In the world of musical “eras,” few draw quite as much attention and fanfare as the “villain era.” And that’s exactly where music artist kenzie—who just released the video for her single “sickly sweet” and has a new album coming right behind it—is sitting right now, her catalog taking a darker turn from her previous work.
Take “sickly sweet,” which puts the spotlight on a toxic relationship that’s actually...kinda...captivating? It’s complicated (and catchy), a combo that bodes well for a video full of fireside looks, smoke, and horror movie vibes.
“I've been in many toxic boyfriend situations where, you know, boys cheat on me or are just terrible boys. And I think when I first teased the song, everyone was like, 'Wow, I actually relate to this so much. Like, I love the toxic-ness, I love some entertainment in my life, I love the games,” kenzie tells Cosmopolitan of the project. “I wanted it to be super relatable and show girls they're also not alone.”
The singer hopped on a Zoom call with Cosmo to chat about 6 a.m. music video shoots, toxic exes, horror movies, and her newfound musical "villain era." Check out the conversation below, and be sure to watch the music video for "sickly sweet" while you're at it.
The scary movie vibes are strong in your "sickly sweet" video. It's cinematic in that way. Do you have a favorite horror movie? Is this your genre of choice?
You know, it's actually crazy, I love scary movies but I get scared! But I also love being scared. One of my favorite scary movies is Get Out. Everything that Jordan Peele does is just so amazing, and it makes you think really hard. I think that's why I enjoy more of a psychological thriller than a horror.
I almost expected Jason or Freddy to pop up at some point, especially with all the red lighting. How did you land on this video concept?
It's actually really crazy how we landed on it. We were talking about how we wanted to make it a little darker, because obviously the song is about a toxic boyfriend situation. And we actually came up with a concept of thinking about Hereditary. We used the tree house from the movie, because Hereditary obviously is super scary but also filmed so beautifully. You're getting scared the entire time, but if you actually pay attention to how it's filmed, it's so cool. And so I think we wanted to make it a scary movie but also make it beautiful at the same time.
That balance is present. It's a notably darker project than some of your previous work, too.
I've been having a lot of fun with it. I feel like I've just been experimenting, and going in a darker realm has been really fun for me. It's been kind of an alter ego.
"Alter ego" is a fun way to put it. Immediately what comes to mind when you say that is an almost Taylor Swiftian concept of "eras." What "era" do you see yourself in with your own music right now, or would you not categorize it quite that way?
You know, I think with the music that I have been making recently, I've definitely been more in my villain era. I think I've simply been in my very much bold era. I used to be so scared to write about real life situations or real life topics, and I feel like now it honestly is a form of therapy for me. Those songs always turn out to be my favorite ones.
Which of your "sickly sweet" lyrics resonates with you the most?
If I had to pick, the chorus of the song was just a really fun moment. While we were writing it, we were like, 'Wow, this is actually such a banger.' The line that says, "hands on me, you got your claws in deep" I think was my favorite line. Because "hands on me" is usually a good thing, but it also can be a very bad thing, which is what we wanted to talk about; how there's a toxic boyfriend situation, but you kind of love the toxic side of it, like when girls gravitate more to the bad boy than the good boy.
What was the most fun part of the music video to shoot?
My favorite from the music video was honestly when I was in front of the fireplace, because it was freezing cold. It was a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. shoot, so it was definitely very cold. Any time I got to be by a heater was my favorite time. But more honestly, I feel like we had so much fun even though everyone was tired. It's gonna be a core memory.
One day is an impressive turnaround time. I know you worked with an all-female team on this one too; tell me more about that experience.
I am so big on women's empowerment. I wrote this with four girls, which was just such an awesome room because talking about this specific situation, how men can be very toxic, I feel like it was very fitting. We all got to relate our situations to the song. I always feel so comfortable working with women, and it just feels very empowering as well, because I feel like there are mostly men in the songwriting or producer worlds and they kind of take over that spot. But that's why I enjoy working with women so much. Women can do exactly what men can do, you know?
When you're thinking about the girls in your audience, your listeners, your fans, what are you hoping they take from this song and video specifically?
I really just wanted it to be relatable. I've been in many toxic boyfriend situations where, you know, boys cheat on me or are just terrible boys. And I think when I first teased the song, everyone was like, 'Wow, I actually relate to this so much. Like, I love the toxic-ness, I love some entertainment in my life, I love the games,' and so I wanted it to be super relatable and show girls they're also not alone.
Whose music do you relate to? Who inspires you?
My first ever inspiration was Vanessa Hudgens from High School Musical. That was when I was like, 'Yes, I want to make music,' and it's so crazy that I'm finally achieving that.
I've looked up to Sia for so many years. I think she's super hard working and obviously just an icon. She has such an amazing heart, and I think why I really look up to her is because in her music, she stepped out of the box. She always does things that are not expected. Just having her around as someone I can look up to is really amazing.
It's special to have those people in your life. Last question: What's coming next for you? What should fans expect?
A lot! Definitely a lot more music. I feel like I've been putting out way more music than I ever have. I've just been experimenting a lot. A lot of people will see a different side of me.
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