At eighteen, singer Sky Ferreira holds all the markings of a modern household name pop star: she’s written for Britney, inspired an epic major label bidding war, cameoed on remixes for the Virgins and Justice, and of course, helped inaugurate of whole new era of CK One idolism with her vaguely scandalous ad campaigns for the ever sensual, youth-hungry brand.
Being able to pout as theatrically as Kate Moss has been an excellent way for Ferreira to entice new audiences, but she says she’s really here to shake up pop music. In March, Ferreira released As If, a tasty, critically-acclaimed EP that offers a glimpse at what a more adventurous Top 40 radio station could sound like with spiky electropop singles like “One” and “Sex Rules.” Rolling Stone caught up with Ferreira and discovered her personal and creative journey is destined to be outspoken.
To many, you’re the “CK One girl” as much as you’re a singer. How did that relationship begin?
Basically, I got a call from a casting agent for Steven Meisel. They took photos, asked me to sing. I sang “Happy Birthday.” I left, doubting anything would come of it. Then I got a callback, two weeks later. Next thing, I was meeting Calvin Klein. Then, before I knew it, I was literally shooting the commercial: ‘Get in this box, dance, take off your shirt, make out!’ There was a double-sided mirror, so you can’t see who’s shooting you — usually you can see 40 people staring at you. It’s a bit unnerving. They had me lipsynch to my song “Sex Rules” for the commercial, so that provided good exposure for me as a singer. From that experience onward, I’ve developed an ongoing relationship with the brand. It’s made a lot of different audiences, both in fashion and music, aware of my work.
Now there’s a new ad for CK Shock. It’s a bit…shocking?
It’s the new men’s and women’s fragrance. The tagline is: “When you don’t want to share.” [Laughs]. Yes, these new commercials are bit racier and in your face. There’s a lot of projections — it’s very ‘Enter The Void.’
Is the rebranding of the CK One franchise and beyond synchronized to time with the broader 90s revival right now?
Not on purpose. I think it was interesting timing, and maybe a coincidence. CK One is pretty 90s in general, so they’re allowed to ride this nostalgia wave if they feel like it. The energy of this campaign is quite different from those early commercials, though.
A little less nihilistic?
Yeah. The new CK One ads have a lot more people in it and I think it’s making a different point. It’s still black and white and sexualized, and people will compare anything this brand does to the 90s. But the Shock ads are pretty distinct. And in color! Sebastian is the background music, which is very un-90s. I think people really should focus on the moment. Stop trying to recreate the 90s; it won’t feel as good the second time around!
What is the scope of your own fashion tastes?
I really like Dominic Jones jewelry. I love Proenza Schouler. I tend to stay with the same labels. I usually just wear a t-shirt and skirt; with the weather here in New York, there’s not a lot you can do right now. In L.A. or London, I can wear a crop top with no issues. Here, not so much, which is weird to me.
You have a pretty specific visual for a young artist. Do you have any unusual style inspirations?
Kelly Bundy has always been one for me. She has amazing jackets and really good hair, too! She makes it a bit easier for me to have big hair. [Laughs] When I was in London, I was bummed I missed the first week of the ‘90s Are All That marathon on Teen Nick. I also love Debbie Harry’s and Michael Jackson’s style… and Bender’s from The Breakfast Club. I wear my boyfriend’s clothes a lot; I prefer menswear. That said, I have a weird attachment to my old school uniforms. I guess I think they’re cool because they remind me of The Craft or something.
Since you started a high-profile music career as a teenager, I’m assuming you also were quite musical as a child?
Yes. Well, I was painfully shy. No one would talk to me in school. I used to carry a little recorder around and sing into it; I’d go into the bathroom and record songs. Eventually, I realized everyone thought I was talking to myself! I’m not trying to paint myself as a misfit, but I began to wonder, “Why the fuck does no one like me?!” Then it hit me: they thought I was an actual psycho. I started skipping school, hanging out at Amoeba Records, seeing Kim Fowley everywhere – I became obsessed with the Runaways, before that whole movie thing. Then, I saw Daft Punk live in 10th grade, and it changed my life. I began to seriously pursue music, sending demos out. It was also that point that I started really going out at night — it was the only way to go and experience dance music.
You’ve released a handful of acclaimed singles and EPs. How is the full-length debut shaping up?
I’m going through a reinvention phase, where I’m trying to figure out where it is I want to go next. I’m not sixteen anymore, you know? I’m not sure I want to continue in the dance-pop vein that I’ve come to be associated with. The thing people may not know yet is that I have a really good voice; I can actually sing and I’d like to use that to my advantage. Everyone’s vocals are so processed now. So, showcasing what is unique about my voice and my songwriting is a priority. I have a lot more things to say now.
What sound are you aiming for on the album?
I’m working with Paul Epworth. I really want to work with Damon Albarn! That’s the direction I’m interested in exploring next — a more mature kind of pop. Not strictly singer-songwriter, but something that features vocal and guitar in a new way. I’m a massive Blur fan. I’ve always loved British pop – but Britpop; not the superpop of Girls Aloud and Sugababes. The problem is, I’m a bit all over the place. I love Britney, but I love Roy Orbison, I love Kurt Vile. I want to find a way to mix it all up. I think that’s a good thing, but people are so resistent to change. And because I’m young, of course, I’m not supposed to even complain about it.
What else frustrates you about the industry at the moment?
I think everything sounds more or less the same. I think artists are defined by a look or one hit single, and that albums are obsolete in mainstream pop. I think performers are media-trained into submission and are left with nothing interesting to say; everyone is afraid to speak their mind in case someone is offended. And I never put down other women, but I think it’s sad to see girls dumbing themselves down to fit a role – it’s not even a matter of executives forcing them to do it anymore, it’s totally self-directed. Fair enough, I sing about sex and I made out with a guy in my video because I felt like it. Of course, everyone decided I was precocious. But they might be interested to know that I’m far from that sexual in real life, which means I can address it lyrically with a sense of remove. I’m a prude! I have dirty thoughts, but do nothing about it.
What do you appreciate about making music in this era?
The internet. The fact you can put your music out there without anyone dictating to you how to do it. And you can discover any music you want, without limits. Charts-wise, women are totally dominating at the moment, which is good to see, no matter what.
Are you concerned that in such a transient era, your relatively slow-paced launch could be a handicap?
Yeah, I mean, I have people call me a flop all the time. The thing is, I do think the success on a mainstream level will come. It will just take a little longer than I expected. I’ve had setbacks beyond my control; one thing I’ve learned is to never let anyone hear your music before you’re ready or people will be recreating the same thing five minutes later! But I’m okay with a slow rise. I’m not looking for an instant hit; I want to make music that means something later on. There’s time to figure it all out. Hopefully, the people waiting will appreciate the result.