When Michete calls herself an underground pop star, one doesn’t just need to take her at her word. The local emcee, singer, and producer doesn’t have a full-length album out yet, though she does have plenty of recordings (she dropped her Cool Tricks 3 EP last year), and has already played multiple sold-out shows supporting acts like Cupkakke and Shamir. Originally from Spokane, Michete’s made a name for herself as the performer to see at events aimed at large audiences (Upstream included). She'll be hitting the stage this Friday at Trans Pride Seattle in Cal Anderson Park, and again at Kremwerk's giant Saturday night Seattle Pride party with Samantha Ronson, Kittens, and Toya B.
I had a chance to sit down and chat with Michete in advance of her Pride dates, and we discussed everything from her style (is it pop? is it hiphop? an amalgam of both?), to the way her identity as a trans woman has informed her music. Check out our conversation below. (The interview has been edited for clarity and length):
You produce all your own beats. Have you had any formal training?
I've never had any formal training at all aside from being a theater kid. So I guess you could consider that some kind of training. Right after I graduated high school, I started trying to write songs. In 2013 or 2014, I started taking it seriously. When I went to community college, I did take a year of piano lessons and music theory, but I retained very little of that. I wouldn't show up to class, or do the homework; that’s why I dropped out after a year. So I guess I did receive a little training in that regard, too.
I’m 100 percent self-taught. I’ve used tutorials on certain specific things like the water droplet sounds on “Rihanna Kraft Singles”—I found that on YouTube. But it’s not as if anyone taught me how to make beats. It’s just been a process of collecting sounds that I find appealing and learning to put them together in new ways.
How did you decide to become a pop musician?
I’m just really passionate about pop music and that became a central part of my identity in high school, probably when I was 16. When I discovered Lady Gaga it was over. That was when I got really into pop music and into the idea of developing a pop persona, an aesthetic, a sound, and all of it coming together and representing an idea. That idea was being an icon. I’ve been obsessed with that idea for a very long time.
What is the target audience for your music?
I’m trying to snatch up those teenage girls and gays. There is something very special about the relationship that young women and young gay people have with music. It’s something very magical and very specific. The way I thought about Lady Gaga or Nicki Minaj when I was a teenager, or even that tween girls will lose their shit over Justin Bieber and One Direction. People like to shit on that, but there’s something very real about having that relationship, about having an icon in your life in your formative years. So young women and queer people are my target demographic, those are the people I want to get on my side because they’re the ones who get it. But if you put me on an indie bill with a bunch of indie bands, or with a bunch of punk bands, I have killed those crowds before. If you put me on a hiphop bill with a bunch of straight guys, I have killed those crowds before. You can put me anywhere, and I will get people on board with it.
When I first heard your music, you were described to me as an emcee. Now your sound is much more pop-oriented. How did that transition occur?
I’ve always wanted to be a pop star. I love hiphop, and there’s a lot of rappers that I’ve been inspired by. And I do rap in most of my songs. So it isn’t that I would say I am not a rapper, but the end goal for me has always been to be a pop star.
People have this misconception that pop music is a simple thing to do and make, but it’s not. Writing something that’s going to appeal to a mass audience and still keep them coming back is a very specific skill. In the beginning, I didn’t have a lot of confidence in my melodies and I thought making pop music would be too hard. But I knew I could rap. I had a sense of humor, I had bars, I had clever wordplay, I have a distinct personality that I can communicate through my music. Also, hiphop can be very minimal in a way other genres cannot. A few songs on my first EP are just a kick and a snare and me going off on top of it. After coming into my own as a person, and as a woman, and beginning hormone therapy, and releasing two projects, I now know that I can write a pop song. I can construct a hook immaculately well. When I listened to Cool Tricks 3 it was obviously a pop record. And when I put together the string of words “I'm an underground pop star,” I knew I wanted them to be the first thing I say on the record.
Why did you focus on hiphop with your earlier releases?
In the beginning, I wasn’t confident in my identity as a trans woman and I was trying to play to cishet male sensibilities. That sounds strange because my early lyrical content was pretty aggressively gay, but I would literally think the bars had to be really hard so the straight guys would not be able to deny it. Straight cishet men have controlled the cultural canon of what music is seen as legitimate and valid. We’ve been told that The Beatles are the greatest band of all time for decades and it’s like… OK, but what if it’s ABBA? What if it’s Black Eyed Peas? What if I think that? Why can’t I think that? As I’ve gotten older, I’ve lied to myself less and less, and now I don’t play to anybody else’s sensibilities except for my own. I look back on my old songs and don’t feel as connected to them. I don’t perform many of them. I look back on that music and say I wasn’t being myself. I was trying to fit into an idea or someone else’s perception.
When did you begin performing live?
The first show I ever played was opening for Shamir at The Crocodile. It was a sold-out show. I always knew I wanted to move to Seattle. In 2016 I played a show on Pride weekend at Kremwerk, and moved to Seattle about a month after that. DoNormaal and Raven Hollywood helped me get my first gigs here after that and sort of welcomed me into their 6950 collective. Now I’m opening for Cupcakke and playing Trans Pride this year.
What is the biggest challenge you face as a musician?
My biggest challenge is money—the fact that it costs a lot of money to make music. I’m not someone who wants to record in my basement and send it to my friend to master. I like to record in a real studio and pay good money for high-quality mixing and mastering, that’s why my music sounds as good as it does and as clean as it does. That’s not cheap. When you compound that with living in Seattle and being transgender, it’s like my life is really expensive and I cannot afford to be living it, and music is not paying the bills the way I need it to. But you know, it’s Trump’s America. Everybody is hurting. If it wasn’t credit card debt from studios, it would be student loan payments like everyone else I know. I’m not that worried.
Stay tuned in the coming weeks for a track-by-track breakdown of Michete's Cool Tricks 3 EP. In the meantime, listen below...