The pop singer-songwriter discusses the death of her father, potential label deals and her bold aesthetic.
Three months ago, Binx—who hails from a small town in South Africa—witnessed her world come crashing down. Her father and personal manager passed away, sending the pop singer into the eye of a storm. He was her biggest champion and inspired her to push the boundaries of not only her career but herself. Meanwhile, the newcomer is juggling major label meetings, potential deals and an exciting showcase (6 p.m. on Dec. 7 at Webster Hall's The Studio) in New York City. Life could not be more bittersweet for her than it is in this very moment. Her impressive debut project, The African Bee EP, features robust rock influence and flashy melodies harkening to the heydays of Cyndi Lauper, Michael Jackson and David Bowie. Her larger-than-life stage persona is drawn from several things, predominantly her rich cultural heritage and love of glitter. "Fashion is everything. Growing up, my mom and dad used to do melodramas. They were involved in these big theatrical plays and dress up like these crazy characters. My dad used to play Bowie and Rolling Stones in the house. Bowie is one of my biggest idols; my dad used to make me watch him being Ziggy Stardust. I used to think 'what is this character?' People loved it because they identified with it. That was such a cool idea. It made him so different. Who else compares to him?" she shares exclusively with Popdust over a recent cup of joe.
When she was only 10, her eyes grew even wider for the glamour of the stage. "I started modeling and really started getting into fashion. I started a band, too, and I knew I wanted to brand myself like The Rolling Stones. I decided to choose the bee as a symbol because it is my spirit animal. When I was 16, I thought, "I need to think of a way to differentiate myself when I finally get to America." I wanted to create my own alter-ego, which is the African Bee. Originally, it was just the bee outfit. When I got here, it became the African Bee because I wanted people to know where I was from. It has been evolving, and now, it is just a signature part of who I am."
In her daily life, she's "not always wearing the bee," but "it's a special part of the show. I'm very high-fashion, avant-garde and inspired by couture and runways," she says.
Working with Live Nation and BMG [Rights Management], Binx mounts the biggest showcase of her career in just a few weeks. "They have labels and managers who are interested in seeing the show. I'm really looking forward to it. Besides that, I've met with a couple majors. We're seeing what happens, though, with the big showcase. My mind is going wild with all the things I want to do, and I struggle to sleep at night. It is overwhelming, but it is also gives me a reason to get out of bed in the morning. I love it."
Binx discusses her hopes and dreams for the next year, what life was like in South Africa, and offers track-by-track commentary for her new EP. Dig into our exclusive Q&A below:
What was life like growing up in South Africa?
I can tell you it was vastly different than New York City, that's for sure. Growing up, I was in a very, very small town. There were no movie theatres; there were no shops. The only way we could entertain ourselves was if we had parties. My mom and dad would often throw a lot of parties, so we'd always have people come over. I was always outdoors, too. I grew up with my brother. I feel like my childhood was really pure and innocent. We weren't enveloped with technology. Here, you are more enclosed and inside with concrete.
When you tell people you are from South Africa, do they immediately assume things about you and the culture?
Americans, especially. [laughs] I get asked all the time, do we have lions running on the streets? And do we have mudhuts we live in? Every time I meet somebody who knows nothing about South Africa, they will look me up and down. All the bad politics can be misleading with how wonderful the country really is. We have a lot to offer, but we are still working our way up. I want to be a part of that movement.
In your song "African Heart," you incorporate the Xhosa language into the lyrics.
I really wanted to put a song on the EP like that so the world could know I'm South African. I'm very proud of where I'm from. I wanted to make sure to incorporate my languages and educate the world on my country. I sing in Xhosa, Afrikaans and English on that song. I also wanted it for myself, to not lose where I come from. I wrote the song, [and] as someone once told me when I was leaving the country, "don't ever lose your purity of heart in the big city." I've always been a small town girl but always wanted to live in New York. I was just meant to be here.
There is one lyric in that song which really stands out. It reads: "don't let the U.S. steal your star."
When people meet me, they tell me I have an energy about me. I'm generally very positive and happy and determined. My star is my spark. It's about not letting them steal your light. People forget that you have this passion, and when you are on your journey, all the rejection can easily pull you down.
What has it been like to bring these new songs to life onstage?
So different. Recording is so cool because you get to solidify everything that is in your mind. Then, when you perform, there's nothing like it and seeing people's faces as you sing the lyrics. Performing is, obviously my favorite. I love entertaining people. I could be onstage all day, everyday.
What is your favorite song to perform?
That is a tough question. I'd say my favorite to perform is "A Rock Boy." I get to always bring a male up onstage and sing to him. I get to interact with my band, too. It's a unified song. I do a big costume change in there, as well.
If a label deal doesn't work out, do you have an album ready to go? What's your next step?
Since my world was turned upside down two months ago, I feel like my perspective on life changed tremendously, which it only can when something like that happens to you. Normally, it was always label, label, label. That's just how my mind operated. I put that to rest and to the back of my mind. If it happens, it happens. If not, I'm just going to continue living and do things that make me happy. I realize how fragile life is. So, yes, I do have plans for next year. I'm not even concerned about labels right now. Yes, I'm hoping this showcase goes well and something comes of it. If it doesn't, it's not going to be the end of the world, because I have projects lined up for next year. I'm hoping to release an album at the beginning of next year. I would like to tour that album.
Additional Track-by-Track Commentary
"Radiohead": I wrote the song when I was 16. It was exactly the same song but I changed up the lyrics a bit. I wanted to name the song more personal. It's about me and my journey. It's all about how all my friends would be going after love, and I was going after a career. I am basically saying in the song, I won't [let] something else trigger my movement away from music. I had a nanny in South Africa who spoke Xhosa, and she used to tell me I was making too much noise all the time. "You're so noisey; you're like a radio." Also, the title was a great play on the band Radiohead. I grew up listening to them. This song was the very first song I recorded to introduce myself.
"Headlights": I co-wrote this song with Kinetics and a couple other writers. When I was meeting with them, I was meeting with Lava Republic, too, and they set me up with them. I was very excited. The song was a very interpretative song, so it was more about people could decide whether it was a lover or a goal. It was whatever you wanted to make of the song. Since my dad passed two months ago—he listened to the EP and it was his favorite song—I dedicate it to him. It's about keeping him in my headlights and keep focused and move on. He was my biggest fan. He managed me in South Africa.
"A Rock Boy": This is such a fun song. It's a euphemism. It's a song about a fantasy and what it would be like to be with a rockstar. Then, there's another part wondering what it would be like to have a threesome. There's also a reference of "boys in heels." Some people are so wrapped up and think it is wrong, and I wanted to put it into a song and let people know it's not wrong. It's just a sexy song. [The Darkness's] "I Believe in a Thing Called Love," with Justin Hawkins, actually inspired this song.
"Beautiful Minds": It's a new track. I wrote it last year. It's actually after "Reckless" [below], in terms of when I wrote it. I was in love with someone in South Africa for three years. He was my first love and long-distance boyfriend. We broke up, and I was so distraught from the end of it. I never, ever thought I would love again. I felt like I lost all hope. I was cheated on multiple times. It's awful. You never think it is going to happen to you. It shattered me. This song is about when you meet somebody and all your hope is restored in a split second. I had met somebody from Australia. He was a pilot. I felt like it was love at first sight. He felt the same. It didn't last long, but it didn't end. It was just a beautiful relationship.
"Reckless": It's about that first love and how when you know something is so wrong for you and so toxic. I knew what was going on and I kept taking him back. I was addicted to it. I could not stop no matter how many facts I knew or how many red flags I saw. It's about loving someone who is reckless with your feelings.
"African Heart": [previously discussed]
Listen to Binx's The African Bee EP below, via Spotify:
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Breaking down the bias of comfort films.
With the constant onslaught of complicated news that 2020 has brought, sometimes you just want to be able to shut off your brain, relax, and feel happy.
Enter comfort films. These are the feel-good movies that feel like a warm hug when you finish them, the ones that allow you to escape for a short while. We often turn to these types of films in times of trouble or extreme stress, and when we're not sure what films of this nature we should watch, we turn to the Internet for options.
Rivera's "Glee" character was not just important, she was groundbreaking.
As a young queer girl growing up in the south, I was lucky that my parents weren't homophobes.
My parents believed that people were sometimes born gay, and while they wouldn't "wish that harder life" on their children, they certainly made me and my sister believe that gay people were just as worthy of love as anyone else. I was lucky.
Still, in my relatively sheltered world of Northern Virginia (a rich suburb near Washington D.C.), homophobia wasn't as blatant as hate crimes or shouted slurs, but it was generally accepted that being straight was, simply, better.
In high school, it wasn't uncommon to use "gay" as an insult or for girls to tease each other about being "lez." While many of us, if asked, would have said we were in support of gay marriage and loved The Ellen Show, being gay remained an undesirable affliction.
Even more insidious, I was instilled with the belief—by my church and my peers—that if gay and lesbian people could be straight, they would. But since they were simply incapable of attraction to the opposite sex or fitting into traditional gender roles, we should accept them as they are as an act of mercy. At the time, this kind of pity seemed progressive and noble. Those in my close circle of family and friends weren't openly dismissive or condemning of gay people, but we saw homosexuality as a clear predisposition with no gray areas.
Specifically: Gay men talked with a lilt, giggled femininely, and were interested in things that weren't traditionally "masculine." Meanwhile, gay women dressed like men, had no interest in makeup or other traditionally female interests, and probably had masculine bodies and features. In my mind, before someone came out as gay, they did everything in their power to "try to be straight" but were eventually forced to confront the difficult reality that they felt no attraction at all to the opposite sex. I viewed homosexuality not as a spectrum, but as a black and white biological predisposition that meant you were thoroughly, completely, and pitiably gay.
As a child, when I began to experience stirrings of attraction for other girls, I would reassure myself that not only had I definitely felt attraction for men in the past, but I also liked being pretty. I was a tomboy as a child, sure, but as I got older I recognized that my value was increased in the eyes of society if I tried to be a pretty girl. As it turned out, I even liked putting on clothes that made me feel good, I liked applying makeup, and I liked some traditionally "feminine" things. In my mind, this meant that I couldn't be gay, because gay women didn't like "girl" stuff.
As a teenager, I began to learn more about the difference between gender and sexuality, and the fluidity of both. I began to let myself feel some of the long-suppressed feelings of queer desire I still harbored.
Still, in the back of my mind, the instilled certainty of sexuality as an extremely rigid thing sometimes kept me up at night. What if I was gay? Would I have to change the way I looked? Would I have to give up some of the things I liked? In my mind, being gay meant your sexuality was your whole identity, and everything else about you disappeared beneath the weight of it.
But then, Santana came out as gay on Glee.
GLEE - The Santana 'Coming Out Scene' www.youtube.com
If you didn't watch Glee, than you might not know the importance of Naya Rivera's character to so many queer young women like myself. Santana was beautiful, she was popular, she had dated boys, she was feminine, she was sexy, and she was gay. There's even evidence that Santana had previously enjoyed relationships with men.
But the character came out anyways, not because she had to or because it was obvious to everyone around her that she was gay, but because her attraction to women was an aspect of her identity she was proud of. It wasn't an unfortunate reality she simply had to make the best of; it was an exciting, beautiful, aspect of her identity worth celebrating.
Before Santana, it had never really come home for me that being gay wasn't an entire identity—that it wasn't an affliction or disorder, but just another part of a person. She also didn't suddenly start wearing flannels or cutting her hair after coming out. She was the same feminine person she had always been. I had never realized that being a gay woman didn't have to look a certain way. Santana and Brittany's gay storyline showed two femme-presenting women in love, and for me, that was a revolution.
If it wasn't for Naya Rivera, we may never have had that important story line.
"It's up to writers, but I would love to represent [the LGBTQ community] because we know that there are tons of people who experience something like that and it's not comical for them in their lives," Rivera told E! News in 2011. "So I hope that maybe we can shed some light on that."
While Rivera herself wasn't gay (the importance of casting gay actors in gay roles is a separate conversation), she understood how important her character was to the queer community. "There are very few ethnic LGBT characters on television, so I am honored to represent them," Rivera told Latina magazine in 2013. "I love supporting this cause, but it's a big responsibility, and sometimes it's a lot of pressure on me."
Rivera wasn't just a supporter of the LGBTQ+ community on screen. In 2017, she wrote a "Love Letter to the LGBTQ Community" for Billboard's Pride Month. In it, she wrote, "We are all put on this earth to be a service to others and I am grateful that for some, my Cheerios ponytail and sassy sashays may have given a little light to someone somewhere, who may have needed it. To everyone whose heartfelt stories I have heard, or read I thank you for truly enriching my life."
Now, as we mourn the loss of Naya Rivera, at least we can take comfort in knowing that her legacy will live on—that the light her Cheerios ponytail and sassy sashays gave us won't go out any time soon.
Excuse me, I have to go weep-sing-along to Rivera's cover of landslide now.
Glee - Landslide (Full Performance + Scene) 2x15 youtu.be
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