Stop Condescending to Kitty Pryde

Kitty Pryde is an apparently teenage white-girl rapper with a Tumblr and YouTube presence, who took her name from an X-Men character. Her songs are mostly about boys, and she sells them on a Bandcamp page alongside Mediafire links with notes like, “U CAN DOWNLOAD IT 4 FREEC UZ IM NOT GAY AND I HATE MONEY I GOT ENOUGH HAH.” Pryde is cagey about her age, leading fans and detractors to speculate that she’s either a frighteningly precocious 13-year-old or a 20-something impersonating a high schooler. The extent of her self-deprecation rivals that of Tyler, the Creator. So there’s no mystery to why her name is suddenly all over the Internet, often in the same sentence as Kreayshawn’s (as in, “Kitty Pryde is just another no-talent Kreayshawn” or “Kitty Pryde has come to save us all from no-talent girl rappers like Kreayshawn”).

The only thing that’s shocking about her sudden rise to fame is that her newest song, “Okay Cupid,” actually justifies the hype.

A mutant slow jam with a distorted, swollen-to-bursting beat, “Okay Cupid” is such a fairy tale that it starts off with the words, “Once upon a time.” But it’s also the furthest thing there is from a throwback, an ode to an utterly flawed boy whose greatest show of affection has been some late-night drunk dials. “You apologize to me when I see you do a line,” drawls Pryde in her dreamy, relaxed style. “I’m open-minded, and it’s fine. I don’t do the shit, but I don’t really mind it.” There are coy come-ons, a quick tribute to Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass,” other casual references to drugs and alcohol. Listening to “Okay Cupid” feels like popping a Vicodin that magically transports you to a suburban mall where girls go to escape parental supervision and “stalk” the boys they like.

Whatever her actual age turns out to be, Kitty Pryde makes music about being teenager. She recalls school scenes and courts her crushes, often adopting playfully thuggish language as a friend or two giggles in the background. On Tumblr, she writes things like, “the nice stuff is cool but i really have to hand it to people who think up mean stuff because oh my god some of you are so fucking clever.” Pryde will tell you her music “is sort of is a novelty” or “just a joke.” Bundle all of these tendencies with her youth and gender, and you get an artist (who will probably maintain that she isn’t an artist) who’s being condescended to and underestimated, even by the critics who support her.

In the New York Times article that cemented her fame last week, Jon Caramanica favorably compares her with Karmin (duh) but also refers to her lyrics as “naïve and unflustered rhymes about people she loves and people she hates.” He calls “Okay Cupid” both “arrestingly strange, and arrestingly good” but then writes that she delivers the verses in a “mildly whiny voice of the sort children use to get parents to pay attention to them.” (She doesn’t. Outside of the intro, in which she yells at someone I assume is a parent, “Get outta my room!,” I don’t hear a whine, although it’s not surprising to hear a teenage girl’s voice described this way.)

In a fairly content-free IM conversation about the “Okay Cupid” video that someone saw fit to publish, a writer for Jezebel — which should really know better than to subscribe to the “all young, white, female rappers must be essentially the same” meme — complains, “I sort of struggle with this Kreayshawn movement.” Complex’s post about the clip simultaneously patronizes Pryde’s contribution to the track and attributes its ultimate success to the older men around her: “The culture referencing and lyrical simplicity is charming, but her affiliation with Main Attrakionz’ management and producer Beautiful Lou gives it a little more depth.” Words like “silly” and “pubescent” appear often, with some writers (who, again, are also avowed fans) implying that her affinity for Tumblr makes her an odd, post-Millennial creature who can’t help but speak Internet as a first language. According to Ernest Baker’s introduction to his long and widely quoted Complex interview with Kitty Pryde, “‘is she in on the joke?’ speculation” is part of her appeal.

This comment is condescending on two levels: First, there’s the assumption that Pryde might not understand what she’s putting out into the universe. And then there’s the unquestioned premise that a girl rapping about teenage life has to be some kind of a joke. Her music is knowingly playful, with lots of funny asides, and she’s self-deprecating to the extent that she might not (publicly) disagree with these judgments, but I don’t see what there is to laugh at about her mere existence.

Other writers seem similarly conflicted about the extent to which Pryde knows what she’s doing. Many of the same articles I quoted above also mention the self-awareness in her lyrics; a few paragraphs after he calls her rhymes “naïve,” Caramanica observes that “[k]nowingness pulses through these songs.” Regardless of where they fall on the “does she get it?” spectrum, everyone seems to agree that Pryde’s high-school aesthetic is “adorkably” unconscious, its teenage magic defining the limits of her worldview.

I don’t agree. Consider her response to Complex’s question about Earl Sweatshirt’s indirect diss: “Obviously, I am a teenage girl here. I am gonna read into every single thing that you say. And I am going to take it to heart, because that is who I am. I am full of hormones and I can’t help it.” Pryde may rap about being a teenager, but she’s also grasped as much as any adult about the particular essence of youth — that there’s an aesthetic appeal to songs about obsessing over a pop star or drinking Bud Light Lime while swallowing some cocky boy’s obvious lies.

She’s been called the Taylor Swift of hip-hop, but to me her music recalls nothing more than the British teen drama Skins, whose romantically debauched view of teen life reflects the combination of real adolescents and sympathetic grown-ups who make up its writing team. This is why Kitty Pryde has made such an impact in such a short time, her dual status as teenager and thoughtful observer of teenage life making her a more perceptive and up-to-date interpreter of dreamy girlhood than retro dream girls like Lana Del Rey (and her marketing team) could ever be.