Iggy Azalea Calls "The New Classic" A Sonic & Visual Hip Hop Experiment
Exclusive: Iggy Azalea details how "Showgirls," Hip Hop, comic art and Botticelli all factor into the mix of low and high culture that influence her upcoming album.
Amethyst Amelia Kelly, better known as Iggy Azalea, plans to release her debut studio album later this year entitled The New Classic. The 23-year old rapper from Mullumbimby, New South Wales, Australia recently released a music video for her single “Change Your Life,” keenly inspired by the 1995 American feature film Showgirls.
“The thought process is more, ‘What needs to be done to make it happen?’ as opposed to, ‘Get your titties out.’” Azalea explained, during a visit to HipHopDX's offices. “I know that it’s still selling something to the commercial world. I try to be as visually creative as I can, but I still have to think about some things.”
Prior to the October 8 release of her Change Your Life EP, Iggy frankly discussed the conflicts and compromises she’s surmounted trying to balance art and commerce. She urges new listeners not to “take it too serious,” for Iggy values the elements of humor and sarcasm within art and Rap music. Raised in a New Age household, Iggy’s early artistic influences can be seen in her passion for comic art, in particular the works of American cartoonist Robert Crumb. She aptly draws parallels between high and low-brow art forms such as comics and Hip Hop within the greater fine art world.
In 2012, Iggy inked a contract with Wilhelmina Models, which led to her being tabbed as the “New Face of Levi Jeans.” In the same year, she also become the first non-American rapper on XXL magazine’s annual “Top 10 Freshman” list. Throughout all her endeavors she always asserts her insightful nature.
“We ingest so much imagery but we don’t digest it. If you gonna listen to my music, I just hope that you digest it properly and have a think about it.”
Iggy Azalea Explains Being Influenced By Tupac Shakur
HipHopDX: I was listening to “The Last Song” off your Ignorant Art mixtape, and I heard a line in there: “True love died in ’96.” Were you talking about…
Iggy Azalea: Tupac? Yeah, in “The Last Song” I have a line, “True love died in ‘96,” and I’m talking about Tupac. I feel like as a woman, or as men too, we all have celebrity crushes or that one person you think, “We should’ve been together!” And I always think, “No guy will ever be like Tupac… my husband.” [Laughs] That’s why I say, “True love died in ’96” ‘cause he could have been my true love.
DX: So what does the song “Baby Don’t Cry” mean to you?
Iggy Azalea: “Baby Don’t Cry,” is the song that really made me take an interest in Rap music. When I heard “Baby Don’t Cry,” it was melodic and teenage girls like that. But it had a story about a young girl; I empathized with parts of it, and I was interested. I was a teenage girl too at the time, so it just caught my ear. It was catchy, had a meaning, and it made me look into Tupac and the Outlawz and Rap music.
How Iggy Azalea Found Hip Hop & Chose Her Rap Name
DX: Prior to taking an interest in Hip Hop, you were Amethyst Amelia Kelly. Can you tell me what your name meant and how you transformed into Iggy Azalea?
Iggy Azalea: My name is Amethyst Amelia Kelly, and my sister’s name is Emerald Matilda Kelly. My mother had me when she was 18, and she was a bit of an alternative thinker. My father was too, and he still is to this day. She moved to a town named Mullumbimby, which is kind of alternative. She likes crystals, believes in chakras and that sort of shit, and she dressed me in hemp clothing as a baby. It annoys me, and I can’t show people my baby pictures, because I’m like, “I look like a boy. Why am I dressed so ugly? Why couldn’t you have dressed me cute, mom?” She dressed in tie-dye and all that shit, but she’s changed now. Now she’s more of a businesswoman, and she comes over to America and shops at J.Crew. And it’s like, “Who is this person?” but she’s still cool.
With me being so close to her, I just feel like the name Amethyst Amelia Kelly carries a lot of childhood memories. That part of my life is so special to me that I didn’t want to use it as my Rap name. Those memories and what they mean to me are great. I’ll enjoy thinking about my mom being like, “Amethyst!” The words Iggy and Azalea have special meaning to me too.
DX: What are they?
Iggy Azalea: Iggy is my dog, and Azalea is the street I lived on. It just reminds me of home. I like my dog because he was supposed to die a million times, but he just never died. He got stolen three times, but I got him back and he just looked fucking awful. He had scars all over him, lost his fur and we put him on a diet. It was crazy like, “You are not supposed to keep going, but you have this kind of crazy animal perseverance.” So I liked the name Iggy, because even though it was a dog’s name, I admired this perseverance. He was a fighter, and if I could have any quality of this fucking dog I would want that quality.
But I didn’t want new memories associated with my real name. When I think about the name Iggy Azalea and what it means, there are some amazing memories attached to it. I think the things associated with my Rap name have inspired a lot of people, and I get letters about it. So I don’t want bad memories and people dragging my birth name through the mud. That can’t belong to the world.
Iggy Azalea Lists Beastie Boys & Robert Crumb As Early Influences
DX: So back when you where Amelia, what would you say was your first Hip Hop experience?
Iggy Azalea: My first Hip Hop experience? It was probably listening to Beastie Boys with my father. He used to be a really big Beastie Boys fan, and I used to watch videos and rage, those were the first Rap videos I remember.
DX: Do you remember any song or video in particular?
Iggy Azalea: Yeah I do. I loved the “Intergalactic” video with the robot coming through the city and crushing shit. As a kid, I used to be like [robot voice], “Intergalactic,” and thought it was fuckin’ awesome and amazing. I loved that Beastie Boys song.
DX: Did your taste in music change after you moved to the US at 16?
Iggy Azalea: Not really...I think it’s kind of stayed the same. The only thing I’ve noticed is that I’ve got into more West Coast music after I moved to LA. I wasn’t really listening to a lot of West Coast, Bay Area-sounding beats and music. But after I started to live here, know people and understand it, I had a new appreciation for it. It was like, “Actually, I really fucking like this shit.” So that’s one thing about living in a country or place as opposed to being an outsider looking in. West Coast music is definitely something I found a love for that I didn’t have before.
DX: Aside from introducing you to the Beastie Boys, I also read that your dad was a painter. What was some art that either he exposed you to or you grew up appreciating?
Iggy Azalea: Well my dad is a cartoonist, so he would show me a lot of comic artists, etchings and people with great line work and penmanship. We have different views on what we like about art, and he showed me some stuff I didn’t like. But I really liked Robert Crumb. He’s sort of crazy, and as he’s gotten older he’s gotten crazier. He re-drew the Bible. I don’t know if anyone has seen Robert Crumb’s version of the Bible, but it’s a very sexual version. No disrespect to the Bible, but I thought it was cool and I can kind of appreciate the fact that it’s drawn very well. And it’s just cool to see a different perspective. I think he took comics and changed the way we drew women. It went from this Olive Oyl, straight figure to being kind of curvy. And you get this hypersexual sort of [representation] like Wonder Woman. Robert Crumb really sparked that.
People don’t realize how much time it takes to do comic art. It’s done on a large scale, and then it’s shrunk down. So they’re doing these humongous paintings and pictures, shrinking them down and putting them on a computer. When you see an eight-panel page, that’s really eight pictures that are this big, and they get nothing for them. You can buy a comic for nothing.
Comic art doesn’t necessarily sell, and it fundamentally seems a bit devalued in terms of the art world or what you’d consider fine art. But they put in just as much craftsmanship and work, and I kind of feel the same way about Rap music. We get dogged at the Grammys and for our awards, and it’s almost as if it’s not respected as much amongst tastemakers or people giving out these kinds of awards. It’s an art form. Just as much work, effort, talent and craftsmanship goes into it.
DX: The mentality you’re talking about—as far as Hip Hop being devalued by the masses—did that play into Ignorant Art?
Iggy Azalea: Yeah, definitely. And it’s a bit of the mentality I had with my album, The New Classic. When I talk about Ignorant Art or what’s art and what isn’t or what’s classic and what isn’t, it’s exploring why we have these certain mentalities. A lot of times we grow up, and we just think something without questioning why you think that way. What if you read it and have a different theory? So many times we hear something or are told something, and we just agree. I just like to explore that mentality.
Iggy Azalea On “Change Your Life” & Positive Body Images
DX: In what particular way are you exploring these things on The New Classic?
Iggy Azalea: I don’t necessarily talk about it, but I’m always someone who prefers to sonically or visually experiment as opposed to what I do lyrically. There are definitely moments that are a bit crazy sonically. I wish I could’ve gone crazier, but then I know I have to deal with “the man.” So I have to have a balance.
DX: What about the visual aspect that you mentioned?
Iggy Azalea: I definitely explore visually. And there are moments on my album where you’ll go, “Whoa that was fucking left of field!” It’s probably going to be 14 or 15 tracks, and I can tell you that three or four tracks are really far left compared to the rest of the body of work. I wish they could’ve all been that far left, but I have to make everybody happy. It’s more sonic experimentation than anything. Visually, I try to get away with what I can, but there’s always the issue of censorship.
Don’t freak out, but in my video for “Change Your Life,” I painted my nipples red and went topless. It’s pretty awesome. If you wanna know what it looks like, watch Showgirls. I always have issues with shit like that, and I think things like nudity always have a stigma attached to them. But I try to look at it as art or a great visual. The thought process is more, “What needs to be done to make it happen?” as opposed to, “Get your titties out.” But I know that it’s still selling something to the commercial world. I try to be as visually creative as I can, but I still have to think about some things. I try to have my red nipple moments, but it’s hard.
DX: What do you hope the red nipple moment will be portray?
Iggy Azalea: For one, I thought it was the greatest, tackiest most horrible scene in Showgirls. So of course I wanted to do it. It’s the best scene! It’s just like, “Why are your nipples red?” I don’t really get it, but it’s awesome. So if I’m gonna do that movie, I can’t leave out the best, most awesome, tacky, what-the-fuck moment. It has to be in there. And second of all, I wanted to do that moment because I have really small boobs. I always see people talk shit about me having small boobs or that you should have this [specific] body type. The mentality is almost like, “Why are you getting your tits out; there’s no tits to get out?” And that’s exactly why I did it. [I’m saying], “Fuck that shit! This is fucking cool. I’m making small tits cool, and I’m not wearing a padded bra to make you think I have big tits.” I have small tits, and it’s cool because lots of girls do. I want to make you feel good about it when you’re watching it and saying, “Hey man, that’s me.” I’m sure everybody will write fucking comments and say I need a boob job, I have a boy chest or all of that stuff that I already know. But it’s not for them—it’s not for men. It’s for girls to see and feel good about their body types.
How “Showgirls” & “Blade Runner” Visually Impact Iggy Azalea
DX: So Showgirls? I’ve seen that movie, and it kind of changed my life a little bit. When did you first see that movie?
Iggy Azalea: When did I see Showgirls? Hmmm…not that long ago. It was probably a year-and-a-half ago, because my hair stylist loves all the worst movies in the world. He put it on my computer, because I go overseas so much that I end up watching all the in-flight movies on the plane. This was just a movie that he put on my hard drive. So I see it and think, “Showgirls, what’s that? I haven’t seen that before.” I started watching it, and I thought, “This is absolutely awful, and it’s absolutely brilliant!”
I’ve created the style of movie that it is; it fits into—it’s a classic, American Trash piece…it’s truly amazing. It’s also funny, because I would now actually wear a lot of the shit [Nomi Malone] was wearing. She’s fly. But it makes no sense, the acting is fucking horrible, she’s practically naked the whole time and it’s just awful and brilliant. I loved Las Vegas, and I start to think about what could be a good visual for “Change Your Life,” it made me thing of a big show.
The record has a big feel like a stadium, and I actually went to Vegas when I was 11 and remembered seeing some showgirls. I remember thinking, “They’re absolutely amazing and out of this world. The bigness of a showgirl is something that still has that magic even in this day and age of Crazy Horse girls and going to Paris and seeing that. But I also think ‘50s concepts and cabaret is so corny and overdone that I didn’t want to do that. So when I started to think about Vegas, I envisioned something cool with an edge that still has the showgirl feel to it. And Showgirls has that. It’s the most tacky, horrible piece of American white trash culture—which is everything great that I love. It still has the big sets and the dancing. I love that the dancing is so ‘80s and awful with these emphatic movements.
DX: Are there any other films that make you want to borrow those concepts?
Iggy Azalea: Yeah, I liked Casino, and that was a movie I looked at a lot when I was doing “Change Your Life.” I loved the scenes in it. One of the things I loved about Showgirls was all of the neon lights. The new Vegas is neon, but I’m talking about the old, horrible Vegas. I was just in Vegas a few days ago, and it’s all bulb lighting. That’s really cool to me as well, because we don’t use that a lot. I guess Casino was set in an era that featured a lot of bulb lighting, so I wanted to have that and neon to bring the two worlds together. We filmed it at the Casino house that Robert DeNiro was in with Ginger in the bed—we recreated that. It has the same pool, and we went to the Plaza hotel to do the great scene there with all of the bulb lights. So there are visual elements of that which I loved, because it was an old, Las Vegas feeling movie.
I loved Blade Runner, with the neon’s of it, and how everything was at dusk or darker. That was cool, because it really reminded me of Vegas. Any time we see Vegas, we’re talking about nighttime. That made a c onnection to me, and I just wanted to do that color palette from Blade Runner. Even though it was done in the ‘80s, it had an old-world feel. People had ‘50s and ‘40s hairstyles, but would have on suits from the ‘80s. There was a lot of retro makeup, and it all created this kind of futuristic, throwback feel I wanted. I wanted some futuristic, throwback strippers.
Iggy Azalea Shares Tattoo Stories & Thoughts On Artful Nostalgia
DX: So why The New Classic? I know you kind of mentioned it, but why do you want…
Iggy Azalea: The New Classic is me trying to experiment with new sounds as much as I can in the environment that I’m in. It’s me trying to think about the sounds I hear in music now and which ones will stick around. I’m thinking about what will be the sound of our generation, Hip Hop and sampling, and Electronic music versus old Soul records and Blues music. I’m thinking about how [the term] classic can evolve throughout the eras. Look at how classic has evolved in art to the point where we have all these classic eras. I think we’ll have different eras in Hip Hop, and what’s sonically classic in this generation may be sampled 20 years from now. What if they want to re-do our sound? It’s the type of thing that makes you question why we’re so nostalgic for different eras. Why do we think other eras are so great and get stuck in this mentality of, “It was so great then, and what we have now is complete shit?” I tried to think about sending a time capsule to the future with my reflection of all the things I think are the coolest now.
DX: I keep catching your tattoos as you make gestures. Can you tell me about them?
Iggy Azalea: This tattoo is a cartoon. I love cartoons and comic art, so this is a cartoon of Venus from the Botticelli painting where she’s born in a seashell. I love Botticelli, how he drew things and how everything was so two-dimensional and flat. I like the way he paints as well as Greek Mythology and what it represents. I think Botticelli low-key had great line work. You don’t necessarily see it on my arm, but in the “Birth Of Venus” painting, I really like the line work on the hair and lips. He paints women so soft and innocent, and that’s why I did it Disney style. I feel like they always make things look so innocent, and I like the juxtaposition of a woman being drawn so innocently but she’s the epitome of this sexual goddess as Venus.
On my side here, I have the words, “Trust your struggle.” I got this on the Sunset Strip in LA. I saw it on a mural that said, “Pain breeds strength. Trust your struggle.” I was having a bad day, and sometimes I get impromptu tattoos. I went with my friend—this guy Roosevelt who’s a producer now, but at the time we were both nobody. It was like:
“I’m going to go get that tattooed on me.”
“No you won’t”
“I am! And we’re gonna go get bacon hot dogs.”
So we went to the strip, ate bacon hot dogs and then went to the tattoo parlor where I got this tattoo. That’s where it’s from, and I actually don’t regret it. I had another tattoo underneath this that I did impromptu like that also, and I really regret it. It was an ugly flower, but it’s gone now [laughs]. It’s a beautiful Venus now, so I learned my lesson.
DX: Your fingers kind of fade fast. How long will that last?
Iggy Azalea: Well I’ve had these fingers that say, “The New Classic” touched up three times. I’ve had them since 2011, and they’ve lasted…it’s been about a year since they’ve been touched up.
These over here have also kind of been touched up, since I’ve had a little bit of extra put on it. Oddly enough—I think it’s karma or something—it just never faded. I’ve only gotten this done one time. It never faded, and I’m left handed. It’s so weird because the “X” in this has been touched up three times so it can stay. But the actual three tattoos have never been touched.
Iggy Azalea Details The Challenges Of Crossover & Compromise
DX: How difficult is it for you to control how you want to represent yourself and your music? You’re blowing up, and there’s all these people looking over your shoulder…
Iggy Azalea: It’s difficult. We were talking about it this morning. It’s difficult to have control, because I think that you get pestered into doing things that you don’t want to do. The reason you get pestered into doing those things is because it’s almost like they will make it seem like you owe it to them to do something. So then you feel like you’re in a situation where, “Shit, what am I gonna do? Should I compromise and not have control of what I’m doing because I wanna be successful, or am I gonna take a chance on it?” You just have to maintain a balance between those two things. I like to just pretend like I’m gonna do stuff then never show up to the party. That’s kind of my thing. I’ll say, “I’m five minutes away!” Then never show up. That’s metaphorically what I like to do in the record industry. That’s how I deal with it. I maintain control by being forever late to the party instead of saying, “No I’m not coming” and you getting mad.
DX: You actually touched on something similar last year as far as some of these collaborations not feeling natural. Is this happening more and more in the industry?
Iggy Azalea: I don’t know. There are some things that start off unnatural and work out really well like the Steve Aoki collaboration. I think unnatural things are hard, because you do have to push past comfort zones to make amazing music. Sometimes you’re going to feel some type of way about that, but it’s about knowing when you should have that feeling. Is it a positive feeling? Do you have that gut feeling that it’s going to end up as something negative? I have things like that all the fucking time—every single day. It’s hard, especially because I look the way I look. People have different things in mind for me that I don’t have in mind for myself. I think people would love for me to be more Pop, and that really kills me inside.
If I wanted to be a big Pop star, I would have got vocal lessons when I was 14. But I didn’t. I wanted to write Rap and be the biggest rapper I can be. It still frustrates me that people want to keep shit musically boxed in.
DX: Prior to those conflicts, you had to organically build your fan base. How did you interact with listeners during the earlier stages of your career?
Iggy Azalea: Just using the Internet, man. People always want to act like you have to have a sense of, kind of being untouchable, when you’re an artist. And sometimes I think that can get misconstrued into not communicating with your fans or not jumping in the crowd with them at the show, or not just hanging out like a regular person. Just be a human, and be on their level and talk to them. Or get on Twitter, have a conversation with somebody that’s a fan, or jump in the crowd after a show and talk to them, and talk to every single person...you’re making actual connections like friendships. I think every person I meet that’s a fan that I have a conversation with I try to think of like a potential friendship or somebody that I’m meeting with can give something to me. And if you think of it that way instead of, “I’m an artist and they’re a fan” and there’s a separation, that connection is the most helpful thing you can do.
Iggy Azalea’s Change Your Life EP is currently available for purchase via iTunes.