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Ari Abdul: On life, music and art after virality

Ari Abdul found herself and her self-described ‘dark pop’ sound rocketed to stardom when her song ‘Babydoll’ exploded onto the online scene. Suddenly, the previously shy artist found that she had captured the attention of hundreds of thousands of infatuated listeners. Putting the ‘up’ into up-and-coming artist, Abdul already has over half a million followers and counting on TikTok.

Following the success of her first ever tour, as well as the much-anticipated release of the music video for her song ‘CCTV’, House of Solo joins Abdul to talk community, lessons learnt, and next steps.

You’re a born and raised New Yorker. How has that impacted your music?

I would definitely say it has influenced me to just go and be me, be my true self in all my music. I would also consider my genre [to be] dark pop, and there’s this kind of gloominess in New York [which] I feel has reflected in the music as well.

In the past, you’ve discussed how people frequently ask when you are moving to LA. If you could move anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

I actually just flew back from LA two days ago, or a day and a half. But, ooh, this is a great question! Because I also had the opportunity to go on tour and I went to Europe. I was in London and I really did like London, honestly. It would have to be between London and Berlin.

You were catapulted to success when Babydoll went viral. When most people think of what it means to be an ‘up-and-coming’ artist, I’m sure that doesn’t often mean somebody with just under 6 million monthly listeners on Spotify. Do you ever feel a pressure on yourself and your artistry, having come in with such a bang?

Honestly, I feel like I used to, especially because ‘Babydoll’ was my first song ever. It originally started as this crazy, happy accident, because I went in with no expectations. My closest friend at the time, who had produced a song, [suggested] ‘Let’s make a song for fun!’. I was super nervous about it because I’d never sing before then. So I was like, you know, ‘No one’s gonna listen to this. Let’s just make it.’ And it happened to be ‘Babydoll’. For a long time, I had this anxiety about never beating it or just having that one song but over time, I’ve truly [fallen] in love with just making music. It’s become such a passion where now I love the songs so much and they mean so much to me that I just keep going on and making [them].

The music video for ‘BURY YOU’ came out just over a month ago. It’s super spooky, and with the knowledge of your sudden hypervisibility via TikTok, as well as your initial hesitation with sharing your voice and music at all, one can’t help but associate that with the heavy presence of surveillance and screens. What was the thinking behind that?

Oh my goodness. Yes, absolutely. I wanted there to be a kind of double meaning to everything. CCTV especially had a double meaning because I love horror movies and I love the scary [aspect] of CCTVS and someone always watching you. But I [also] wanted it to be a reflection of [the fact that] I now have all these songs out and we’re going deeper [whilst] I’m growing on these platforms that people are always watching.

With the music video, I remember that from the second I heard it, I could just envision the straitjacket and just pure insanity and this whole story going on. So I remember texting my management being like, ‘I can see it in my head. I know where we should go with this.’ So we’ve implemented [that]…and put it all together in this insane music video that was high fashion and high energy.

You wrapped up your tour earlier this year. With the sudden explosion in your audience, I don’t doubt these shows were quite different to the shows you’ve played before. If you could go back to the Ari before that very first show in Toronto at the start of the tour, what advice would you have given yourself?

I feel like I would have told myself to not be as nervous. I feel like I was freaking out that day. It was one of my first…what felt like a real show because everybody was coming out to see me. But at the same time, I was like, ‘Everybody is coming out to see you. So, you know, just go crazy and have as much fun as you can.’ I didn’t have as much fun but it took at least three shows for me to not feel like I was going to have a heart attack going out there.

Staying so booked and busy, how do you ground yourself? Do you have any rituals/routines for this?

Talking to my friends and my mom. Also just making music or general or listening to a lot of people who influenced me. I watch a bunch of concert videos all the time. It definitely helps me… It’s such an honour to also be a part of that community of people who also make art.

Have you had any go-to songs or artists recently?

Oh my goodness, I’ve been obsessed with Her’s. They’re an incredible band. I have a ritual with one of their songs: ‘What Once Was’. Every time I take off in any plane, I just have to listen to that song. I’m not sure why; it’s just such a euphoric and nostalgic-feeling song…Truly a talented band gone too fast.

What are some personal goals that you want to fulfill in the future? 

Enjoy moments while they’re happening and definitely appreciate them. Another thing I’ve learnt is that everything happens incredibly fast and it’s so easy to get lost in the moment. For example, sometimes I’ll go out and have a show and say something’s going wrong. I’ll be so down on myself. Or, you know, maybe I didn’t hit a note, and I’ll be thinking: ‘That sucked. I wish I would have done better.’ But something I feel like I’ve been teaching myself over the latter part of this year was just to be proud of every moment and really be in every single [one].

You’ve said that with your new release, you deliberately wanted to tell a story that’s open to interpretation. Of course, that depends upon a personal relationship between the art and the listener. What impact do you hope your music has on your listeners?

I honestly hope that through the music, people find community through listening and finding others who also do. I’ve been on TikTok for so long and just by going live and posting songs, there’s a bunch of people that I know by name and they meet each other. It’s the coolest thing just having this big community that has the same love for a sound, or the stories in the songs, and it feels like a little family. 

What are your next steps? 

I just came back from LA and I was thinking about it. It was kind of insane because I was out there for ten days and I made seven new demos that I’m super excited about, which is quite a lot! But, you know, one of my favourite things is making music now. Going on my first tour ever and, in general, just doing shows for the first time because – like I said, ‘Babydoll’ was a happy accident – I really did fall in love with just going out there and singing the songs and meeting the people who support me the most. So I would definitely say doing more shows, expanding that and taking more from meeting people.

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