Magazine Feature

Kiiara's Hit Song 'Gold' Was Inspired by 'The Idea That You Don't Have to Answer to Anyone'

Jimmy Fontaine

The 21-year-old recently cracked the top 25 on the Mainstream Top 40 chart with “Gold,” her debut single.

Kiiara has only released a handful of slick electronic pop songs to date, but she's already amassed an army of supporters. Last summer, Apple's Beats 1 Radio played her song "Feels" directly after the high-profile debut of Drake and Future's What A Time To Be Alive mixtape. In May, Shazam placed Kiiara's "Gold" 4th on a list of 12 possible candidates for the Song of the Summer title. The tune already has more than 188 million plays on Spotify, and it recently cracked the top 25 on the Pop Songs Airplay chart. Billboard caught up with Kiiara to talk about writing songs while working a nightmare job at a hardware store and the first time she heard herself on the radio.

How did you first get into music?

When I was younger, music was always there. I played piano for five years, flute for a year, then picked up a guitar and really started writing. Writing-wise I started when I was 17. Whatever was bothering me, I could just write about it in a song. I was in the west suburbs of Chicago, then I moved an hour south, and then I went to school up on the South Side -- Saint Xavier, though I was at Purdue for a second before I dropped out.

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And you were working at a hardware store when you wrote "Gold"?

I wanted a job during the summer. When I was on break that's what I would do when I would go back home.

And then you'd write at night?

Yeah, I was always writings songs -- in my dorm room, anywhere.

What was the best part about working in a hardware store?

I don't know if I can even answer that. I hated it. I was really bad at it too -- people would ask where stuff was and I'd be like yeah, that's in aisle 24, and it would be in aisle 7. I was useless. I don't know how I wasn't fired.

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How did you connect with producer Felix Snow?

A writer I was working with connected me. We started working via email, and then I flew out a couple times and worked with him in person.

Had you heard any of his stuff before you started working with him?

I heard this Momma project he did with a friend of mine who I was co-writing with, David Singer-Vine. It was so sick. I told David it was tight; he said this producer did it. It's all sort of boring. I can't remember the exact moment.

What do you like about Snow's production style?

The main thing is the chemistry is there when we're working together. When you're working with a producer, there has to be chemistry. He's not afraid to try different sounds. He's really good with vocals -- it's super dope.

Was "Gold" the first song you made with him?

No, it wasn't. We made one track, then we made a different version of "Gold" – a down-tempo version, because I originally wrote the song on classical guitar. So it was the second one.

When you original wrote it on the guitar, what were you thinking about the time?

The overall message is you don't have to answer to anyone. That's how I was raised. If someone asks you for something, you don't owe them anything. You don't have to answer. I wanted to somehow incorporate that into the song. "I can leave the party without ever letting you know" [a line from "Gold"] -- that's the whole thing. Someone can be like, "Why are you leaving?" You're just gonna leave.

Seems like parties are out of fashion right now -- Alessia Cara had a hit about not wanting to be at a party either.

Crazy! This year, that's the thing.

Why "Gold" in particular?

We originally were gonna name it this acronym: "W.E.L.Y.K.", for "without ever letting you know." But we decided not to because we didn't want to be trendy. "Gold" felt like years from now it would still be relevant.

How did you connect with Atlantic?

When I posted the song on SoundCloud, I put an email in the bio. The day after we released it, a bunch of labels reached out. So I met with them and went with Atlantic. I go with my gut feeling on everything. They believed in what I was doing.

What about Beats 1? Zane has been a big supporter.

That was wild -- he played "Gold" the first week of Beats 1. That exposure really helped the record.

Do you know how Zane found you?

JJ [Corsini, who works with Zane Lowe] reached out. He found it and showed it to Zane.

I remember right after Beats 1 debuted the Drake/Future mixtape, they played your song "Feels."

That was insane. Thank you whoever did that! So wild. 

Why did you make multiple versions of "Gold"?

We knew it wasn't there. We saw it could be something. The first version we knew it wasn't, the second -- cool, but it wasn't it. So we just meshed those two together and were like, "Let's see what this is like." We made it, Felix did the vocal chopping, and he played it back. We were like, "Wow, this is it." It was something none of us had heard.

Did you feel like it was going to be a hit?

I never thought this would be massive. When we put it out, we were like, maybe a couple thousand people will hear it at most. It never even crossed our minds that a ton of people were going to hear it.

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Do you think the Olympics might have interest in it? They need that thematically appropriate content.

Ha. That would be dope.

You've been in the studio with some of the big-name electronic producers.

I've worked with Dillon Francis a couple times, Marshmello.

So you know who Marshmello actually is, or he kept his mask on the whole time?

Yeah, he wore the mask the whole time! No. (Laughs.)

Their sound is very different from Felix's style?

It was really cool. Dillon sent me some tracks and asked if I connected with any of them. I wrote him back and was like, this one, and started writing to it. I would text him lyric ideas. When we went into the studio we already had sort of an idea; it was really easy. He was trying to tailor the beats he sent me towards what I was doing, so it seemed to fit really well. With Marshmello he did the same thing. He told me he woke up that morning and made the beats he played me in the session. It was really natural.

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Do you remember the first time you heard yourself on terrestrial radio?

I was in my friend's apartment and their buddy called us and was like, "I'm in a car and you're on the radio." So we listened to the song. That was wild. I'm like, "Is this real? How is this happening?"

So you will not be working at the hardware store next summer?

No! I haven't worked there in over a year.

And you're about to make your live debut?

Yes, first show is July 20th in San Diego. Finishing up at Lollapalooza.

How do you feel about your first live gigs?

I've never performed other than a radio promo tour I was on last week. It'll be dope. With Lolla, I've never been, so I think it's wild that the first time I'm gonna be there I'll be performing.

So that'll be hometown territory?

L.A. is definitely home now. It'll probably feel really weird. A good weird. But I'll be like, "Where am I?"

A version of this article originally appeared in the July 30 issue of Billboard