The new face of cyber pop is New Zealand based artist Theia. Influenced by the dirty and hyper produced tracks of the early 00s and pop princesses like Britney Spears and Gaga, Theia is deeply passionate about Y2K culture. Her unapologetic lyrics highlight her experiences as a woman in the music industry and songs like "Kitty Kat" and "Not Your Princess" comment on slut shaming. She explores sonic newness and and experiments with ultramodern production meshed with lyrical honesty. It's refreshing, it's new and it's exciting.
Last week she performed at the Queer and Unusual digital show alongside drag performers Mary Fagdalane, Venus Black and Violet Bloom. What's most inspiring is Theia's advocacy for what she believes in. She is an outspoken champion of the queer community and as a performer impacted by the pandemic, she connected with the initiative of our project.
Theia is one to watch out for - her wheels are always turning and she's most definitely an eager creative. Yet, she's grounded and has something that many lack in 2020. Humanity.
What was your childhood like and what did your parents do?
So my childhood was pretty normal I guess. My dad was a fire alarm technician and my mom was a stay at home mom. I was just like super creative and very introverted. I stayed in my room and wrote songs and liked to draw. So, I was very shy.
What kind of music was played around your house growing up?
We have this radio channel called "The Coast" which has old school throwbacks. My dad would listen to that a lot. That's all pretty much 60's like Everly brothers and stuff.
I also played a lot of my own music which was literally the soundtrack to Charlie's Angels Full Throttle. Also P!nk, MC hammer and The Prodigy. I would say our styles were very different. I was definitely into more edgy stuff but it was so cool to be introduced to the classics, and I still really love the Everly Brothers cause it kind of does remind me of simpler times and my dad.
I saw that recently you did a performance for the Rave Subculture Party. How do you feel about virtually performing and how does that differ, obviously besides from the physical, from performing live in front of an audience?
Genuinely, I think it's the future. I think it's incredible. It's probably like the coolest shows I've ever done in my music career so far. I'm personally super introverted. I honestly feel really like safe and comfortable at home and I get really really anxious being around other people. It's really cool that I feel so safe at home so I can kind of like just go real crazy in my shows. Secondly, I just think it's so inclusive because not everyone can go out. Maybe they are under age or maybe they're ill or in a wheelchair. I just think the digital shows are so amazing. Obviously the physical shows are so amazing as well. They're so cool and you have so much energy. It's electric. But I think it's so amazing being able to perform in online shows. I'm all the way in new Zealand and all the lineups I'm doing are based out of New York, Montreal or LA. I would never get the opportunity to do those shows otherwise because I would have to fly all the way over there. So I just think it's truly the future and so incredible and inclusive.
I really agree. I'm from Los Angeles and it's given me the ability to be opened up to artists from all over the world. There's definitely upsides to the quarantine and I really feel like virtual shows are something that we're going to upkeep.
I did a show called Queer and Unusual yesterday. They're usually put on in real life in LA, and it was so full circle to be in that lineup. It's such an accessible outlet to have, cyber wise. But I do understand that a lot of the people that are hosting the digital shows much prefer the in person gigs. I just hope that they stay around.
Your aesthetic is super inspired by y2k cyber culture.... for example the MySpace era. Do you feel like the cyber shows have helped you creatively because of how on brand they are?
Oh my gosh, truly yes. Like that's what's been so exciting to me is like I've been able to put so much importance and care into getting the visuals right. It's so fun online. Like on zoom where I get to play with all these backgrounds and jam out in my wigs. It's rocks. I also love that the sound is so perfect and amazing on zoom and you can connect to computer audio. So there's heaps of things that have enhanced my creativity.
In your music video for Frat Boyz, you included a lot of clips of people doing Tik Toks to your song. What do you really feel about that platform's ability to so quickly popularize different creatives and songs that otherwise wouldn't be pushed to the direct public?
I think that it's kind of incredible. Tik Tok has been blowing up so many artists into the mainstream, more so than what Spotify has done. For instance I remember hollering at Ashnikko when I was doing "Not Your Princess" for her to be in the vid - I was talking to my friend this morning about how I followed her when she had like 15k followers on Instagram and now she's absolutely blown up from Tik Tok. I feel like it's the sickest. It's such a cool platform. So it was really special to me when one girl started doing the Frat Boyz dance and then from there heaps of people started doing it. It was just so cool. It was just really moving and inspiring and really exciting for me.
As for creators on the platform, it's just such an accessible way for people to gain success and popularity. I'm really confident in it and I really think that it'll be up kept in the upcoming years as a mainstream source of social media. And there's so many different types of artists on the app because the demographic really takes interest if you have a creative specialty or niche.
Yeah, totally. It's like the new vine. But like super music based. So it definitely is so cool and creative.
In December of last year, you came out with, um, a traditional Maori Christmas hymn, which is the language of the indigenous Polynesian people in New Zealand. It's a really stripped down track with minimal production and really clean harmonies, which is a big departure from songs like that Bad Idea, Bye Bye, 99% angel - deeply catchy pop songs with electronic beats and heavy production. It's on of my favorites of yours. What inspired this unique track?
Oh my gosh thank you! I'm Maori and my grandmother, we call her Kui, she was so important to me and supported me so much and just imparted so much knowledge about my heritage. So I wanted to at some point make a song to honor her because she passed away three years ago and I was trying to figure out what that would be. There's obviously many Maori songs but there actually isn't an original Maori Christmas song. I just thought it was so special for me to do, rather than to modernize the production, to keep it really old school and stripped back with just the guitar and the beautiful vocals that could be sung in traditional meeting houses or churches or schools. I wrote it in my bedroom and that's pretty much how it came about! It's been so beautiful to get the support from that community and just so so special.
I mean, it's really unique and serendipitous for me to learn about your culture and to be exposed to that. But I think it's an awesome track and it's so admirable that you're actually able to make a departure from pop - now we get to see all different sides of you! This just truly proves you to be such an incredibly eclectic artist.
Thank you. That's so sweet. I was definitely determined if I was going to have a track in te reo, the indigenous language, it was going to include the things that were important to me which was a really good melody and clean harmonies. I wanted the visuals to also be really special and give a nod to when we were first colonized, with the same clothing and everything but to also bring it into modern day. I'm wearing Doc Martins and I've got super long braided hair. But it was also special to work with young females and a lot of creatives on that as well. So we all did it together.
That track was such an amazing introduction to your new 2020 era and your 2020 releases which are pushing not only sonic boundaries but also lyrical boundaries. You address themes like slut shaming in Kitty Kat and Not Your Princess. They kind of serve as feminist anthems and I think that that's really revolutionizing the cyber pop music world. Why is it important for you to change the conversation and talk about these topics?
A lot of songs obviously, as we can hear in the mainstream, pretty much like about woman from the male gaze. I feel like we don't really as women talk about slut shaming but then like flipping it on its head and making it empowering. After I'd done Not Your Princess, I had a lot of really crazy Youtube comments and that pretty much inspired Kitty Kat, along with some of the behavior that I had encountered in the music industry. I just really wanted to put that anger into a song. I guess it just happens to be a very experimental and representative of where I'm at but also it's super catchy and manages to get played on the radio. So I think that's probably the thing to do where it's still a little left of center for sure but it's still accessible enough where people can hear it on the radio. And it wasn't just about my experience in particular. A lot of women and non binary people - or anyone remotely feminine will encounter this kind of behavior. So I feel like it's just really important to talk about it. And I'm not going in with the intention of writing a slut shaming anthem. Literally all of my music is me just talking about how I'm feeling which at the time was really really pissed off.
I think it's really cool that you want to change the conversation. The "Not Your Princess" music video was really cool because you collaborated with a bunch of different women. What was the process for that music video like?
Oh my gosh. Thank you! That was so fun. I literally just sent Instagram messages to about 40 or 50 people and the ones in the video were who wrote back. It was such a cool experience. Like Sineila for example was so cute. I did her lineup called Strawberry GothCake last weekend which was so cool. So it was really cute getting to meet each other over a zoom party. It was just definitely really special. I sent them the track and let them do their thing and interpret it however they wanted so that was amazing.
And there were so many different kinds of women in that video which was so inspiring. You're very involved in the queer community and as you know we're a fundraiser working to advocate and raise money for drag artists who have lost their job due to the pandemic. Why do you think it's so important, now more than ever, to come together to support queer artists?
I think that it's been really special to nod to the queer community in my shows considering what's going on at the moment. Last night when I did Queer and Unusual there were probably about 25 drag artists that took part.
I knew some of the performers! Mary Fagdalane, Venus Black, Violet Bloom...
Oh my gosh really? That's so cool! And I just thought it was so beautiful that after every performance Lydia who puts on the show made sure that everyone's cash app and venmo details and everything like that was promoted. And everyone was encouraged to tip. I just think that's so so important. It's incredibly important to support our artists because when everyone is on lockdown, where are people meant to be able to perform and express themselves and gain income? It super tough on the queer community and those who make a living from performing.
Drag artists have completely lost their industry. They have absolutely no way of making money besides doing digital stuff so we actually have a weekly digital drag show to raise money for the performers in need. It's completely a team effort right now and we would love to have you in our show if you ever want to send in a video.
For sure! I'd love to!
So your aesthetic and your visuals are very very cool. I see influence from The Matrix and also artists like Charli XCX and Slayyyter. So much cyber y2k goodness. Why do you feel so connected to that era?
When I was growing up in the early 2000s the artists I absolutely adored were Britney and later on Gaga in like 2008. I feel that it's a perfect mix of futurism and technology and cyber punk but also glossy perfection. I really love contrast. So you have really poppy stuff like Britney but her production was so crazy and dirty and that's like exactly where I'm at. So if I do a video I want to look super cute but have some really crazy clothes on. Just a constant clash is what I'm really about. I feel like that's why I'm so drawn to the y2k culture. It's so extra. It's not about minimalism. It's about rhinestones and fluffy phone covers and being weird and I've always been weird and I've never fit in so I feel like the perfect thing for me is knowing that you can be accepted to be weird and be the most extra and listen to crazy myspace nutty music. I connect with like the Jeffree Stars of the world.
Recently I've just been so obsessed with the early 2000s. I run a Depop and early 2000s fashion is my absolute favorite to sell. But musically I'm also so inpired by contrast. For example Rina Sawayama. On XS and STFU she combines perfect glossy y2k elements, something like the Pussycat Dolls, with really really hardcore metal riffs. I just think that clash is so cool and something that people aren't thinking of. And you're doing a lot of stuff that people aren't thinking of. I think that's what we need right now. These are the artists that are gonna revolutionize music.
Thank you that means a lot to me. I just really want to keep pushing and trying to make new sounds and stuff that I'm really passionate about. Thank you for telling me that.
You're so welcome. I think that drag artists and performers and musicians like yourself can really relate because not only are you all at a complete loss of income and their industry, but they're not feeling fulfilled or happy because they're not able to go on stage. What would you say to those queer artists and drag artists that are currently out of work?
I would remind them they've always been DIY and done things from the heart and done things that no one else is doing. I'm so sorry and soon the cities will open but until them get as extra and savvy as you can . Film yourself and send in to digital drag shows. There's so much you can still do at home and it's just a really special moment that I don't think we'll ever time again - to be able to revolutionize and make crazy crazy art from our own room. Don't feel that it's all over because although the venues and the towns are shut down you can always still create at home. So go hard and do whatever you can to keep creating and get that fulfillment. Just keep being weird and keep being yourselves and make sure you document it and film it. It's gonna be a part of history.
And one of the coolest things is we get to take it back to our bedrooms. Where this all started. As creatives we've always been savvy and artists always find a way to do what they love in unique circumstances. So although this is challenging and quite the test, I think this is also a great way to advance your creativity if you put the effort towards it. If you really want to be creative and do what you love, you're gonna find a way. Drag artists are so DIY and so savvy and that's one of my favorite things about drag. That's also one of my favorite things about musicians like you - you'll always find a way to do what you love even if the circumstances are unideal.
And Not Your Princess was filmed on a laptop in my bedroom! So I totally agree and I think that's the beauty of it. For the drag and queer community it can be really tough when you don't have that physical way of expressing yourself. So I think that it's important not to lose that motivation. This time can be a big source of sadness so just continue to create and try to let your creativity shine through. Keep being weird.
That's so true. Do you want to shout out any upcoming projects you're working on?
The final single from my mixtape 99% Angel, called Celebrity, is coming out in May. I'm super super excited about that! If you want to support my music and my art please pre-save it on Spotify and keep streaming my songs and adding to your playlists. I'm doing a bunch of amazing cyber shows and festivals in the near future! There's heaps and heaps of ways that you can tune in and support me!
That's awesome! I'm so excited to see where you go. I think you're amazing and thank you for talking to me. This has been such a blast and so humbling and I really believe in you.
Aww Zoe thank you so much! You're so sweet and thank you for your thoughtful questions and your encouragement. It's been really amazing for me too. It's of course been difficult recently but I really appreciate your beautiful words and that you love my music.