NME Radar: Breakout

Ashnikko is the Miley Cyrus-approved bubblepunk pop-star who refuses to take herself seriously

Blue hair and bloody music videos – rising pop provocateur Ashnikko wants to be a playful disruption to the hegemony

Each week in Breakout, we talk to the emerging stars blowing up right now – whether it be a huge viral moment, killer new track or an eye-popping video – these are the rising artists certain to dominate the near future

The nominations for the BRIT Awards 2020 were, predictably, dominated by blokes in almost every category. It’s why Ashnikko’s appearance on the red carpet, her striking blue hair being carried by two male subs, caused such a stir. “Tonight I’m playing Ashnikko: Femdom,” she told NME. “It’s a powerplay…Down with the patriarchy.”

It’s not the first time Ashnikko (real name Ashton Casey) has caused a ruckus just for being herself though. Following the release of her ‘Hi, It’s Me’ EP at the tail end of last year, her abrasive, industrial pop-rap single ‘Stupid’ went viral on TikTok, getting a shout out on Saturday Night Live and a dance routine from Miley Cyrus in the process.

Since then, she’s announced a tour with US rap sensation Doja Cat, her song ‘Working Bitch’ has had a similar moment online, Bring Me The Horizon frontman Oli Sykes has called her the “coolest person alive”, she’s spent quarantine doing yoga with Charli XCX on her Instagram and featured on Yungblud’s online show last week. Phew.

We caught up with Ash in Los Angeles to get the lowdown on her breakout moment, her Harley Quinn-inspired tunes and why she’s not planning on taking herself seriously anytime soon.

Your music takes influence from all over. At times it sounds like Brockhampton meets Riot Grrl, other times it’s a Charli XCX party with a Nu-metal snarl. What are you calling it?

“I wrote it down the other day, it’s angry, punk, hip-hop, sad-girl-feminist, bubblegum, poo-poo music. It’s a lot of things. I find it really hard to stick to one thing because I’m so fickle and I like to change my mind a lot.”

You’ve been releasing music since you were 18, do you feel like you’ve finally found your sound with ‘Hi, It’s Me’?

“100%. There’s a lot of really bad music I’ve made but you’ve got to make the shit music to make the stuff you’re supposed to make. I feel like this project is fully me, fully my voice and fully what I want to say and sound like. I’m just really proud of it.”

There’s a proud feminine energy to your music, has it always been that way?

“No, it hasn’t. I’ve grown into a woman and formed my own opinions about the world around me. I feel like as a teenager making music, I had a lot of internalised misogyny, a need to be one of the boys, and a lot of self-hatred. As I discovered what feminism is and what it meant to me, it definitely took a hold of my life in a big way.”

What was the turning point?

“I was very much a child of Tumblr. I did a lot of my personal education into what intersectional feminism is on Tumblr. The Internet is a great tool for children who are raised in very narrow-minded towns. You can access all this information and make up your own mind.“

So, what inspired ‘Hi, It’s Me’? 

“It’s a breakup EP. I still have a lot of breakup songs that are being saved for later because I was on a rampage writing them. ‘Hi, It’s Me’ is me really tapping into my own womanhood and my own sense of confidence which I feel like I only fully felt last year when I was writing it. It was a very tumultuous and crazy journey. I was so upset and emotional, it all just came flooding out. I harnessed some crazy energy when I was writing that project, I felt like a supernatural goddess then it came out and I felt human again. That EP was a pep talk to myself. It was written to get myself out of a bad place.”

How much of an impact did ‘Stupid’ going viral on Tiktok have?

“It gave it an astronomical boost. I do like how ‘Stupid’ doing well, it wasn’t just that song that benefited. ‘Working Bitch’ had a moment recently and it’s been really exciting. People discovered the rest of the EP along with ‘Stupid’, which is cool. I’m happy everything has happened the way it has.

Even Miley got involved, how was that?

“That was sick. For me, it felt like a cool little moment on TikTok and when Miley did a dance to it, it felt like A Thing. I’m glad my angry ass song about my ex-boyfriend made it into so many people’s playlists.”

And has it changed your life at all?

“100%, it’s been quite the lifestyle change. I’m still getting used to it. It’s a little bit uncomfortable at times, my relationship with social media has completely changed and I’m still working it out. Just being more visible as a human being is a weird state of being alive. But sometimes it’s the best. It’s something I wanted for so long and now it’s happening, it’s something I’m still grappling with. I’m just trying to match my expectations with reality now.”

Do you feel like you have to prove yourself now?

“That way of thinking is only going to intensify my mental illness, so I’m not trying to think of it like that. For the first time, I’m not struggling to keep up. I have lots of music to put out, I’m very confident in my abilities to create art and to get the job done. I’m just excited to put everything out and not put pressure on myself because it’s insanity.”

You’ve just released ‘Tantrum’. Where did that song come from?

“I had the Birds of Prey soundtrack in mind, I wanted to pitch for that movie and I wanted to write some bad bitch, Harley Quinn song so I wrote ‘Tantrum’. But it turned into 100% my song. I fucking love that song and I love that it’s my song. I write music for myself first and then my beautiful fans second. I have to make it for myself first, or it doesn’t sound like my music. When you go into a session and say ‘alright, let’s make a TikTok smash’, the song’s going to sound like ballsack.“

Is that a standalone single? Is there an EP on the way? An album?

“I don’t know if I’m allowed to say but yeah, my long-time collaborator Slinger and I are doing a project. However it’s called or wrapped up, I’m still coming to terms with it but I’m just going to give birth to some baby songs and see who likes them.”

CREDIT: Lucrecia Taormina

Who are your peers? 

“The people I really respect are Doja Cat, Grimes, Tierra Whack, Rico Nasty, Hayley Williams, Princess Nokia, Kim Petras and Charli XCX. Other women make me feel very inspired but my really unconfident 14year old self also inspires me to make confident music now, as a 24 year old woman.”

Oli Sykes said you were the coolest person alive. Are you?

“He did say that, didn’t he. Sometimes, when I’m dancing to Cher in the mirror, I 100% think I’m the coolest person in the world. But my brain is a real wild ride. Confidence is a real rollercoaster, isn’t it? I think I am sometimes and sometimes, not at all.”

How seriously do you take yourself?

“You know what, I just laugh through trauma. It’s all very serious but also, I don’t take myself too seriously because I like fart jokes, y’know. For a while I believed I had to be this really serious artist, this enigma, but you know what, I like making stupid TikToks. I like making these stupid sketches on my Youtube channel. I wrote a musical about my clitoris and I wore a vagina costume. I’m not trying to be a really serious artist but I’m not trying to be a parody or a comedic act. But I cannot take myself too seriously or I will cringe so hard.”

Ashnikko’s new single ‘Tantrum is out now

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