When Melisa Young, aka Kid Sister, released her breakthrough single “Pro Nails” back in 2007, hip-hop, pop, and dance music all still existed pretty much in their own lanes, and blending them together the way she did was still a largely unexplored idea. The song obviously didn’t take itself too seriously— it’s about getting your nails did, obviously — but it was revolutionary in its own low-key way, and after Kanye jumped on a remix, it became a smash hit in the club scene where a new generation of rappers and dance DJs were just starting to mingle.
“Pro Nails” led to Young being signed to Downtown Records, but despite the backing of a big label, production work by future EDM superstars like A-Trak, Rusko, Steve Angello, and Sebastian Ingrosso, and a plethora of hooks, her 2009 debut album Ultraviolet failed to live up to its high expectations. As the hybrid style she’d developed spread from the underground to the Hot 100, Young herself faded from the public eye.
At the end of August, nearly five years after Ultraviolet dropped, Young released DUSK2DAWN- The Diary of Jane Jupiter, a mixtape that finds her going harder than she’s ever gone before, with a new sound with a noisier edge and a newfound interest in writing on topics far deeper than manicures. EW got her on the phone to talk about the transition.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You finally have your new mix tape out. How does that feel?
MELISA YOUNG: Relieving. It was a big relief because I’ve been working for so long on it, harder than I’ve worked on anything before.
During the first part of your career you had a lot of buzz surrounding you, but it never really seemed to come together the way that you wanted. What was that experience like?
That’s a funny question because I think about this a lot. It was really a whirlwind, and it was quite overwhelming, to be completely honest. I feel like when you don’t have a super strong sense of what you want to say artistically you can kind of be swept away, and I feel like that’s what happened to me in the first run. I really didn’t have anything I really wanted to get out or say. Life was really good and sometimes when life is good I think your art can suffer.
Do you think things were too easy for you at first? Because you came out of the gate with Kanye in your video and everyone producing you…
I’m glad I had it the way it was because I learned a lot. I think things happened exactly how they were supposed to, because now I’ve had to, you know, kind of go through the school of hard knocks, and I got a lot of information and knowledge through that. So I think it was helpful ultimately.
What do you think is the most important lesson you’ve learned from the whole experience?
I think the most important lesson that I learned was to be kind and to be honest. For a long time I wasn’t kind, I was really cocky and insecure, and I think perhaps a bit intoxicated from my own hype. And you know I didn’t really have a lot behind it to say. I think having gone through this whole experience, I had to learn those things. I had to learn how to put down the insecure tough girl part of my personality, which really is my personality, but when you’re so insecure you can’t be vulnerable, and when you’re not vulnerable your music doesn’t mean anything. At least not for me. I was kind of coasting, doing shows, still performing songs about nails–and make no mistake, I thank God every day that Kanye West was part of my career. However, those songs didn’t exactly speak to me anymore. I don’t think anything was speaking to me. I wasn’t in a good place.
Tell me a little bit about how the new mixtape came together. What made you feel like it was time to make more music?
I guess about two years ago I felt like I had nothing to say. I wasn’t going out. I didn’t want to go out. I knew I didn’t like that side of this business. Going out and drinking a lot just wasn’t interesting anymore. I knew I didn’t want to talk about silly stuff but I didn’t know how to articulate myself with the more meaningful stuff. So I just kind of pulled myself up by my bootstraps. It was hard work. A year ago this month I wrote that song called “Bedbreaker.” My brother [Josh Young, one half of the EDM duo Flosstradamus] had given me the beat. I didn’t know it was going to be meaningful and I didn’t know it was going to be a concept album. This period of inactivity has been like being in juvie or something. It’s not like being in prison, but it’s solitary and it’s isolated, and it can be sad if you let it get to you. I knew I didn’t want to do music like how the mixtape starts out, but that’s part of who I am and a part of my story. So I just decided to literally tell my story and at the same time go stylistically from where I started to where I want to be, where I’m headed.
Musically, what are you doing different?
When I sit down to write now I think, “Does this scare me? Does this challenge me?” I never thought those things before. My music [before], I had a lot of fun with it… it was really reflective of where I was. But I like to say that I’m a delicate balance of nerdy, elegant, and hood, and I think before only one side was really showing. I grew up listening to not only house music and hip-hop but in high school I was listening to like Stereolab and Cibo Matto and Pizzicato Five and these cool, futuristic groups from overseas.
Tell me about your Jane Jupiter alter ego. Why do you even have one?
I feel like Jane Jupiter is me, but perhaps in an exalted form. I’ve always been fascinated with astronomy and cosmology. I watched Cosmos before Neil [deGrasse Tyson]. Like, what up Carl Sagan? [laughs] I just wanted to do something with that aesthetic that I find so beautiful and fascinating. I think that it really just fit what I had in mind aesthetically, sonically, spiritually.
The first time you were around, what you were doing, combining hip-hop and pop and dance music, was kind of a new thing. Since then it’s kind of blown up, and it seems like you’re in a better position to have people pick up on what you’re doing. I was wondering what it’s been like to see this style you had blow up, and what’s it like to jump back in?
I think it’s great. It’s great to see so many people winning at something that…when I started there wasn’t really a name for it, you know? For me personally, I don’t feel like I’m jumping in the same pool. That pool was for me personally started to feel a little bit limiting, and that I needed to go to a different pool. The way I look at it is, it’s great to see everybody do so well but that style of music doesn’t seem challenging to me anymore, which is why at the middle of the project it takes a pretty dramatic turn and starts to go in the direction I want to go, which is songs like “Higher” and “Sunshine City.” There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s not a shiny new toy for me anymore. I obviously am like a child and I need to play with something else.
What’s the next move?
It’s funny, the day that I dropped [Jane Jupiter], one hour later I started my first session for the album. So I’ve already started working on the album. It’s very exciting. I haven’t told anyone this, but I’m thinking about calling it Paradise Infinite. I already have a few songs started for it. I have my work cut out for me, and I’m finally excited about music again.