It’s hard to believe that it’s been a decade since Mykki Blanco burst onto the music scene with their debut EP Mykki Blanco & the Mutant Angels – a brash, heady mix of distorted guitars, bone-shaking drums, and maniacal screams that boldly announced the artist’s presence. It was, in a word, unapologetic.
The sentiment is still true of today’s Blanco, though they’re now also older, wiser, and with an impressive back catalogue boasting collaborations with rap and hip-hop titans like Kanye West and Teyana Taylor to hyperpop juggernauts Charli XCX and Dorian Electra – their mien seamlessly blending on the track, while simultaneously working wizardry on writing and production in the background.
That’s without mentioning their undeniable groundbreaking impact on queer rap – a scene they never identified with, but begrudgingly accepted – to pave the way for names including Angel Haze, Chika, and Lil Nas X. “I definitely see how I was instrumental in opening the doors for a lot of younger queer artists, but I think my trajectory as an underground artist has been so wildly different than some of the more commercial queer pop acts, “ they offer modestly, before swerving: “It’s difficult for me to answer at this stage in my career, I think in 20 years from now, I can answer it more clearly.”
It’s perhaps surprising that an artist of their calibre and talent would appear self-effacing, yet Blanco is quick to clarify. “I’ve had a career for 10 years and because of all of these cultural things that happened around how I interjected myself into pop culture, as well as what the world was like at the time, I’ve been canonised before my time,” they reflect. “Now is the time for me to really add a broad- er dimension to who I am as an artist and what I can contribute to the culture.”
The shape of that becomes clearer as they close the previous chapter of their discography, the romantic sounds of Broken Hearts & Beauty Sleep – a mini album released fresh after heart- break. Released during the ongoing pandemic – a transformative time for many – the project was the first step on the journey that continues through into 2022. “Career-wise, it’s the highest I’ve ever streamed which was a really great way to christen my relation- ship with Transgressive Records,” they muse. “But, I was filled with all of this self-doubt and it was like I was living two worlds: celebrating one of the best releases of my career, but it was bittersweet because had it happened during a non-COVID year, I think it would be even better and even more well received.”
Despite this, Blanco is more galvanised than ever about the next stage of their career and is poised to drop a new album later this year entitled Stay Close To Music, an about-turn to add yet another dimension to their offering. “Nothing of last year fully represents the campaign this year. (This project) really represents a continued departure of deconstructing who I am as an artist at this point in my career,” they explain. “Not so much reinventing, but evolving into a musician versus all of these years of being a performer.”
Described as “wildly different” to its predecessor, the new release draws inspiration from the unlikely mash-up of My Bloody Valentine, Cocteau Twins, Bronski Beat, and The Beach Boys “It’s not melancholy, but it’s very contemplative. I wanted to create a really dreamy record, so there’s lots of flutes and bells.
Wildly different, indeed, best illustrated by “Family Ties”, a track about a gay relationship and mental illness, created with Michael Stipe of R.E.M. – birthed after a coincidental meeting at a Vaquera show during NYFW. Unexpected, sure, but besides the point for the artist. “It’s more of a moment so that musical gatekeepers can understand that I’m very serious about my craft.”
Mykki Blanco is serious, indeed, and not just about their music. The chaos and uncertainty left in the wake of COVID-19 has taught them a valuable lesson: “You can’t put all of your eggs in one basket,” they assert, “especially if you’re someone who believes they’re multitalented, and I do. It’s time to fucking go, balls to the wall, and make sure you’re cultivating those other talents.”
What else to expect? A natural foray into the world of television and film – “I always thought I would end up there,” they joke– and (there’s more) a novel too. “It’s one of my other huge goals for this year. I’m attempt- ing my first substantial piece – a collection of short stories that are semi-autobiographical but definitely amplified in a fiction- al way. It’s the same ingredients and concepts that I play with in my songwriting and there’s definitely a level of honesty to it, but I forgot how much I love good, wordy descriptive paragraphs.”
It’s exhausting to imagine adding more to a heaped plate, but simultaneously inspiring and hugely admirable for an artist so established in their career – however reticent to admit – to approach it with the hunger of a new talent ready for their first big break. “I’m a huge believer in hard work and being able to back up your ambition with a pedigree of really substantial stuff, so I’m just going to keep working to create those things across disciplines,” Blanco concludes, staring ahead at the beginning of their new chapter. “That’s where I’m at right now. I want my glow up this year to be completely on my terms and in- stead of all the seeking that I feel I’ve done all these years before I just want to be attracting now.”
STYLING - ALESSIA ANSALONE
CASTING DIRECTOR - AFFA OSMAN
FASHION ASSISTANT - ANTONINA GETMANOVA