For an artist who doesn’t fit into the heteronormative paradigm, the hegemonic music industry can make you feel discarded — as if you’ve been thrown away, left behind or forgotten. It’s a brutal feeling non-binary Swedish-Peruvian performer Lizette Lizette is all too familiar with. It’s also a sentiment they explore on their new single “Junk,” a song they say is ultimately about “depression and losing yourself in destructive thoughts.”
“I’ve always struggled with my self-esteem. Sometimes I find myself trapped in a destructive thought loop, thinking I’m a loser or a reject,” the Stockholm-based singer shares of the swirling, hypnotic club thumper, which takes inspiration from early ’90s progressive house, synth-pop and European EBM. “Struggling on your own in the music business is very hard and self-defeating sometimes,” they continue. “Getting rejected and comparing yourself to everybody is a lifelong struggle.”
The video for “Junk,” premiering exclusively on Billboard below, captures the enigmatic artist’s sense of isolation and uncertainty as Lizette, trash bags in hand, wanders around an industrial wasteland. “My imagination, imagination’s gone/ Imagination’s really lost in the junk,” they sing over an ambient beat as if in a lonesome trance, lost in their own foggy haze of existential angst.
Featured on Lizette’s independent sophomore album, NON (Feb. 8), the off-kilter single is just one of the artist’s many tracks that tackle the complex relationship between their queerness and society’s misperceptions, from being constantly misgendered (“Non”) to refusing to conform to cultural expectations (“Obey”).
Lizette Lizette spoke to Billboard about feeling like a perpetual outsider, their desire to be a drag queen, and why they don’t “wanna fit into” the mainstream music industry anyway.
What was your upbringing like?
My mom is from Peru. My uncle, Gilmar, lived with us most of my childhood. He was really cool and influenced me a lot musically — thanks to him, Cyndi Lauper became my first idol. But my upbringing was quite strict and my parents were very protective of me. When I started school the culture shock was quite big and I became an outsider fast. I became very introverted and turned to my inner world. I dreamed of revenge and becoming a pop star — the classic scenario!
Do you still grapple with feeling like an outsider? I know it’s difficult to shake those feelings of not belonging; I wonder if they ever really go away.
I’ve always felt like an outsider — it has never gone away — but sometime in my teen years, I turned it to something constructive. Even though it can be lonely, it’s also a source of power and freedom. When you find your crowd, your kind of people, it really empowers you. My first best friend, Stephanie, changed my life. I went from being a lonely outsider to being a part of an alternative crowd — a queer goth crowd. I felt so cool with her. My song “Computer Game” is about her; sadly, she died from cancer. But I’m satisfied with not belonging to the norm, I don’t wanna “fit in.”
How did having that community impact you?
Thanks to my group of friends, I feel like I belong. Stephanie took me to my first Pride parade when I was 15. When I was 18, I also met my other best friend and muse, Butcher Queen, an amazing queer performance artist. During the years, we managed to collect a group of friends that are not only very talented, unique creators, but also very genuine, nice people. You can spot a lot of them in my videos! I love being in our creative bubble, but I know that the world outside is very different.
I was very much into the ‘80s when I met my goth gang … I started to listen to a lot of darker synth music and also a lot of post-punk, which still influences me some. Then we started to listen to a lot of ‘90s dance music — Eurodisco, Eurodance, acid house and such. I was very inspired by early Ace of Base and British dance music from the ‘90s, like Opus III, Underworld and Orbital. Opus III still influences me. I wish I’d written and produced “It’s a Fine Day.”
You’re also inspired by drag culture, no?
I wished I was a drag queen throughout all of my teen years. That’s also when I started to call myself genderless, before I knew about being non-binary. I was very inspired by the New York club kid scene; Richie Rich is one of my favorite club kids. And I think it’s wonderful that [drag] is getting more exposure in mainstream media and pop culture, like RuPaul’s Drag Race. I hope it helps people become more open-minded.
When you first identified as genderless, what was that moment of realization like?
I was around 16 or 17. My biggest dream was to be a real drag queen, so I used to describe myself as a girl who wanted to be a boy, who wanted to be a girl. Then I started to think I might be trans and wanted to become a boy. I started to experiment with that, but I quickly realized that wasn’t [right for me] either. I came to the conclusion that I didn’t wanna label myself at all.
How does your new album, NON, represent you as an artist?
It’s a combination between the hard and the soft. I love combining those two elements ‘cause they represent me as a person and artist too. It’s like if Enya went to Berghain [German nightclub]. All the songs are very personal stories for me: about mental illness, loss and death, my grief after [losing] Stephanie, the love for my queer family, and being misgendered all the time.
When you get misgendered, how do you typically react to the person doing so? I imagine it must be exhausting and frustrating having to constantly correct or explain it to strangers, as well as navigate a heteronormative music industry.
It feels like a punch in the stomach, a slap in the face. It makes me feel uneasy. Sometimes I correct them, but sometimes I just don’t bother. Most of the people I’ve met so far don’t even get it, so they still see me as a “girl.” It’s stupid. [Laughs] I try to surround myself and work with people who I know understand who I am as a person and artist. It’s not easy, but I’m very selective with the people I work with.
I do most of the work on my own too, so my plan is just to make music my own way, and those who wanna follow me are welcome to join me. I want to be open and share these personal stories to help others. I know how much relating to somebody means when you’re feeling like shit. The mainstream music industry isn’t for me; I would much rather be a self-made underground artist.