UK Pop Star Kate Nash Didn't Want Celebrity To Destroy Her Life
British singer-songwriter Kate Nash is in Ghana right now. She was feeling a million emotions about the trip when she spoke with Samaritanmag in Toronto to promote her upcoming album, Girl Talk, (out March 5) prior to leaving. The 25-year-old has partnered with the long-running charity Plan International and its global campaign Because I Am A Girl, which focuses on improving the lives of 4 million girls and their families by 2016 and promoting gender equality and girls’ rights.
“I feel about nervous about this. I think it’s going to be intense. So we’ll see. It’ll be awesome. It’s going to be amazing,” she said.
“Girls in the poorest regions of the world are among the most disadvantaged people on the planet,” it explains on Plan’s web site. “They are more likely to live in poverty, more likely to be denied access to education, more likely to be denied medical care, and more likely to be malnourished, simply because they’re girls. And yet, studies show that if you give a girl enough to eat, an education and a safe environment, she’ll work to raise the standard of living for herself, her family and her community.”
Nash became an instant pop star in 2007 with the release of her debut album, Made of Bricks, which featured the singles “Foundations” and “Caroline’s a Victim.” The album charted at No. 1 in the UK and was a top 40 hit in more than 10 countries around the world. She was named Best Female Artist at the 2008 BRIT Awards. Her 2010 follow-up album, My Best Friend Is You, which included the hit “Do-Wah-Doo,” also charted globally.
In 2010, the philanthropic artist started Rock n Roll For Girls After School Music Club, which aims to empower and educate young women with the gift of music education, encouraging young females to develop their own songwriting skills. On her 2011 UK tour Nash visited numerous schools with the program. That same year, during the UK riots, Nash helped launch the Clear Up campaign around her hometown of London and helped to raise funds and supplies for those who lost their homes during the melee.
While she maintains the after-school program, she is also now committed to Because I Am A Girl and will have much more to talk about following her visit.
Helping people wasn’t on my radar at your age. When did that start for you?
My mom and dad are very political and they brought us up to be really aware of helping others. My mom’s been a nurse half of her life .
Would you visit her at work?
Yeah, I remember visiting a little girl when I was just 14 and she was dying of ovarian cancer. I’d lend her books and would go in and hang out with her because she had a weird family situation. And so that just brings you up being really aware, especially when you go into a position of being a popstar. I never wanted celebrity bullshit stuff and I think everyone is curious about it and got exposed to it with the first record. And then I was like, ‘Fuck this. I definitely don’t want to go down that path.’
You mean you were a victim of the paparazzi and people wanted to know about your personal life?
My record [Made of Bricks] went to number one in the UK straight away and it changed my life instantly. It was all like ‘Whoa,’ and then I just decided I don’t want this. I don’t want to destroy my life. I don’t want to go crazy because I’m a musician, like so many before me, unfortunately. I just took a step back and took a bit more control. I felt a responsibility. I have so many young girls at my shows, so many, I just felt I’ve always believed in revolution and change — and my heroes have always done something — and I was like, ‘I have a platform to speak and I need to do something, do the right thing.’ I was obsessed with Buffy The Vampire Slayer; she was my first feminist hero and she always did the right thing. So I just want to be like Buffy.
As you became successful, did your manager get inundated with requests for you to visit hospitals or appear at charity events and did you say yes to everything, or did you have a talk with your manager about what causes interested you?
I went, ‘Well, I’m interested in what relates to me.’ Also, if I’m personally approached by somebody. I don’t have time obviously for everything. You don’t want to spread yourself too thin and be talking about everything, especially since I don’t know if I’m educated enough to know about everything. So I want to stick to things I really care about for specific reasons. For example, cystic fibrosis is a charity close to my heart because I had a friend who was 24 who died last year. So that’s become a really big thing for me. The hospice that she died in, where my mom actually works, we did a charity gig for that. I’ve always been somebody who wants to empower girls and young women. I really care about that so I started After School Club For Girls [Rock n Roll For Girls After School Music Club].
Is that for girls in disadvantaged communities that don’t have access to music lessons?
It’s actually more broad than that. I wanted it to be for everybody. I went to a school in New York that was in the Bronx and it had three schools in one building. [The students were] all from disadvantaged backgrounds and it was hard. There was security there. I was intimidated going there, but they were the nicest girls ever in the world. The geeks, the goths, and the musical cliques were all hanging out and I said to one of these 14-year-old girls, ‘This is amazing. How is it like this?’ And she was like, ‘We’re a sisterhood,’ and I was like, ‘I fucking love this place, I must say.’
I mean, obviously I think it’s harder for kids from poorer backgrounds to get opportunities, but I’ve always had one goal I’m trying to achieve and that’s changing the statistics that there are less female composers than male. That’s my goal: is for the future to have more female songwriters so in that case I don’t want to just focus on kids from poor backgrounds. Every single girl suffer with self-esteem issues and not being pushed and encouraged in music. It’s not to do with them having a chance to do music at school or even to get music lessons. Why don’t they continue with that? It’s battling those things and so I go to both schools [with students] from poor backgrounds and not poor backgrounds.
The big campaign for you now is Plan International’s Because I Am A Girl. The campaign is being heavily promoted in Canada on TV and by street teams. And then on the news we hear of atrocities against girls, such as the Saudi Arabian Islamist preacher who only got a fine for raping and battering his 5-year-old daughter (who died in hospital). Stories like this are coming to our attention more and more.
The Internet makes it hard to keep this secret. It’s disgusting, isn’t it?
Yes. Now people can understand the need for Because I Am A Girl. Have you travelled anywhere yet to meet young girls benefitting from the campaign?
I’m going to Africa; I’m going to Ghana. I met with Plan. They contacted me and I’d seen their ads as well and I thought ‘This looks really cool.’ Some [TV ads for charities] I find like emotional porn. It’s too much, whereas this was a bit more like reality. They said, ‘Would you like to meet and have dinner and maybe talk about working together?’ and I was like, ‘Yes, definitely. This will be perfect for me.’ We talked about the work I’ve done in schools and they told me about their work and then we just decided to go for it. They rang me a couple of days after, ‘We want you to go to Africa next month,’ and I was like, ‘Okay, cool.’ I wanted to travel to Africa my whole life anyway. This is going to be pretty life-changing and eye-opening.
You’re going to be able to talk about it more when your new album comes out.
I think it made sense for them because I’m going to be doing a lot of promo now and if I’ve been there and I have first-hand experience, it’s not just like I’m a celebrity going, ‘Oh yes, it’s tragic.’ It’s like, ‘Okay, I just came back from Africa and there’s this shit going on and this is what I’m telling you.’
Are you visiting schools to see the results of Plan’s efforts?
At this stage, I don’t even know. I just got my passport back, the day before I flew to Canada to get my Guana visa. We’re meeting in New York and we’re going to be talking about what exactly I’m going to be doing there. I’m really excited and it’s new, and scary, and cool. Ghana is supposed to be really beautiful as well. I love meeting people anyway.
I don’t know the situation for girls and women in Ghana, in terms of opportunities.
I have no idea what to expect there. I kind of like that. I want to be affected by it. I’m not afraid of being affected by the reality of how the world is. I’m so pissed at so many things right now, doing something like this is going to be really good for me because I think we’ve gone too far with the celebrity culture bullshit. I think there’s too many bullshit reality TV shows. We buy into these really shitty role models. Chris Brown — it makes me so angry that he is welcomed back into the music industry with loving arms. You know what he should do – and I would respect Chris Brown — if he went, ‘Okay, I hit Rihanna; I hit my girlfriend; I beat her up and I’m sorry and I’m going to talk to young boys and try to be a role model.’ This would be incredible, if a guy did this, and said, ‘I didn’t know how to handle my aggression, my testosterone, and I want to talk to young boys about dealing with that because I know kids grow up having feelings that I probably didn’t have growing up, and not knowing where to put them.’ Depending on who your role models are, you learn where to put that that stuff and what’s acceptable and what’s not.
Can you imagine if he did that, how incredible it would be? But instead, he goes around being really cocky and aggressive and driving an orange Lamborghini and just being childish and rude and fighting Frank Ocean and there’s nothing to respect. And it’s really worrying that so many kids idolize him and so many girls go around saying, ‘I’d let Chris Brown beat me because he’s hot.’ That’s disgusting. I worry about so much of that shit. I interviewed like a hundred girls in the schools I go to [for Rock n Roll For Girls After School Music Club]. I’m making a documentary. I’ve got it all on film, and they all hate themselves because of media pressures of how they are supposed to look. That’s why loads of them are like, ‘I could never be a musician, I’m not pretty enough’ I’m too fat; I’m too ugly,’ — and they’re like 13 year old girls, it’s ridiculous and it’s really sad. In England, it’s really bad. In the gossip magazines, women are introduced just by their age and weight first; it’s like a circle of shame. I’ve had the circle of shame attack me, like, ‘I’m too fat. You wear a vest.’ It’s gone too far. We’re fucking up our youth now.
The X Factor [TV show] needs to take responsibility for the fact that they put kids up on stage and they tell them how to make themselves better. They’re not trying to make them unique. They’re trying to shape them into something, mould them into some kind of perfect pop machine and kids are buying into that. It’s not cool anymore because it’s having a terrible effect on young people and their self-esteem. At the same time, there’s a turn for something hopeful with things like [the HBO TV show] Girls and [actress] Lena Dunham becoming hugely successful and being honest, and raw, and real, and something to relate to. Tavi Gevinson, fashion teen blogger, who now edits Rookie Mag, where it’s just a safe haven for young girls, where it’s actually about diversity and real life too. So, it’s a time where this year we can really push a change.
Does any of this end up in your lyrics on Girl Talk?
It’s quite an angry record because I was going through personal, emotional stuff too. So ‘Rap For Rejection’ is a rap about sexism. I thought It would be really sellable, a white girl rapping about sexism — that my label is going to love; no, I’m just kidding. I just thought it’d be kind of funny to do a rap about sexism because it’s not something you don’t usually rap about. So that is on there. I think it’s just I wrote [the album] in such a purge.
Many artists keep their politics and social activism and beliefs out of their music.
I’m not a huge fan of [puts on angry tone] protest songs. I love Billy Bragg. I’m friends with Billy Bragg and I remember him telling me, you have to get involved in more politics, but with love songs. I remember when all the Pussy Riot stuff was going on, all these protest songs coming out; I didn’t really like any of them. I was like, I really love the cause; I’m going to talk about it, but this music has been made without thought of who’s going to relate to it, and you’ve got to think about capturing an audience, rather than just pissing people off because with this kind of cause, you want to really hit. You’re almost preaching to the converted, if you do that kind of song. I wrote a song called ‘Free My Pussy.’ I wrote after that because I wanted to talk about that and the lyrics do talk about that a bit, but they can also be totally relatable. They do also mean being trapped in a relationship, being trapped in a headspace. It’s for any girl, or guy, or anyone, who feels trapped and suppressed by something, and it’s really sweet and it has comedy, so it’s kind of funny.
It's not on Girl Talk.
It’s coming out on Record Store Day [April 20]. I wanted to make something that’s the opposite of all those protest songs. It’s really sweet and it’s kind of funny. Anyone could sing it and make it mean something to them. I think that’s more effective than making an aggressive [song], if I’m just being real and honest in my lyrics, then I think that’s political anyway because life is politics.
What’s your hope for this year with the campaign and a larger fan base? What would you excitedly want to tell me?
Well, my reality show, my perfume [laughter]. I don’t know. I have no idea. I feel very different now as a person. I certainly feel like I’ve started a new phase of my life. I’ve no idea what this year has in store, but I’m really excited about this record. I think it’s the best record I’ve ever made. I want it to be successful and I want feel like ….I don’t know. I don’t really know what I want actually. It’s quite weird. I guess I always kind of felt like I want to make a difference in some way to people’s lives and have fun as well.
With your upcoming tour (March 12 to May 21) in North America and the U.K., will you have a table with information about Because I’m a Girl there?
Yeah, we’re selling these posters that we’ve made specifically with artwork for my record and Because I’m a Girl are involved in that. It’s a unique piece of artwork that’s being made for it. We’re going to be selling those with some money is going to be going to Plan and they’re going to be on that tour. I’m going to be talking about it after the shows as well. At this stage, it’s about raising awareness and having a unique piece of artwork for sale. It’s kind of step one right now. At this stage it should be more like, ‘This is what I’m doing. This is a really cool cause. Go look it up when you get home, if you feel passionate about it. I’ve just come back from Africa and seen this….’ I’m sure I’ll have a lot more to say.
Samaritanmag hopes to talk with Nash in March for a follow-up story about her trip to Ghana.
* Samaritanmag.com is an online magazine covering the good deeds of individuals, charities and businesses.