Stumbling into the British psyche in a one-shot, school-assembly-style dance routine, Kiesza, has the dubious accolade of being better known as a dancing meme than as a vocalist. The video for her breakout track ‘Hideaway’, improbably shot in just one sequence, is four and a half minutes of flailing humanity wrapped up in acid-washed jeans, capped with red sneakers and topped with a wild red barnet that manages to be almost as expressive as the human underneath.
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It has all the ingredients. Groups of confused onlookers standing awkwardly in the background, hip-rolling dungaree-clad men leaping out of shadowed doorways, moments of almost incalculable peril but, despite all these obvious pluses, it raises an almost impossible list of questions. ‘Why?’ being the foremost. It was shot without cuts, which is impressive, but beyond the satisfying lack of fakery there doesn’t seem to be any clear conceptual reason for this decision.
“I just thought it’d be fun,” Kiesza laughs. “A challenge, I dunno. I had no idea any of it was going to blow up, so I was just doing something I thought was going to be fun to do.”
It’s strange, and strangely endearing, and left the Canada-born singer immobile for a month.
“I had injured my rib before shooting the video,” she confides, “and by the time the video shoot was done I had a broken rib. So I’m not sure if I broke it before or kind of broke it slowly during the process.”
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I had never found a sound that I was certain about until ‘Hideaway’. I was just always exploring, finding new sounds, trying new things…
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This is something that seems implausible until you sit down and really watch the video. “Two days later I woke up and couldn’t move, and found out my rib was fractured. It was only a hairline fracture, but I couldn’t move for like month after that.”
The video, in all its mad excess, serves as a good metaphor for Kiesza’s life to date, which has been almost unbelievably atypical. In past incarnations Kiesza has been a contestant in the 2005 Miss Universe Canada pageant; a code-breaking specialist in the Canadian Navy; an acoustic singer-songwriter; recipient of impeccable Air BnB reviews (“easy-going, clean and respectful”); the author, and keytar-wielding performer, of an ode to unplanned pregnancy; the creator and perhaps sole proponent of her own brand of ‘SteamPop’ fashion goggles, a project which is still on the backburner; and the proud tenant of the UK number one slot.
Even now, with headline tours looming and the video for ‘Hideaway’ chugging steadily towards some remarkable YouTube figures, Kiesza hasn’t stopped dabbling.
“I have a lot of creative projects on the go. There’s the music, there’s the art – I paint, and do sort of surrealist artwork, oil painting and Photoshop artwork. That’s a separate project. And then there’s my fashion.”
She pauses as if to flick back through the list, looking for any pet projects that might have slipped the net, then adds, excitedly: “I’m also writing a piece of film opera. It’s all contemporary music… the whole thing is sung from start to finish.”
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‘What Is Love?’ (Haddaway cover)
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Kiesza, the Internet confidently informs, is a Capricorn, and Capricorns (according to Clash’s first and last visit to astrology.com) take things “one step at a time” and are “as realistic and pragmatic as possible”.
Despite this cache of old projects and half-baked ideas, Kiesza is insistent that there’s no desire to move on from what she’s doing now. “I had never found a sound that I was certain about until ‘Hideaway’,” she explains. “I was just always exploring, finding new sounds, trying new things, and wondering what else was out there. But as soon as I wrote ‘Hideaway’, I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do, and what I wanted to put out, as simple as that.”
There’s an album scheduled, tentatively, for release in October, on which she’s worked with long-time collaborator Rami Afuni, and, although its title is yet to be decided, the music is, for the most part, “completely finished”. “We’re going to work on one more song and have a little more recording to do,” the singer reveals and, although she can’t release many more details at this juncture, she emphasises that it’s very much a “soulful” collection.
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(The album is) not all dance music by any means; it’s fast and slow and then there’s piano ballads. It’s paying homage to that ’90s era, but combined with modern sounds…
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“I’d say that’s the common thread that ties everything together. It’s not all dance music by any means; it’s fast and slow and then there’s, like, piano ballads. It’s very much paying homage to that ’90s era, but combined with modern sounds. There’s breakbeats and some R&B-type songs. I really wanted to make a body of work that takes you on a musical journey like the classic albums did; when you press play you’re going to get a whole bunch of different sounds and different tempos. It’s not just about singles, it’s about the whole body of work.”
One of the songs set to feature on her upcoming album, ‘Giant In My Heart’. Although it is, as Kiesza points out, very different in both style and content to the ‘Hideaway’ clip, a short film as opposed to a low-budget romp, the curse that haunts Kiesza’s film exploits hasn’t lifted.
“One of the main characters in the video never showed up for the shoot,” she explains, drama piled thick on her typically sweet Canadian tone. “So I had to get one of my friends to take his place.” She pauses. “There’s some drag queens in the video, and the character who didn’t show up was a drag queen, so my friend, who’s actually like a well-known writer, stepped up.” Another dramatic pause. “And dressed up in drag!” She bursts into laughter. “He’s completely straight, and just the best sport ever.”
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Having so many people around the world waiting to hear more is really an amazing feeling. It just makes me want to do the best work I can do…
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Kiesza seems genuinely bemused that the massive success of ‘Hideaway’, which has become a cultural event as much as a single, might be considered intimidating.
“‘Hideaway’ is not even my favourite song on the album,” she laughs. “I have so much more music that I’m excited to release. I’m not daunted about it at all; it’s opened the door for me to release more music, and that’s the most important part. Having so many people around the world waiting to hear more is really an amazing feeling. It just makes me want to do the best work I can do.”
While ‘Hideaway’’s huge gravitational field might have been enough to crush a lesser artist, it’s all positives for Kiesza, who’s taking things as they come and refusing to get bogged down in her own success.
“It’s all just a new experience,” she continues, her excitement clear, “being able to go around the world, and play my music, and have people show up. It’s just an amazing thing.”
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‘Giant In My Heart’
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Words: Rob Knaggs
Photos: Samuel Bradley
Fashion: Justin Hamilton
This feature is taken from issue 97 of Clash magazine, within which you'll find full fashion credits