Wouldn’t The Wizard of Oz be more exciting if Dorothy decided not to go home? Kat Cunning is sure of it. “She’s seen a world of colour, had adventures and found strange characters that accept her,” the Broadway star, actress and singer-songwriter (casual) argues animatedly. “And then she’s supposed to be like, I’ll never do it again! I’m like, ‘What?’”
Having trained as a ballerina, Cunning’s pop-soul music takes inspiration from the fairytale plots of classical ballets and age-old love stories, but reimagines them from more provocative perspectives. “There’s a reason amazing stories have stuck around: they resonate with us,” she asserts, “I find it really exciting to modernise them and put my weird characters into them, because they haven’t been told in that way yet.”
Dorothy’s alternative, extended adventure in Oz — the concept for her track “Wild Poppies” — reflects Cunning’s own experience of finding friendships, and herself, when she moved to NYC. “A lot of my songs involve an awakening, usually to a community or a feeling of high and acceptance,” she explains, referring both to its lyrics and ethereal sound progression. “Often it’s about my own coming of age and finding who I am, which runs parallel with coming to New York and finding a community of beautiful freaks who are making it work whether they have money or not.”
Identifying as queer, she uses her platform to champion the LGBTQ+ community, her passion for which is palpable through the phone. “I believe in the personal as political,” Cunning tells me fervently: “I tell stories from my heart, the very raw, true details of what I experience. I’m hoping that I can represent the queer community, body positivity and sex positivity by telling those stories sincerely.”
Her sultry, celebratory anthems epitomise what she stands for as an artist: inclusivity, individuality and connection. In a digital age dominated by throwaway tunes, it’s music with a message and the singer’s not shy about causing a stir. “I really do want to collaborate with the huge pop stars,” she concludes frankly. “I want to play in that game, to share a stage with Beyoncé, I’m not going to lie!” Cunning’s a whirlwind of intense energy, and with a US tour this autumn and a debut EP set for release around the turn of the year, she’s not planning on coming back from over her personal rainbow any time soon.
Taken from the Autumn 2018 issue; out now and available to buy here.