Sunday Culture: 

Your next obsession is a musical UFO who doesn’t care about perfection. Okay Kaya -real name Kaya Wilkins- grew up in Norway, learned music as a kid, played in bands with her brother, sang in gospel choirs before studying modern dance at high school. After being scouted to be a model, she decided to leave school and Norway. She moved at first to London, then to New York, where she’s been living for the last ten years.

—By Marie-Ève Venne

 OKAY-KAYA photographed by Tim Barber. 2015.

She quickly got bored with modeling, and ended up wandering to the Guitar Center on 14th street and bought a guitar. She started writing songs and threw the recordings up on SoundCloud. On the album named Both, you can find “Dance Like U,” a song which talks with disarming realness about the weight that falling in love carries. It is exactly the type of song you listen to on a loop while looking at sad quotes on Instagram, feeling like someone perfectly captured all your feelings in a 3 minutes loop.

For Kaya Wilkins, it is apparent that songwriting is therapy. On Both, you can also find lyrics about her mental health, traumas, and desires. Its moments of feeling lost in social and sexual scenarios were oddly relatable, whether earnestly asking a lover to come with her to get an IUD, or exploring her curiosity about BDSM via Matrix costumes.

On her second album, she takes you in an intimate journey of self-introspection, this time drawing on laconic folk with some disco beats. Her lyrics are, once more, largely autobiographical. She writes about being hospitalized for eight days in 2018 after spiraling into a depressive episode, an experience she shared on Instagram (caption: “Is this a balenciaga ad or am i just wearing scrubs?”). She contemplated keeping her diagnosis private, but on one of her last days at Bellevue’s psychiatric ward a hospital nurse snuck her a recreational guitar outside of art therapy class and urged her to unleash her shame. She wrote “Psych Ward,” a straight-forward ditty Wilkins modeled after a Ramones song: “You can peel an orange however you please / in the psych ward.” “The nurse told me, ‘If you can talk about it and you have some sort of platform, just normalize it,’” she recalls. “Because it’s kind of not that big of a deal. Once I opened up about it everyone was like Oh yeah, same.”

This is exactly the type of realness as an artist that reflects on her music. And makes it quite addictive.

You can listen to OKAY KAYA’S Spotify playlists here.


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Written on: August 23, 2020