Earlier this summer, singer Katy Perry turned heads when she live-streamed a real life therapy session with Dr. Siri Singh as part of her Witness Worldwide YouTube project. While the stunt garnered varying reactions from her critics, a common theme that came up in her conversation with the therapist was the notion of the “authentic self.” Apparently, the popstar has been having some personal conflicts regarding the lack of cohesion between her public persona and her private, true self. According to her own statement, this is what’s prompted the dramatic shift in her appearance – the drastic haircut in particular, which has been ridiculed all over the internet by both her haters and fans alike. In an industry that offers such a narrow vision of what the ideal pop singer supposedly looks like, that reaction is not at all surprising. But if an artist as wildly successful as Katy Perry gets ostracized simply for cutting her hair short, how are the rest of us supposed to go about being our “authentic selves” before we’ve even got our foot in the door? The question leads me all the way to Chicago, where we find the up-and-coming, fiercely independent Kay Soul.
In every sense of the word, she’s the ideal woman – strong, confident, and consistently focused on her career. A single mom and a law school graduate–with her own practice for over 12 years, Kay is living proof that hard work and dedication most certainly pay off. From an early age those values were instilled by her grandmother, who always insisted on getting an education. “My grandmother put the fear of God in me. So, going against her wasn’t necessarily something that was a common thing that I would do. I was smart in school. I always excelled academically. I played in band, I sang in choir. I actually had gotten a scholarship to go to Howard for music, but [she] said no… I had gotten an academic scholarship [and I ended up going] that path.”
But in 2012, after the tragic death of a close friend, Kay was beginning to second-guess some of her career decisions. “I was actually dating this guy – kind of a new situation [but we] were really into each other – and he got hit by a taxi and he went into a coma. He was in that coma for 2 years until his family decided to pull him off life support. That was pretty devastating. It was kind of like one of those moments where…it was just like that lightbulb that kind of goes off and you have that epiphany like ‘What the hell am I doing with my life?’ I’ll never forget the day [I told my cousin], ‘I’m going to stop being a lawyer and I’m going to pursue my music’.” And it was the very next day that she started hitting the pavement – creating Facebook profiles, uploading some music she’d recorded, and hustling connections.
It wasn’t long before Kay Soul would gain some traction on the local circuit and would discover the limitations of being a full-figured woman in the business. “Always on the inside I questioned if I had the look, if I had the sound, if I had the body. I remember when Diddy came out with ‘Making the Band’; there was a girl on there and she would not be considered plus size… and he was telling her she needed to lose weight, and I remember watching that ‘cause I used to love Diddy and I’m like ‘Man, I shouldn’t even try.’ Here I am, this girl with all these hips and this booty and this belly…I didn’t even know if there would be cute enough clothes for me to look like a superstar on stage.”
That kind of skepticism had roots in her past, when she had the opportunity to audition in front of Universal Records in 2007 with a group. “[The producer] asked me not to audition, even though I had been the most consistent in the studio working on songs…It wasn’t until later that I found out they brought in another girl. She was thinner. She had short hair. And they were like ‘Kay, you’re going to write for her’.” A similar experience happened last year, when a Los Angeles based talent agency chose not to represent her after they met with her in person, citing her “kind of look” as something they already had in their repertoire. But the thing that stands out the most about Kay is her persistence. Despite the alternative careers, personal losses, unexpected life changes or rejections, she’s remained relatively unshaken – still very certain of who she is, and steadfast in her musical pursuit. “I think just being diligent…trying to do something every day even if it’s just updating my website, you know finishing a hook I might have been working on… every day I’m trying to do something with my career.”
On her forthcoming album Hiding In Plain Sight, aptly dubbed H.I.P.S., Kay’s unwavering commitment to self-love is evident on the single “As I Am.” The track is fiercely unapologetic – with bold, envelope-pushing lyrics sung proudly over inspirational piano chords. “Just as I am! Just as I am!” she proclaims. “Your opinion of me, don’t mean shit to me. It won’t consume my mind. Just as I am! Don’t try to change me, twist and rearrange me” she insists, but in a way that feels hopeful – never rude or overbearing. And as she’s currently at work on the finishing touches, Kay’s excitement to share the record with the world, and more importantly, share its message of positivity is evident. “It’s like we have been trained… it’s like a conditioning to ‘No, don’t love yourself. The way you are isn’t good enough, let me show you all of these wonderful things out here that’ll have you looking like this standard’ and the question is, who the hell came up with this standard? Who said that Kim Kardashian or Beyoncé–and I love Beyoncé–that they were the standard? The only standard? Are they beautiful? Yes. But are they the only standard of beauty? Absolutely not… that’s insane to me… get out of here with that!”
As we talk over FaceTime on a Saturday morning, I get the sense that unlike many independent artists trying to make their way in the business, Kay Soul is a woman that’s never let anyone compromise her integrity, not once. She’s never sold out. And if anything ever seemed like it wasn’t on the level, she was gone. It’s a rare find in the music industry to see someone do that, and be comfortable doing that – being true to her “authentic self”. It’s a feat that apparently not even Katy Perry has quite mastered. When I ask her about choosing the name Kay Soul, and how she came around to inventing that persona, I’m in love with her answer. “I have always been Kay Soul. I believe that I’ve always been [her]. I just embraced her, and allowed her to be who she was.”
Visit Kay’s Official Site:
“Behind the Mic” with Kay Soul on YouTube: