Femme on Fire: Kerli

By Vanessa Butler Photography by Brian Ziff

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She’s one of the biggest pop stars in the world, but you’ve probably never heard her name. Growing up in the final years of the Soviet Occupation in Estonia, Kerli knew that there was something bigger (and more colorful) out there for her. Determined to find it, she began entering herself in singing competitions which ultimately landed her a record deal in 2006 with Island Records. Her first album, Love Is Dead, charted on the Billboard 200. She was then featured on the companion album to Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, Almost Alice, and wrote the hit “Skyscraper” for former Disney girl Demi Lovato. Kerli hasn’t let the L.A. lifestyle go to her head; she continues to hand-make almost all her outfits, leading to the press constantly pointing out the quirky similarities she shares with Lady Gaga. But Kerli has no big-name designers fashioning her look, just her army of her online followers, who she lovingly refers to as “Moon Children.”

We caught up with Kerli to talk about her recently released EP Utopia while she lay in bed eating waffles after a long night of working on new material.

Playboy.com: I read somewhere that you are really involved in all of your music videos, which is something that isn’t heard of that often lately. What parts are you involved in?

Kerli: I usually write the treatment, like I sketch the characters and I hand-make pretty much all of the outfits. So when it is a fantastical video, which is more like my videos are, there’s usually a lot of DIY involved. I love to think of things to put in my videos that don’t exist in the real world.

Playboy.com: How important do you feel that fashion is in music?

Kerli: I like things to make sense with the music, so when I have a really simple song like my last single, “The Lucky Ones,” every over-the-top fantasy concept or outfit ideas that I tried to come up with just felt really forced. So I like when it really complements the music. To me it’s not about wearing cool and trendy outfits, it’s about creating an experience.

Playboy.com: There’s a real difference between your new EP Utopia and Love Is Dead. What’s the inspiration behind Utopia? What were you going through while you were writing it?

Kerli: It’s really funny because it’s already in the name. That’s what was going on! Love was dead, and now…utopia. My last album I wrote over several years when I was a teenager. I was in a really bad place. A lot of people who liked the last album felt that they could relate to the pain, but nobody wants to live like that forever. So for the past four years I’ve been doing a lot of spiritual work on myself and just have chosen happiness. I think happiness is a full-time job. This EP is about finding heaven on earth and what it was like finding this really positive place.

Playboy.com: You seem like a spiritual person. What are your beliefs?

Kerli: I believe in so many things. Since I was 17 years old I’ve been studying so many different religions, and I don’t think that I’ve found one which I want to totally commit to because I’m not really sure if I totally believe in organized religion. But I believe that love really matters. Trying to be a good person and give as much love as you can and receive as much love as you can. Have a great time while you’re here on earth. And I feel that the more I learn, the more I start to realize that it’s all about the simple things.

Playboy.com: Speaking of love, you went back to Estonia to film your video “Army of Love.” What was that experience like?

Kerli: It was crazy; all of the dancers that were in the video and some local designers as well just showed up to help out. We tried to really encourage other artists in that country because I’m hoping that one day we can also have our own serious music scene, which is something I feel that Estonians are already known for. We’re tapping into the dance scene a little bit, actually. There are a few people coming out of Estonia that are touring Finland and all over Europe. There’s another band named Ewert and the Two Dragons who have yet to come to America, but they’re kind of like Foster the People. They’re incredibly talented and they’ve been a band for years!

Playboy.com: Tell us about Bubble Goth.

Kerli: It was actually a review for my old album, which was very alternative for a pop label, but of course people want to dismiss you when you’re a girl and you’re young and you’re blonde. So there was a reviewer that had written something like, “I don’t know why everybody is saying she’s Goth, if anything she’s Bubble Goth.” And I was like, oh, this is so perfect! So one of the videos that I’m working on now I’m going to try and define what exactly Bubble Goth is. It’s just about taking really cute elements and darker elements and putting them together in a nice, complementing way.

Playboy.com: What has been the most interesting place you’ve traveled to?

Kerli: I just came back from Brazil. It was my first time and my first show ever there, and there’s a lot of Brazilian Moon Children. I did a meet-up one day in the park and there were like 500 Moon Children there. We spent about four hours together. The way that they love you is so passionate. The whole country and the culture, it’s just so incredible. I’m so in love with the place and I can’t wait to go back.

Playboy.com: What’s your favorite concert memory?

Kerli: It was probably at the big Independence Day Festival in Estonia. Estonians are very laid back people, they’re not big into the whole fist-pumping thing, so a lot of bands are really relaxed when they played there. So at the end I decided to sing an old Estonian song that means a lot to the country, backed with a symphony orchestra, and when I started singing the first note of the song, all 70,000 people there were all sitting on the hill, and as I started singing the Estonian song everybody on the hill slowly started standing up. That was just a breathtaking moment. It gave me chills but for the whole time I was thinking, “Oh my god, I better not fuck up.” [laughs] “If I mess up some of these lyrics they’re going to hate me forever!”

Playboy.com: In your opinion, what’s the strangest song you’ve written?

Kerli: Well, the strangest song, the world hasn’t heard. I have a studio in my house so I do a lot of weird soundscape-y stuff with just the vocals.

Playboy.com: Lightning round. What’s your favorite:

City: All of them!

Drink: Peppermint and lemongrass tea.

Food: Sushi.

Guilty pleasure: Watching TV shows like Girls.

Embarrassing moment: When I was giving an interview four years ago when I was releasing my new album, I thought, “You know what? I’m not going to be one of those boring artists so I’m going to write a poem to introduce myself.” And the journalist calls me and was like, “So tell me about yourself,” and I read him the poem. After I was done he just was silent.

Worst pickup line: Oh, yesterday was a funny pickup situation. I was pulling four big bags of groceries up my stairs and this guy stopped his car and yelled, “Do you need help? Please tell me you need help.” And I was like, “Uh, okay,” so he helped me carry my groceries to my gate. And I stopped him there. He then said, “So, do you want to go swimming or something?” and I just said no and ran in.

Playboy.com: What’s on the horizon for you?

Kerli: You know, I always used to do this thing where I’d tell myself, “This is my year! This is my year!” But this year I didn’t do that because I’m in a place right now where I don’t even really care so much about that stuff. I care about what I do as a human being on earth. So I’m trying to have quality time and fun and collaborate with amazing artists and have shows!


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