Departing from previous lighthearted tracks such as “Stunnin’” and “Freckles” from his debut album, Pity Party, this new EP sees Waters challenge himself sonically by incorporating heavier synths and bass notes, as well as vocals with a gripping ferocity. Adorned in rabbit ears, the artist explores the pitfalls of fame with dark satire and his own mental health as the character “Psycho Icon.”
“When I was making PLASTIC WORLD, it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, I want to make a hit.’ It was an art experiment,” Waters shares. “From the very beginning, the videos had to go with it. It was like a statement. I wasn’t too focused on commerce. I just felt like I had to challenge myself to make a cohesive art piece.”
From the heavenly and aesthetically glowing “BAD MOOD” to the hellish, anxiety-inducing “PSYCHO ICON,” viewers are sure to adore this auditory and visual trip, which took nearly three months to piece together.
AltPress had the chance to catch up with Waters and Jovy Bergen, who led art direction on “BAD MOOD” and directed “PSYCHO ICON” in its entirety. Check out the visuals and an exclusive in-depth look at the process below.
Obviously, your life changed drastically in 2020 when “Stunnin'” went TikTok viral. In what ways has your life and music changed in this year alone?
CURTIS WATERS: Well, I had a dream that I was in middle school the other day. I woke up sweating, and I was like, “Oh, my God! I’m so glad I never have to write some fucking essay about some dumb shit again.” And I just realized [that] I take it for granted that I’m not in school, and I’m actually doing what I want to do every day, and I’m making music and stuff. And I gotta be grateful for that—that I wanted to do this since I was a child and I’m actually fully doing it now.
Diving into the sonics of “BAD MOOD” and “PSYCHO ICON,” these sound a lot darker than your debut album. Were you inspired by any rockers or heavy-leaning rappers for these tracks?
WATERS: I was just in a bad mental space, I think. When I’m making music, whatever comes out is whatever comes out. I’m doing a lot better now. It’s always weird because you make music when you’re in this certain time frame, and you want to put it out, and then all the promotion and planning and everything stretches out for months, and it doesn’t really reflect it as much anymore. I’ve always been into Death Grips. “PSYCHO ICON” to me is like “DEATHCAMP” by Tyler, The Creator. It’s like that same lineage. Like N.E.R.D had “Lapdance” with guitars and synths. So, it’s the musical DNA.
Yes, especially in “PSYCHO ICON,” the graphics are very intense. What led you in this artistic direction?
WATERS: Well, I think when I was writing it, it was like this tape is about ego, especially “PSYCHO ICON.” It’s [about] these things that seem really good, like fame and money and sex and this and that. I think for me, when I was making it, I [decided] to ramp it up to the point where it’s delusional and it’s not real; it’s like overcompensation. The whole time I was making the songs, I had the visual idea. The thought of a music video is what actually guided the way the song sounded. I knew “BAD MOOD” had to sound airy and heavenly and beautiful like an evening. And I knew even before we did a video [that] “PSYCHO ICON” needed to sound hellish and claustrophobic and loud and crazy.
For you, Jovy, what influenced your creation of the visuals, and how did you make your vision come to life for the music videos?
JOVY BERGEN: I remember when [Curtis] showed me “PSYCHO ICON.” It was at the same time that I was coming out with a personal project, which is basically like a visual expression of a psychotic break. And so it was perfect that that’s what he needed, as well, because I just finished developing the style. So, my mind went straight to the things I’ve been doing, which I was just like [a] hectic nightmare: the visual expression of actually being distressed and feeling fucked.
That makes a lot of sense. “PSYCHO ICON” is very fast-paced and has many details that do contribute to that nightmarish feeling. What was your favorite visual to create?
BERGEN: I think the BDSM room is the most exciting one for me, but I really love the 360 view of the pill shot as well. And it would be funny if people paid attention to all of the sex toys I specifically made for the BDSM room. I made all these unique butt plugs and everything. It goes by in half a second. [Laughs.]
WATERS: I think the BDSM is still the coolest to me and [when] I’m on the wheel and it spins around and there’s a beep, beep, beep, beep sound. And it’s moving around with the song, and it goes in. And so I think it’s really sick.
What was it like to intertwine those graphics with actual footage in “PSYCHO ICON”?
BERGEN: That’s actually a similar concept with “Shoe Laces” that we did. It was a little different because this time we brought the animation into real life a bit. But with “Shoe Laces,” we had [Curtis] in this child-like world that I had animated. It was like a Blue’s Clues background.
WATERS: Well, to me, this video is just like “Shoe Laces” in a way because “Shoe Laces” was like my childhood anxieties about growing up and whether I’ll ever be successful, whether my parents will ever love me [and] all this other stuff. And it took place in this fake childhood home, and it was Blue’s Clues-inspired. It was very colorful, but there was a darkness to it. I think “PSYCHO ICON” is my anxieties now, where I’ve had a taste of money and popularity and then how that’s made me manic at times. So, it’s almost the same video in my head conceptually. It’s just different phases of my life and different anxieties.
What was the most challenging part about creating these videos?
BERGEN: I usually don’t make “beautiful” things. Most of my work and my art is fucked-up, crazy things or sometimes cute and fun. But I mostly do very expressive stuff about feeling bad. So, when I had to work on a sunset-y, pretty concept [for “BAD MOOD”], that was something new for me. And I found it hard to think of ideas at first. But after diving in and finding such a helpful director [Brandon Williams], who did a lot for that video, it was easier. Once I started, I understood what could help.
In the future, do you see yourself making some similar sonic pieces to that, or does it just depend on the mood and time of life?
WATERS: It really depends because when I made this, I was dealing with my bipolar disorder. I was having a lot of difficulty, so the music reflected that. I just spent three months in Vancouver, [and] I had a great time. I was on the beach, [and] I was partying. The music I’m working on right now is just fun, cute stuff. But emotions ebb and flow.