There’s just something about Number One Popstar that you can’t forget. Perhaps it’s her braggadocious stage name, satirizing pop fame, or maybe it’s the way her voice glides across stretchy ‘80s synths. Kate Hollowell, the front-woman of punk band Slut Island, masterminds the perfectly irreverent fluff-piece called “Psycho,” a static-trimmed pop song about heartbreak and cutting toxic chords.
“I was witnessing some toxic dynamics within friends and their partnerships. I was seeing people turn into different versions of themselves,” Hollowell tells American Songwriter. “We’ve all been guilty of it. It’s really about when you realize that the friendship or relationship you’re in is actually bringing out the worst in you.”
“Psycho,” written with Sam Martin (from indie-pop band Youngblood Hawke), is Hollowell’s first building block, possibly leading to “a million dollar record deal with Universal records and Justin Timberlake on my next track,” she quips. The singer-songwriter laces such humor throughout her debut track (“but I wanted these lyrics to ride the line a bit more,” she adds) and roots it to the base of her entire aesthetic. The moniker “Number One Popstar” fully banks into her hyper-charged self-aware attitude.
“I wanted to think of a name that would bother most people to the point where they would not be able to forget it. I wanted to approach it with irreverence and lightness because coming from another band we would see these bigger acts take themselves so seriously and want to project this perfectly cool brand ─ and it was honestly boring. I just wanted to be number one and didn’t want to have to wait.”
Musically, Number One Popstar is as if Ariel Pink and Dua Lip had a love child, as she put it. “There is something really unsettling about Ariel Pink, and then, on the opposite spectrum, there is something really easy to digest about Dua Lipa,” she expounds, “so I felt like they were the perfect projects to blend together (and I hope that my project leads to their actual marriage).”
The visual for “Psycho,” self-directed, alongside director of photography Tom Banks, weaves through a non-descript suburb nestled in Antelope Valley. Hollowell rides a segue, pumping out a workout routine (think Jane Fonda), and the song’s innately dark mood ratchets even higher in such a chilling, sterilized setting.
“I would say this suburban location actually found me. I recall passing these bizarre, brand new housing developments in the middle of nowhere that seemed so surreal. It just stuck with me,” she says. “These places where every house and yard looks exactly the same, and they’re even driving the same cars. In the back of my mind, I was visualizing the neighborhood from Edward Sissorhands but more depressing and sun-bleached.”
Hollowell boasts quite an extensive resume. She’s a visual artist and photographer and has directed music videos for Katy Perry (“Small Talk,” “Champagne Problems”) and SASAMI (“Not the Time”). Throughout her career, spanning a decade in art direction and other media, she has learned most that artists can never be boxed into any one category. “I’ve done music videos for artists who aren’t confident on camera and then artists who nail it in one shot. Regardless of the visual concept, if you can’t commit to the performance, no one will genuinely tune in,” she says.
In combining various creative outlets, she’s found even her songwriting is largely reliant on visuals from the very beginning. “The visual for me even appears sometimes before the actual song. Visuals create such a unique feeling, and often I find myself catering the lyrics to what I see visually,” she says.
Whether it’s playing to a sold-out crowd or penetrating the camera’s sharp lens herself, there are few ultimate highs quite like performing. However, “there is something about directing and seeing it all come together from the other side that is incredibly gratifying, as well.”
Photo by Kate Hollowell