Allie X on how 'demonic' palm trees, drag queens, and hate-loving L.A. inspired Super Sunset
Somewhere past the part of Canadian singer-songwriter Allie X‘s brain where fascination and fear join forces with an affinity for drag queens and surrealist fantasy exists an earnest affection for the city that made her an underground pop star. “It’s not so bad in L.A.” she softly croons of the California metropolis on her new album, Super Sunset. But there’s something casually sinister about her delivery on the song that bears the phrase as its title; perhaps it’s the cleverly subversive lyrics (“A city that lives while its bright stars die / You start to get old when you turn 25”) paired with the robotic monotony in her voice, or maybe it’s the way the song quickly contradicts its own humble beginnings as it ditches a sparkly, pageant-like intro for a wall of hip-hop bass backing the chorus. In all its juxtaposed glory, all the ends meet for a grotesquely glamorous portrait of the city of angels’ hellish mean streak.
“It’s not like I hate the city. It’s a contradiction between glamour and desperation, because they coexist [here],” the 33-year-old tells EW of the inspiration for the eight-track album, which she describes as a sonic, self-directed Hollywood movie culled from her dark experiences as a budding sensation told via dirty Vaporwave beats, shimmering synths, and heavenly melodies that coat her L.A. bruises with a slick of gloss. “When I got here I was completely charmed and mesmerized by L.A. I was like, why do people s—-talk this city? I liked it. It felt magical to me. It was about a year in when I had my first taste of people being shady, getting into bad contracts, and getting into a bit of a mess despite my best intentions…. And also the initial hype and buzz of what I was doing started to die down a bit.”
In other words, she began smelling the rot lurking under the caked makeup and porcelain veneers of an entertainment capital that conjures nightmares more than it fulfills dreams: “It snuck up underneath me over a couple of months to the point where I was almost ashamed to admit it, because I’d been telling everyone that I loved living there so much,” she remembers. “I found myself looking out from my apartment at, like, two palm trees that started looking kind of demonic, and also waking up and opening my inbox and crying uncontrollably every morning.”
Thus, with the help of three alter-egos, she embarked on a journey of “negotiating” her relationship with L.A., which included taking the city — and her own vices of emotional masochism, toxic relationships, and feeling “sacrificial” as an artist — to task in a bold, “therapeutic” way few artists have before: setting the Hollywood sign ablaze with devilish delight, smirking as she watches the sun set behind her fantastical L.A. hellscape.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Miss Allie, you’ve made my favorite pop album of 2018. Fans are getting a little feisty on Twitter though, like that one who called you out for releasing one Super Sunset single per month over the summer.
ALLIE X: They’re saying they’ve heard most of it already. That’s true; there’s only one song people won’t have heard [when it drops]. But we also have, like, the intro and the interlude? [Laughs]
It was a smart rollout!
Did you see my clapback? I said, “Sorry for trying to give my beloved fans a six-month experience. Please forgive me!”
How dare you!
When you release a body of work, once the songs have been released on an album it’s hard to feature them as singles, which I learned with CollXtion II. Also, I feel like this is a body of work where there wasn’t one clear single. They’re all on equal ground and I wanted each one to have its moment.
Is it true you got the idea for “Not So Bad in L.A.” on laundry day?
Yeah, it was my first day back in L.A. after being gone for a few weeks…. a lot of the time I dread [returning]. It’s bad. I got back and…. went to run some errands. I was driving through Beverly on the way to drop off my dry cleaning, and I looked around and everything was so glamorous and perfect. It’s such a weird city. I sarcastically started singing, “It’s not so bad in L.A. / The parking’s cheap in valet.” Those words came out right away. It’s hard to put the sentiment of the song in one sentence. I’ve had journalists [thinking] I’m defending the city to the rest of the world, and that’s not accurate. It’s tongue-in-cheek, but it’s not like I hate the city. It’s a contradiction between glamour and desperation, because they coexist [here].
Was that the first inkling of the album concept?
I’d been writing without any concept in my head. These experiences in Los Angeles kept fueling the songs. When I drove to the dry cleaner that fateful day and the melody came into my head, I was like, okay, I think this album is about my last five years in L.A., because everything I wrote about kept coming out like that, and that song cemented it for me. After that, I wrote the whole thing pretty quickly.
How long did it take for you to start smelling the rot under the sheen?
When I got here I was completely charmed and mesmerized by L.A. I was like, why do people s—-talk this city? I liked it. It felt magical to me. It was about a year in when I had my first taste of people being shady, getting into bad contracts, and getting into a bit of a mess despite my best intentions…. And also the initial hype and buzz of what I was doing started to die down a bit. It snuck up underneath me over a couple of months to the point where I was almost ashamed to admit it, because I’d been telling everyone that I loved living there so much. I found myself looking out from my apartment at, like, two palm trees that started looking kind of demonic, and also waking up and opening my inbox and crying uncontrollably every morning. Something was wrong.
But you’re still living there?
Yeah! Writing this body of work has been therapeutic. I moved out of Hollywood, so that feels better…. I’ve learned to keep my head on straight and to keep a routine. I go on hikes, make sure I get in the ocean, and leave the city a lot. It can be alright. It’s not an element of hating L.A.; it’s negotiating my relationship with it.
How did you find your way into commenting on the city in a unique way?
I didn’t make it so much about the city, I made it about me and all the people I’ve become in the city. That’s represented by these different alter egos. The album has one larger story that’s a little less present…. which is I fell in love. There’s that glimmer of hope and magic.
That’s what “Focus” is about. It’s such a powerful choice to end the album that way, it’s like the clear-headed parting of the clouds when you find something real amid bulls—.
It amazes me that I was able to find something so genuine in a place where I have hundreds of acquaintances. I don’t know that I have more than one good friend who I trust, who I can call in tears. So to find a partner in the city was amazing, and it still blows my mind. Especially because I’ve never had many relationships. I’ve always been somewhat of a loner. When I came to L.A. I was like, the classic reality show line, “I’m not here to make friends!” [laughs] but “I’m not here to date!” I’m here to work and accomplish my career goals.
I’m in New York and it’s similar here, too.
I think it’s a lot harder, because people aren’t family-driven in New York or L.A. or whatever big cities fit in that category. Everyone’s following their dreams….. That’s what comes first, [so] you can meet a lot of good-looking and charismatic people in these cities, but at the end of the day what is it that they’re after when everybody’s after something that isn’t truly connecting with another person?
I know you’re so into drag, and the alter-egos in that movie are so drag-y.
I didn’t have any specific drag queens I referenced but drag as a whole was very influential to me on this aesthetic. Drag does a great job of exaggerating and accentuating culture, qualities, people, and moods, so to get those alter egos across in an exaggerated, Hollywood way to me, I thought drag makeup and wigs would be appropriate.
There’s The Nun; she’s like me arriving in L.A. totally naïve. She represents the spirituality, rawness, and authenticity of being an artist, kind of why we start to make art in the first place at the beginning. Then there’s The Hollywood Starlet, who’s the opposite. She’s what Hollywood does to The Nun. She feels like she has to be blonde and has to stick her t— out and paint her face like a stereotypical, plastic Hollywood person. She’s always smiling and delusional about how gorgeous she is, even though she looks kind of grotesque. The third one is Sci-Fi Girl. She represents the Allie X persona and all the sides of me I choose to show the world.
Like the Starlet, this album’s lyrics are grotesquely glamorous. They’re about objectification, body horror, dysmorphia, and how the city and the entertainment industry put a big slick of gloss over the rot. But I also picked up on a playful sense of comfort in those dark spaces for you.
You’re reading into something that’s complex within me, and recently I’m trying to move away from this mentality of being drawn to feeling sacrificial with my mind and my body. Knowing I’m a part of something that’s devoid of compassion and connection and embracing it, that’s what I’m doing in “Girl of the Year” when I sing “I knew what I was getting into as soon as we met.” I’m drawn to it but I’m not proud of it, and I’m consciously trying to move away from thinking that way for the sake of my happiness.
Those dark spaces balance with bright pop production here, and you worked with a lot of new producers. What was that process like?
This album was crazy in terms of how many producers were involved. I looked for the sound for a couple of months, and I kept passing stuff around and eventually found the sound with these two Canadian producers, xSDTRK and Pierre Luc. We got into using the M1, an old, classically cheesy synthesizer from the ‘80s and ‘90s. We played around with those sounds. I wanted to have an analog warmth on this record by dirtying up the production.
“Science” definitely takes me there.
That’s one of my favorites. With this record and “Science” in particular, I went back to layering the s— out of instruments. On CollXtion II I proudly announced that I was more into minimalism [laughs]. But then on this record I layered the s— out of it again.
Before we end, I have to engage with Stan culture: I saw a photo of you and Charli XCX recently and all the fans are saying “collab, moms!” What’s cooking?
[Laughs] Nothing that I can announce!