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Photography by Vasso Vu

“I’m running straight to a Specsavers and I’m grabbing everything,” says Ashnikko. “When the end of the world happens, it takes one month for all of the unmanned nuclear power stations to explode. If they’re unmanned, the impact will be catastrophic.” Before dialling into the call with Ashnikko, I didn’t really expect for us to discuss our survival plans for the impending apocalypse, how she’s going to embark “across the English Channel” and take refuge in Italy because there “aren’t a lot of power stations”, but in 2020, has it ever made more sense? With COVID-19 causing chaos around the globe, the threat of Donald Trump being re-elected and the cancellation of GLOW on Netflix, this year has been an absolute shit-show. “I looked up a map of all the power stations in the UK, and folks, we have to get off the island,” she continues. “I’m going to get a kayak.”

Besides hacking into the government’s mainframe for intel on nuclear power stations and hoarding contact lenses to avoid Bird Box-ing her way through the end of the world, Ashnikko has remained busy this year with her highly-anticipated debut mixtape, Demidevil. Originally due for release on 9 October, the collection – which  includes her Grimes-assisted nu-metal anthem Cry, as well as her UK top 30 hit Daisy – has been postponed until 19 February because, as mentioned above, this year has been dire, so she’s “not in a great mental space” to be promoting music. “Where I am right now, I just don’t really want to be promoting myself,” Ashnikko admits. “I want to be with my family and I’m stressed out about this election. I’d rather it be the right time because I really care about these songs. It would be a shame if I wasn’t giving it my whole being.” 

I love music so much and making music has nothing to do with your chart position. That's just gonna make me mentally ill.

Known for her trademark bright blue hair and Street Fighter-esque aesthetic, Ashnikko is rapidly becoming a hot commodity in the music industry. The London-based American rapper has won legions of fans due to her self-described “bratty” persona, infectious beats and sharp lyricism, which often delve into topics such as feminism and sexual liberation. Her fame skyrocketed last year after Miley Cyrus was seen lip-syncing on TikTok to her hip-hop favourite, Stupid, which includes some of that sharp lyricism we just talked about: “I know you think about me in the shower / PornHub in your browser, fantasize about the pussy power / Think about me with your hand down your trousers / I’m sweet, then I’m sour, I’m big boss Bowser.”

Ashnikko maintained this momentum with her appearance at the 2020 BRIT Awards, where she stomped the red carpet in an all-blue ensemble, flanked by two muscular masked men as they held up her Rapunzel-sized pigtails. She won the night, basically. When we ask Ashnikko about her aesthetic, she admits that it’s a “little bit” like drag; a shield of armour to protect her mental health. 

Photography by Lucrecia Taormina

“Somebody gave me really good advice early on that if you can separate your stage persona and your real self, you can shield yourself from criticism and maintain your mental health a little bit better,” she says. “I am her and she is me, but also I get to take her off like a costume and hang her up and put her back on when I feel I need to. Otherwise, I’d go crazy. I think there’s something about platform boots and blue pigtails… I have a full Sailor Moon spinning transformation.” Her BRIT Awards stint set the stage for her breakthrough single Daisy, which has been climbing the UK charts all summer, recently reaching a brand new peak at number 24.

But for Ashnikko, chart success means nothing. “I don’t even listen to them when they send me chart updates,” she laughs. “I literally don’t care. I think once you start caring about chart positions, you’re lost. You’re gone. Okay, maybe that’s a generalisation, but as soon as I start caring about my chart position, I will have lost it. I won’t be able to make the same music. I love music so much and making music has nothing to do with your chart position. That’s just gonna make me mentally ill. I see you Stan Twitter, obsessing over your faves’ chart positions. Grow the fuck up and get over it. Just enjoy music.” 

I was a super closeted queer woman, and I didn’t really have the opportunity to be honest with myself. Growing up in my Southern town, I definitely thought that something was wrong with me.

Raised in a conservative town in North Carolina, Ashnikko always knew her liberal values didn’t align with her “patriarchal” family, who weren’t particularly accepting when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights and feminism. “I was a super closeted queer woman, and I didn’t really have the opportunity to be honest with myself,” she explains. “Growing up in my Southern town, I definitely thought that something was wrong with me. I thought, ‘Why do I like all my friends and why am I so jealous of my friend when she gets a boyfriend?’ Like, so jealous?” For Ashnikko, it was the internet that helped her come to terms with sexuality, specifically Tumblr. I mean, where else was she going to educate herself? School? “I was educating myself,” she says. “Then I was really honest with myself about being into girls, and didn’t come out until a few years ago, actually, which was kind of strange to me. I was kind of disappointed in myself that it took me so long. Tumblr was my saving grace. For me it was like, ‘Holy shit, this is amazing! Finally!’”

She also credits Naya Rivera’s icon turn as lesbian cheerleader Santana Lopez on Glee as someone who helped her come to terms with her queerness. The star sadly passed away earlier this year after drowning in Lake Piru, California. On social media, thousands of LGBTQ+ women led tributes, sharing how Santana helped them come out and accept themselves. “I realised that she was the first queer woman that I had seen on television as a kid,” reveals Ashnikko. “I didn’t realise how much that had affected me until she passed away. It felt like an older sister had died.” Over time, she helped her family evolve from their conservative ways – which included some binge-watching of Glee – and now, they fully support her and her artistry. “They love me and they love my music. It’s more my extended family. They’re not very proud of me. They’re very ashamed of their “heathen” relative! But honestly, I think my upbringing made me more vocal and a little bit more rebellious. I was rebelling against my family.”

Photography from left to right: Michaela McLucas and Lucrecia Taormina

When Ashnikko was 18, she moved to London, where she assumed she would “make it big” in the music industry within two years. “Cut to two years later, I’m a shot girl in the club, really fucking hustling!” she laughs. “I was like, ‘When am I gonna be a pop star?’” She describes her earlier material as “fucking garbage” and her style as a “hot mess” but, looking back, she’s thankful that she wasn’t catapulted to fame due to the “stupid men” around her; dictating her every move and deciding what kind of artist she should be. “I swear to god, I’ve had sessions with dudes who maybe downloaded Logic on their laptop like, four months ago, and they have the swagger and confidence of a music executive,” she recalls. “I was like, ‘Why am I undervaluing myself? I know more than this motherfucker.”

On Demidevil, Ashnikko playfully hits out at the “audacity” of cis-het men on Clitoris: The Musical, a hilarious, passive aggressive jingle in which she sings, “Why is my orgasm censored on the TV? / I’ve got double the nerve endings in your pee-pee.” It’s sure to rile up the Kevin’s and the Karen’s of the world for being too sexually explicit and feminist, and Ashnikko? She’s living for it. “Clitoris: The Musical is my pride and joy. I just think it’s so funny,” she laughs. “My great pleasure in life is knowing that a board room of old white dudes had to listen to it. I know that they did. Not in a joking way, they had to listen to it seriously. That makes me laugh. It’s my little roast. I’m just roasting them from afar.” Tables? Turned. 

My music is the antithesis of the male gaze. It's about my pleasure, my sexuality, my needs and wants first and foremost. We need to say it straight-forward. Make me cum or get out of my bed.

Like female artists such as Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion and King Princess, Ashnikko is owning her sexuality in a misogynistic, male-dominated world. From the get-go, she wanted her lyrics to be authentic to her and to put female pleasure, which has long been perceived as “trashy”, at the forefront. “My music is the antithesis of the male gaze,” she says. “It’s about my pleasure, my sexuality, my needs and wants first and foremost. There’s no candy coating. There’s none of that. We need to say it straight-forward. Make me cum or get out of my bed.” The confidence she displays in her art also translates behind-the-scenes. Following her bad experiences with the aforementioned “assholes”, Ashnikko is fully aware of when she’s being taken advantage of, and will shut it down instantly. She refuses to be another label puppet. The apocalypse is coming, after all. 

“I just don’t take any shit. I know exactly when to tell someone to fuck off. Walking into my record label, they’re all a little bit scared of me, which is fine. I’m okay with that.” As well as her music, she says she’s involved with everything, from artwork to press releases. If it doesn’t come from her, she doesn’t want it. But of course, as we’ve recently seen with female artists such as Taylor Swift, if a woman has a clear idea of who she wants to be, she’ll be labelled as a “diva” or “bossy”. If [insert literally any male artist name here] wrote his own press release, he’d be hailed as a genius. “I don’t give a shit if someone calls me bossy,” she adds. “Don’t get me wrong, I treat my team very well and I love them very much. But at the end of the day, they know that everything runs by me and everything is green-lighted by me. There is not a single soul on my team that would dare try to influence me in a certain direction that makes me uncomfortable.” 

Photography by Vasso Vu

In the months leading up to her mixtape release, Ashnikko plans to spend time with her mum, practice yoga and cry. “Whenever I go back to my mom, I’m like, ‘Mom can you rub my back?’ That’s my thing, as an adult, nobody fucking rubs my back and plays with my hair.” In-between the back rubs, Ashnikko is planning to – BREAKING NEWS ALERT – adapt Clitoris: The Musical for the stage. 2021 is a bit too soon, but it’s on her list. “West End and Broadway! Can you imagine? That would be so funny. It would be my ultimate prank. I’ve already written the bare bones, I’ve written a little bit of it.

“We’ve started working on some songs and we’re actually going to flesh it out into a real musical. I want to spread it far and wide to the far corners of the earth, so we might need to rename it to something that’s not ‘clitoris’. It’s because clitorises are still censored. Deep sigh.” And if all goes to plan, she will perform her mixtape (in real life!) during the summer, which will include “antics, blood and choreography”. Yes, we’re sold. She says: “That last one excites me the most. That’s when I feel like a real pop star, when I do choreography on stage. I think it’s so funny and I love it.” If you happen to witness Ashnikko live next year, be respectful and turn up with Specsavers vouchers. The apocalypse is coming, and she needs more contact lenses. 

Ashnikko’s debut mixtape, Demidevil, will be released 19 February.