Features

Mykki Blanco

Skype Interview by Zofia Ciechowska
Instagram photos by Mykki Blanco @_mykki_

Escaping categorization and becoming truly innovative comes from the unstoppable pursuit of passion, self-evolution and freedom of expression. No one practices this more intentionally than the multidisciplinary talent, Mykki Blanco. A wave of single releases rumble our eardrums one by one as we await September’s full drop of Mykki, the new album from the artist on !K7, a work that he says is his strongest to date. It presents a freshly exposed emotional layer of Mykki’s personality that his fans have not yet met, and one that we are honored to introduce to readers both new and old to share his audio-visual creative practice, his bold activism for racial justice, LGBTQ rights, HIV/AIDS awareness, and unfaltering optimism that inspires so much goddamn hope.

How are you feeling as you’re in the middle of your European tour?

It’s kind of awesome that we managed to secure so many tour dates, I’ve only been performing at festivals, and I’m playing my new album, Mykki on this tour. That was a really important decision because going to a festival means you’re exposed to so many people who don’t know your music, turning them on to who you are. This is the fifth year I’ve been doing Mykki Blanco and it’s cool to see the audience become younger, I have 18 year olds at my shows, and I just turned 30! That always excites me because that’s what creates the longevity of a career. And I can really capture culturally, musically and creatively what these people are into right now.

Mykki Blanco makes me realize that I can do so much more than I ever thought

How has the enthusiastic reception of ‘High School Never Ends’ made you feel about September’s album release?

My musical career happened so organically. I went to school thinking I would become a visual artist, I also loved writing and considered being a journalist or a novelist. To have this combination of my jobs come together as Mykki Blanco makes me realize that I can do so much more than I ever thought with this interdisciplinary project. I’m just really excited because I think that while I’ve had releases that have had really strong songs, I think this will be one of my strongest releases.

You’re probably are onto the next thing now?

I’ll have a project out in spring 2017. I really want to build the Mykki Blanco brand, but not the brand in the traditional understanding of that, but branding in relation to people like me. Queer people of color have to take hold of revenue streams and it’s really important to define yourself as a business if you’re going to be that kind of entertainer. I’m excited for this year and the next five more! I love the journey that I’ve had and feel so fortunate!

There are some powerful messages that you’re sending with the audio and video for ‘High School Never End0’s.

I’ve always been a hardcore optimist

The song ‘High School Never Ends’ is about a young drug dealer who comes from a lower class family and hangs out with really wealthy friends. It’s about a teenage argument but it carries the weight of how those teenage arguments move into adulthood. For the video, one of the most important considerations was to do something that was never done before. I wanted to show queer anarchists, queer people of color on camera because I’ve never seen them on camera before.

I think this album peels back a layer of who I am. A lot of my fans know a very social part of me, my jet-setting persona. It was not easy to switch from writing about culture to writing about my emotions, or about coming out as HIV-positive. I’d never written a song about romance, but here I have 4 romantic songs. Avoiding cliche, I had to grow up, I was in a different place, this is the music I now want to make and see what comes of it.

In one of your social media post you’re about to go to Europe, it’s post-Orlando shootings, you second-guess yourself for a moment and ask yourself if you say too much? Yet you admirably hit publish and keep on going. What do you do to overcome the self-doubt you allude to?

Even though some traumatic stuff happened to me, for most of my life I’ve never been a depressive person. I’ve always been a hardcore optimist. 2014 was the first time I dealt with adult depression. I learned how crippling self-doubt can be and it threw me even after coming out of that period. I was on the road for too long tours, I had no social life, I was HIV positive and no one knew. It was also growing pains, suddenly you’re an adult, you have to deal with so much, people aren’t going to help you, it’s very scary.

I’ve always created how I’m perceived photographically. I’m an entertainer, this is what I do for a living, this is how I buy my mom’s Christmas presents.

I decided I was never fucking feeling like this ever again, and when I get done with something, I get it out of my life! I may not be able to control when bad things happen to me, but I will never be this kind of person again because I know how crippling it was for my career. When I came out as HIV-positive that was the tail end of this phase. And I truthfully came out for me. I decided OK, this is going to be it, people will freak out. Then the complete opposite happened. I think it has so much to do with the age of reality TV we live in. I call it the Kardashian effect, when you gain more cultural capital when your fans feel like they know something so personal about you. Somehow a facade has been lifted and people admire that. I think that also worked to my benefit, but it was unexpected. I can still remember how afraid I was at the time.

Related to this Kardashian effect, you take a lot of images of yourself that you share with your followers. Why do you choose to talk to your fans like this?

For me it’s a two-fold answer. I came of age at the time of the first social networking sites, LiveJournal, Blogosphere, Make-out Club, Friendster. I had an accounts on each. Having grown up with early 2000s internet, I literally give zero thought to what I post on social media because I’ve been using it since I was 12 years old Secondly, as a person who performs in drag, a lot of people take ugly photos of me and often I have to take a photo of myself to show how it looked best. When you’re a man dressed in drag it’s almost like onlookers want to take a bad photo, they don’t care, or they’re less invested. As a queer person who dresses up in drag, we have to take control. I’ve always created how I’m perceived photographically. I’m an entertainer, this is what I do for a living, this is how I buy my mom’s Christmas presents. There are certain aspects of shameless narcissism of entertainment celebrity that I believe in because that’s why you’re an entertainer, but I also definitely think megalomania is disgusting. Another big thing is that the major label artists get so much publicity, but I have to put everything I’ve got all the way.

This summer we’re facing a wave of utterly crushing news about violence towards black lives, queer lives. You tweeted — what’s the climax? There seems to be none. How do you maintain the energy required to keep putting art out into the world, while the world itself seems to be falling apart?

I try to hold light in my heart because so many things are happening in the world

There’s something about the Philando Castile death that really really really really really depressed me. It was a situation that was really changing how I was starting to feel about race and society. It was making me feel so untrustworthy towards white people in general, these very segregated, prejudiced thoughts that a lot of people of color are starting to feel again in a very dated way. That’s so horrific and sad if in society people are having the same emotions that their grandparents experienced. I honestly hope that somehow these younger kids fresh from college are building racial knowledge and alliances to beat this. Race hasn’t been in the national conversation like this. But it’s very difficult right now because no one’s being convicted. Because as a person of color, many of us don’t feel like our white friends know how to begin to protest or voice the fact that people are dying. This is not OK that people are dying. I never thought my generation would be like this. I thought we’d be super boring and now the world is cracking apart at the seam. I try to hold light in my heart because so many things are happening in the world that are making people prejudiced, that’s just the worst.

Looking at the Orlando shootings, the entertainment spaces where oppressed communities come together to celebrate, enjoy, be safe, are becoming places where they’re being attacked. We know that queer people, queer people of color are not safe in most parts of the world and these places are some of the small bastions of safety they have. What thoughts do you have as a performer that goes on stage in these spaces?

This is still the world, these people still exist no matter what country, race or creed

There are certain countries that I have felt very uncomfortable about going to. Even though I love the fans, I don’t like performing in Poland, and I always have a very mixed relationship with Russia. At my last show people protested and my bouncer who was there to protect me, said homophobic things to me in Russian and people had to get me out because he was literally threatening to throw me out of the club! I’ve been living in Paris all summer and realized that people here are much more conservative than you realize. Having navigated the world over the last couple of years, almost the whole entire world is still not really safe to be a flamboyantly dressed male, to be genderqueer, to be a gender anomaly, to be a very masculinely dressed woman. I wore a corset and tracksuit pants in Paris and so many people, so many men, were giving me disgusted looks, even though we’re in a major European capital. This is still the world, these people still exist no matter what country, race or creed, they are always going to make life difficult for us.

At your shows you sometimes repeat ‘the future is stupid’ to the crowd. Do you still feel the same way about the future?

My friend Matias and I got this hat at this water park in Minneapolis that said ‘the future is stupid’, it’s a nihilistic joke more than any other kind of statement, y’know?

Mykki Blanco plays Melkweg on Wednesday, 12 October. His debut solo album Mykki is out now on !K7.