Queer Brooklyn-based artist Felix and the Future's new music video, "Karen," explores desire, otherness, and rage in the divine setting of a cathedral.
The song is Felix's first release off of his forthcoming LP, Holy Hands Vol. 2. Karen, he says, is "not your friend. Nor your ally. Mostly Karen is there to remind you of your shortcomings," and that she "is the cult of personality that we all worship."
The "Karen" visual sees several notable Brooklyn queens in its casting, including Untitled Queen and Lady Simon, as well as artists like A.E. Kieren and Alex Khalifa.
After checking out the video's arresting visuals and experimental, risky styling, it's safe to say we had several questions. Which is why we sat down with Felix himself to find out: Just who the heck is Karen?
Watch the music video and read our conversation, below.
OUT: Who's Karen? What drove you to write this song?
Felix: Karen is a song of betrayal. Karen has no gender and can be anyone. Karen is not your friend. Nor your ally. Mostly Karen is there to remind you of your shortcomings.
People have sacrificed something special about themselves in order to get closer to Karen. She is the cult of personality that we all worship.
A couple years ago I quit my job and was traveling by train through southeast Asia. I was angry all the time, and didn't know why. I was reliving fights from the past. I was holding onto a lot of trauma. I felt very alone. Then Karen came to me, when I closed my eyes and I started talking to her.
She brought up the rage, rejection, and disillusionment that I felt as an artist and human. Then the music came.
Talk about the creative process of making this video. Where did the ideas for the visuals come from?
I've always been intrigued by cults and religion having grown up in a very superstitious, Mexican-American, Catholic family. As a kid I had chronic night terrors filled with hooded creatures under my bed with black eyes and gold teeth. Some of that imagery came into this video.
I wanted Karen to be the Queen of an alien cult. While visiting Thailand I came across the White Temple in Chiang Rai, that has an entrance called The Gate of Heaven guarded by Death and Rahu, or the decider of the fate of your death. My co-director, Michael Saint-Onge, and I decided that Karen would lead the procession by blessing and controlling her congregation with her golden blood. We wanted her to be the ultimate false idol. We also knew she had to die.
We were inspired by classic films like Spartacus, The Holy Mountain, and Joan Lui.
How would you respond to potential criticism that some of the backup dancers in the video appear to be wearing makeup similar to blackface?
I believe intent and context are important when answering this question.
Firstly, my intention is to use the black makeup as a mask, much like a venetian mask or carnival mask. It is meant to mute or erase the features of our alien choir so they all look the same. It does not cover the face, but only the part of it that we are covering. Secondly, we are not imitating or mimicking any race. We are not portraying anyone as African-American or any other group. They are part of an intergalactic cult in the world that we've created.
I recognize how sensitive this subject is, and I ask any viewer to look at the context of how our painted masks are used in the video and see that this is something very different from blackface.
How does this song and video fit into the larger context of your forthcoming Holy Hand Vol. 2? Does this sound/ look similar to the other tracks on the new record, or is it very different?
This is the first track on the album. It sets the tone. From here on out it's gonna get really cold and the drums and synths are gonna get wilder and darker. Each song is like a mini-planet. Felix is so enthralled by how beautiful they are he doesn't realize how far into space he has gone. The songs are all different, but connected by sonic or lyrical themes.
This video has ties to my previous videos full of golden creatures, often faceless, and always very scary and beautiful. I decided to show faces in this video, because it was time for Felix to face his fears.
Talk about casting the video--are these all your friends or more people you've always dreamt of working with?
The cast is made up of a collection of Brooklyn artists and even some fans! Karen is played by Untitled Queen, a deeply emotional performer with an otherworldliness that I have always been mesmerized by.
The SpaceTrash Disciple is played by Lady Simon, another dark and violent performer. I've collaborated with both performers in various contexts, but I wanted to capture their magnitude on the silver screen. Artistically speaking, these two artists share a common thread to my own work, although through a different medium.
My SpaceThots were played by artists Charles Chaisson, A.E. Kieren, and Alex Khalifa.
Marina and Margaret are two choir members who are fans of my music and won two roles on the video shoot. Neither are performers but are super intense and brooding on screen. They are naturals. All of the performers added soul to their characters, and it is is marvelous to watch that happen through the lens.
It is a dream to work with everyone I've worked with. I am appreciative of anyone who offers a piece of themselves to the world that we are creating.
What other artists are you looking to for inspiration?
Mainstream artists: Bjork, Niki & The Dove, Kate Bush, and Klaus Nomi.
I'm inspired by the artistry of many indie queer artists like Chris of Hur, O Paradiso, The spectral Mirror and Idgy Dean. I love Palomo Spain. I would wear anything they designed. I also look for style inspiration in matadors, ballet dancers, space voyagers, and wizards. There is also an older lady in my neighborhood who dresses her dog in a matching outfit to herself. That to me is the ultimate inspiration.
How do you see your art and music as political and speaking to the queer audience?
I am a male Surrealist Pop Artist who isn't pretending to be queer for shock value. I am queer. I am masculine. I am feminine. I am alien. I refuse to be ignored because I threaten someone's fragile identity. I refuse to conform to society's limited idea of what I should be.
On this album, I am overthrowing those who've suppressed me in the past. I've tapped into my ultimate form and I am shedding the skin of my fearful and weaker self.
This is also a journey of sexual exploration and stepping into the black abyss of desire. I was raised to believe that sex was a filthy, sinful act. And homosexual sex was an abomination. I had no queer role models or artists that were talking explicitly about sex as a teenager, and I hope that my songs offer listeners the opportunity to bite into the forbidden fruit with me and let the juices flow through their own veins.
There wasn't a place for me to exist before, but I've created one for myself in music and in life. And I welcome anyone to join. Learning to think for yourself is not just a societal and political statement, but urgent in this very hostile political climate.
I encourage everyone to be the Gold Encrusted Diva that is buried deep down. She wants to come out and eat caviar.