"Now when I'm in the studio, I'm imagining people dancing to my music. It gives me a new type of energy."
Meet Tsar B. The 23-year-old Belgium bedroom producer and artist -- née Justine Bourgeus -- first earned hype abroad with the release of her self-titled debut EP last year, earning comparisons to FKA twigs and Banks. A classically trained violinist, the multi-talented upstart jumped from band to band in her hometown before deciding to self-produce her own vision -- a unique blend of self-described "dark-as-the-night R&B," anchored on pitched-down and glitchy electronics, peppered with Middle Eastern sonic influences.
Her breakthrough earned her a series of festival slots, including at last year’s Big Next Festival and Pukkelpop in her native Belgium, and at this past May’s Great Escape 2017 in Brighton, U.K. She followed-up the debut with a new single "Golddigger" earlier this year.
Despite earning heaps of buzz, the newcomer has remained virtually under the radar stateside, with fans turning to social media to create dances to her music. But it wasn’t until a few months ago that these clips slid into viral territory, thanks to famed choreographer and dance instructor Alexander Chung. The Millennium Dance Complex teacher, who has 200K+ followers on Instagram and 27M+ combined views on his dance clips on YouTube, choreographed a dance with Jade Chynowyth to her track "Escalate," which has now exceeded 10 million spins on YouTube.
The attention has since spread to her music, spiking streams to 3 million organic Spotify plays, 2.5 million YouTube plays, and doubled her followers on socials. There’s now over 200 choreography clips to her music on Youtube and over 750 on Instagram. “Alexander's video has 10 million plays now which is insane," Tsar tells Billboard. "My dad follows it closely and buys a bottle of champagne for each million plays (laughs).”
The pair finally met in person last month in the Netherlands at a show Chung was judging, where they were able to perform the track together for the first time. “We got off really well and decided to work together,” she explains, with Chung inviting the artist to Los Angeles to join him at his upcoming show ENERGY onJuly 30 at the Colony Theatre. “I’m really happy to be working with him. He is power, he's wild, he's aggressive and energetic, but smooth at the same time. It's incredible" she adds. "He lifts my music up to another dimension."
Ahead of Tsar’s L.A. appearance with Chung, she will also play a special set tonight (July 27) at famed strip club Cheetahs at 10 PM. Below, Billboard caught up with the fast rising talent about taking her bedroom alt-R&B global, her '90s-influenced style, favorite designers, and what's next.
Describe your style in 3 words
90’s. Black. Eclectic.
How does your style reflect your music?
My music is a combination of electronic, eastern music and 90's pop, so my style is universal in everything I do.
Favorite piece to wear on stage while performing and why?
My buffalo’s! I even brought them to LA despite them taking up a lot of space in my luggage (laughs).
What's your off-duty look like and how is that different from your on-stage look?
Off-duty it’s more casual & black, just something comfortable. I put quite a bit of thought into my on-stage looks, trying different outfits for different situations: to me the outfit must be powerful but feminine, and I’m not afraid to try out all-white or more colorful outfits.
Favorite and least favorite trend and why?
Lila... Got a hidden fetish for it. Not a lot of people wear it so I guess it’s not a trend, but let’s get it trending for sure!
What's one thing you never feel complete without wearing?
Lipstick. Makes me feel empowered and feminine. Can do a lot for even a simple look.
Who are some of your favorite designers to wear?
I’ve worn a lot of Léo by Léo outfits on-stage, so definitely them.
Go-to make-up - what's your favorite feature to play up and what's your favorite product to use?
YSL lipstick and loads of mascara. Also face jewels & gems, I have a lip jewel which I adore but it’s quite hard to sing wearing it so have to get used to it.
Your music lends itself to choreo well - is that something you had always had in mind while producing?
I had absolutely no clue in the beginning that this would happen.. definitely not while making "Escalate!" But now, when I'm in the studio, I'm constantly imagining people dancing to my music. It gives me a new type of energy, makes me think differently about songs and beats and structures as well. At a recent London show I had a local choreographer (Robin Dobler) come out with two of his best dancers and dance live as well, which give the performance such a different and cool energy, no one saw it coming.
What inspires you about the connection between the art forms of dance/movement and music?
The fact that two different art forms can collide this way gives me a lot of power. Seeing someone else be inspired by your art and even make art to your art is the highest form of praise. All of these dancers give me power and in return I I give them fantasy, a type of world to which they can create more things. It’s so crazy but I love it so much.
Playing in LA at Cheetahs this week - what are you most looking forward to? Have you heard any stories/legends about the strip club?
Yes, I’m super excited about it! A friend told me about Cheetahs and it sounded so cool that I really wanted to perform there. Some of the girls working there already DM’d me on Instagram, showing the poledance-choreo’s they made to my music, which is pretty insane! It's one of the best stripclubs in LA, and very credible too. I heard they have the best music installation, the best music choice and the best dancers. Yesterday I heard Frank Ocean also played there?!
You dropped your latest single 'Golddigger' earlier this year, what can you tell us about your next set/new material?
It's going to be in the Golddigger trend: aggressive, powerful and very feminine. I want my fans to hear it, but also to see and taste it. I’ve been writing a lot these past couple of months - always doing ideas for songs, even when I’m on the road. The last two months I spent pretty much full time in the studio, finishing more music. I’m really excited about the new material, can’t wait to share them. Haven’t thought about the album art yet but have selected some outfits for my next couple of shows: loads of lila and outfits by some of my favorite Belgian designers like Léo by Léo and Hornof.