Aja is making room for themselves in the music industry whether you like it or not. The queer artist who released their first EP, “In My Feelings,” in May 2018 is not slowing down anytime soon.
Today they’ve released their fourth music video — a joint venture for the songs “I’m Kawaii” and “Ayo Sis.” We were lucky enough to chat with Aja about the music video, using drag as a medium, and their upcoming album.
Was there a specific reason that you wanted to pair these two songs for a video?
When I had made the EP, at first I was kind of neutral about all the songs. And obviously as I released it, I started to like certain songs more and I started to like certain songs less. I felt like both of those tracks on the EP were the more hyper-feminine tracks and that’s what I wanted, but I also really hated the chorus of “I’m Kawaii” so much.
So, I kind of came up with the idea that it’d be funny to kind of double up and make the video have sort of a beginning sequence where it’s doing the first song, “I’m Kawaii,” but it’s kind of like a weird wet dream gone wrong. And then it’s like waking up from a nightmare, where you’re like, what the hell just happened? That was terrible. And then it kind of goes on to the next song. “Ayo Sis” is sort of like a feminist anthem that pays homage to feminine energies. Icons and stuff like that.
So, was the nightmare part of it supposed to be your own reaction to the song that you didn’t like?
Well, yeah. The negative reaction is really, yeah. It’s basically, a joke is that the chorus is about to start and then the second it starts [it changes].
Was the idea to go from more a kiddish aesthetic to a more a regular rap aesthetic?
The transition is me showing that I can — cause this my fourth music video. I’ve done a lot of very highly produced, big budget music videos that have a lot going on and a lot of costuming. And I feel like the “Ayo Sis” part was very toned down and a little more realistic, and a little more like a regular rap aesthetic in comparison to not just the beginning of the video, but to my other videos.
So this video is really different, and I think it’s important to keep showing different sides. I was really inspired also by two people. One being Missy Elliott, because I remember in the beginning of the 2000s she would come out with these videos. And I remember being like, half one song half another song.
But the other artist being Jennifer Lopez. I remember when Jennifer Lopez was making all these videos, getting out seven or eight music videos a year. And every single one of her music videos was completely different. It’s fresh, and it keeps people thinking, what are you gonna do next?
I wanted to talk a bit about the two bedroom scenes in the video. What were you trying to get across?
Okay, so there was an underlying message there with all the bedroom scenes. To the normal eye, it looks like two man-woman relationships that are completely heteronormative, like normal bullshit. But what I’m trying to prove to people there is, I’m trying to normalize queer relationships.
I feel like sort of pushing the narrative of feminine being powerful. I’m also pushing that there’s nothing wrong with a straight man who wants to be with a trans woman. That’s not weird at all. Or for someone who is hyper feminine to be with a trans man.
I remember when we talked a few months ago, you talked about wanting to do more “boy looks” [in your music videos]. “I Don’t Wanna Brag” had more and there was also a lot in this one. Did you want to intentionally keep adding more boy looks to this? And does it feel different to have your fans see you in this way?
Well, I never really planned it. It just kind of happened. For me, I never really think about the gender presentation, it’s just whatever gets put into the artistic direction. It really just depends on the narrative and the points of view we’re going for and the storyline of each video. And every single one of my videos has a very important message, and a storyline behind it. It’s more than just visuals.
For me, in terms of my art form, [drag is] more of a medium and expression. Because my art form is music. Either way, you’re getting the same person, same character, same everything. Sometimes it’s just wearing something different.
Right. So it feels almost like a tool that you can access to express yourself in a certain way. Basically what you’re wearing doesn’t change who you are.
It doesn’t. For me, I feel like staying in drag would kind of limit me as an artist because, drag is not an art form. I just had lunch with Aurora Sexton, who is this gorgeous trans queen. Amazing drag artist who comes from the continental pageant system. I was telling them, I love drag art, and I love drag artists, but there’s a reason why I don’t say ‘oh I’m a drag artist.’
I don’t describe myself as a drag artist because I don’t want to take away from someone who is doing drag as their art form. And there’s, you know, when you hear about Drag Race you hear about drag as an art. But you don’t really hear about the difference, that some people are doing drag as a medium for their comedy. Or their acting. Or their music. And some people are doing drag because it’s their art form.
For example, in season 5, there was that big dilemma between Roxxxy Andrews and Jinkx Monsoon. A lot of people shaded Roxxxy and they pretended like she was a bitch. I don’t think she was a bitch at all. I think she was defending the fact that she was a serious drag artist, and I think she had every right to. But I think Jinkx was not invalid either.
I think the only thing that was happening was that the conversation was never brought up; Jinkx is an actress and comedian who used drag as a medium. And Roxxxy was a drag artist. And I feel like it’s important to draw a differentiation between the two. We’re all doing drag, but it’s not for the same purpose.
How do you feel about people focusing on your gender presentation in your music? Do you wish people would just get over it and let you do your thing, or is it a conversation that you like engaging with?
The only thing that really pisses me off is when people don’t see me as an artist, or they don’t see me as a musician. “You are a drag queen, who was on RuPaul’s Drag Race. That’s what you’re known for, and that’s what you’ll always be known for. You jumped off of a box. Is she gonna jump from there? You look like Linda Evangelista.”
I hate that so much. It puts you in a box. When people do that to me, I snap back. People are like “Is she gonna jump from there?” No. “Are you gonna keep jumping off of boxes?” No, that’s not what I do. I am a musician. I don’t jump off of boxes. I don’t backflip for fucking coins. That’s not my gig.
Do you think Drag Race has kind of been bittersweet almost because obviously it helped you gain a bigger fan base, but now it’s kind of been limiting?
I feel like Drag Race is sort of a double edged sword because it’s amazing in the sense that it has opened up a career for a lot of people and it’s given people a platform. But, I think that also, a lot of the appeal is comedy, and not every drag queen wants to be a comic, and not everyone wants to look like a clown. The show kind of teaches people that if you’re not funny while you’re acting, you’re a bad actor or celebrity impersonation needs to be funny. There’s a lot of people that have been impersonating celebrities for years, doing it seriously and they do it amazingly, and it’s not funny. It’s just a good illusion.
When Sasha Velour went on Drag Race, people were looking at her like, “Oh, she takes herself too seriously.” And I was just like “well, yeah, she’s an artist, and if you really are doing your art, you take your art seriously, what is the problem with that?” Not everyone is in on the joke. Not everything has to be funny.
What’s going on with your music now? Where’s your album? When’s it coming out?
My album is scheduled to come out early 2019. I am working on it as we speak. We have some cute features from some of my favorite artists. I have reached out to everyone I know, you know most of my teachers are outside of the drag world, I’m trying to give light to other artists, like artists of color. Queer artists.
Like people who I’ve listened to for years, so it’s just like I’m really excited to share a different side to the world. I think “In My Feelings” was like a cute moment, but honestly like after working on stuff for my album now I just like cringe. It’s sort of like when you paint a picture and then you paint another picture, and you look at the picture you painted before. You’re like, “Mm. It was cute, though.”
What do you think’s changed between “In My Feelings” and what you’re doing now?
Well I completely 100% have avoided the mentioning of anything drag or Drag Race related. Like my music is really coming from just like me as an artist, coming from me talking shit. Rap is about talking shit, it’s about throwing shots, and it’s about bragging. It’s about expressing your life and talking about your struggles, and your successes.
And I do a lot of that. In my album. And you know, a lot of people like, even from just the EP were like, “Oh, wow! Aja loves to brag! She loves to talk about how much money she makes.” And I’m like, “Well get over it bitch, ’cause I’m not done.”
Check out the music video for “I’m Kawaii / Ayo Sis” below. The video was directed by Assaad Yacoub and the songs were produced by DJ Accident Report and Wnnr (“I’m Kawaii”) and Mitch Ferrino (“Ayo Sis”).