Namasenda is the Pop Star of the Future
By Eileen Huang
“I love falling asleep to the sounds of gunshots,” Namasenda tells me, explaining her lifelong love of action movies. Sure enough, you can find evidence of this love in the Swedish artist’s latest mixtape, Unlimited Ammo: the cover features the singer in a glossy all-leather outfit, pointing a gun straight at the viewer with a brooding glare, looking a lot like the hero — or maybe even villain — of a Hollywood thriller.
Listening to Namasenda’s music makes you feel as if you were dropped into a scene in The Matrix or Die Hard (one of her favorite movies); it’s a whiplash-inducing mixture of sounds — auto-tune, synths, gunfire — that draws influence from pop, punk, technology, memes, and much more. Like the rest of her work, the beauty of Unlimited Ammo lies in its resistance to being easily labeled or categorized. “I don’t think about genres in that sense at all,” she declares, “I just make the music that comes out of me in the moment.”
Namasenda is one of the most recent signees to PC Music, the London-based music collective that has worked to usher in some of the most genre-defying artists of the decade, such as SOPHIE, Hannah Diamond, Charli XCX, and more. These artists are the pioneers of the growing scene of so-called “hyperpop” — the experimental, exaggerated genre of pop music that is taking over TikTok and gradually defining a new era of music.
I caught up with Namasenda as she wrapped up her summer tour — which has been “exhausting…but so fun,” she confesses — to chat about her upcoming projects, her dream collaborators, songs that make her cry, stan Twitter, redefining pop music, and more.
By Eileen Huang
You said in an interview that you were signed to PC Music because you sent a drunk DM to A.G. Cook, the British producer who founded the label. What did you DM him?
I cannot tell you what it said because it’s too embarrassing. It’s too much. It’s like, “No — redacted!” Like, I’m sorry, I cannot tell you. But I mean, it worked out.
It totally worked out! I’m sure it wasn’t that embarrassing.
I would never write such a thing today — let’s just say that. I mean, I think it’s good to see that it works.
I think you’re inspiring me to cold DM people in the future.
I think that’s the vibe. The worst thing that can happen is that they don’t answer.
Speaking of Cook and PC Music, you’ve done some really great collaborations both within the label — such as with Hannah Diamond — but also with other artists like Oklou, Mowalola, and Joey LaBeija. Who’s your next dream collaborator?
My big dream collaborator would be Future. But I don’t really know who I want right now…we shall see. But Future definitely.
Because he’s a Scorpio king.
You’re a Scorpio? I am too!
I’m a major Scorpio. I have so much Scorpio.
What’s your Big Three?
Sagittarius rising, Scorpio sun, and Scorpio moon.
Double Scorpio — that’s powerful.
Your love for action movies inspired Unlimited Ammo and also a lot of your music, and you can definitely hear that in songs like “Finish Him (feat. Joey LaBeija)” and “Banana Clip (feat. Mowalola).” Why do you find yourself drawn to action movies?
Oh my god, I just watch a lot of movies — almost one or sometimes two movies per day. I watch them when I go to sleep and when I wake up like it’s my routine. I like to watch a movie but still check my phone, and action movies are so chaotic, you know? It doesn’t really matter if you’re not really paying attention. Don’t ask why, but I always fall asleep when it’s like a major fighting scene.
Speaking of movies, are there any that you’ve watched recently that have inspired you?
No, but I watched FBoy Island on HBO and was blown away. Ridiculous, but I loved it.
The mixtape cover for Unlimited Ammo [shot by Hannah Diamond] is incredible. I love how futuristic it is. You said it was inspired by a mix of things, including “meme culture.” What memes — or internet cultures — inspire you?
The cover for the mixtape was inspired by that meme where they put a gun in front of any picture. It could be, like, Mariah Carey. There’s one with Charli [XCX], even one with me. That’s basically what inspired the cover, ‘cause we were always joking about it and then were like, “Okay, let’s do it.”
It’s so great to see an artist who also grew up on the internet and has spent a lot of time online. I love how that seeps into and influences your music.
I love the internet. I have so much fun on social media. I don’t understand how people don’t like it. It’s literally just fun and games.
The other wonderful thing about your music is that it’s so difficult to pin down one single influence. What are some other artists at the moment, whether musical or otherwise, who inspire you right now?
I mostly get inspiration from movies, or some art piece that I like, or just a situation that is going on in my life. I really don’t feel super inspired by any music that is coming out at the moment. I can enjoy it, but I don’t feel like, “Oh, I would love to do something like this.” Unless it’s Chief Keef — he’s bomb. He’s just so funny to me. I just love his way of rapping and his way with words.
You’ve said you’re tired of being put into boxes, which is something that many women of color artists face a lot — being labeled or described by other people as opposed to asserting yourself on your own terms. I’m wondering: How would you describe the kind of music you make — or want to make — in your own words?
That’s a really good question: the music that I’m making right now is super different from my mixtape, but I don’t know how to describe what it sounds like because I haven’t really heard anything like it before. I would say it’s pop. Just pop.
I love that you’re very insistent about calling yourself like a pop artist, because people tend to have very set ideas of what pop music is: it’s Top 40 or the Billboard 200. And there are great artists there, of course, but centering the kind of bold and experimental work that you do as pop music as well — that’s such an awesome statement.
It’s just so funny with labels; I don’t understand them. I did this thing where I said that my mixtape was R&B as a joke. And now, I’ve seen actual journalists say that [it is an R&B album], and I’m like, “What?!” It’s just so funny. People just want to label you something. I feel like most people can’t really think for themselves.
You’ve spoken about some of the challenges you face as a Black woman in the music industry, especially in a genre like “hyperpop,” which has been experimental and boundary-pushing, but also dominated by white artists. [So far, Namasenda is PC Music’s only Black artist.] What has it been like to navigate this music world as a Black female artist?
Being in the music industry [as a Black woman] is no different than life in general. There are always going to be stupid people in the music industry. There’s going to be stupid people on the street. Wherever you go, people will treat you differently when you look different.
You mentioned you’re working on something new. What is it?
I don’t know what it’s gonna turn into yet, but I’m really, really excited about all the tracks that I’ve made. It’s kind of looking like an album, but I don’t know! It has so many weird songs. I was listening to them today on my walk, and I was like, “These songs are weird as hell, but they sound good…it feels good.”
How are they weird?
I’ve never heard anything like [them]. Some of the songs are just pop songs, and I’ve made one song in Swedish, which I’ve never done before. I’m super, super excited about that one.
Is there a reason you haven’t made a song in Swedish, your first language, up until this point?
I don’t know…I’ve just always made music in English. But this song just came to me. First I wanted to sing the song in Spanish, but then I was like [to myself], “Wait…but you don’t speak Spanish.” So I was like, let me just do it in Swedish. It just felt like it shouldn’t be in English.
I totally feel that — there’s so much great music in Spanish out right now.
I love those songs. I don’t know what they’re saying, but maybe we don’t need to know — it’s a vibe. I feel like music is so universal. It’s so corny, but so true. I heard this one song off Rosalia’s new album, and when I heard [it] for the first time, I started crying so much. I was like, “Why am I crying?” Then I read the translated lyrics and it was the most beautiful song ever. It was so heartbreaking. Even though I couldn’t understand what she was saying, I felt the words.
Stylist: Nathan Sweet
Stylist assistant: Alexander Cartagena
Video Director: Evan Deng
MUA: Aya Tariq
Hair: Takuya Yamaguchi / The Wall Group/ using Oribe
Nail artist: Marie Barokas / Bryan Bantry Agency
Photo Assistant: Mikey Sanchez
Interviewed by Eileen Huang