Tommy Genesis Explains Her Shift From Aggressive Rap To Empowering, Low-Key Pop On Her Self-Titled Debut

Mikey Asanin

Artist profiles rarely tell the whole story. There are always aspects of an artists’ life and story and viewpoint that have to be edited out or pared down to make them fit into neat essays that fans can read through in one sitting. Tommy Genesis understands that, but she doesn’t have to like it — and she sure doesn’t accept it.

The Canadian artist doesn’t actually like talking about herself in interviews. The bio bits don’t encompass who she is, the stories she wants to tell, or her mindset, quite as well as her music does. She wants to make bold, personal artistic statements, not recount dry, reductive explanations of the marketing-approved version of what she does. She wants you to listen to her new album, Tommy Genesis, and have your own experience, soundtracked by hers.

And while there are parallels between what the glowing profiles of the fast-rising performer write about her and her own perspective — for instance, her reflective musings on dualism send tendrils of connections into her bisexuality and mixed-race heritage — she’d rather gush about how much she loves Aeon Flux and anime, the thought processes that go into her artistic decisions, and unabashedly embracing her own, unique personality traits despite judgments or misconceptions from the wider world.

Which is how, in a call with Tommy, we got to gush about anime, the music we both love and how it informs her creative process, and women empowering themselves through music and art, using new freedom to redefine their relationships to their bodies, their friends, and their cultural environments. We may never get to know the real Tommy Genesis, but with the dazzling, real insights she shared here and the surreal soundscapes of the singles from Tommy Genesis, I can’t wait to dive into her self-titled sophomore album — which came out this past Friday on Downtown Records — and find out more. That’s exactly how she wants it.

The biggest thing I noticed when I listened through Tommy Genesis is that it’s very different from your older music. What was the driving force behind that change?

Life. My other album is a few years old, and this one was just where I was at in the kind of music I was making now. I would say there’re similarities in maybe certain songs, and the writing style, and my voice and stuff like that. But this album is definitely a little bit more poppy, but a little bit more maybe synthesized. But I still feel like it’s me.

Why did you want to go for more of a poppy sound on this album, as opposed to your last one?

I didn’t want to go for anything. I just write everything and make everything, and it was really just where my own head-space was at. I definitely didn’t try to make anything specific, I was just making stuff, and that’s what came out of me.

Could you tell me a little bit about the album cover? You explain it pretty well on your Instagram, but some folks may not be aware of the origins of the image it’s inspired by.

The album cover is a photo of me and me, we’re about to kiss, but I took the reference from this cartoon I really love, Aeon Flux. And it’s this one episode where she’s cloned a bunch of times, and it’s her kissing her clone looking into the water. I was just recreating that image. But I guess what it signifies for the album was just reflection, and also the two parts of my duality kissing.

I [would] describe it as Tommy kissing Genesis, and meeting in the middle, and that’s what the album sounds like to me. Me coming from one place, from two different places, and making something that’s a unified sound.

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That’s super interesting. Could you tell me more about the split personality deal, which one is Tommy and which one is Genesis? How would you describe them?

Tommy’s my alter ego, but I would say they’re the same person in a lot of ways. I would say the more rap, faster, darker stuff is Tommy. And where the more vulnerable, poppy stuff is more Genesis. At the same time, it’s obviously both me, it was just the way the project came together. I really felt like the project in itself had this duality, and in this weird way though they fit perfectly. What’s the word? They fit in harmony with each other. That’s how it reflects the cover.

I actually find that really interesting, because almost everything I’ve read researching you indirectly references your duality. Almost every sub-headline is about your heritage, how you’re half-Swedish, half-Tamil, about how you half-sing, half-rap.

That’s only because they like to write that, I never really like to talk about that. I like to talk more about visuals and music, and less about myself. I hate when they ask me questions about certain things I don’t even really want to talk about, and then that’s the headline. For me, it’s about the music. It’s not really about me the person, for me, this album especially is more just about me the artist. It’s a distinction that I’ve definitely made in my mind, where one day I’ll for sure do an album by me the person, where it’s a genuine raw take on how I’m feeling in my life. But right now, this album is really just me the artist, and it’s not that deep.

You’re absolutely right about how those headlines get written, it seems rare to really address the themes of the music. The headlines are usually like, ‘Oh, well, she’s a bisexual rapper.’ When, if you pay attention, it’s not that unusual.

I think it’s probably been because I haven’t put out that much music, for two years I was doing a lot of modeling, and I was also playing a lot of shows, but I was playing all old music. I think the more people start to hear my music and know me as an artist, and not just my face or whatever, I think the questions will change.

I think that’s what everyone wants to do, is just make that statement, and they don’t necessarily want to have to answer the dry questions. I think that what really caught my attention was the music. You avoid conventional sounds without getting into left field where you’re trying really hard to be different and weird. I was really interested in finding out the story about how the Charli XCX remix for “100 Bad.”

The original version dropped in July, but then I connected with Charli. We were making music for some other stuff, and when I had played it, she liked it, so I sent it to her, and she got on it. I love listening to Charli’s music, so I just preferred that version. When I was going to listen to the song, I would play that version, not the other one, because to me, she definitely brought something to the song. To me, that version was better, so that’s the version I put on the album.

And that’s how all the features worked, like the Empress Of feature, which is the only other feature. I had the song, and then I just love Empress’ music, so I really love her voice, I asked her to get on it, and she just got on it right away and emphasized… the song sounded like itself, they just brought an element to each track that made the song better. I was just like, ‘What version do I want to listen to?’ It was those versions.

Your single “Tommy” has also been out a while and I remember reading a quote where you felt like maybe the single and video pigeonholed you.

I feel normal, and I feel like I’m just being normal, nothing crazy is happening. And then whenever I put something out, everyone’s so shocked, and they’re like, ‘Holy crap, you’re a freak.’

To me, I always am just like, ‘Oh.’ It’s this weird feeling, but I’ve had it my whole life, I don’t have the same censor I don’t think, and that’s I think why my music is the way it is. A lot of people are like, ‘Oh, what’s it like being so shocking? What’s it like being this…’ They’ll ask me how I make shocking things, and to me, I’m not making anything shocking, you’re just shocked by it. I’m not out here trying to make this thing that you’re saying I’m making, that’s just how it’s coming across.

I understand that, because there are people who have what they’re used to, and it goes back to what we were saying earlier, about how maybe they just haven’t paid enough attention. Because it’s not necessarily new to hear women talk about their sexuality, Lil Kim was doing this 20 years ago.

I always say, ‘Look, it’s not for everyone, and I know that.’ That’s why I’m not out here being like, ‘Everybody listen to my album.’ I’m out here being like, ‘My album is out, if you listen to it, it’s for you.’ [If] It’s not for you, I’m not hurt, I understand that not everybody wants to hear that. Not everybody’s comfortable in that space.

I’m just making art and where I come from and what makes sense to me, and how I feel. I love that there are so many people who can relate to it, and that’s what keeps me going. All the kids who are like, ‘I felt this way, I felt so like I didn’t fit in, and then your music makes me feel confident and powerful in who I am, and in my identity.’ I’m not making the music for anyone who thinks it’s trendy, not even really my friends, because I don’t make music for my friends, I make music for myself and I make it for those kids who are like, ‘Yo, this is helping me right now.’ Because it’s also helping me, them saying it’s helping them, helps me.

Tommy Genesis is out now via Downtown Records. Get it here.