K.O. is an LA-based creative with a cult following thanks to her striking visual art, photography, modeling, and more. After working with Billie Eilish, Carly Rae Jepsen, Ciara, and Charlie XCX on endeavors ranging from design to DJing, she released her first song this past month. We spoke on the phone about her undefinable creative identity, upcoming projects, and the importance of Asian representation.
Lithium Magazine: Give me your top 5 of quarantine.
K.O.: I’ve really been enjoying eating pasta lately. Also playing Animal Crossing and watching The Bachelor: 90 Day Fiance has been really entertaining. Oh, and of course learning how to edit videos.
Lithium: How has quarantine changed the timeline of your upcoming projects?
K.O.: I have so many songs that I’ve recorded. For a lot of artists, they record songs for a year or more before it comes out. I was supposed to release a few more songs, but then quarantine happened. Now, we don’t even know when or if things will ever be normal again, so I just wanted to put this one out. It’s a really frustrating process, but I’m just happy that it’s coming out.
Lithium: Movements in art tend to arise following periods of cultural change. How do you think your medium will be influenced by the pandemic?
K.O.: Everyone is wearing a lot of different hats lately, because we’re forced to work on our own. It’s definitely pushed me outside of my comfort zone in a positive way. I’ve been busier than ever. It goes through waves for everybody—sometimes you’re super bored and have nothing to do. But this has also given artists no choice but to learn new skills and become more well-rounded and self-sufficient. I feel like now I have so much to do with recording and editing. I’ve become acquainted with so many different editing softwares—I’ve learned how to make face filters, how to use After Effects, how to work with Adobe Premiere and 3D modeling with Adobe Fuse.
Lithium: What’s something really important that you want your art to say or do?
K.O.: One of the things that’s important to me is to show Asian women being empowered in a positive light. When you’re an Asian woman, it’s always this balance between not sexualizing yourself and also being empowered, because everything you do becomes sexual to somebody. I think right now, a lot of Asian women are being [less] sexual because they’ve been sexualized so much. It’s important to me to always show Asian women that they can be beautiful without being seuxalized.
Lithium: How has your identity influenced your creative convictions?
K.O.: When I was younger, I didn’t want to wear something traditional and come across as too Asian. Now, I try to incorporate elements of Asian fashion into my style to show that it is cool. I want to show the Asian community that they can look cool in traditional clothes and that it doesn’t automatically mean we don’t speak English or that they’re a “FOB.” I want my style to show people that we can be cool, and they don’t have to distance themselves from Asian culture. You’ll see white people wearing clothes with Asian influences, and oddly enough it’s perceived as cool on them and not on us. It’s something we all have to unlearn for sure.
Lithium: How did the “Mean Girl” song come together?
K.O.: One of my friends who also makes music was in town, and we worked on the song with my producer, Tommy Brown. We did it in one night, and it was pretty easy. It’s just like a dumb song for fun purposes. There’s not a crazy message, but sometimes music that’s not the most intellectual can be the most fun. Hopefully people can resonate with the energy of it.
Lithium: What’s something that really frustrates you as an artist?
K.O.: People always try to put you in a box. They want to be able to say this person does that. They want to define it so they can understand it, but artists now are able to be and want to be so many things. Even if it’s within one medium like music, people are so much more fluid amongst genres than they used to be.
Lithium: Tell me about your relationship with social media.
K.O.: I’ve always been kind of interested in how Instagram evolved from these initial fashion bloggers—a lot of the accounts I saw on Instagram and YouTube were Asian. We haven’t always had a lot of representation in mainstream media, and for people who are minorities and who don’t see themselves represented all the time, it’s really cool that we can find ourselves on TikTok and Instagram and all these other mediums now. I also really love it when I see people doing things I haven’t seen before. The trouble sometimes with social media—which is also part of what makes it cool—is that the second you do something, somebody else can do it too. It’s not really your idea anymore at that point, but it’s amazing that people have access to things right away now.
Lithium: What political or social issues are you passionate about?
K.O.: Now, with the pandemic, it’s an important time to rethink everything. Especially regarding the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s time for change—whether it’s in the government or the way we treat the world we live in. My family is really into green energy. Obviously the things that seemed like they worked in the past weren’t working, and they most definitely aren’t working right now.
By Aashna Agarwal