Iggy Azalea just unleashed her first album in five years, and the title speaks for itself. “In My Defense” sees the Australian pop star talking back, taking control of her masters and giving self-confidence to her fan base across the world.
Azalea — real name: Amethyst Amelia Kelly — made a name for herself with her 2014 hit single “Fancy” featuring Charli XCX, which topped the Billboard Hot 100 for seven consecutive weeks and was nominated twice at the Grammys (for record of the year and best pop duo/group performance). But beyond the accolades and fame, she’s been through it when it comes to career highs and lows, as a viable target for the internet’s love of trolling. As a fierce Caucasian rapper coming from overseas and landing in the States, she fielded accusations of cultural appropriation, racism and other social stigmas. In November of last year, she parted ways with Island Records, announcing on Twitter, “I’m officially unsigned!”
Instead of fully responding publicly to the criticisms, she saved the pent-up emotions for this album. Released via EMPIRE and her own Bad Dreams Records, “In My Defense” serves as her second studio album following her 2014 debut “The New Classic.” The 12-track project hails lead single “Sally Walker,” with features from Lil Yachty, Kash Doll, Juicy J and Stini (whom she plans to bring up and develop).
Variety spoke with the 29-year-old before her show last week at the Fonda in Hollywood.
You had a crazy visual for “Sally Walker.” What was your vision with this?
I like dry, really dark, tongue-in-cheek, sarcastic humor. I wanted to do something that wasn’t taking itself too seriously, because the song seems really serious. Wanted to make sure visually people understood: “Mmm, maybe it’s a bit more tongue-in-cheek than we thought.” Still keep it dark, though, not cheesy.
Thoughts on the controversy on the beat being similar to Cardi B’s “Money”?
I didn’t think that was much of a controversy because it’s produced by the same person. I’d understand it being a controversy if it were another guy sounding like that producer, but because they’re both J. White beats, it’s just his signature sound. He’s like, “It sounds like me, I don’t understand why …” Cardi’s cool, I’m cool. If the artists are happy and the beat’s made by the same guy, everybody’s cool.
What was your reaction when people thought you were throwing shots at Bhad Bhabie in the video?
Oh my God! I thought that was so farfetched. [laughs] If I was gonna make a shot, I’d at least get somebody that at least looked like the girl. I can hire whoever I want; I wouldn’t pick somebody who’s an entirely different race to the person I’m talking about. I guess she has red hair but that’s literally the girl’s hair color that I can’t change. No, it was never about her. That surprised me, to be honest.
Have you crossed paths with her at all?
No. I go do my own thing.
How’s it feel to finally get “In My Defense” out?
Kind of exciting and also a relief because it’s been a long time coming. It’s been five years; that’s half a f—ing decade.
I didn’t realize it’s been that long.
Me neither! Until I saw the other day they’re like “it’s the fifth year anniversary!” Holy f—ing shit. I’m excited but I’m relieved. Now, I want to keep going. I never want to wait that long for an album to come out ever. I couldn’t take it. Next year, I’m having another album. Not ever waiting that long again now that I can be in control of those things — there’s no f—ing way.
Talk about the title — do you feel like you’re always on the defensive?
I think everybody’s always on the defense when you’re a woman in the public eye, whether you did anything wrong or you feel anything really needs to be defended or not. You could go out to the grocery store and people say you look fat; next thing you know you have to defend that. Maybe you said something and there’s a controversy — but you don’t even have to do anything to be controversial, it’s simply by breathing and existing. Having a platform, you’re kind of on the defense whether you like it or not. But it can be fun! Which is what I’ve tried to make it. Okay, so you want to talk all this shit and have all this to say? Well, if I was going to say something back, “In My Defense” — this is what I would say.
You say it’ll make you say “f— you” to your own reflection for ever doubting yourself. What were you going through internally?
Everybody always wants to be their most confident self. We all have our days where we wake up and feel like we aren’t able to achieve the things we want. Maybe you’re not feeling pretty that day, or you feel you can’t do the things that you thought you could, or it’s hopeless, it’s never gonna change, I’m never gonna get this — we all go through those things. There’s not necessarily even a logical reason for why we feel that way; you just wake up on the wrong side of the bed.
Making this album, I felt so happy after I made each song. I’d drive and listen to them on the way home; it just made me feel so f—ing good. “You know what? F— this shit.” I can’t believe I would ever wake up in the morning and doubt myself, doubt I could make good music, or did I lose my juice? After I recorded it, I’d honestly sing it at the top of my lungs by myself. “Yes, I f—ing love this!” Quit doubting yourself. I want you to hear it and feel like it’s you saying it. I want you to feel as confident as I did when I made it. Be like “f— this shit! Why did I ever think I couldn’t? I’m the shit!”
On “Clap Back,” you say you own your own masters. How does it feel?
Relieved. It’s scary when you create something and don’t have no ownership over it. Most people don’t. I didn’t think that I’d ever have a chance to own my own masters — maybe relief isn’t the right word. But in a way I feel relieved, the fact I get to walk away with something when it’s all said and done. When I’m finished with this, I feel happy I’ll be able to walk away and own what I made. That’s everything if you’re a musician.
How were you able to take creative control on the new album?
I guess I’m able to take control in every element because I’m a psycho micro-manager — and nobody can stop me now, ‘cause I’m my own boss. I’m having a lot of fun creatively, lyrically, visually. We’ve even been doing crazy with makeup and hair. I’m having fun with everything. I’m not thinking as much about if this will work — “Would this be a Top 40 hit? Will other people like it?” I’m not looking for validation in what I do creatively from other people.
I saw the twerk pit at the meet & greet. Was that your idea?
Kind of. [Laughs] Honestly it was my fans’ idea. Started as a joke, then it got serious a few days ago. I’m like, “Wait a minute! Would you guys really go in a twerk pit if I made one?” They’re like “Yes, yes! We really would!” I was like “f— it, I’ma do it. But if you’re lying… and you leave me out there looking f—ing dumb, this is the last time.” I guess today is a test run, but I hope it works out. I like the idea of not just twerking, but having a place where you can go, dance, have fun, do whatever the f— you want at a concert. That’s what you really want to do when you go to a concert. More than film someone or get mashed in against the barrier, you want to have fun with your friends and not give a f—. I hope that area will bring about that type of vibe and energy.
Thoughts on Taylor Swift battling Scooter Braun over her masters?
Obviously, I hope everybody can own their masters. I don’t know what she can do about that situation but the good thing about Taylor being as talented as she is, being the songwriter she is, is she will never be out of ideas. At least she owns the ones she has now moving forward. She’s in her prime, so she’ll have a whole catalogue of stuff — but it sucks.
Talk about your decision to sign to EMPIRE.
It was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. I love Ghazi. It’s crazy because I thought I’d get out of my deal and sign to another major label. I had so many offers from every label you could think of, and Ghazi came out of the woodwork. He reached out to my manager. My manager called me like “I met this guy Ghazi. It kind of sounds too good to be true, but if it is true, then maybe you should go independent. You can have you own label, you can sign your own acts.” I have people like Stini who’s gonna perform tonight; I’m interested in developing her.
Once I met Ghazi, we just clicked. It’s been the best partnership since then. He really brings all his expertise to the table with how to market and distribute things, then I’m free to do the creative stuff. It’s a win-win situation. It’s so different from when I was signed to a major, I had people nitpicking my ideas or second guessing them, wondering who they’re for. With Ghazi, there’s none of that. It’s “bring me the project. Even if I don’t get it, I’ll tell you what I think is the best way for this to reach as many ears as possible.”
What made you decide to get Lil Yachty on “Hoemita”?
Honestly because he’s a really good friends with [Playboi] Carti, my boyfriend. I see him in the studio when he’ll hang out with my boyfriend. I’m like “that’s a cool person I know is friendly and nice, and I think is really talented.” I just asked him, easy.
I hear you talking your shit on “Spend It.” What songs mean the most to you and why?
I do talk shit on “Spend It.” Funny enough, that’s actually not a favorite of mine. It seems to be a fan favorite. I love “Thanks I Get,” but I also really love “Freak of the Week” because of Juicy. His verse is epic, but also it was very nostalgic for me to collaborate with him because we collaborated on “Trap Gold” and we have a song called “Flexin & Finessing,” which was a favorite of mine then, too. I really wanted to get back to my pre-signed, mixtape, hunger-type vibe for this album. It was also a smash, so to do that song with him, it came back full circle.
What lyric/line are you proudest of on this album?
I can’t pick a line but my favorite song is probably “Thanks I Get.” It’s a good balance of rapping about shit that people know if I’m taking shots what it’s about. It’s real-life scenarios, but then still has bars, metaphors, and it’s playful.
Thoughts on Jermaine Durpi’s comments about stripper rap?
I think that’s silly because it reduces women to strippers. If you feel you’re not sexually oppressed, that makes you a stripper? I don’t really agree with that.
Talk about linking with Kash Doll on “F— It Up.”
I knew that we’d get along well because we talk all the time on text message and send voice notes. That was my first time actually meeting up with her in real life. When we shot the video finally, it was so much fun. Honestly feel like we could be best friends. I’m not sure if she feels the same way or if she’s like that with everyone, but we had a really good time.
We’re goofing off and laughing; you can tell from the video we’re genuinely enjoying it. We weren’t just two people in a room forced to collaborate. She always gives a different flow and energy, I know whatever she’ll do is unexpected, and that’s an unexpected verse from her. She was very aggressive but then her delivery was so soft and sexy.
Aside from yourself, who are some females killing it in music?
Of course there’s Kash. Tierra Whack is really cool. I loved her blob suit she wore to Coachella. I like Maliibu Mitich. Her voice is so foxy, cool, sexy and grimy. Of course I love Meg, Cardi, all of those girls killing it. I love Brooke Candy. I love Stini, who I just signed. I met her in the studio ‘cause she writes! She writes really good. She was writing for somebody else; she’s like “I have to tell you I’m a big fan, can I play you some music?” I always let people play music in the studio. She played me this song and I actually featured on it for her. She ended up in this bad situation with a crappy agreement and reached out to me saying “I don’t know what to do!” I’m like “What about I sign you?” The rest is history.
Talk about feuding with Peppa Pig on Twitter.
Oh my God, I love Peppa Pig! That’s not a real feud. [Laughs]
Did she agree to making a song?
No, I guess the competition is real! Peppa Pig is out here trying to kill me in album sales, it is not a joke. It’s serious! Well, she’s serious.
Anything else you want to let us know?
Hopefully, I don’t f— up this show.