text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper
His face splattered with Hello Kitty temporary tattoos, a chiseled male hustler body and a thick Austrian accent, Candy Ken is a Harajuku Greek God run through the sieve of a culture on digital overload. If you held a mirror to the teenage zeitgeist of the twenty first century, Candy Ken’s smiling gold grill would be twinkling right back at you. Over the weekend, the Berlin-based performer released his first official album, entitled Real Talk, and he did it as his own manager, promoter and record label. With tracks like Fuck Gender, the artist replies to his critics and Internet trolls, who are quick to label his sexual identity, with a swift auto-tuned retort: “Gender rolls are over….the new sex is what I am.” And it’s exactly that sex that has garnered the attention of the likes of fashion designer Jeremy Scott and stylist/creative director Nicola Formichetti who last year flew Candy Ken out to Milan for a Diesel campaign after seeing his images on Instagram. Formichetti also introduced Candy to Terry Richardson who shot him in the nude at his New York studio. The controversial photographer is also the subject of a song on Candy’s new album, about the attention he received from that shoot. To celebrate the release of Real Talk, an album that celebrates the prismatic lifestyle of the artist in grand fashion, Candy Ken hosted a decadent club kid party at Visions Video Bar in London. We also got a chance to chat with Candy Ken about the strange and manic universe he has created, what it was like to work with Terry Richardson, and his dreams for the future.
OLIVER KUPPER: So you wanted to throw the party as a means of saying goodbye to the club scene and for your new album, right?
CANDY KEN: The party was for my album. We performed all the new songs of Real Talk, that’s the album name. We also used the party just to celebrate all the club kids, the whole club kid scene. We got everybody down, because they support me so much. It was very beautiful.
KUPPER: Is this the craziest party you’ve ever thrown?
CANDY KEN: Definitely the craziest.
KUPPER: Your new album is your second album?
CANDY KEN: No, this is my first one.
KUPPER: This is your first official album?
CANDY KEN: Exactly.
KUPPER: But you’ve been putting out music for a little while?
CANDY KEN: Exactly. But always EPs, never an album.
KUPPER: Do you have a record label?
CANDY KEN: No, it’s all self-produced.
KUPPER: I want to go back to where you grew up in Austria. Were you always creative as a child? Were you always making art?
CANDY KEN: Yeah. Luckily, my parents supported me from day one. They always put me in art classes and drawing classes. I created art since I could walk. But, of course, it changed with the Internet and social media. I had to use the new media to express myself. I found music videos, performances, and photoshoots through Snapchat and Instagram. Those are great platforms for me to express myself.
KUPPER: When you were studying art, who were some artists who really inspired you?
CANDY KEN: David LaChappelle, Wes Anderson, Tarantino, Die Antwoord, M.I.A., FKA Twigs, Riff Raff. And then, of course, fashion designers like Jeremy Scott had a big influence on me. Nicola Formichetti, Gianni Versace.
KUPPER: And you worked with Jeremy Scott and Formichetti right?
CANDY KEN: With Jeremy Scott, we just talked over Instagram. We never met, so far. My goal is to work with him very soon. I’ve worked with Nicola a lot of times, yeah.
KUPPER: And he flew you out to Milan at one point?
CANDY KEN: Yeah, he flew me to Milan and New York for Diesel. He also arranged a photoshoot with Terry Richardson because they’re, like, best friends. That’s how I got to work with Terry.
KUPPER: What was that experience like?
CANDY KEN: One of the best experiences ever. Terry is so humble and such a nice guy. He had so much energy. You don’t expect that out of so many celebrities and photographers. He was so welcoming. He played my music, and he was like, “Oh, Candy Ken is in the house!” He was very enthusiastic and happy. He could shoot me like I’ve never seen myself before. He’s a very good guy.
KUPPER: Were you just in Rankin’s studio in London?
CANDY KEN: Yes, yesterday.
KUPPER: That’s a pretty big deal too.
CANDY KEN: Yeah. I want to make a name in London. I think I need more exposure in Europe. Mostly, I get booked in Asia. Last time, I was in Tel Aviv and Mexico, but not that much in Europe. I really want to work with photographers in London. Rankin Studios was really, really great.
KUPPER: When did you become Candy Ken?
CANDY KEN: I feel like I’ve always had Candy Ken in me. But I was not able to express myself until two years ago. Before that, I always had it in myself, but you get pulled down by society. You’re not sure of yourself. You’re not confident to really go for it. I didn’t get my confidence to express Candy on the outside until I moved to Berlin.
KUPPER: Were you part of the club scene in Berlin?
CANDY KEN: Not really. I’m more into the London club scene. In Berlin, it’s very dark. I’m very colorful.
KUPPER: That makes sense. Tokyo is probably easy to fit into as well.
CANDY KEN: Oh yeah. They really appreciate me in Asia.
KUPPER: We’ve been watching a lot of your videos on YouTube. There are a lot of beauty and workout tips, as well as music videos. Some of them feature your younger brother. Does he look up to you?
CANDY KEN: Yeah. He’s ten years younger than me. We’re really good friends. We have a really strong relationship. He gives me a lot of shit. He is a good source of criticism. It is good to have siblings, because they tell you things that might offend you if a friend said it. If it’s family, you can really get it. He is very critical about what I do, and he teaches me a lot actually. I’m travelling a lot, so I’m very happy if I can spend time with him in Austria. I’m really thankful to have him in my life. He’s very supportive.
KUPPER: Does he have some of the same interests as you?
CANDY KEN: He’s definitely interested in art. We both really like the same kind of movies, like Grand Budapest Hotel, that Wes Anderson look. We also listen to the same music.
KUPPER: That’s amazing. You said that your parents were supportive of your art. Are they supportive of what you’re doing as Candy Ken?
CANDY KEN: Yeah, definitely. At some points, I had to warm them up. I think they want me to be secure. They want their kid to be successful. But they are very supportive. I’m very lucky. Being Candy Ken is something that’s hard to take in for a lot of people. It works with provocation, nudity – it’s really out there. For my parents to accept that, I’m very lucky. But I also teach them a lot, I feel like. They got to know Terry Richardson. They’ve been introduced to 2 Chainz and Lil’ Wayne.
KUPPER: You’re introducing them to culture. They probably really appreciate that.
CANDY KEN: Exactly.
KUPPER: Speaking of rappers, especially American rappers, do you want to collaborate more with people in the U.S.?
CANDY KEN: Yeah. I feel like American rappers are similar to me because they don’t take themselves too seriously. I really appreciate people in the music industry who don’t take themselves too seriously. That’s why I’m a big fan of Lil’ Wayne. Even his name, to use your social disadvantage in a fun way – that always impressed me, since I was a kid. I really want to work with American rappers.
KUPPER: A lot of press is describing you as “post-gender.” Where do you see yourself on this spectrum?
CANDY KEN: As an artist, I have to work with society and what happens around me. I cannot ignore what happens around me. It’s not a coincidence that I’m from Austria. The gender role is very important. Growing up in Austria, there are a lot of things you’re allowed to do, but there are also lots of things you’re not supposed to do. I feel that I have to work with this gender problem, because it affects me too. What is my role as a male in society? How do they want me to be? I love opening people’s minds and waking people up, making people more acceptant and tolerant.
KUPPER: That’s a really important message.
CANDY KEN: I’m also living that a lot of people can’t live in their life. I’m expressing myself, trying different outfits, hair colors, shoes. That’s what a lot of people want to do, but they can’t because of their job, their family, or their friends. Most people put this cage over themselves. They could do everything, but they’re too afraid to fall out of the whole system of getting money, being secure, having family and friends. You think you lose all of that if you change something. I need to show everybody that I can be all of what Candy Ken does and still be accepted and loved by a lot of people, and the right people. Most people try to impress the wrong people. I tried to impress the wrong people for such a long time. If you want to impress all these people, you’re not following what your passion is. Once you really go for what you like, you will find people who have the same hobbies and passion. It’s so much better. You should really stop trying to impress stupid people.
KUPPER: How would you describe your new album?
CANDY KEN: It’s really from the heart. It’s very honest. One song is called “Fuck Gender.” One song is called “I Love Blue.” One song is about the Terry Richardson nude photos that came out. One song is about the Candy Crew. Every song, you get into what I’m thinking, how I see myself, how I deal with society’s problems. It’s very new. It’s not about stupid breakups and a love story like all these albums right now. It’s more about society and stereotypes and stuff like that, things I have to work with.
KUPPER: Do you have plans to tour in the U.S.?
CANDY KEN: If they want me, definitely. I am actually going to LA and New York for two months this summer. We are organizing music videos. We are doing a Kickstarter right now. We’re trying to do a very crazy, colorful David LaChapelle music video in LA. I hope I can perform that month in LA and New York. But I have no agent and no management.
KUPPER: If you could describe Candy Ken in three words, what would those words be?
CANDY KEN: Kawaii, yummy, and explicit.