Male DJs and producers dominate dance, but lesser-known female singers provide the hooks on most of their biggest songs. Kai, Rozes and Astrid S. discuss what it’s like to power a hit when no one knows your name.
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Astrid S.: Most recently featured on Matoma’s “Running Out,” the Norwegian 19-year-old first came to dance on an acoustic Avicii remix.
Rozes: The Pennsylvania native, 23, hit No. 6 on the Hot 100 with a feature on The Chainsmokers’ “Roses” — which was named for her.
Kai: From Toronto, Kai, 26, has been featured on songs by Diplo, Jack U and now Flume, whose “Never Be Like You” is climbing the Hot 100.
How has your career changed since you were featured on a dance hit?
Kai: So much — especially in the last year. Starting with [Diplo’s] “Revolution,” people started hearing and seeing my name everywhere. It’s still getting cool placements in ads. Recently, the Bernie Sanders campaign [used it]. I had to jump into the deep end really quickly!
Rozes: [The feature] has given me more credibility. I’ve obviously gained fans, though I wouldn’t say it has made me famous; it has broadened my horizons.
Why do you think some of the most successful dance tracks and in general have had vocalists?
Kai: That’s a good question. I think that melody and lyrics are the most direct connection to a song. That’s what makes a song so classic and when people can relate wholeheartedly to words, I think that’s extremely powerful and especially now that EDM is moving into the mainstream, that’s going to be a natural part of helping it over that line to connect with people.
Do you feel like you’ve been embraced by the dance community?
Rozes: Yeah. I’ve had so many people hit me up to write for them or sing for them. It’s a very welcoming community. It’s just hard because you want to pick and choose the right tracks — you want to still present yourself the way you are as a solo artist. I just want people to understand that as much as Chainsmokers are a part of that song, I am too. Without one or the other, the song couldn’t possibly exist. I did my writing to it, they did their writing to it. It’s hard as a featured artist because you really don’t get that credit. Obviously the music industry, it’s not for you if you want credit. But it’s frustrating in a sense that I wish people did know who I was, because they gained so many fans of it. I want it to be equivalent.
Astrid S.: I haven’t really been in the dance scene. I didn’t start off doing dance tracks — I just have songs with a couple of DJs.
Kai: Dance producers have a punk-rock attitude to music, and it makes it feel good and right. It’s funny — this world is not somewhere I was trying to end up, but ultimately, I do feel that I’ve been embraced.
Does the dance world have a gender problem?
Kai: Music in general has a gender problem. From my experience, it’s more in the world of producing. There always has been this quiet belief that producing is a boy’s game. That is so untrue, and it’s unfortunate because that mentality has definitely affected me. You question your ideas a lot and feel like you have to depend on men — and mostly it is men — to execute your ideas and bring them to life. Recently, I spent a lot of time with female artists who produce all of their own music. Specifically Kucka, who collaborated a lot with Flume on the record — she’s literally a one-woman show. She inspired me to pick up Abelton to learn the program which has been extremely liberating to do. I hope that more girls realize that they can do it on their own. It’s so much fun to make your own music, because we’re all capable. We’re all musical beings.
Astrid S.: Growing up, I’d never heard of any female producers or songwriters. I didn’t know you could be a girl and produce, which is terrible. But it’s changing: [Susanne Sundfor] just won producer of the year at the Norwegian Grammys [the Spellemann Awards]. It’s very important, so girls, like me when I was younger, look at the TV and go, “Oh, I can do this too.”
Rozes: A lot of things would have opened up to me if I wasn’t this young girl at the bottom of the totem pole — things I try that are hindered by my gender. If I were a guy, I’d get more of the “Yo, bro, you should do this interview with us” kind of thing, and just be best friends with [The Chainsmokers]. It’s hard because I don’t want to say that I can’t get anywhere being a girl — I have. I’ve gotten very far. It’s just slower and it’s harder, because people are less likely to give you credit.
Have you had to fight to get that credit?
Rozes: Yeah, for sure. I’m starting this thing called “Don’t Forget the Girls.” I’m always fighting for the percentages that I deserve as a writer and singer, and making sure that people understand that I’m not just a girl that they handed the song to sing. I’ll go to a concert and I’ll sing that song because I own half of it, and the people are like, “I didn’t know you wrote it too.” Like, why don’t you know? Why isn’t that information out there?
Are you worried about being pigeonholed as a dance act?
Rozes: Not really. I have a new single coming out — the vibe is dancey, but it’s not considered a dance track. I can maintain the fans that I’ve gotten being an EDM artist featured on an EDM track, but also carry that into the world of alternative pop music. My personal sound is confusing. I’m kind of a Sia meets M.I.A. meets Twenty-One Pilots. But I wouldn’t describe myself as a dance music writer. I just think that fell into my lap, and happens to be the way I got into the industry.
Kai: It’s definitely something I’m aware of. There’s this danger: You’re fortunate enough to have success, but it’s specifically in this genre. For me, the issue has been being solely a featured act. It can be a mixed blessing: you get such amazing exposure from it, but at the same time, I feel like sometimes my role as a writer and artist gets lost in the shadow of the bigger name. All of these features have been genuine collaborations. Ultimately, the plan always has been to release a body of work on my own, and it’s not going to be EDM — that’s for sure.
Additional reporting by Lisa Brown
This article originally appeared in the June 18 issue of Billboard.