singer-rapper subverting expectations with her uncompromising creative vision.
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Taken from the Summer 2019 issue of Wonderland. Order your copy of the issue now.
A few days before we met up, Tommy Genesis re-tweeted a statement that sums up her music better than any intricate review could: “The tea is, anyone who listens to Tommy Genesis is automatically a bad bitch…”
The “bad bitch” record in question is the Canadian singer and rapper’s debut self-titled album, which dropped in November last year. Its 12 tracks are clipped short to melt into each other in succession, taking unexpected turns in style and tempo to map out an intoxicating, completely unique listening experience. Genesis moves seamlessly between self-bolstering rap verses and vocals throughout, wrapping her lyrics around ethereal sounds and fire-alarm synths, textured percussion and seductive beats.
“I really love the tweets I get about it. I want them to feel powerful,” she smiles, when I highlight the many online mentions and messages she receives in a similar vein. “I feel like all my songs are power moves.”
And if Genesis had it her way, we’d let her wield that power without demanding she constantly explain herself too. In a time when sharing the highly personal has become an Instagram-fuelled currency for artists to appear more relatable, she’s remained insistently elusive – choosing not to disclose any details of her upbringing, age or personal life. But though she’s been openly skeptical about interviews in the past, our afternoon together feels instantly more intimate than her apprehension of them might have foretold; Genesis(whose birth name is Genesis Yasmine Mohanraj) might be cautious, but only of generating empty soundbites or giving away too much.
“It feels a little bit like I’m always sharing when I don’t want to. Honestly, if I could choose, I would have my music out and no-one would know it was me,” she concedes, explaining: “my personality is actually very introverted, I can work and I don’t mind being social, but it takes a lot out of me to give any part of me to anyone. I feel like I put so much of me into my songs and my lyrics.”
Indeed, from its track list to cover art and videos, Tommy Genesis was self- written, co-art directed and meticulously curated by her – elements that are sometimes overlooked with a focus on its overtly, unashamedly sexual themes.
“Even the video for ‘Tommy’ I directed and edited myself. I literally did everything apart from making the beat,” she emphasises. “People will just look at the video and see, ‘oh, she’s naked in a bath tub’, and they stop there. Sure, I’m naked in a bath tub, but no-one made me! No- one’s telling me to take my clothes off. Nobody went through footage of me, I did that myself. So really, it’s about power. It’s the fact that I fucking did it.”
Such a reductive take on the album also bypasses the range of artistic influences she weaves into her music. The visuals for “100 Bad”, for example, are inspired by the video for Kelis’ 2006 hit “Bossy” — replacing a bed of sweets for one of hot pink tampons — as well as referencing a performance piece by artist Tracey Emin, “where she’s sitting and pulling money into her crotch”.
“It’s just beautiful to me; it’s so visceral,” Genesis shrugs. “It’s just like: pussy is power, pussy is money. What’s so funny is that this was years ago, I want to say the late 80s? It’s crazy how certain things still shock people.”
She’s stripped things back for her most recent release, “I’m Yours”, which was written as a “cute love song” her little sister could listen to and released as a surprise treat on Valentine’s Day. More pop-led than her earlier discography, the track provoked some backlash from a few of her OG fans accusing her of selling out to appease a wider mainstream audience. “Just because you’ve heard 12 songs of mine doesn’t mean that there aren’t 20 others that are so different,” she reasons on the matter, pointing out that, ironically, “I’m Yours” was actually written and recorded around two years ago.
Regardless, pandering and people- pleasing has never been her style. “Sometimes I’ll put shit out knowing that it’s not who I’m expected to be, but I’ve done that almost subversively as a rebellion,” she adds nonchalantly. “I’ll do it ‘cause I know it’s not what you expect.”
And though she’s about to kick off a tour of Europe and North America when we speak, Genesis assures me more music is always in the works – it’ll be darker, she says, “raw, lyrical”, to reflect her mood. But don’t hold her to it just yet.
Hair Asahi Sano using Bumble and Bumble
Makeup James O’Riley at Premier Hair & Make-Up using Fenty Beauty
Production Federica Barletta