The 20-year-old Minnesota musician has already received high marks from Lizzo, Kehlani and The Internet, but she's not pressed about taking over.
Each month, Billboard Pride celebrates an LGBTQ act as its Artist of the Month. Our April selection: Dizzy Fae.
Looking out over the bustling center of Manhattan’s Times Square from Billboard’s offices, Dizzy Fae is in her element. While the genre-bending artist says that she still finds herself feeling overwhelmed whenever she’s in New York, she’s starting to understand the city better. “It’s a super fast-paced hustle zone, and I think that’s my pocket,” she says with a self-assured grin. “I really like hustling when I need to hustle.”
The rising star still isn’t used to being among the kind of energy found in New York City -- the 20-year-old singer currently lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, just a few miles away from her hometown of St. Paul, working with a creative team of independent local artists to produce the kind of music that she wants to make, regardless of what is expected of her as an up-and-coming musician.
That’s the mentality that informed the singer’s 2018 mixtape Free Form, a wide-ranging and eclectic project that saw the singer trying out as many different styles as she could. From hip-hop to jazz, Fae dabbled in a little bit of everything to prove she could. “It was literally the name, very free,” she says. “No structure, no lines, no following.”
While Free Form brought Fae face to face with a new audience, it certainly wasn’t her first time in the spotlight. Before the release of her debut mixtape, she had already performed with artists like The Internet, Kehlani and Empress Of, and she even opened for Lizzo on her very first headlining trek back in 2016. She continued her streak of impressive collaborations in 2018, touring with Toro y Moi in the latter half of the year.
“I constantly have to get reminded of what happened,” Fae says, reminiscing on her past triumphs. “I'm just very grateful, and very happy that people are able to come along on this journey… like, I don’t know. Well, I do know, but I don't know, you know?”
The singer knew she had a gift before she even became a recording artist. Growing up, her mother would point out the singer’s skills constantly when they would drive in their car together, letting her know that she had serious talent. Eventually, Fae enrolled in the Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists in lieu of a more typical high school education, because she knew that she wanted to be a performer more than anything else.
In school, the singer was trained in a number of different musical styles, including opera. While she’s hardly onstage singing Puccini for her fans, Fae says that her classical training helped influence her eclectic discography. “It really opened up the door for experimentation,” she says. “I grew up on, like, Sting and The Police and Prince and Billy Joel, and a bunch of the other stuff that my mom would listen to. So I just have all of these different things that I could pull from when I was feeling something in the moment when I was making music.”
The singer got her first taste of fame during her senior year. She was sitting in her vocal class when her debut single, “Color Me Bad,” was unveiled to the world on Zane Lowe’s Beats 1 radio show. Fae found herself overwhelmed by the incredible support for the single, and kept going to the bathroom to put up social media posts promoting the song’s release. “My teacher at one point was like, ‘What are you doing? What's really going on? Do you need to go get your bladder checked?’” she remembers with a laugh.
Not everything about growing up in Minnesota was pleasant, though. Fae remembers that growing up as a biracial woman with a white mom who took care of her meant that she was usually left to navigate the complexities of her race on her own. For example, Fae points out that she had to learn how to do her own hair, since her mother didn’t necessarily know how. She learned how to maneuver the halls of her school, usually filled with white classmates, as the kid who looked different.
“I want to say I was an outcast, but I don't wanna emphasize that too much, because I was always OK with being an outcast,” she says, hesitantly. “There's a lot of things that I'm starting to realize about my past that I'm trying to articulate better, because it is a very important thing to be biracial and to have a platform to talk about that.”
But growing up queer, according to Fae, was never an issue. “I knew I wasn't straight since daycare, dead-ass,” she says. She also never had an official “coming out,” save for a nonchalant conversation when she was a pre-teen with her mother where she told her that she liked girls. “She said, ‘OK, good for you. Tight.’”
Thanks to her experiences growing up, Fae chooses not to slap a label on herself (she identifies as “queer” thanks to its ambiguity). The singer says that because she was constantly viewed as “other,” she now chooses not to search for boxes to put herself in. “Growing up queer, of color and biracial, in Minnesota or anywhere, is not something that you can so easily categorize or place. It's something I'm still figuring out how to articulate,” she says. “If you were to ask me that question when I'm 25, you might get a completely evolved answer, and I'm okay with that.”
So when the time came for Fae to release her song “Her,” an affirming love song about falling in love with a woman for the first time, she wasn’t nervous. Fae had confidence in herself, and she knew that regardless of their sexuality, her audience would be able to connect with the song’s message. “Anyone can relate to living your truth,” she says. “A lot of people find a lot of comfort in relating, and I think that helps people grow. So why not share that authenticity? It's more fun living life that way.”
Honesty is what Fae says keeps her feet on the ground. Whether it’s in the recording booth or just on a walk around town, Fae lives in the present moment, not the past or future. On this May day, the present idea on her mind is her upcoming mixtape NO GMO, a continuation of the work she put into Free Form that’s due out this summer. This time, though, Fae approached her new project with a more clear-cut idea of the music she wanted to make -- songs you can dance to.
Fae first got the idea while on tour with Lizzo; when the singer bore witness to the kind of unbridled energy she received from the audience, she knew that she wanted to make music worthy of that feeling. “I wanted to give what I was receiving because I think people deserve it,” she says. “I think we deserve to not think about everything that's happening in the world, and dance really helps with that.”
NO GMO certainly lives up to that expectation. After getting into the habit of grocery shopping and eating healthier, the star says she say the phrase "non-GMO" everywhere, and decided it would make for an interesting title to her upcoming project. "It just explains the overall concept; this is everything you need, but you don't know that until you get it," she says. "And I said NO GMO instead of non-GMO, because it just sounded cooler."
While the mixtape is a spiritual cousin to Free Form, Fae spends her time weaving together a more consistent dance-based sound, heightening the intensity of her voice to get her fans moving. Songs like “Lifestyle” and “Company” still carry the singer’s experimental roots, while also pushing her sonic boundaries into a more mainstream, electrohouse field.
Fae makes it clear that the development of her sound is not informed by a desire for mainstream appeal — the singer remains independent from a label, working with her close friends and local producers like Su Na (Alec Ness) and Psymun. “I'm a big believer in the idea that life is a collaboration, and I have a very strong team,” she says. “We have been independent because we wanted to start that organically, and we wanted to start from the ground. Also, like, the industry is weird.”
But that doesn’t mean the star doesn’t have big dreams. In conversation, Fae lays out her vision for her very own concert experience in Minneapolis, where fans could come as they are and feel safe to simply dance and party together. “I want to create a space where people dance all night, but there's no headliner,” she says, as a grin creeps across her face at the thought of her dream. “If there’s anything you're looking forward to about this, it should be about the experience you'll get, the stories you'll be able to tell the next day, the smiles you feel years later from talking about that night.”
As far as making it big, Fae leaves that to fate -- if it’s meant to happen for her, then it will. But in the meantime, she’s going to keep making the music that she connects with, trends be damned. “It really is all about the art, because for me, art is timeless,” she says. “The industry isn't there, I leave that for my manager. I'm trying to be timeless.”