Kat Graham Tags Her Name on the Music Biz, Talks Heartbreak and Style
's got attitude.
Currently, this 22-year-old singer-dancer-advocate-actress has enough sassy fearlessness and talent to steal the spotlight from a few adored pop stars. Dubbed a Janet Jackson-Lady Gaga hybrid (and a dash of M.I.A.), Graham creates music that appeases 90's R&B purists and the lovers of all things electric. With singles like "Put Your Grafitti On Me" and "Heartkiller," the Vampire Diaries breakout star has captivated a rapidly growing fanbase with her four-track EP Against The Wall, and even super producer will.i.am has taken notice.
Between taking up producing at the age of 14 and honing engineering skills at 17 years young, she discovered her love for back-up dancing under the mentoring of choreographer Fatima Robinson. Although acting ultimately became the launch pad for her blossoming music career, the art of sound has always been her first love.
"I’ve been fighting for this for so long I’d be damned if someone tells me I can’t do it," she says. "It's a different kind of fight people see in me. With music, it's harder. I don’t care what anyone says. It's harder to be a music artist than to be an actor in this day and age, way harder."
Vixen caught up the highly flammable singer to talk her funky style, her non-"Heartkiller" boyfriend and why she's determined to tag her name all over this entertainment biz.--Niki McGloster
VIBE VIXEN: What has been the response been for the "Against The Wall" tour?
KAT GRAHAM: It's been insane. Literally, I’ve had two shows where I’ve cried on stage because they knew every word to the songs. It's interesting meeting fans that have the EP, know the choreography and are just so happy to come to an actual performance.
You've had a few false starts in music to date, but as of late, the new stuff is catching like wildfire. Do you cringe at the old stuff?
No, I’m happy that I was even in that position that I was in. It gives me a history, ya know. If I had all of a sudden released music and it was all of a sudden so amazing, it kinda takes away my history and a bit of my progress, so even if it's not the best music I could have came out with originally, it shows the world this is where I started and this is where I’m at. Even in a year from now or two years for now, it's going to get even better, bigger and stronger. I’m actually happy that it’s out on the web and I release music independently without a label and that I really paid my motherfuckin' dues.
That's exactly what it is. What's making you focus on the music more now than ever?
I love acting, don't get me wrong. I work my ass off at whatever job I do, and I’m grateful I can get the opportunity to be a creative performer in that way. That's an aspect of me, but I was never given a chance in music. I have to fight tooth and nail to get even an inch in music and I’m still fighting. The fight has grown in me to do music even more than anything before because I haven’t gotten to where I wanted to get to. I have goals in my life and I feel like with music it's just another beast in me that's refusing to back down and refusing to say that I can’t do it. Fuck that! I’ve been doing this; I’ve literally been making beats in my room since I was 14. I’ve been engineering since I was 17, I’ve been dancing as a backup dancer since the age of 14. If I were to compare it to acting, it's basically if I wrote a script, produced it myself, got it to Cannes, got it completely distributed and it was a hit. That’s basically what you're doing in music, you're starting from scratch, you're making it all by yourself and then you're shoving it out there for people to see. You hope and cross your fingers that it's a hit, that it will be well-received. If I were to compare it to film that's what it would be.
Why do you want to do music?
Because everyone told me I couldn't. I’m not doing it because I think it's going to be easy; I’m doing it because I just want to make music. I want to be a successful artist.
You've been open about your love for Janet and how she influences you. If you could sit and have a convo with her, what would you say?
I would just thank her because she really was one of the only African American women that did pop, so performance-heavy, all about the dancing and she came from the TV background that I did. She wouldn't probably understand exactly what she contributed to my journey; I don't think any celebrity or person understands. I was getting compared to her as a little girl and that's what turned me towards Janet. People were telling me I look like her, telling me I dance like her or different people in the industry were like I was the next her. I was a baby, so I had to go in the archives to see what she was doing when she was my age so I could figure out why people kept saying that. It makes me want to be this amazing performer and be kind too. One thing I noticed about some of the most amazing performers and people that were these triple threat that did go from one thing to another but were known as performers like Sammy Davis Jr. or Will Smith and people that really trained was that they were really kind. They came across as unaffected and anti-bullshit, and I want to be that. I’m not interested in ego.
Your activism with GLAAD reflects that. How did you become such an advocate and activist for the LGBT community?
I’m actually apart of the GLAAD community. People that supported me and people that helped me create what I am now have been primarily apart of the gay community. For me, my father was this Liberian who was dating this white woman, my mom. They suffered so much discrimination because they were together. From being the only Jewish black girl and being teased and my family being teased, I look at discrimination--it’s so stupid. Any form of it. I don’t care if you're black or white or whatever.
When I was paying to perform, the only people that would book me were gay clubs. That was it. One of my biggest supporters is apart of the gay community, so it's like I always felt home there and felt supported. I feel that I owe a huge piece of my life and my time for however long I’m on this earth to breaking a lot of these injustices. It goes beyond just the gay icons--the Grace Joneses, the Chers. There’s a lot of discrimination and there’s still inequality, and I just definitely feel like the world can’t afford discrimination.
Switching gears a bit, speak on "Heartkiller." Were you referring to a recent situation?
I’ve been in a relationship for almost four years, but before I was with the person I’m with now, I had one of the biggest heartbreaks of my life. It has completely laid me down. I couldn’t find my power when I was in the relationship because I was just in love and gave my power away. But now that I’m out of it, I am saying the things I wish I would’ve said when I was in the relationship. I sometimes feel that there are girls who are in the middle of the situation that they can’t remove themselves from, so I still write about it. I know I should’ve spoken up when things weren't right.
When was the last time your heart was broken?
It wasn't a love relationship, but my heart was broken about two weeks ago. The person was in my life for a long time. Hearts break all the time, and for me, it's a good thing because I can write great songs about it. Most of my songs aren’t about mushy love; my songs aren’t about being in love. It's about getting through it, getting through hard times.
How are you and your current boyfriend doing?
I’m really happy. I'm in a completely solid place where I can be creative and I can focus on my music. I never had that before.
Define your style in three words.
90's, mature femme, pop.
Why do you describe it as that?
I always talk about the 90's being the era where people embraced the different sides of an artist. I felt like if I was dressed like how everyone is dressed now I would be doing what everyone was doing, and I’m not. I always kind of dressed so weird. My mom dressed me until I was 14, then when I finally had access to clothes, I went a little crazy and never came back form it. I love being fashion-forward and having style and wearing things nobody else would wear.
Do you feel like your style will evolve and change a little bit, or are you pretty much set in what you want your style to be?
I think I’m pretty set. I hope that my style matures. Like, right now I’m wearing American flag tights and hopefully I’m not wearing them when I’m 80! [Laughs] I think I always want to be me.
Now, your body is insane. How do you stay in shape?
I just dance. I'm really bad at going to the gym.
So you're naturally petite, you don't have to work at it.
Yeah, I only have an ass I don’t really have anything else.
Lastly, what are you bringing musically to the table that we haven’t seen?
Since the 90's, I don't know if there's really been a performer, other than maybe Chris Brown and Britney Spears. I really think Ciara is a great artist. But as far as doing it all, I don’t really think there is one. I want to bring it back; I want to take it back to the old school.