WORDS BY TAYLOR CARIK
I’m so sick of thinking ‘Am I good enough?’ when nothing’s good
Lost in orbit, lost in hell, what it takes to find myself
Not the end, only adventure
I’m blasting off, nothing can measure
—‘Hop Into My Rocketship,’ SYM1
It’s impossible to miss anime’s influence on the cover shot of SYM1’s new single, ‘Perfect and Pretend.’ There’s the long ornaments of pink hair mixed in with her black horn-adorned oversized headphones, fishnets under platform boots, metallic bladed wings outstretched, a flashy cartoon character brought to life.
The cover image—much like prolific imagery produced by SYM1, aka Sym(one) aka Symone Wilson—captures much of SYM1’s music to date: Driving beats, ascending synth melodies, and vocal harmonies, an animated soundtrack for your trip to a cosmic rave. The neon lights, Y2K aesthetics, and sexy costuming all match up to lyrics that meld a ‘Midnight Crush’ and ‘Lonely Nights’ with ‘Dark Matter’ and ‘Meet Me Online.’
It’s also impossible not to see SYM1 bringing her own take on it.
“I feel like I don’t necessarily fit into a space, even the anime stuff. Generally with the conventions, they want it to be specifically anime, and I don’t think I fit just that,” she says. “I’m about to play for this goth-shoegaze band in June, I wasn’t expecting that, but I’m glad and the people who vibe with that will also vibe with my stuff.”
In many ways, SYM1 is, ironically, less of a character than she used to be. Although still relatively young for someone who’s logged as much time as a performer in Minneapolis-St.Paul as she has, it’s been years since she upgraded her previous alter ego, Symone Smash It. “I was really into that character, telling people that I was Symone Smash It,” says SYM1. “I decided I didn’t want to play a character— but I’ll likely always do at least some concept work.”
The past few years have shown a growth in the process of presentation and artistic self-discovery. The production of SYM1’s music has also taken off. While she’s a regular at many of the clubs in town—the theatricality of her live shows made her a perfect fit for the 2018 Flip Phone Drag Race competition—her sound and set-up would fit right in at an EDM show at the Armory. But throwing around EDM also doesn’t quite fit her scene.
“Just broadly I’m a pop artist, then more subgenre-wise, I’m doing electro-pop. Even more subgenre-wise, I’m doing hyper-pop works and what I mean by that is I’m doing things that play off of different genres—in the hyperpop world there’s a lot of metal influence and hardcore influences.”
The high level of production in SYM1’s music—her live performances prove her singing talent isn’t just created in the studio, but rather is a main factor in the plush music—is matched by her highly produced visual aesthetic. Again pointing back to the seductive ‘Perfect and Pretend’ cover and SYM1’s overall anime influence, her work also on the surface leans into the genre’s sexuality.
“It’s been difficult honestly to know how to approach it, it’s not a part of everyone’s life but it’s a part of my life and it’s been weird to know how personal to be with people. There were times where I was mad about it, feeling like I had to include that, to get people’s attention. That’s annoying, but I’m also more accepting of it. I’m also playing with it more as a joke, because I also find it funny, to the point of it being campy.”
Executing at such a professional level on the music, on the visuals, on the stagecraft does require the dues that SYM1’s has spent years paying and practicing, but her awareness of performance also comes from a place less distant than the edges of the cosmos.
“It’s a lot of things. It’s mostly being a nerd, and being raised by nerds,” she says affectionately. “Both my parents are theater kids. I understood putting on productions at a young age. My mom is a gymnast, my dad’s a director … my cousin involved me in anime conventions when I was a teenager, so I was introduced to costume designing at a young age and being a part of a community that does that. Now I’m a collector, a designer, and I’m a part of my community that does that.”
All this interstellar pop movement towards the fringes of Minneapolis-St.Paul music has been built on evolving with her previous years’ efforts, but also with the intentionally developing digital scene. “I’m more structured than I ever have been in my life. And that’s been a big part of the record label that I own,” SYM1 says of her label, Freeze Pop Records. “It’s pop focused, it aims to create more of what I do. I do want to see more people doing stuff like I do—high production pop music—and we’re trying to give people the resources.”
Those resources also translate into fuel for SYM1’s own musical journey, which will continue to ascend through the rest of the year and hurtle towards her goal of musical success.
“I’m releasing a single at least every two months. With pop music, I feel like that’s the name of the game, I want to follow that structure to see where it gets me,” she says. “I’m making more of a splash than I ever have.”