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Meme to Musician: The Viral Teendom of Kitty Pryde

In Magazine, Music by Madeleine WattenbargerLeave a Comment

The scene is dimly lit: an urban parking lot late on a summer light, yellow-orange under streetlights and the occasional flash of a car. A teenage girl toy with a plastic cup and chats anxiously. “My real–no, Kitty Pryde? No, that’s the name of an X-Man.” She sounds defensive, but casual, like she’s arguing a trivial point with her mom.

“It’s like, no, just, I go by Kitty anyway. I always, like, I have for a long, long time so it’s been, like, I didn’t wanna use my real last name, ‘cause it’s not cute.”

Kitty shrugs her thin shoulders, tonight bared in a flimsy strapless dress. “It’s not exactly diving into a character, I don’t think I, I don’t act any different, don’t do anything differently, I just, people are watching–more–now.” She slows down at the end of her spiel, suddenly self-aware.

Kitty, formerly known as Kitty Pryde, was born Kathryn Beckwith. Sometime in 2011, in between high school and her job at teenybopper mall shop Claire’s, she began recording herself rapping on her webcam. She called it “making songs,” and she did it for fun. The internet worked its unpredictable grace, and she went viral. Rappers Riff-Raff and Danny Brown noticed her homemade music video for the song “Okay Cupid.” The teenager from Daytona Beach, Florida became a sensation.

A meme, then a musician, now, in early 2012, a girl talking to a smattering of strangers after a show. They’ll upload the video, because that’s what you do.

The camera sweeps to reveal her several interlocutors. They’re not much older, but noticeably more poised. They ask her questions about her brother. Her musical process. Her song about Justin Bieber—she answers, “I wasn’t making a cultural statement there. I just really love Justin Bieber.”

The casual nature of this encounter, Kitty’s wryly self-effacing demeanor, her stuttering speech punctuated by “likes”: all a PR agent’s nightmare; all characteristic of Kitty’s public persona. The internet birthed her. Vice called her “Tumblr-wave,” a label which refers as much to her confessional tones as her self-parodizing syrupy¬-pink aesthetic. She seems to reveal both everything and nothing, refusing to tell critics her age, but frequently writing long-winded, diaristic Tumblr posts. She tweets almost constantly, often about illegal activities (a mild example from March 1, 2013: “anyone in nyc look vaguely like me and are over 21 and will sell me their ID ???? (sry mom)”). She uploads copious selfies, not all flattering. She’s her own personal TMZ; she’s anything but wholesome; she’s the anti-Taylor Swift.

 

“Okay Cupid,” the song that started it all, begins with a thin whine. Over a thick, hazy beat, Kitty whimpers, “Get out of my roooom!” She raps about unrequited high-school love with a nonchalant deftness. The hook is simple and mesmerizing: “Lordy, shorty, you’re a 10/and I wait for your drunk dials/at 3:30 a.m./I love them.”

Like Kitty herself, the song is full of ostensible contradictions. The beat by Beautiful Lou, who’s worked with artists like Lil B and A$Ap Rocky, grants it some legitimacy by way of name-recognition. But the song’s content treads on a territory occupied primarily by mainstream bubblegum pop: I think you’re cute, I wish you would call me, “I wrote your name on my binder/and everybody laughed at me.”

That juxtaposition leads to surprisingly sweet moments. Take the song’s drug references, for instance. Kitty alludes to her crush snorting oxycodone—she specified the drug in one of her many rapgenius.com notes—but the innocence of the sentiment offsets any intensity: “You apologize when I see you do a line/I don’t do that shit but I don’t really mind it.” It’s nearly comical to envision Swift or Justin Bieber—her peers, as far as age is concerned—singing those words. It’s equally absurd to imagine them coming from the mouth of rappers like, say, Lil B or Danny Brown. As the song ends, Kitty sighs, “just snorted a pill, feelin’ good, just snorted a pill.” The overall effect is naïveté: a high school girl hiding pills under her mattress, snorting oxy to impress a boy.

The core of Kitty’s charm lies in that combination. Compared to the typically straightforward sentiments of the conventional he-loves-me-not pop song, “Okay Cupid” harbors complicated feelings. She acknowledges her vanity—“now you’re trying to dip without me/but I’m the princess”—and then turns quickly to self-loathing—“but it really doesn’t matter, you are radder and cooler/a hooligan and my flattery makes me look like a fool again.” No emotion remains unadulterated. Unlike her peers, Kitty’s not a bad girl or a good girl; she’s not a virgin or a whore, but both, or neither. She plays a =more realistic take on Taylor Swift’s inane dichotomy: “she wears short skirts/I wear t-shirts.” Kitty wears short skirts, t-shirts, high heels and sneakers, all, at once, simultaneously.

For a teen icon, the contradiction couldn’t be more apt. She represents a darker side of adolescence, where impressing boys means doing their drugs, not their homework. She’s not the elegant, imperially beautiful Taylor Swift, assured even in her woe, staunch and unadulterated in every emotion. Kitty displays little surety, instead murmuring complex matrices of self-loathing, desire and blase cynicism. She doesn’t purport, as Swift does, to be “the one that understands you.” She sees through your games. To Kitty, boys aren’t flawless Prince Charmings, heartbreakers, husbands or one on the way to the other. Kitty waits for their drunk dials: boys are sloppy and sleazy, adorable and deluded, just like her.

She presents a complicated feminism for pop music, but it fits the internet ethos. “Once upon a time I spied on you”–one imagines Kitty Facebook-stalking, not fawning delightedly over each iteration of her crush’s face, but snickering to herself, murmuring a sarcastic comment to her friend and then, only then, admitting her attraction.

It’s dark: “you apologize when you do a line/I don’t do that shit but I don’t really mind it”–but it’s relatable. She doesn’t paint her crushes as romantic bad boys. They’re bad, of course, but inanely so: they drink in their parents’ basements. They “tell lies about [their] cool [lives].” Kitty sees through the facade. She’s unimpressed, but she’s charmed; she’s impressed, she’s blown away; she doesn’t do that shit but she doesn’t really mind it.

Kitty’s self-consciousness could be construed as disingenuous: Love in the Time of Curated Internet Personae. But, in many ways, her persona echoes that of her peers—girls creating themselves on the internet, seeking also to self-actualize in reality.

 

The impromptu parking lot interview ends with Kitty gushing about her future plans. “So much has happened in the last month, like, three weeks, like, since that song came out, it’s been ridiculous!” She waves her hands around, fingers wrapped around her iPhone and the plastic cup she continues to fiddle with. “I just wanna, like, get to travel, like, go places,” she insists. Places like Boston, she tells the girl off-screen. “That’s, like, the main place I want to go.”

 

The spring of 2013 brought Kitty’s second full-length EP, “D.A.I.S.Y. RAGE,” as well as a tour. On May 9, she goes to Boston. She’ll perform with Danny Brown. She continues to post on Tumblr incessantly. On April 8, she wrote a list: “things i need to do today.” It includes celebrity-inflected gems like “call my lawyer,” “update my interns” and “write my grimes song!!,” but also “call my mom” and “buy new coffee mugs.” Underneath, another list: “things i’ve done today.” The items, fresh off the: “gameboy, read justin bieber fanfic.” She’s an ordinary girl. She’s an extraordinary meme.

Madeleine WattenbargerMeme to Musician: The Viral Teendom of Kitty Pryde

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