At the time, the collaboration between Lil Mariko and Full Tac (Katherine Mariko Zhang and Jared Soule, respectively) was just beginning. The two are dating and when Soule was working on a beat that summer, he suggested they build a track together. The resulting bop comes in just under two minutes and, to date, has racked up over 16 million views on YouTube alone.
Amazed—and honestly a little shocked—by the response, the couple decided to get serious. Hitting the studio again, they worked up a few more tracks, which dropped earlier this year in the form of Lil Mariko’s self-titled debut EP.
With highlights like “Hi, I’m a Slut” and “Shiny”—which each take sex positivity and gender equality to a whole new glistening, meme-ified level—the EP proves that while the humorous bite of Lil Mariko might’ve been what started opening the doors, her talent as a performer and knack for zeitgeist-y song craft explains her staying power.
Now, Lil Mariko is back with a new single on a new label—joining the roster for Four Loko’s new record label, Four Loko Records, on July 16, the 24-year-old, Texas-born artist dropped “Boring,” an anthemic rallying cry against a certain type of boredom caused by “all the fucking horrible, boring people who I’ve ever interacted with,” as she explained..
Catchy, empowering and with a funny video to boot, “Boring” is emblematic of Lil Mariko and her vision. Last week, she hopped on a Zoom call with American Songwriter to talk about the journey to her breakout hit, “Where’s My Juul??” and the creative exploration she’s been undertaking since then. Humble and down to Earth, Lil Mariko was balanced and candid throughout the conversation, revealing a striking sense of humanity. While her irony-rich music doesn’t quite behold the same level of sincerity, it becomes clear that the two qualities walk hand in hand. Read the conversation below:
American Songwriter: When did you first start playing music? What was your relationship with it like in those early days?
Lil Mariko: Basically, as soon as I could walk and talk, my parents were trying to get me to play piano. I even did the whole Suzuki method thing… but it was all kind of a bust because I quit. Then, I did violin for a little bit, but it wasn’t very long. After that, I never played an instrument again. So, I do have some roots in music, but I wasn’t really songwriting or composing at all. It was literally just, like, “Here are some notes—play them.”
AS: You got into metal music at a pretty young age, yeah? How did you come to find that music and what did it mean to you at the time?
Lil Mariko: Yeah, I was listening to, like, Lamb of God, Arch Enemy, Children of Bodom—they were the main ones. Also Cradle of Filth. I guess I started listening to metal around fifth grade with, like, Iron Maiden type shit, then I transitioned into that darker stuff.
I actually have an older brother who’s four years older than me—he introduced me to a lot of cool music, just because I’m his little sister. I wanted to listen to whatever he was listening to. Before I started paying attention to what he was listening to, I was listening to typical stuff, like Avril Lavigne, Hilary Duff, Britney Spears, Madonna, etc. That was my shit at first. Then, yeah, I guess my taste just started to expand.
AS: How did the Lil Mariko project come to be? When did you start working with Full Tac?
Lil Mariko: Working with Jared was definitely the first time I took a step in the direction of actually making any sort of music. We met in 2018 around the time I graduated from college. I was trying to find my way as an illustrator and I was doing a lot of side stuff, including some modeling. He DM’d me and was like “Hey, could you model some stuff for me?” From there, we started hanging out more and eventually started dating.
The music stuff started when I was just hanging out in the studio—I would watch him make his beats. In summer 2019, he was like, “Hey, let’s make a song, something real fucking stupid.” That’s how “Where’s My Juul??” came about. After we put that out, we were both shocked at how it was received, at how well it did. Especially, like… I had never really done any music stuff prior to that. From there, we were kinda like “Okay, this is fun—why don’t we try making some more cool stuff?”
AS: What was it like stepping into that role as a songwriter and performer? Your music isn’t exactly low-key either, it takes a lot of gusto to pull it off in the way you do… does it come naturally?
Lil Mariko: I mean… I’m not gonna lie, it still feels somewhat foreign to me, you know? Like, even hearing my own voice when we record… I’m like, “Jared, don’t look at me!” and I have him turn me down in the headphones. So, I don’t know, I still feel a little out of place. But, as we go along, I’m definitely finding my groove and getting more comfortable. It’s been really fun though and I’m having a great time. It’s a lot of fun to try out a bunch of genres and really just do the dumbest stuff I possibly could, you know?
AS: What does y’all’s process look like? Do you just get into the studio, have some fun and follow the ideas as they come?
Lil Mariko: Yeah, throughout my day, stupid ideas will pop up or I’ll see, like, something dumb on the internet, some really stupid meme—then I’ll be like, “Ah, I bet this could be a funny concept, let me write it down.” From there, I’ll tell Jared the concept and we’ll start building a beat around it. We’ll think of sounds that inspire us or that we think fit the idea. For example, with “Catboys,” I thought it’d be fucking hilarious to pair the idea with drill music. Like, catboys are not hard as fuck, like drill music is. So, we decided to combine the two.
From there, writing lyrics… I feel like I’m getting the hang of it. But when it comes to the melodies and stuff, Jared definitely helps me a lot. I’ll write really stupid lyrics and then we’ll start forming it to the beat he’s made. That’s our process. And then, we just listen to it and ask “Okay, now what’s missing?” That’s kinda how we make everything come together.
AS: You’ve collaborated with a lot of heavyweights in the hyperpop realm, like Dorian Electra and Rico Nasty—how did those collaborations come together? What did you learn from working with those artists?
Lil Mariko: Yeah, I’ve been really lucky to have some of these amazing artists like Dorian reach out to me and want to collab. I’m like, “Cool… really? Are you sure? Me? Like, okay…” The Dorian collaboration with Lil Texas and Mood Killer came around after Dorian just, like, texted me. They were like “Hey, I got this track—here’s the idea, let me tell you what I want.” We were like, “Okay cool, let’s lay some bullshit down.” With the Rico collab, Jared’s label made it happen. I’m very grateful for that because Rico is a legend. It was an honor to even be in the same space as her.
AS: On that note, a lot of your career has unfolded thanks to the internet and social media. Between meeting Jared through DMs, connecting with collaborators through DMs and sharing your output on such a big platform—what’s it like navigating that side of being an artist?
Lil Mariko: I mean, it’s super surreal. It’s so funny—you can never really predict what will do well and what won’t, you know? Social media is like… just a beast. You put so much time and effort into a thing, but even though it’s great doesn’t necessarily mean that the internet will take it and turn it into a viral thing. I feel that thus far, I’ve just been very, very lucky, because I don’t really understand what I’m doing exactly that makes these things happen. But, I’m like, “Great, cool.” I’m so psyched, but I’m also confused… it’s crazy. I was kinda just making music as a joke, but for some reason, people seem to thoroughly enjoy it, like, unironically. I’m like “Huh? Why? What’s going on?” But, yeah… I don’t know. The internet kinda scares me. Especially… I’m pretty reserved, so having any kind of attention on the internet… it’s jarring, you know?
AS: Something notable about your music is the empowering energy it takes on (albeit, often hand in hand with a humorous concept). Ideas like sex positivity and gender equality are brewing beneath the surface—is that something you think about when writing?
Lil Mariko: I feel like when I’m writing these songs, I’m not, like, writing them with the intent to be super sex positive or whatever. That’s not to say that I’m not thrilled it’s having that impact, but it’s just, like, I’m pulling a lot of lyrics from personal experiences. So, I guess it’s just trying to combat all the bullshit that any woman or queer person on the internet faces. Throughout my life, I’ve definitely experienced a lot of it. So yeah, I think it’s wonderful that the things I’m drawing from my personal experiences can have such a positive impact on a lot of people. I think that’s incredible.
And then, I’m, like, screaming on the tracks, so when I’m writing lyrics, I am like “Huh, what can I be angry about today? What’s fucking pissing me off?” Like, “Ah yes, I’m gonna scream about pegging men because fuck it, why not?” So, I’ll scream about stomping on a man’s balls. I guess… yeah, female rage is where I’m pulling a lot of that from.
AS: It’s cool that you’re able to package that rage into something that takes on a couple different angles. It can seriously express the toil while still being fun and catchy.
Lil Mariko: Yeah, especially if you’re making music about it… there’s a time and a place to be serious, but if you’re not light-hearted and joking about it, it can come off, like, really corny.
AS: What can you tell us about your new single, “Boring?” It’s your first release with the new Four Loko record label?
Lil Mariko: Yeah, I’m super honored Four Loko would even want to support me so early in my career. That’s wild. And I feel like Four Loko, in terms of any sort of beverage company, probably aligns with my aesthetic the best. It’s like, what kind of person drinks Four Loko? An absolute psycho. When you open a can of Four Loko, it just screams at you.
So, the song “Boring” came about when I was thinking about, like, all the fucking horrible, boring people who I’ve ever interacted with, especially the type of I guy that went to my high school. There’s this sort of Chad character with Vineyard Vine chubbies and loafers and, like, some Rolex. They’re like, “Let me tell you about my yacht for four hours and then talk about football.” I grew up in Texas, so that kind of guy just runs wild. I guess this song is just my rage towards how blindly unaware they are of the fact that they are boring. Whenever they talk to you, not only will they interrupt you, but you can tell that they’re thoroughly convinced that they’re, like, blowing your mind with something really fucking dumb. Then, as soon as you show just a speck of individuality, they’re like, “Woah, you’re weird, fuck you.” So, “Boring” is dealing with those kinds of people.
AS: How do you feel now? What’s next for you?
Lil Mariko: Right now, I want to predominantly focus on refining my sound and structuring my workflow. I’ve been living in Vermont—during the pandemic, I got fucking nothing done. Like, absolutely nothing. It was just weird. We moved to Vermont right when I started getting some traction with the music we were putting out. So, it was very strange… I was literally living in a log cabin on the lake.
So yeah, the next step is that I would love to work on having a more definite sound. I want to hone in on an aesthetic. Even though I’m having so much fun trying a bunch of different stuff out, I feel like it would be good to really solidify what I’m doing. I have my first live performance in October and I’m very nervous. In the meantime, I’m going to be working on music videos. I feel like visuals are super crucial for the project. With “Where’s My Juul??” the song wouldn’t have hit at all without the video, you know? I have a lot of wonderful, crazy plans for the next stuff that we’re going to put out.
Lil Mariko’s new single “Boring” is out now via Four Loko’s new record label—listen to it below: