like, by pop-y I mean something that’s just enjoyable. I think people get that confused – they think they can’t make a song people can dance to without being themselves? They feel they’re copying other artists [by making pop music]; they’re thinking “I’ll have to be like this or that artist to do this or that”.
There’s this false perception that if you don’t write songs about death while sounding like Alt-J (who I love to death), than you’re not jack. What I’m saying is, people are so scared of being phony they become phony.
Oh my god, Alt-J. You are right, though. Radio’s a myth. Just because you’re played on a radio millions of times, doesn’t mean you’re actually that good? Radio and Soundcloud all have the same concept: they’re just in the background. They kinda get engulfed into you, but at the end of the day no-one really knows who you are.
I think people – individual people – knowing your stuff or liking it or personally getting it or getting [the purpose of] what you’re making – even it’s just one person – that’s [worth] more than a million people hearing you on, I don’t know, Radio 1 Live Lounge while you’re covering Drake or something. No hate to Drake though – I literally love him. Funnily enough, you never see him doing covers of other songs, which I find so cool.
Drake really is so legit. Even that Hotline Bling vid made me see dad dancing in a whole new fluorescent light.
All this [hype] about the Hotline Bling song and video is so ridiculous because it’s such a cheesy pop song. Drake’s literally done something he wants to do – he’s literally taken the piss of himself in the video by being so cheesy, and he’s winning! And that’s it: eventually, when you’re yourself, people will catch up. Y’know what I mean?
Yes! Another guy I interviewed once said if you don’t make music for yourself it’s never worth it, even if you’re getting loads of radio plays. Which goes on to remind me of this lyric in some Drake song where he says: “what am I doing… oh yeah, that’s right: I’m doing ME”.
That is literally it! This friend said “oh, I played your music to my sister the other day and she didn’t like it” and I was like, that’s literally fine! Because even I sometimes don’t even like what I make, and it’s literally okay. The thing is that it’s for me, I’m just making something for me and for what I’m going to do – and if I like it in this moment, even if it’s for two days, that’s literally fine. And even if that doesn’t get loads of k’s, [even if that doesn’t get thousands of views, likes or listens], whatever! Put something out in the world that you like for you.
Yes!! Why can’t people like things just for the sake of liking them in the moment, just so they can immerse themself in it so much they can’t even care about it later? All these “fads” and “phases” – they’re much more than they’re made out to be.
Being happy is enough. *laughs* You don’t even need to do anything! Being happy is just enough! *laughs*
Let’s talk about your song Arrange, which is the song you originally introduced me to. There’s this gospel black church vibe at the start, which just slams into this stark opposite reality where everyone’s partying in LBDs and looking drugged/drunk– you know, all that.
The intro was meant to be meditational and similar to traditional, Pentecostal, gospel praises. When the beat drops, it’s basically what happens when parents go away from the weekend. *laughs*. That red room basically symbolises that it’s not real, it’s all a dream.
Tell me about its influences.
It’s literally one of the weirdest songs I’ve ever written. It’s just me being so honest with myself, about where I’ve come from and what I want – whether that’s just to have money, to be happy; to be with friends… it’s sort of one of those songs that could be interpreted quite differently. It says: I’ve arrived, I’ve struggled, and now I have what I want. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything aside from happiness, so when we came up with the video’s concept, it’s just me, a normal girl, chilling, until the beat drops and becomes dreamlike and euphoric and really happy.
I sort of couldn’t stop laughing – my cousin couldn’t stop laughing, none of us could stop laughing, we were just really happy. And I said to my boyfriend “we need to do more things, there needs to be something going on in the video”. But then I edited it into the video [it is now], and I see that I’m just a black girl being happy. That is enough.
When you said “I asked myself: do I want to be rich, happy or popular?” you reminded me of a lyric in Arrange where you just keep repeating “enough of the pain – bring in the glory”. It’s such a power line, you know? And you saying that the video concept is of a black girl doing more than booty poppin’, lip smacking and hip shakin’ is so powerful. It shouldn’t be. But, damn it, it is.
Rihanna actually said that in some interview: “they only like us [black women] when we’re smoking weed and shaking our asses, but when it comes to other things they’re like meh”. And it’s so true! Yes, I can shake my ass if I want to – but let me hang out with mates and dance and be free!
It’s weird to see a video where we’re not acting super, super strange or super, super sexual. I think black woman are either incredibly hyper-sexualised in music or have no sexuality at all *laughs*. I think it is important, when you’re representing yourself, to be yourself. Fuck what everyone else wants you to be aside from you. That sounded really chessy *laughs*.
I’ll never understand why people are so uncomfortable when other, real-life, multi-faceted beings not fitting their rigid stereotypes! When RiRi did BBHMM, everyone was calling her a slut, as if they don’t happily sit through vids of 10 half-dressed women on some rapper’s arm. The double standards, man.
That is literally true! With Rihanna, people were shocked. It wasn’t in the same formula of her previous stuff – she kinda had more control of her image and direction, and people decided “Rihanna! We’re really not happy with you having a voice, so we’ll complain about it!” However, I personally think it’s one of her best songs *laughs*.
On dreams: it seems like only in some sort of euphoria where we’ll see a world where the marginalised are actually treated like humans.
Yes! Yes, yes, yes!! That’s so true. It’s a dream world [to have equality].
Do you have any anecdotes of being a black woman in this world? Especially as a producer, which is typically considered a dude job for a reason known to no-one ever?
Being a producer – I never realised it before I started, but most people assume that a female singer couldn’t have produced [her song] herself – it must be a male producer. It’s annoying to go out and hear them ask, “Who made it?” and think you’re joking when you say it’s you. And they’re like, whoa what, a woman [produced it]? They don’t think we’re capable of doing that as a woman – they think all we think about is Zayn Malik. I do love him, but we’re multi-dimensional. There’s a lot we can do. If we can bloody go through period pains while living our life, we can definatly produce some mystical beats.
Yes! I’m complex, I can multi-task, I can do all that while daydreaming about Zayn – who says I can’t? Oh yeah, the patriarchy, which decided I can’t be complex because it’s fragile and pretends it’s not by making out that we woman are the ones who are weak.
We [black women] – we’re awesome. Fuck what anyone else thinks. We’ve got our magic, we’re so great, so intelligent, we have that melanin jist – we’ll be fine. It is shitty to look in the media and not feel represented or listened to, but there’s a change coming. *laughs* It’s cheesy, but there’s one coming.
What/who inspires you?
I don’t actually know – I’m an only child so I had a lot of free time on my hands. I did it for fun, but I use it as an outlet to say how I feel. It’s cheesy, but I want to express myself in a type of alter-ego I make for myself. Brandy inspires me – she was all about having fun. She was – is so sick. I also love Alice Coltraine, who’s basically secretly my aunty but doesn’t know it.
What do you feel is next for you?
I want to do more shows, more gigs, more music videos, and more songs. Life is too short. 2016 is basically the year of the re-up, of making things. ℘