In “Everything Is Embarrassing,” her most-streamed song on Spotify, Sky Ferreira croons, “Everything and nothing always haunts me.” That song first appeared on the 2012 EP Ghost, a collection of dreamy pop synth embraced by critics and fans, yet its lyrics have endured beyond that release and her debut album, 2013’s grungier Night Time, My Time, to become her oeuvre’s metaphorical spine. Routinely cited as one of today’s most provocative artists, Ferreira is capable of bending sounds from rainbow fluff to grizzled wails. Magnetic yet unpredictable, she hasn’t released a new collection of music in three years: It takes time to become more of yourself and less haunted by the past—a goal of the 24-year-old, whose new album, Masochism, could very well be named for her process of self-discovery. That self-discovery also includes a role in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks revival on Showtime, slated for next year, and, more recently, an epic Twitter takedown of a journalist who had trivialized her in a story called “Sky Ferreira’s Sex Appeal Is What Pop Music Needs Right Now.” “I’m not a think piece,” she barked back. “I’m not a fucking example. I do what I want when I feel it’s true to me.” This is why no one can take their eyes off Sky: When she speaks, sings or acts, we want more. And so we tapped Oscar-nominated actor Bruce Dern, who had previously met Ferreira as a producer committed to championing films about young women, to get it for us. As Dern observes, “She has so much to give.”
There’s this entire “shut up and be pretty” mentality. I’m so tired of apologizing. don’t pacify me.
I love that PLAYBOY is allowing you to give an interview that shows people what you want them to know rather than what they want to hear. One reason I fell in love with you is that I don’t meet many young women your age who are genuine, but every fucking note you sing is genuine. What’s the biggest challenge for an established singer who is trying to be an actress at the same time?
You’d think it would make it easier to book jobs, but when people have an idea of you and who you’re supposed to be, it gets in the way. I actually started acting first but then stopped and went to New York to focus on music. Music gave me the freedom to do what I wanted to do so I wouldn’t have to go on the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon. DERN: When did you move to New York?
I was 16. I got signed, but the label tried to make me into someone I wasn’t. I felt like they were all lying to me, agents and managers and the record company. I write my own stuff, which is unusual. I go into situations trusting people until they do something wrong. It’s not little things. I’m a sensitive person, and sometimes it seems like I’m being irrational, but it’s for valid reasons. When something is so true to me and I know on the inside it’s wrong, I can’t hide it.
Ben Harper said to me, “I’ll tell you one thing about Sky Ferreira: She’s 25 years ahead of the game.” Your most unusual quality is that, at your age, you have confidence in who you are, and that’s why your struggles come so often.
A lot of people don’t listen to or see their surroundings. I can see the ugliness and the beauty in everything. Music is a way for me to get it out, and it’s why I also love acting. Both are personal to me. I get to exorcise my demons without it affecting my life. There’s a switch when I’m performing.
Have you ever studied acting?
I started to see an acting coach when I got older.
Stay away from that. I taught acting for a long time, and I’d never teach anyone younger than 25 because of life experience. When I taught, I didn’t teach how to act. I taught about investigating your own behavior.
I’ve wanted to act for a while, but I get scared I’ll sign up for something and it will be a disaster. I’m the type of person you either love or you hate, because people don’t know what box to put me in. I don’t like feeling I have something to prove, but I do feel that way. I didn’t want to make my new record about dwelling on the past. I just wanted to get better. When I get attached to something, it’s all parts of me. It has to be 1,000 percent. In some ways that’s why I had to take a break after my previous album. I think that intimidates people to a certain extent.
Don’t try to please anybody but yourself.
When I get angry, I get stuck. I’ve heard I’m “intense” my entire life. I can be exhausting to people, but I try to reason with them. Then finally, if that doesn’t work, I have to walk away so I don’t go off. Obviously, if I’m doing something wrong, I’ll apologize. But I’m so tired of apologizing for stuff I shouldn’t be apologizing for. Don’t bullshit me. Don’t pacify me. Why do I always feel like I have to earn respect from people? I don’t need to feel I’m a burden by doing what I’m supposed to do.
Do you have a feeling that the people surrounding you in your career dream the same dream for you? That’s essential.
I’ve had a lot of people who pretended to but didn’t. Even when I was 15 years old, going by myself to meetings with Sony or some other place, they’d be like, “Little girl, you don’t know what you’re talking about.” But they kept wanting to get my music from me. There’s this entire “shut up and be pretty” mentality.
It seems you have a mechanism where there’s never a moment when you’re not retaining the shit that’s going down around you.
Never. That’s why I have so much in me. Sometimes it’s too much. For example, last night I got only an hour of sleep. I woke up feeling like I couldn’t move. But I thought, I’m not doing this work for nothing. No matter the circumstances, I’m going to make the best of it, even if I have to complain and be miserable during the process. I don’t really have regrets. A lot of people are scared to fail, but I’ve never been much of a winner. That’s why I don’t care about doing stuff that could open up an easier way for me to do the films I want to do. I don’t like having people rely on me to win.
I never go into a situation thinking I’m here to entertain people. I go in thinking I have to give a little bit up today and leave a piece of myself behind. It’s a quest. And you’re trying to do that, especially when you sing.
I started making music because I felt I might be understood if I did. I need to forge my own path, because no one else is going to do it for me. I get upset that I don’t get help from the people who should be helping me, but it’s the way I choose to live.
No. “It’s the way I live.” Fuck “choose.” You’re going to live however you’re going to live. You’re a person doing the writing for yourself, and you’re light-years ahead of guys your age. All my life I’ve been searching for the Big One in terms of love. Have you had that feeling yet, that you’re on the edge of finding the Big One?
Yes and no. I didn’t kiss a guy until I was 15 or 16, which was pretty unheard of. I was mature in so many other ways, but sexually I was such a prude. I’ve learned from people who are now in my past. Now I respect myself, and I didn’t before. I actually had to learn to be completely alone, to be okay with being alone, sitting in silence and not feeling weird about it.
You have a light and a sensitivity that are magical. Even with an hour of sleep, you don’t look tired. You look very much like Charlize Theron, and she’s never fucking tired. If you can find a way to balance your music with acting, we’ll be entertained. You have so much to give. You have too much going on for us not to be entertained.
If you want to come along for the ride, go ahead.
Director: Sky Ferreira
Music: Henry AKA Street Finds
Editor: Farah X
DP: Joshua Zucker-Pluda
Makeup: Amy Chance
Hair: Anthony Holguin
Production: Sky Ferreira, Alyssa Forstman, Sandy Kim
Assistant DP: Harry Heng
SPECIAL THANKS: Mac Lewis, Dustin Payseur, Jake Portrait, Marissa Kaiser, Katie Garcia