Emerging through the quagmire of 2020 came Ashnikko. Swaggering into everyone's lives with her vehemently playful feminist agenda, and unabashed way of dealing with, well, everything. Her success in the darkest of days, of course, means the London based US singer-songwriter is the name on the tip of everybody's tongue.
When Dork gets on the phone with Ashnikko, she's back in her homestead of North Carolina. "Hold on one second. Sorry, my brother's jumping on a trampoline behind me." It's been a gruelling day of scribblers asking her questions since 2020 has been the year of Ashnikko after all. Far from the poised personality that flits between playful and demonic on the radio, today's voice is rather exhausted, but such is the life of a pop star.
Getting ready for the year ahead, with her debut project/mixtape/what-have-you now pushed back to 2021, that certifiably makes 'Demidevil' perfect for our Hype List. How does Ashnikko go about preparing to carry such weighty commendation from yours truly (ahem), and for the year ahead?
"I've realised that I'm fully capable and confident in my abilities to deal with the obstacles the life is thrown at me and the opportunities that I have," she says. "But I'm not sticking to a very solid rigid plan for my career, and kind of just taking things as they come. Right now, we're in the middle of a global pandemic like nobody could have really prepared for this."
Ashnikko is undoubtedly one of the year's most iconic breakout stars. Her striking blue hair, and intricately designed get-ups that cross between an anime villain and something a bit hellish - all this is for good reason. Her influence strings from "cartoons and comic books, and fantasy novels" including the Sandman graphic novels, and Midnight Gospel on Netflix. "My brain can't think about it too hard, or it loses its artistic edge - it's an amalgamation of all the different things I've consumed in my little head."
Of any plans to evolve Ashnikko as an entity as she progresses through her braggadocious dark and twisted world, she says: "I have a pretty clear vision of how I want to look and sound and be perceived, but how we go about that is all up in the air, who knows."
Perception is key in the world of pop. People need to know just what you're about, and that rains down from the lyrics you sing to the clothes you wear, so Ashnikko's is her taking the podium growling and snapping at the time wasters she's had to put up with; refusing to conform to anything, and instead, shaping herself into something untouchable - an icon for the disillusioned who just want to be invincible.
So just where does that ability to 'not give a fuck' come from?
"It certainly comes with age and maturity - and some days I really do give a fuck," she rebuts. "And so, it's just like a character that I [use to] put out my music, but sometimes I actually am that person. But don't believe everything you see on Instagram."
Do you mean yours?
"Yeah, it's a carefully curated highlights reel of my life, and my music is. I put my best foot forward, but that's not the real reality of humanity and the human experience."
"Making this project was super therapeutic and cathartic for me," she says of 'Demidevil' and getting her chance to process that human experience. "I got to be [a form of] vulnerable that's really angry. I got to feel powerful and confident, and feel a little sad. So definitely making a body of work is super cathartic.
"I write songs - those are my pep talks to myself. I write my songs for myself first and foremost, they definitely come from a place of needing to hear that in the moment so instead of waiting for someone to pep talk to me - I pep talk myself."
Now that 'Demidevil' is all locked up, ready for the cage to be opened on February 19, has it captured the Ashnikko you'd hoped it would?
"I feel like I'm - as everyone else is - a very multi-faceted human being that cannot be summarised in one project. I would like to put out multiple projects that evolve with my character, but yeah I'm super proud of this project, and I'm really happy with these songs. I can't wait for them to come out."
Surprisingly, hidden amongst the songs of power and empowerment, and an adapted cover of 'SK8R BOI' ('L8R BOI') featuring such scathing lines as ("she's not a therapist, don't wanna take care of him, she's an independent girl") and the frankly hypnotic 'Clitoris! The Musical', comes a couple of moments that remind you that behind Ashnikko certainly comes a real person.
"I do find it quite hard to be vulnerable in my music," she admits. "But it's definitely an avenue that I'm exploring. I'm extremely open and honest human being, and I do feel comfortable there, but I think finding the right words to express myself can be kind of difficult."
When the right words hit, according to Ashnikko "you just feel it," and when 'Demidevil' is full to the brim of sniping remarks but still offers moments of introspection, it's hard to disagree. It's a mixtape that offers powerful empowerment without forgetting humanity.
This is part of the reason why Ashnikko's seen such success, with the streams racking up into the millions, people are latching onto that feeling of strength and independence. The world is still turning even while it's on pause, so a voice like Ashnikko's is perfect to cut through the silence and provide that sanctity.
"I'm really touched that people can listen to my music and gain some sense of confidence," she reflects. "That's something that I was in search of with artists when I was younger so I'm super grateful and honoured that I can be that for other people, and kind of pass the torch."
2021 is truly looking like they hypiest of hype years for a variety of reasons. The sun's looking a bit brighter, we might actually get to go to real gigs again (!!) and even from within the brightly coloured crooked cave dwelling that Asknikko lurks about, with 2020 being a year of personal and professional growth while the world falls and apart and gets back up again, she's ready to take no prisoners and firmly dominate 2021.
"I've had fun being outside in nature and kind of reevaluating what it is that I want from life," she ruminates. "And I love my music, and my music career but I also love being happy and not mentally ill. Just readdressing my priorities is has been a good moment for me. Also, the success of my music. When I was in a really - when everyone - was in a really low place has been quite uncertain, that has been quite surprising. I'm just super, super grateful!"
Taken from the December 2020 / January 2021 issue of Dork, out now.
Featuring YUNGBLUD, Baby Queen, BENEE, Joe Keery and loads more.