kiddy smile is more than a ‘one trick pony’

September 7, 2018

When I would daydream about escaping the trappings of America, I would often think of France. The legends of how iconic Black artists like Eartha Kitt, James Baldwin, and Josephine Baker all found solace in France assisted in creating this fantasy for myself. I thrived off the idea of “a European paradise” that loved Black artists.

It was very isolating because I didn’t know anybody who was like me. There was no indication that there were people like me. Kiddy Smile is a Black queer artist from France, and if I still held those early fantasies from my early years as an artist, he would have surely disillusioned them. Kiddy doesn’t sell France as some utopia for the Black artist, but as some place that feels familiar to me in both the ways it loves and hates Black people. The cuisine and accents might be different, but the nature of oppression remains.

In an exciting turn of events, Kiddy Smile looked toward American culture for a type of artistic liberation, specifically, the Black ballroom scene. “There was a ballroom scene in France. I walked the fashion categories.” This should not come as a surprise. The culture that any part of the globe creates does not happen in a vacuum, and this is especially true in a post-Internet era when we feel closer than others. The ballroom scene continues to shift, “for better and for worse,” and queer folks around the world find home in a scene created in the dark corners of New York City. It was not long before Kiddy Smile’s interest in ballroom intersected with music, “I was like, maybe I should do something that talks about myself and what I experience in life?”

Nico Bustos

Now, Kiddy Smile is determined to be heard. He spent most of his career in artistic spaces that were niche, at least to the dominant mainstream gaze. He expressed his love for queer culture, which here should be defined as an aesthetic and sound that is experimental, punk-influenced, and perpetually underground. Kiddy Smile is currently now more interested in the challenge of universality. He tells me, “I’ve been flirting with pop music because I wanted to reach a wider audience.”

Kiddy Smile’s latest single is “Be Honest”. It is a pop-gospel reckoning about joy and identity. It sonically references the athemic, soulful disco and house hits of yesteryear. It is Sylvester. It is George Michael. The melody is accessible and inviting, but it’s not simple. Smile’s voice is soulful and dynamic, and the choir is excellent. Hearing these strong, soulful voices navigating this pop melody creates an experience that is intoxicating and quite the earworm. Once the song ends, you want to hear it again.

This is the pattern with most of Kiddy Smile’s latest album, One Trick Pony. He challenges himself by attempting to make obscure and avant-garde musical choices into danceable pop hits. “Dickmatized” is a comical, yet gothic electronic banger that finds Kiddy Smile ranting about good sex in his charming French accent. Standout track “Burn the House Down” finds Smile finding strength after deciding to leave a toxic relationship and instead of longing for a lost love, he creates a celebratory track about burning the house (of love) down. Throughout, Kiddy Smile is risky, fun, and soulful.

With the pressure from both the industry and the public to make artists more political, I wondered if it influenced Smiles’ artistic choices at all. He responds, “I know it is important to tell the story. My story is political.” He continues, “I am not going to go harder because Trump is President. I was talking about life before Trump was President.” I add to his point by saying letting government realities define how you express yourself is its own political statement, as well. He exhales and agrees.

In life, if you are lucky, reality can be sweeter than the daydream. Kiddy Smiles offers the idea that Black queer utopia is not somewhere you go. It’s not a place in Africa or a where James Baldwin found solace. It can also be where one decides it is. It can be where a group decides it is. Kiddy Smiles is focused on making the world his utopia.

Photos by Nico Bustos