the insider: natalia kills
read nylon singapore's exclusive interview with the songstress here.
all photos by liu zongyuan
At least that’s what she’s known for. With a name like Natalia Kills, the girl’s a force to be reckoned with— not that we’d dare anyway. But judging from the way the singer handles her troubled past, sure, there’s a refreshingly brutal honesty…yet she’s not exactly the wild troublemaker she’s portrayed to be either. Believe it or not, underneath her leather dresses and ruby red lips lies an admirable degree of grace and tenderness too.
We're human, too, cries the typical pop star, who certainly eats, walks, and breathes like most of us, but still takes a trip to Malibu on a private jet and, oh, don a gorgeous Dior gown on the red carpet because it’s part of the job. Not that we blame them though— they’re supposed to sell the dream.
As for that dream, Natalia Kills seems to be living it. At 27, she’s a full-time singer with two successful albums under her belt. Better still, and in only the most effortless manner, she has graced plenty of glossy magazine spreads, has over 70,000 followers on her personal Instagram fawning over her perfect plum pout, and is a mainstay on many a best-dressed list too. Last we saw, in late May, she tied the knot with fellow musician Willy Moon in New York.
Yet, while Natalia’s probably accustomed to star treatment these days, there’s a certain realness to her. As real as the tears, sweat, lust, regrets and heartache she lays bare on her latest album, Trouble.
If ever there was a contender for Meredith Grey and her self-appointed “dark and twisty” (yes, time to dig up some golden-era Grey’s Anatomy), it would have to be Natalia, hands down. Simply put, everyone else’s chances are blown right out of the water, as far as we’re concerned.
While dark pop is a term that’s thrown about quite casually when talking about the Brit songstress, it’s easy to see why— and why she’s often labeled the “bad girl” of music too. Along with well-mixed layers of synths, beats and guitars, her songs are uncannily addictive; you’ll catch yourself humming along to her catchy woah-ohs long after they’ve faded away. Yet, she pens her own songs, and sings them, with sobering honesty.
No sunshine and party anthems here. As deceptive as the title is, her hit “Saturday Night” isn’t about a weekend jaunt about town. It’s the hard truth about her not-too-pleasant childhood. Similarly then, “bad girl” isn’t just a vacuous label or marketing tool. It’s a statement; a two-word confession that sums up her trouble-ridden past.
We do feel bad to lay it out here, but then, her list of past deeds are already widely known: she ran away from home at the age of 15, set fire to an ex-boyfriend’s apartment, joined a religious cult, and was taken away in the back of police cars more than once— all this before the ripe age of 18. Yet, when asked about the label, Natalia shrugs it off, “It’s just important not to care. You can get a lot more done that way.”
Her so-called “penthouse to pavement” story turns the rehashed rags-to-riches pop star story on its head too. It’s not the stuff of fairytales. Nor, the Jay Z-style rise to fame we’re accustomed to— at least, when she was growing up. Instead, she tells us matter-of-factly, “When I was really young, my parents were crazy rich, but by the time I was 12, the cops had taken everything. My father was in jail and we were broke…I kept telling myself ‘I’m gonna be fine,’ even when I didn’t believe it.”
That said, she won’t stand for pity. Or praise. Natalia also has the rare ability to laugh at herself— not in the way most do, sometimes hiding embarrassment behind bouts of laughter. She does it contemplatively, comfortably. When asked about making her life part of her career, as part of her successes even, she’s all too aware of the irony. “It’s absurd. I have to laugh sometimes,” she says, “I have this huge opportunity to say anything to the world and be a better, brighter version of myself. And what do I do? Sing about my worst moments and everything that’s ever gone irreversibly, horrifyingly wrong.”
“But it’s real, and it’s mine, and it’s the only thing I know…what else am I gonna do? I feel safe in my own madness.”
Back in 2011, Natalia burst into the music scene with her debut album, Perfectionist, and her song, “Mirrors” garnered some success after peaking at No. 3 on the Billboard Dance Songs charts. More likely though, most would have heard about the singer from her collaboration with LMFAO on the single “Champagne Showers,” which gave her more mainstream appeal.
Then again, some of her fans have been following her since MySpace, when she was known as Verbalicious and wore bright pops of colours that are quite unlike what we see her in now. After posting her EP Wommanequin online, of which the single of the same title received two million plays on the website, she reached the top of the unsigned artists chart. Maybe she owes some of her then-popularity to blogger Perez Hilton, who posted the tracks to his popular site.
“I definitely always have at least one bitchy bad girl anthem for each album! I guess some things never change,” she says of her 2005 song “Don’t Play Nice.”
Born and raised in Bradford, England, she lived with her Jamaican father and Uruguayan mother in an industrial town that she claims is “the town that God forgot about.” Also, her real name’s Natalia Cappuccini. But like most things we know about the self-made singer, including writing her own songs and carving a name for herself from practically ground zero— “Kills,” tough as it sounds, fits.
“There was a boy I used to know who called me ‘Kills’ every time I had to leave…some nicknames just stay with you forever whether you choose it or not,” she says of her artist name. In other interviews, she elaborates that it’s also apt because of a popular English phrase, “you killed it.”
“Michael Jackson was the best singer of all time, he ‘killed it’ onstage, or Naomi Campbell was ‘dressed to kill’ at Fashion Week…when we say ‘kill’, we usually mean someone giving 100 percent of their passion and energy to something that defines them. So, me being a perfectionist, my passion is always there 100 percent. I guess that’s why Kills was the most beautiful and appropriate thing to call myself,” she says to W Magazine.
And while artists talk about dramatic stage personas—think Sasha Fierce, for instance— Natalia is adamant about remaining the same person through and through. “I don’t have an alter ego…I don’t go home and suddenly put jeans and flip-flops on, watch Jersey Shore and become someone else. I am obnoxiously consistent and predictably same-ish.”
“I clean the floor in my silk dress and diamond rings, I cut my own fringe every morning in the bathroom mirror, I wear the same black fluffy slippers every day until they fall apart and I only write with my own gold fountain pen. Every so often, I get bored of myself and think about a change that I will never make myself go through. This is it…this is who I am.”
Which is to say, that she’s a bit of a contradiction. We’re all too aware of singer-songwriter girls being pegged as guitar-playing, sweet-voiced hippies, Natalia begs to differ. From her dramatic winged liner and daring sense of style, turning heads as she does with dark lips and her even darker jet black crop, she’s more “killer” than pixie-faced. Big fur coats and powerful shoulders are a thing too, and so are mesh dresses and bralets; we can go on, but maybe it’s best we asked Natalia herself.
“I look like a black and gold marabou sex doll from an amateur school girl dominatrix fetish film,” she says, without skipping a beat. “I like anyone who wears a lot of black and refuses to smile for cameras…genius!”
A video by Style Like U provided a rare glimpse of her wardrobe— lots of black and gold, and monochrome. As she talks about wearing a suspender dress backwards— for novelty’s sake— she also admits to loving Walter Steiger shoes because of their brilliantly arched heels. Yes, we’re not the only ones mildly obsessed with her street-meets-luxury style.
And yet, things weren’t all that rosy when she was a teenager. After leaving home at 15, she spent a few years in London acting, decided it was not for her and then sold her belongings to buy a one-way ticket to Hollywood— only to rough it out with little money and living in cheap motels. “Not good,“ Natalia says of her life then, “But certainly better than staying at home while everything fell apart.”
“I used to listen to Marilyn Manson, Eminem, Garbage and Hole…I felt happy listening to angry lyrics because suddenly my life didn’t seem as messed up…I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t feeling ‘free and unstoppable’ like most pop music draws us to relate to. My misery had loud, unapologetic company and I didn’t have to be ashamed or wrong for hating the world and feeling alone,” she adds.
Finally, her big break came when will.i.am signed her to his record label. Fast forward to last year, when she released her sophomore effort, Trouble, to much critical praise. She even goes as far to describe the album as a “victory cry for a broken generation”.
“Yeah. You know how when something bad happens to you, everyone tells you, ‘Time will heal…don’t worry, you’ll get over it? Well, I realized that’s mostly bullshit. My album is basically a melodic documentary of all the worst moments of my childhood, all the terrible stuff I did as a teenager and every bad mistake I’ve ever made! It’s a defiant and neurotic feel-bad/feel-good album, and even though I’m signing about the tough times, it somehow makes me feel like it was never that bad at all…even though it was.”
It seems like a lot to handle, and what more, translate to lyrics, but it’s there that Natalia finds some respite. For most, inspiration hits in the unlikeliest of hours, in the form of “last minute panic,” as a highly-perceptive Calvin of the iconic Bill Watterson comic tells us. But for Natalia, it’s more specific. “I’m normally alone in my apartment feeling somewhat angry or suicidal. The sweetest songs come from the most bitter moments,” she says, as she lists Trainspotting, Pulp Fiction and Requiem For A Dream as some of her favourite films (of a long list).
Why the worst bits though? She continues, “I don’t know why, but for some reason I can’t get my pen to write down the good memories and easy times…maybe my pen is broken, but I don’t plan on getting a new one.”
Dressed in a sequined, white dress that hugs her svelte figure, and earlobes dripping with diamonds, she’s every bit the star we expect her to be at the beginning of her video for “Saturday Night”. But, as quickly as the beat starts, she hits hard with the first lines of the song: “Momma you’re beautiful tonight / Movie star hair and that black eye / I can’t even notice it when you smile so hard through a heartfelt lie.” Lyrics that drip with cynicism seems to be her style.
As music critics have called it, the single is, arguably, the best one yet from the young singer. Having Jeff Bhasker on board— the producer who has also worked with Kayne West, Beyonce, and fun.— adds an extra layer of professional genius. The signature elements are there: electronic synths interlace with deep drums that give the song a head-bobbing quality, discordant guitars make an appearance at the climax.
“High-impact hip-hop drums and grunge guitars,” she says of her evolved sound. Indeed, the singer has moved away from synth-pop dance tracks into fuller tracks.
As tight as the arrangement is though, the lyrics still shine. On her teenage rebel years, she says: “Pills fall like diamonds from my purse / right out the hole in my fur coat / straight down the gutter goes my antidote to a broken girl.” “Remind me one more time it’s the best days of my life,” she continues. By the time the chorus rolls around, as she sings “it’s just another Saturday night” over and again, as if to shake off the problematic past…we realise it’s not a hopeful sentiment— more sad acceptance.
Natalia shares about the song: “Saturday Night is the soundtrack to my life. It’s strange because music and movies always portray being young as these invincible years of freedom, opportunity and love, but when I was a teenager I didn’t have any of that…I wanted to make a song and a video that showed how messed up youth can be— having no control, money or guidance.”
“Every time it felt like the world had ended and time had stopped, it seemed to just keep going no matter what. Time has no consideration for sadness…time doesn’t care about regrets or impatience…days and weeks go by and eventually you realise it’s all part of a cycle, it’s all just another Saturday night.”
It’s strange to hear someone utter these words so candidly, but we’re no longer surprised. She easily wears vulnerability on her sleeve. Vulnerability then, becomes her strong suit. A method to her madness, if you will. Her answers speak of a darker past, but from that, we’re made more aware of the fact that today, she is very much in control of who she is, past fears and weaknesses included.
She describes her favourite thing about the music video: “I love the bright lights and pretty things…it’s a dream I’d never thought I’d see— recreating my memories into something I control, reliving the past the way it should have been.”
She goes on to tell us about her album, clearly proud how it turned out: “Trouble is the shit…it’s so wild and beautiful! I love that record more than anything in the world!” Then, more retrospectively, she tells us of it’s significance with a kind of graceful honesty, “I realised that I can’t be fixed or saved, so instead of trying to escape or apologise, I’m just exposing things that have made me who I am, and making my worst moments into what could feel like my best.”
And as unlikely a role model she is, we confess that she just might be. Natalia’s like a best friend, but with an added bonus: she doesn’t just tell us to move on, she shows us that it’s entirely possible to do so and still be okay— that is, if we count recording a song with Madonna as merely “okay.”
“She’s wild! I spent a week writing with her in the studio for her next album,” she says. Enough dwelling about the past, she seems to say. Natalia’s all ready for the future as she lends her trademark (perhaps, British) humour to this exciting news as well: “It was the most fun I’ve ever had making music…But if I tell you any more I’d have to kill you!”
Styled by Newhart Ohanian