This is the new age of alternative pop. Charging at the frontline, eyeball tentacles and all, is Californian pop-rap sensation Ashnikko. Over the span of 18 months Ashnikko, aka Ashton Nicole Casey, reached TikTok virality with their track “STUPID.” Though many of her other singles would also become viral hits and garner just shy of over 8 million monthly Spotify listeners within a year, it was their DEMIDEVIL debut mixtape that solidified Ashnikko as much more than a trend, but rather a force to be reckoned with. As the world reopens and she gears up for an intense round of international touring, the surreal reality of their online fame that was merely numbers through a screen for much of last year is finally settling in.

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You’ve been everywhere at the moment on the DEMIDEVIL tour. It must feel so refreshing to finally be back on the road. It might be too early to call, but are there any tour highlights from 2021 that stick out?

My touring crew are absolutely incredible. It was so good to be back out on the road. Actually meeting the people who listen to my music in the flesh was the highlight. Doing full choreo to my Halloween songs was super divalicious as well.

2021 has been a smash hit for you. If you had a “greatest moments” and “oops fails” montage, what moments would make it into either?

The greatest moment was definitely walking onto my stage production rehearsal set and seeing my giant eyeball tentacles in real life for the first time. To have the ability to take the strange little creatures in my head and make them a reality is the dream. I’m sure I have lots of fails. Too many to count!

Speaking of, 2021 has seen the astronomical growth of your career. In a short space of time, you’ve had to adapt to so much. If you could go back to a few years ago and give yourself a heads-up, what would you say? 

I would say, “Don’t read the fucking comments!”

If 2021 has proven anything to the music industry, it’s that they need to take the younger generation seriously. Finding success through online avenues rather than the “traditional” roots is still frowned upon, but it’s how many artists like yourself were able to find your audience and elevate your platform. Is there anything you can say in regards to how artists are able to grow their careers because of online fame and the accessibility that online resources offer to young, broke, diverse artists, in particular? 

The path to commercial “success” in the music industry has changed so drastically over the past two years alone. There’s so much room to carve out your own path, which I find super liberating. Just because someone else did one thing to get where they are doesn’t mean I have to. I can set my own terms.

How do you think apps like TikTok will pave the way forward for musicians and artists moving into 2022? 

To talk about how people discover new music and not bring up TikTok is silly. I feel they will be intrinsically tied for a long time to come. It’s definitely been a blessing and a curse in my life.

As mentioned, you’ve garnered so much attention online last year. A lot of love, but also like many, a lot of critics. Have you found this easier to manage over time, and how do you manage it?  

I have good days and bad days. I try to remind myself that there’s a lot of bored people online. A lot of hurt people. I feel for them.

When you look at the start of last year to now, where do you think you’ve grown the most?

I’ve grown so much as an artist [last] year — my creative process, my songwriting, my stage presence. I’ve grown so much as a person. I’ve reevaluated what was important to me and how much of myself I was willing to give to my career and how much I wanted to keep for myself. The type of art that I want to make to pay my bills and the type of art that I wanna make just for the pure joy and where those two intersect.

Your unapologetically bold demeanor has been an inspiration to many young people, but it hasn’t come without critics. Over the course of 2021, have you found it easier or harder to manage criticism, especially given that a large portion of your career was built online and it gave people an almost “all-access” pass into you, your life and saying whatever they feel they want to about you? 

This is still something that I struggle with all the time. I think the key is to just not let it take up space in your head. Ultimately, people’s opinions of me are none of my business. I care about what people I love think about me. I care about what I think about me. There are so many sad, hurting individuals on the internet who take that pain out on other people. At the end of the day, I wish them well on their journey to self-love, and I hope they start putting good things into the world [instead].

Artistically, when you look back on 2019 vs. now, what’s been your greatest triumph?

Not losing my fucking mind. Being able to pay my bills doing something that I love so intensely is always gonna be my greatest triumph. That was the goal when I started out, and I’m just happy to be able to do this for a job.

Following that album, what do you want for 2022? What’s the agenda — world domination, I suppose? 

To not lose my fucking mind. Wish me luck. Also, to continue to enjoy making music. To make music and art that makes my soul feel good and is completely authentic to me.

This interview appeared in issue 401 (the AP Yearbook), available here.