PinkPantheress: “I don’t care about the beats, I care about the pen”

The UK singer, songwriter and scene leader is spearheading an entire musical movement with a sound only she can define. NME joins the rising star in New York City to chart her remarkable ascent

Sat in the garden of the Lower East Side’s Ludlow Hotel, PinkPantheress is wearing a corset made of thick white plastic and sporting elaborate long nails that she’s worried are about to fall off. Her hair is particularly laid today, with a thin wrap still in place protecting her slicked edges and straight tresses that fall past her shoulders. In a few hours she’ll be in Harlem filming the music video for her track ‘Boy’s A Liar Part 2’, which features a fiery verse from Ice Spice, and Pink is telling NME how she successfully landed a collaboration with one of New York City’s brightest new rap stars by simply sliding into her DMs.

“I saw that [Ice Spice] followed me because I was on Instagram, and I never go on Instagram,” she recalls. “I thought it was cool because I didn’t think she even knew who I was. I popped in [the DMs] and said, ‘Whenever you’re in the UK, I’d love to meet’. I think she’s really cool, above the music and everything. She said she was a fan [of mine], and I was like, ‘OK, amazing’.”

Credit: Mia Teresa

Before finishing the story of how ‘Boy’s A Liar Part 2’ came to be, Pink shares her thoughts on why she rarely does remixes. “I’m not a fan of when a song gets big and people do a remix just to make it bigger,” she says. “When it comes to collaborations, I’m quite picky: I always want someone who can match me well on a track. Even though Ice Spice does drill, her flows are super unique and the beats she chooses are different. A lot of people would struggle with the beats I choose, but I knew she’d be good for it.”

Co-written and co-produced with Mura Masa, the original version of ‘Boy’s A Liar’ arrived back in November and features kick drums, Jersey club beats and melodic despondency. “What’s the point of crying? It was never even love,” Pink asks in her bell-like voice, which vibrates over twinkling keys. “Did you ever want me? Was I ever good enough?” Ice Spice injects some ferocious confidence into the new version (“I tell him there’s one of me / He making fun of me / His girl is a bum to me”), but before her verse concludes, she slows down her flow to match the dejected energy of the song, admitting: “But I don’t sleep enough without you / And I don’t eat enough without you / If we don’t speak, does that mean we’re through? / Don’t like sneaky shit that you do.

“You know how Eminem is a legend? I truly believe Hayley Williams is going to be one of those people.”

How did PinkPantheress get the same rapper who wrote the phrase “how can I lose if I’m already chose?” (from Ice Spice’s viral ‘Bikini Bottom’) to wax poetically about rejection? “My songs are quite dark lyrically,” Pink replies. “With Ice Spice, once you see the world she embodies and what she looks like, it makes you view the music differently. I listened to her and I’m like, ‘Oh, she’s actually more cute than a savage’. I guess it was a good opportunity for her to show a more vulnerable side. I think it’s good to create more of a three-dimensional character as a musician.”

PinkPantheress could write the book on creating a three-dimensional artist. The Bath-born, Kent-raised artist got her start in music by anonymously posting on TikTok from her bedroom, conjuring unique sounds by mixing alt-pop, garage, drum’n’bass and jungle influences while also sampling ‘90s and ‘00s tracks. Her imaginative and lyrically vulnerable songs rarely hit the two-minute mark, making them perfect social media snippets. The 21-year-old’s breakthrough singles ‘Break It Off’ and ‘Just For Me’ soundtracked millions of TikTok videos in the summer of 2021, while her track ‘Pain’ has racked up over 261 million Spotify streams to date. A deal with Parlophone was quickly inked, and she dropped her 19-minute debut mixtape ‘To Hell With It’ in October 2021 – a record NME praised as “impeccable” in a five-star review.

At first glance, it all seems like the story of someone with an eye fixed firmly on fame. But even as recently as two years ago PinkPantheress conducted all of her interviews off-camera, and she still avoids using her real name. She may now be touring globally and shooting music videos on the streets of New York City – about as visible as you can get as a musician – but this shift towards publicly revealing more of herself hasn’t happened overnight.

PinkPantheress on the cover of NME
PinkPantheress on the cover of NME. Credit: Charlie Braun

“I feel like nothing has been too quick because of the team around me,” she says. “It wasn’t like [it went from] ‘You’re anonymous’ to ‘Oh shit!’. It’s always been very transitional, it’s always been a graft. I also don’t have a high self-importance factor. Even though I have fans I don’t think I have to show them everything, because even though people care about their favourite artists, they care about other things as well.”

Pink also reveals that her ongoing struggles with body image is part of the reason for why she’s still reluctant to get in front of a camera. “I was really young when I started [music]: I was still developing into my looks,” she tells NME. “Seeing myself on camera, especially with other people choosing what pictures to put out there, was very hard for me. I just hated it, because I felt like people were going to see pictures of me and they’re going to think I look like that.” She pauses, before shaking her head. “I don’t like to know what people think. I hate it. That’s why I was anonymous, because I don’t want people to ever comment on anything. I’ve suffered with body dysmorphia my whole life, and even more recently.”

The mental health charity Mind defines body dysmorphia as “an anxiety disorder related to body image” that can be diagnosed if a person “experiences obsessive worries about one or more perceived flaws in their physical appearance, and the flaw can’t be seen by others or appears very slight”. In some cases, “worries about their appearance may make it difficult to go out in public or see other people”.

Pink continues: “Before I was doing music, I didn’t take any selfies; I never wore make-up. I didn’t do anything to facilitate feeling confident or looking good, or my version of what that looks like. That’s what I wrote ‘Boy’s A Liar’ about: that feeling that someone’s only interested in you when you look good, and oftentimes I don’t look good.”

“I love hearing other people try my sound. I feel honoured.”

Though she visibly constricts while talking about her looks, Pink’s shoulders open up and a massive smile graces her face as she moves on to talk about her musical influences — namely, pop-punk pioneers Paramore. She told NME in September 2021 that watching the band perform at Reading Festival as a teenager marked the moment she decided to become PinkPantheress: “Hayley Williams was doing something I wanted to do, so I thought I’d better start manifesting early so I can get there.”

Last October, that ambition came full-circle when Williams invited Pink on stage to perform the bridge of ‘Misery Business’ during Austin City Limits. “It was really fun and it was really scary,” she says now. “Just the amount of people there watching. I was thinking to myself the whole time, ‘Oh, this is so painful’. Then I kept thinking, ‘[Williams] does this whole one-hour set in front of all these people?’ She’s so seasoned at this point she’s already a legend, but in a few years I think people will really recognise her as that. You know how Eminem is a legend? I truly believe Hayley is going to be like one of those people. When I saw Paramore when I was 15, someone did the exact same thing and went up [on-stage] during ‘Misery Business’. I remember looking at them and thinking, ‘Wow, that’s so fun’’. Then I did it! Truly incredible.”

PinkPantheress has gone from being influenced by Williams and Paramore to becoming a music influencer in her own right. Viral TikTok DJ Jovynn recently told NME that she thinks the majority of the sounds taking over TikTok are attempting to emulate PinkPantheress’ style, as if she’s a genre within herself. Such claims have been reinforced by the media attention Pink has received, with one piece proclaiming her to be “leading the drum’n’bass revival on TikTok”. Such comments are, however, a point of contention for Pink herself.

“People always say, ‘She’s not a genre, she didn’t create this’. I don’t use the word ‘genre’ to describe myself,” Pink explains, her cadence increasing as she starts to speak passionately on the subject. “But what I hate is when people try and act like I didn’t spend months taking multiple different influences and putting them together to form my own version. People will say, ‘No, she didn’t invent anything new’. I know I didn’t invent drum’n’bass or garage, but what I did do is create a very specific sound which I wanted to have for myself. That’s not me saying, ‘I don’t want anyone else to do it too’. I love hearing other people do it: it means people like it enough to try it, and how do I feel about that? I feel honoured, I do. I have no qualms with it.”

Credit: Charlie Braun

Despite having no interest in coining her own genre, Pink does understand the importance of being ordained as the creator of a musical movement. “One thing that I love is if people see me as the spearhead, I’m glad I’m representing this genre as a Black woman. It’s another example of Black people managing to spearhead a whole genre of music, and I’m really glad I’m the one doing that. I always give credit to my influences, if it’s Lily Allen, Imogen Heap, even someone like Kaytranada — I’ve always said he’s one of my main influences. Black people making this type of music specifically, it’s quite sparse. If I have to shout out anyone it’s Nia Archives, who is another Black woman who was doing drum’n’bass before me.”

She also endorses R&B’s brightest newcomers, FLO. In their recent NME Big Read cover story, the London trio mentioned that they’d like to collaborate with her, but would Pink take them up on that offer? “I want to be their fourth member!” she replies with a laugh. “What I love about them is the vocal tone they use, it’s something I haven’t heard in so long. Especially for British artists to do that type of R&B, like TLC-style music. We haven’t really had that since Sugababes.”

Credit: Mia Teresa

FLO were among the artists who performed at the PinkPantheress & Friends Boiler Room session in December. The name of the live session was apt for a rising artist like Pink, who has multiple tight connections in the music industry that go beyond simply being a working relationship. “When I find someone I enjoy working with, I always tend to go back to them because it just saves time,” she tells NME. “Also, I’m living two lives: there’s this life that we’re living right now, and then when I’m home, I’m still a regular person. I live with six other people! I can’t be jaded: not because I’m immune to it, but because if I was, I would definitely spiral. I have to remind myself of where I came from, why I’m here and how I got here.” She pauses for a moment, before adding “in fact, I don’t even identify with this” while gesturing at the hotel garden, then her hair and make-up. “When people meet me, I think they can sense that.”

The title track of PinkPantheress’s December EP ‘Take Me Home’, which also features ‘Boy’s A Liar’, contains the lyric “I’m making the most of my life ’til the day that I hit 25.” Understandably, it’s about “growing older and being scared,” while there are also lines about paying bills late and being behind on rent. “Honestly, I don’t want to get older,” Pink says. “I’m so bad at organisation: I’m not lazy, but I’m not good at managing anything.” She adds with a laugh: “I also don’t enjoy going to events. Genuinely, just take me home. Let me lie in bed and let me sleep!”

Highlighting Steve Lacy and Remi Wolf among the musicians who, she says, “keep it real-life with me”, her list of collaborators continues to grow. Last year saw Pink team up with the likes of Baby Keem, Beabadoobee and Nigerian artist CKay (the latter on ‘Anya Mmiri’, which featured on the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack), while she’s already had the chance to work with artists who she previously thought would be “impossible” to connect with at this point in her career. Take the aforementioned Kaytranada, who co-produced ‘Do You Miss Me’ on the ‘Take Me Home’ EP.

“I’m another example of Black people managing to spearhead a whole genre of music.”

“It was amazing,” she says of working with the Grammy-winning Haitian-Canadian producer. “He gave me the beat and I knew I could do something nice with it. It’s like Afro-Jersey, I don’t even know [what to call it]. It feels like everything I’ve done, I’ve manifested. If anyone ever wants to come at me, I can show you examples: I said I would collaborate with Kaytranada, I did. I said I wanted to work with WILLOW, I did.”

The latter was their April 2022 joint single ‘Where You Are’, which sampled Paramore’s ‘Never Let This Go’ and was co-produced by Skrillex and Mura Masa. “It always happens,” she says confidently, before then deciding that her corset is so uncomfortable that she’s no longer willing to sit up in it. “I’m just gonna lie down,” she laughs, laying back in her chair. “I look like such an idiot right now.”

As we move from the hotel into the blacked-out SUV that will take us to the video shoot, PinkPantheress continues to swoon over her contemporaries, hilariously detailing how she simply shoots her shot when it comes to working with them. “WILLOW, she’s such a spearhead for women in alternative music,” she says. “I saw that she followed me, so I reached out, sent a DM and she replied. I used to think it would be impossible, but the more I go on, it seems more attainable to get certain features.”

Our car ride is filled with questions from Pink about NYC landmarks as we drive by Yankee Stadium, while she also remarks on a few kids running around the city streets in their uniforms, seemingly skipping school. She then goes on to discuss her love for her favourite band My Chemical Romance and how she appreciates their songwriting, before then shifting to K-pop (“I pride myself in being one of the believers of BTS before they blew up”) and sharing how little interest she has in sticking to the norm in terms of measuring success in the music industry. “There are so many other people’s careers I look at and go, ‘Yeah, they did that so well’,” she explains. “But because of the unorthodox way I choose to do things, I feel like it’s impossible for me to shape my career on someone else’s. It doesn’t fit with how I behave as a person.”

“I have to remind myself of where I came from, why I’m here and how I got here.”

The final scenes of the ‘Boy’s A Liar Part 2’ shoot take place on the rooftop of a Harlem apartment building, which provides panoramic views of the city skyline. There are dangerously steep stairs leading to the highest floor, and as Ice Spice arrives on set she impressively walks to the top without taking her eyes off her phone. As production sets up, fans gather outside the unassuming building in a bid to catch a glimpse of the shoot after multiple TikTokers recorded Pink and Ice Spice on a balcony earlier that day. Pink is relaxed and all smiles on set, despite being out of her comfort zone. “I’m actually just going to really let myself go into another person’s world here,” she tells NME. “That’s super-exciting for me, because I am in no way connected to the drill world. I’m not from any hood: I’m literally just a girl from Kent, so this is going to be quite interesting.”

Credit: Mia Teresa

PinkPantheress is planning on continuing to push herself for the foreseeable future, maybe by even “making a shift towards other styles of music”. She also tells NME she “would love to drop an album later on this year”, albeit with a disclaimer: “I can’t plan anything. I can’t just do it. It has to, in the least cliché way, be a feeling.”

Regardless of where said feelings eventually take her, Pink knows that exercising every aspect of her talent is what will get her there. “I feel like it’s so important as an artist to show versatility, because once you do that people realise you’re not leaning on the beat for the music to be good. You’re just leaning on your own pen,” she says. “That’s all I’ve ever cared about. I don’t care about the beats, I care about the pen.”

PinkPantheress’s ‘Boy’s a Liar Pt. 2’ featuring Ice Spice and ‘Take Me Home’ EP are out now

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