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How Kitty kept her groove

22 January 2024, 09:00

A true survivor of DIY music, Kitty's resilience and creativity helped her outlast her detractors. She tells Maria Graham the story of her unorthodox career.

It’s been more than decade since Kitty’s unquestionably charming talk-rap track “Okay Cupid” made its way from trendy Tumblr blogs to Rolling Stone’s best songs of 2012 list. Overnight, the soft spoken cloud-rap artist – then known as Kitty Pryde - was being co-signed by Earl Sweatshirt and quit her part time job at Claire’s to tour with Danny Brown.

I’ve been her biggest fan for as long as I’ve been on the internet. Growing up as a shy girl who spent most of her time browsing music videos and internet forums, Kitty’s DIY approach left me scouring YouTube and clicking on every song I could find. Her less-than-flashy appeal and awkward interviews gave me the confidence I needed to create my own songs from my bedroom, too. I loved seeing her stark black-wing eyeliner that matched mine, and how she often sang about how the boys at school didn’t think she was the coolest. It felt like someone finally got it. Kitty was unapologetically vocalizing her experiences through music in her own way, even if it didn’t wind up on the radio.

It’s still summer when I talk to the now 30-year-old Kitty Ray and she’s sitting outside on her sun-drenched porch in Florida. She tells me that she began making music after being inspired by Tumblr friends during her time working at Claire’s in the mall.


“I never had thought about how music was made, but I always really liked it,” she laughs. “I came home from Claire's and I had like a bazillion notifications and I was like, what is happening?” she says, recounting the success of “OK Cupid" from her album Haha, I’m Sorry. In 2012, going viral held a lot more weight than it does today – for better and for worse. At the time, that meant having your song posted on Rolling Stone or The Fader, racking up hundreds of thousands of hits. Fame was more long standing before apps like TikTok generated a new viral sensation twice a week. However, this was also before people started being kinder online; being in the spotlight then meant there was an open space for negative feedback. Entire articles were dedicated to taking her down. Now, 11 years later, Kitty still has the comments turned off on “Okay Cupid” on YouTube. Some of them minimized her appearance: “Redhead rapping is a novelty that wears off after five minutes”. Others got straight to the point: “Her voice alone is torture.”


The DIY hit landed a collaboration with Riff Raff on the punchy single “Orion’s Belt", released later that year. The YouTube video was all recorded within a week and opens with Kitty and Riff Raff hanging out on Daytona Beach, playing arcade games and exploring the carnival rides. “​​I was still just amused that anybody was listening to my dumb ass songs in the first place because I wasn't trying for that” she laughs. Kitty “just sort of decided to leave Florida” and went to New York City where she started pursuing music as a career around the age of 18.

“So when I moved to New York, there was the first set of songs that I made in my house” she says, referring to her first ever EP The Lizzie Mcguire Experience and single “Florida.” “There were a lot of things I resented about ‘Florida’ and specifically the place where I lived when I was a teenager; I had a lot of teen angst. ‘Florida’ is a very teen angst song” she says. Growing up in Daytona Beach, Kitty expressed her distaste for the tourist town in almost every interview she’s done. She spent her time writing poetry and curating her blog. She briefly fronted an all-female hip-hop group called Jokers in Trousers in 2011 before writing her own raps. Kitty remains straight faced, half heartedly coating the minimal, ambient beat with lines of dissatisfaction with life: “I feel so gray in the city it's a prison / I just wanna shine my colors on the wall like a prism.”


The Lizzie Mcguire mixtape was re-released through BandCamp in 2011, after fans leaked it without Kitty’s permission on Tumblr. Songs like “Your Love” feature Kitty’s less-than-enthused, distant voice over a 90-second-long fuzzy sample of Nicki Minaj’s 2010 “Your Love.” Lines like “And as for Jennifer we’ll let that bitch die / and anyone who says you’re chicken they’re telling lies / come show me your purple Calvin Klein” encapsulate Kitty’s signature – off-putting, obsessive advances (like in her 2012 track “JUSTIN BIEBER!!!,” where she threatens to run over Selena Gomez to have a chance with him).

I’ve never been super concerned with her overnight rise to fame, or a music journalist’s thinkpiece of her career trajectory on Billboard or awkward concert performances. For me and a few other awkward teenage girls, her slightly off-putting, embarrassingly-honest lyrics read like the Bible through my tangled up, wired earbuds in the highschool hallway. In “Letcha Go” Kitty says: The next boy wont give a fuck about my chest / the next boy won't make fun of my little breasts / the next boy is gonna be better than all the rest.” That's funny because I don't actually even remember what it's from,” Kitty laughs when I bring up the song off The Lizzie Mcguire Experience, which samples Fabulous’ “Can’t Let You Go.” She says it doesn’t reflect how she feels about herself anymore as she’s gotten older. “I don't think that anyone figures out how they feel about themselves until they're like 27” she says. “Now I’m 30, and I’m like, oh shit! Life is so easy,” we both laugh.

Her next few projects were filled with more intention than novelty. Impatiens and Frostbite from 2014 solidified Kitty as an artist and not just a party trick as she ditched her in-your-face approach for hushed, calculated trance production and softer, more intimate vocals. Her drowsy half-rap delivery was deceptively slow, and made a two minute song feel like forever and also an instant. Track “Brb” is punchy, cute, and still a little obsessive, reminiscent of 2018 Pluggnb and Ghost Town DJ’s “My Boo.” Her version of a love song, lines like “Live your life when I’m gone / We can dance all night when I get home” show she’s calmed down a little since “Justin Bieber!!!” Her lyrics are still exceptionally clever, too. “Sorry for the glitter when I spilled it on your pillowcase / and my little face is plain as vanilla tastes” is as smooth as it sounds.

“I still got taken advantage of like, a million times,” she explains how the music industry hasn’t always been so kind to her. “Nothing to do with the music industry has ever impressed me and I think that it gets worse and worse and worse every year” she says. The industry was never really in Kitty’s favor, with journalists leaving more negative reviews than positive. One article title reads: “Another Kitty Pryde song I’m embarrassed to like.”

Fans began commenting on her appearance and artistry since she began making music: “This one company wanted me to dye my hair and I was like, what is that going to change?” From as early as the age of 19, music journalists were writing mean things about her online, she tells me. “The thing about the music industry is that everyone is either lying to you or they are lying to themselves,” and she doesn’t want to do either. She had problems with the people who were supposed to be funding Frostbite: “I had to, like, literally sneak into a studio and record by myself.” She explains that her comment sections are often flooded with mentions of how underrated and underappreciated she is as an artist. I don't think I'm underrated. I think that I don't have anyone who pushes my songs out and forces people to listen” but she appreciates the dedicated cult following she has accumulated through her music.

It feels like, kind of like a collapse before a new rebirth” she explains how the industry is changing. Now more than ever, TikTok plays dictate the success of an artist or song in the way that a Rolling Stone or Vice feature did for Kitty. “You need to be listening to the song that everyone else knows that's on TikTok and using it for your TikTok or no one's going to watch it and it's so irritating” she says.

She feels that the way she approaches things with her own music and her bands is more permanent, because she’s been around for a while now. “The way me and Sam do things, it’s gonna last,” she says, referencing her husband Sam Ray, widely known for his solo electronic project Ricky Eat Acid and involvement in the band Teen Suicide, along with Kitty and drummer Sean Mercer. Their other joint project The Pom-Poms sees Kitty's clever wordplay blended with Sam's electro-pop production.

Kitty wide

Against my better judgment – and a post on Twitter/X telling me not to – I bring up the Stereogum article that says Doja Cat lifted her flow on “Agora Hills,” a fan-favourite song from Scarlet. “She was just inspired by it, which is fucking awesome," Kitty counters. "The second thing that's awesome is that everyone knows that was my thing” she adds. The song has everything people know and love from Kitty’s music: the slurred, less-than-amused vocals, and borderline-obsessive, raw take on love that isn’t as popular in the last few years.

“When I started making stuff that sounded like 'Agora Hills', people fucking hated it," she laughs, but is glad that it’s found its audience now. Sounds often cycle back after 5-10 years, and it’s almost time for her sound to be in style again, she tells me. New rap releases like Flo Mili’s “Never Lose Me” have the same relaxed, nonchalant flow, soft production, and obsessive lyrics that Kitty was championing a decade ago. “I hope that it doesn't mean people think of me as some old washed up loser who doesn't exist anymore,” she explains.

Kitty has a feeling that a lot of newer artists are going to get popular from the kind of sound she pioneered, and she's mentally preparing herself to not get her feelings hurt when people start talking about her again. “I didn't really want everyone to know that all kinds of traumatic things were happening” she says, explaining why she hasn’t put out any new music after the lo-fi inspired Charm and Mirror in 2020, which followed Rose Gold in 2019. She tells me what she feels always comes out in the songs, and she didn’t want to get too personal.

From a young age, Kitty has had her life out in the open for everyone to post negative blogs and leave colourfully-worded Reddit comments “My therapists and healers are like, 'Girl, you need to let yourself be a teenager and figure out who you are rather than moulding it into an album like you've been doing for the past 10 years'. I haven't made a good song in so long," she says. But she and Sam Ray are working on lots of new ones: "So 1000% I'm going to come out with a new album!" Teen Suicide will tour in the spring, she tells me – and there will also be a new Pom-Poms record in the summer.

Kit Sunset

“After all these years I usually have to just show up to tours and be like, 'Hi! I'm Kit',” she says of her recent tour with Princess Chelsea. She’d never met the Auckland, New Zealand-born indie artist – most recently known for her viral TikTok song “Cigarette Duet” – until they played together. Sometimes you can end up on tour and you're with a complete psychopath and you're like, fuck, I'm stuck with this.” She assures me Princess Chelsea is cool, though: “She has like eight people in her band!”

If she could go back and do it all over again, what advice would she give herself? “Well, first of all, take your makeup off at night,” she laughs, “and also stand up for yourself!” While she can’t believe a lot of the things that she had to go through after getting a little internet traction when “internet famous” was barely a real term, Kitty is a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. “If it didn't go that way, then I wouldn't be where I am now” she explains. “19-year-old-me was worth a lot more than I gave her credit for or that anyone really gave her credit for.”

Kitty thinks that everyone should give themselves a little more grace, too. It’s easy to hear the uncertainty in her old songs where she makes fun of her weight or unpopularity – but she tells me that her diehard fans have problems with standing up for themselves and being who they truly are. “It's like a weirdness rather than a sadness. And I think that's why I have a cult following," she affirms. Kitty's songs aren’t that relatable for many – but hold just the right amount of magic for those who connect with her.

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