Hype List 2022: Willow Kayne: “I’m surprised at how many people are actually listening to my ideas – even the crazy ones”

Only a few tracks into a promising future, and Willow Kayne already has a bloody Ivor Novello gong in the bank. Not bad going for a popster who has the personality to hit the top.

Only a few tracks into a promising future, and Willow Kayne already has a bloody Ivor Novello gong in the bank. Not bad going for a popster who has the personality to hit the top.

Words: Jamie MacMillan. Photos: Sarah Louise Bennett.

After just two singles, and with a ridiculously prestigious Ivor Novello Award already under her belt as this year’s Rising Star, and a mentorship with Nile Rodgers in the bag, there’s only one way that Willow Kayne’s year could get any better. Luckily for her, dreams really do come true as she races home as one of by far the easiest choices for this year’s Dork Hype List. Who needs a funky little statue when you have this? This is big. HUGE, in fact. Our opinion on the matter is final.

It’s three-for-three singles wise now, and the buzz is only growing. The raised-middle finger of ‘Opinion’ comes in hard, all ‘grown-up playground’ attitude as its spiky raps take aim at whichever poor fools have pissed Willow off this time. As a follow-up to the hyperactive ‘I Don’t Wanna Know’, a track that took down (and took out) the internet haters without even a backward glance, it’s perfect. It was no surprise that she won the Rising Star Award then, something she was surely prepared for when it came down to the acceptance speech. Erm, no. “MATE! I wish I’d have known; I wouldn’t have fucked it on stage if I did,” she says-slash-shouts. Talking to Willow is like listening to her music. You think you’re heading somewhere, and suddenly you’re somewhere completely different. “Everyone else was like, ‘music moves me, I want to move the people’, and I was like ‘WOOAARGHH!’ I thanked my lawyer for saving me from the Americans. WHY WOULD YOU SAY THAT, WILLOW? He did save me, to be fair, but you don’t say it. I was just chatting shit; it was great.” She stops laughing suddenly. “Oh god, it plays in my head sometimes if I’m trying to sleep. Savage.”

With that award, and the latest single making all the right waves once again, people are starting to wake up to Willow Kayne. Admitting that more people are getting in touch to work with her since the award, she’s already reached the point where she’s got to work out who’s doing it for clout and who is actually there for the love of her music. Life’s changing fast. “It’s a lot busier since I got signed, but that’s fine,” she smiles. “It’s not like anyone’s putting pressure on me. But I definitely feel that I have to be proper sick now. But I’m still growing, you know?” For someone who has always been fiercely independent, life on a label doesn’t seem to have changed her ways yet. “I’m pretty surprised at how many people are actually listening to my ideas – even the crazy ones that will take a lot of effort,” she says. “I do feel pretty free to do what I want to an extent. And I haven’t faced any proper assholes yet, so that’s good. MAYBE I’M THE ASSHOLE!”

“I have to be proper sick now, but I’m still growing, you know?”

Willow Kayne

It might be cool to hit the studio then, but her first shows since lockdown ended have provided a whole other excitement for Willow. Sets at Live At Leeds and ALT LDN went down a storm, proving that the hype around her was also translating into proper crowds. “ALT LDN was shocking,” she grins. “I came out and was like, ‘oh shit’, people are actually listening to my music now. My whole ‘journey’” – she can’t help but say the word 1000% sarcastically – “has been over lockdown. Before that, I’d do shows, but it was just off of Soundcloud stuff. It was a big shock.” Those early roots still hold a tight grip on how she would love to do things. “I’m sitting on so much music that I’m not gonna be satisfied until it’s out”, she admits, “When I was just doing it on my own, if I made something, I’d just post it straight away.” To the anguished sigh of her publicist, she concludes with a laugh. “I just have to leak clips on TikTok now.”

Now, we MAY have heard some of what is to come next year from Willow Kayne music-wise (she didn’t leak it, we promise). And if we HAD heard some more music, our lips would be sealed. Or fingers, seeing as you are reading this, though that is a much less eloquent saying. But what we could say, if we had heard it, is that it’s very very good, and continues to mash together genres with literally no shits given. It’s a winning habit that’s not going to go away any time soon, despite what some might say in response. “I get quite a lot of comments each time being like, ‘I love this song, but your other one was shit’,” she grins. “’Oh cool man, thanks for letting me know!’” 

In a world where some artists try to get away with repeating the same trick over and over again, it’s refreshing. “There are enough people doing that, though,” she says. “But who knows, maybe we’ll end up bashing out a country album? You never know. That’s when the internet will blow up. In my face!” Whatever she does decide to do next, it’s pretty obvious that she’ll continue to switch it up, a career choice that is a testament to a childhood brought up listening to whatever her parents happened to be into at the time. “My mum’s music taste is fucking everywhere”, she laughs, “She’d be like, ‘Willow, come and listen to some Mongolian trap’, and I’m like, okay, sick. So she’s probably the one to blame for that.” 

Taking those influences from the 90s, where bands like The Prodigy fused punk and rave into something altogether fresh (at the time) to their logical conclusion, she struggles to think of two genres that she couldn’t mash up in some way if forced to. “Maybe musical theatre and death metal in a dubstep remix would be too much… But if I only listened to one genre, I’d be a bit American? JOKING!” she, erm, jokes. “I love Americans. They’re great. But I do think it’s quite fun if people can’t really explain what genre a tune is. That’s the goal, really.”

“I just can’t be secretive; I’m so shit”

Willow Kayne

For now, though, half the fun is in not knowing what is coming next for Willow. In an industry where songs get teased for weeks in advance, she still doesn’t feel like playing the game. “I guess my fanbase is a bit up in the air at the moment,” she admits. “I tried teasing stuff, and it was shit when it came to dropping the song. I just can’t be secretive; I’m so shit. But you know…” she shrugs before instantly telling us (with permission) in great detail all about a secret thing that isn’t released or even announced yet, and admitting that she had already told somebody else the secret name of the secret thing that isn’t released or announced yet without permission. So that side of things is going well. “It’s fun, and it’s rude,” is the only teaser we need right now, Willow describing some of what is to come as a mix of ‘chill hip-hop girl’ and ‘fuck you’. “Angel and devil, yeah,” she grins. “There’s a lot.” 

It feels natural with her embrace of colliding ideas and inspirations together that collaborations will soon follow, but it’s not something that appears imminent. “I’ve got a fat list, though,” she nods. “An American list, a British list and an in-between list.” Again full of that turn of the century influence, it’s maybe not surprising that names like Ms. Dynamite, M.I.A. and Gorillaz that are at the top of her wishlist. “To get a Gorillaz song, I’d pass away after it. I’ll die. Over,” she says wide-eyed. “But they could so easily turn around and be like, we don’t like what you’re doing. Dreams crushed. BUT I WAS INFLUENCED BY YOU!” 

Describing the ‘drive’ within people like Damon Albarn as something she aspires to, it’s a list peppered with rappers and US megastars like Pharrell (“He owns the list,” she says). Willow as the next Gorillaz, then? With anyone else, you might think it’s a bit overly ambitious – but with this one? You wouldn’t bet against it. She’s already working with Nile Rodgers, the legend of many, many pop songs taking on a mentorship with her as part of the Rising Star Award.

“He’s great!” she smiles, beaming at the faith he has shown in her. Though when she first heard that he was going to be her mentor, she didn’t connect the dots until she and her boyfriend started running through his hits. (He has A Lot of them). “It just kicked in how much impact the man has had on music; I’m just fucking oblivious. He Facetimes me quite a bit, which I love,” she says. “But if we’re working together, I don’t want to work. I just wanna hear his stories! I’m like, hang on. Can we please talk about this, yeah? I don’t need to actually ask him, though, haha….” Being in a studio with him, you can’t help but learn things quickly. “He just jams!” she explains. “There’s no feeling of ‘I have to make a single today’. He just jams, and it just happens?” 

“TikTok’s definitely corrupting my mind a little bit”

Willow Kayne

Jamming with Nile Rodgers is a world away from those early Soundcloud days, as she admits during our chat with a huge grin about just far she has already come. Not that there’s any sign of that slowing down. Next year will bring more music, more musical explorations, and potentially a trip to America to live and work. London is already starting to feel too small for her, so Los Angeles is a logical next step – if not to live, then at least to work a while. “I wanna do up America,” she says excitedly. “I don’t think I’m an LA girl, you know, but I’ll give it a go? I just wanna see what other talents are popping off.”

Ask her who she’s most excited about, and she’s predictably unpredictable. Sad Night Dynamite (“the freshest on the scene right now,” she says) and Obongjayar are the two that spring to mind. “He is ridiculously sick; I think it’s wicked how exciting everything is right now.” Ask her why she thinks that it is, and the answer comes fast. “TikTok’s definitely corrupting my mind a little bit,” she says. “I think pretty much every day you’re seeing someone put their first tune-up, and it gets like 20 million streams. It’s MAD! It’s wicked; it’s giving a lot of opportunity to a lot of people. It’s saturated, but it’s good. Saturated with GOOOOOLD. But then, mate, that’s my fear. Imagine you had your one-hit blow up on TikTok, and you’re thinking you’re set. And then… Oh god, I don’t wanna think about it; I’m scaring myself. We’re alright. It’s proper wicked.”

Laughing, the conversation takes one last abrupt handbrake turn as she considers whether she could get away with dropping deliberate lies into interviews to see if anyone notices, just for her own amusement. “Please, no,” murmurs her publicist sadly once more. “You mustn’t.” “I collect frogspawn,” she announces, before giving Dork our very own Gemma Collins moment when we ask her thoughts on whether it belongs in the fridge or the cupboard. “Well, you would know where to keep it if you’d read my book about it. JESUS!” We’re in a state of delirium by now, approaching the end of the rollercoaster ride that is Time With Willow Kayne, as she reels off her ability at a host of sports. “Ping pong? Shit at it! Synchronised swimming, shit at that too. Sorry. I’m shit. Good at writing bars though, COME ON!” And just like that, our time is done, and she’s off to replace the phone that she dropped down the toilet. Willow Kayne, then. Despite what she says, she is not shit.

Taken from the December 2021 / January 2022 edition of Dork, out now.

Check out more names from Dork’s Hype List 2022 here.

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