Strike a pose! An interview with Kiddy Smile

Some people you meet really leave an impression on you. I met Kiddy Smile for the first time at Melt! Festival in 2007 and back then I was already impressed by his personality. Not only did I feel connected to his music but I loved the fact that he used his notoriety to bring up subjects that wouldn’t be so talked about. So when I got the opportunity to do a proper interview at StyleOutLoud, I said yes right away. From his background to his new music, we covered it all after his performance in Lisbon. Watch the full show below! All photos by Ana Brigida! Fashion by Patrick de Padua

KALTBLUT: First things first: tell us about the origins of your name “Kiddy Smile”.

Kiddy: I got into an argument with a guy at my high school once, he kept calling me “Biggie” and it just pissed me off because he was body shaming me. We ended up getting into a fight. And then we became friends. At one point he gifted me a Smiley-shaped backpack, because in one of Notorious B.I.G.’s clips he had a Smiley logo on his back and on his arms it said “Smiley”. And so from then on when people saw me at school, I was the “Smiley guy”. Except that when I started making music I couldn’t use that name because Smiley is a trademark. So I kept the “smile” part because I wanted to keep the Notorious B.I.G. reference since his name was Biggie Smalls. I tried “Biggie Smile”. And then that became “Kiddy Smile”.

 

KALTBLUT: I saw your interview at Le Grand Journal and they credit you as being the one who brought back voguing in Paris…

Kiddy: Not really… I always have to remind people how it really happened when I’m doing interviews . Once they even said that I was the founder of the movement. That bothered me. I have to explain to them that it is Stéphane Mizrahi and Lasseindra Ninja who approached me and asked me if I wanted to be a part of this movement and help them develop it. Still, I do think that in a way I helped put a spotlight on voguing.

KALTBLUT: Do you have your own house?

Kiddy: No, I don’t. I started with a House in New York, the House of Mizrahi, named after New York designer Isaac Mizrahi. Fun fact, we are the only House named after a designer who is also an active member. I was approached by Mother Steffie Mizrahi and we clicked immediately. I really wanted to be a part of her House.

KALTBLUT: You said something once like “it doesn’t matter the way you look or the way you dance, there will always be a category for you in the ball”. But from an outsider’s point of view the voguing scene can seem a bit scary and exclusive at first because there’s so much self confidence and experience.

Kiddy: Yes and that’s the thing ! A lot of people have this problem where they do things and they want to be good, but what they don’t get is that it is by doing them that you grow. The people you see today haven’t always been that good. We talk a lot about the categories where people are really good but all these categories have sub categories for beginners as well. But yeah you get to that place that has its own language, where everyone knows each other, where nothing is explained to anyone. Sometimes you will have someone at the mic that will tell you what’s happening. I don’t do that. If you’re interested, ask questions, go get that information. But I get the feeling. The first time I saw them I thought they were incredible and I realized that I would have loved to have that when I was 13 or 15. So I decided to do whatever I could to help the younger members and use that to grow, and I’m still doing that.

 

KALTBLUT: Fashion is an important part of your image. You said that sometimes the fashion world could be very limited because no one made a real effort to dress you.

Kiddy: I’m lucky because Olivier Rousteing designs clothes for me sometimes. But fashion is not always interested in catering to plus-size people. And most times it goes like “here’s something baggy for you to wear, never mind if it doesn’t really fit you, we’ll find you a belt or something.”

Before I had the chance to have designers come to me, I used to hang out with Beth Ditto a lot. And for her, that was exactly it. Someone usually handed her a square piece of fabric with a hole for her head and a belt. Then it was go time ! It wasn’t even a dress, it was a handkerchief. That’s what encouraged her to launch her own clothing line.

When fashion finally comes to terms with the fact that this market represents a ton of commercial opportunities, they’ll take an interest.

KALTBLUT: I was watching the clip for “Teardrops in the Box”. Is that autobiographical?

Kiddy: No it’s not, but someone needed to tell that story from the point of view of a person of color. This type of narration is usually very Euro-centered. I felt that it was important to have that piece around, whether it was going to be seen or not didn’t matter, what mattered was, it’s here and people can look at the story and say “that speaks to me”. It isn’t my story but some aspects of it echo my personal story, the dancers’ or maybe even your own story. It’s about finding yourself cornered in your own home, your parents asking you The Question and you knowing that your answer can change everything. You can lose your family and find yourself being kicked out and living in the street. The only option you have is to lie and go somewhere where you can be your true self. Your home is supposed to be the place where you can be yourself and your family is supposed to protect you from harm, even though sometimes the danger comes from inside your own family.

That’s the message I wanted to convey in that clip. Some people have experienced just that and for others it was different. The mechanism is the same for everybody, but the events are different.

KALTBLUT: On “Let A B!tch Know” you went back to the place where you grew up?

Kiddy: No. I wanted to, but the towers were too small and not aesthetic enough. So a friend of mine suggested I should do it in her old neighborhood which was getting torn down soon. We met the openly gay mayor of this city who gave us the authorization to shoot there in the projects, lent us a space to do our thing and even security. But then he took it all away so we had to use our connections to get access to a space. Muslim women teaching literacy classes let us use theirs for the 2 days of the shoot.

KALTBLUT: Is that the underlying message in the “Let A B!tch Know” : this is where I came from, now watch what I’ve become?

Kiddy: It isn’t but it works. “Let A B!tch Know” is a song that’s meant to give you courage when you feel you are oppressed by people, by society, by your work. You need to take control of your own life, you’re not just a passenger, you’re the one at the wheel, do not let people walk all over you. If you disagree don’t be afraid to say it.

But in the larger sense the message is that in order to be able to be yourself you have to leave the place where you grew up behind you. Picture what your life would be like if everybody could be anyone they wanted, wherever and whenever they wanted it. The video could have taken place in a Catholic setting or in the French Antilles but I thought the contrast was stronger and more interesting if it took place in the projects, plus it echoed my own life and experience.

KALTBLUT: Let’s talk gender fluidity… is that something that’s important for you to put out there?

Kiddy: I like to talk about gender performance rather than gender fluidity. I talk about societal expectations as a man. What happens if you’re a man but you’re not very masculine? That doesn’t mean you’re gender fluid. That doesn’t mean you’re feminine. It just means that you don’t obey the accepted codes of masculinity. There’s an underlying sexism inside the male world. You need to check all these boxes in order to be recognized as a man. If you also have feminine traits then they’re very quick to point it out. Misogyny is prevalent in the projects. Without toxic machismo and patriarchy, homophobia wouldn’t exist. Because it’s the feminine side of male homosexuality that bothers homophobes. Besides there’s always this need for the oppressed to become the oppressor, to look like him and so a lot of gay guys fantasize about heterosexual males. But being in a relationship with a hetero male is a lie. Either you’re not gay or he’s not heterosexual. In the end that’s why the voguing scene is very welcoming to women because sexism is the mother of homophobia. They are oppressed as well and so they have this free space where they can express themselves. And we, as men with privileges, it is our duty to take care of them and of others.

 

KALTBLUT: So when is the album coming out?

Kiddy: Should be the end of June.

KALTBLUT: How do you feel about it?

Kiddy: We still need to do a few touch-ups before the release, but I’m happy.

KALTBLUT: Is it all you from A to Z, did it turn out the way you wanted?

Kiddy: Yeah. I work with people that I love, who respect me and listen to what I have to say. It’s awesome. I didn’t do a lot of production work, thank God otherwise I would be like 15% done right now. That allowed me to focus on the songs and collaborate with topliners and authors. We have a lot of cool things in the works for the launch of the album. We’ll see how it goes!

Special thanks to Bénédicte Lelong for the editing.

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Style Out Loud took place just last month in Lisbon, Portugal. For this event, fashion designers worked with live performers including Ana Matronic, Kiddy Smile, D’alva.

Special thx to www.styleoutloud.tv/en

All photos by Ana Brigida

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