At 16, Brooklyn-born teenager Justine Skye ditched the sticky politics of a performing arts high school for home school, looking to try her hand at a singing career. While recording early demos, Skye poured her energy and time into her Tumblr page, where her purple-tinted hair, brightly hued lipstick, and cool girl persona earned her thousands of notes and a massive following. It was on this social media platform that Skye honed her all-important personal brand as The Purple Unicorn—an approachable, around-the-way girl—and started introducing her downtempo R&B music to a captive audience of Tumblr friends.
But it wasn't until the past year and half that Skye, now 19, started really building buzz as a velvet-toned R&B singer IRL. On the strength of her homemade songs and commanding online presence, Skye signed with Atlantic and released Everyday Living, a seven-track EP full of simmering, lovelorn tracks, in the summer of 2013. Last fall, she dropped the DJ Mustard-produced "Collide," featuring Tyga. As her first major label release, "Collide" finds Skye delivering slithering vocals and come-hither lyrics over Mustard's tinkling track.
Even though she's backed by a major label, Skye remains active on the Tumblr page that birthed her fame, where she treats her hordes of followers to a mix of puppy GIFs, beachside selfies, and well-manicured middle fingers. This scrollable, visual diary still serves as a place for Skye to engage with the audience that's been tracking her growth from loner teen to polished recording artist. Though she's been kicking it with a gang of cool kids that includes Willow Smith, Ian Connor, Kendall and Kylie Jenner, at the wide-eyed age of 19, Skye's awkward high school days aren't that far behind her. The FADER spoke with Skye about the dynamics of social media fame and how the internet helped her to come into her own.
Lets talk about the purple unicorn. Where did this name come from? I was in the studio one day, we'd just finished recording and the band was like "This is magical, you're like a unicorn." I was like, wow I am a unicorn. After that I just stuck with it, and changed all my screen names to the Purple Unicorn. This is me, I am magical and I want to spread my magic. That was about a year ago.
When did you start playing with your image and dying your hair purple? The purple hair started when I was 16, after I left high school and began home school. My mom took me out of school because I started to focus on my career. I feel like that was the start of my transitioning into the confidence and being able to experiment and try new things. So it started off with just the tips of my hair, then the bang and then one day i came back it way up here, then I came back and it was all the way up here. I feel like purple really has defined who I am.
So what was high school like for you, before you started recording more and getting full time? Well, my first day of high school I got into a fight with a girl over a boy. It was so stupid. And it was like this whole, planned out thing, "Meet me in the park, we're gonna do this," and it was crazy. But that's kinda how I created my friends in high school, I was like "guys, I have a fight after school, I don't know what to do" and they were like "Girl I got you!" and these were people I'd just met that day, and that was my crew. I was only in public high school for two years and they became my crew. I was the one that was there, but I wasn't like so cool.
"I'm so much more than just a Tumblr girl. I've got a record deal! I'm on TV now! I'm on the radio now!"
What made you not cool? I think it was because I was shy but I didn't know what I was capable of doing as yet, and I just sat in the corner. I was the cool girl in the vocal but everyone in vocal was just whatever. The dance program had all the popping girls. I always wanted to be popular so bad, with all these cliques and all that stuff. They'd always have these parties and my mom would never let me go to those.
But then after leaving high school that's when I started building my Internet presence, and then they were just like "Oh who do you think you are?" kind of thing. I'm kind of glad I got to be in high school for two years just to experience it and then I'm glad that I got to be outside of it because I got to focus and build myself.
You have a circle of very creative and cool friends now—Ian Connor, Willow Smith, and Kylie Jenner. How does an Internet kid turned rising singer make friends in 2015? Well, a lot of my friends I met through Tumblr in the beginning. I'm not really that close with most of them now, but Ian is really someone I stayed close with. I consider him like a brother. Willow and I had some mutual friends that I made through Ian. When I met her for the first time, she actually told me that she'd been following me on Tumblr for a while. Even though she's my youngest friend, she's super mature. Kylie and Kendall, I met them through another mutual friend. At first, I was so nervous in LA because I didn't have many friends, and then when I met all of them, we just naturally clicked. They're like my best friends now. It's super crazy. Beginning of last year I did not think that I'd know these people or that this would be my life right now. Even though my friends are super A-list celebrities, I have to still remember that I'm not them, I can't do most of the things that they do, and yet they always treat me like I'm no less than them. They always treat me the same.
Would you say that music helped you blossom? Definitely, 100%. Well, the Internet and music. There's a space that some people get stuck in where all you have is the Internet - if your social medias got deleted today, you wouldn't have anything. There are some people that are like that, and it's cool because they benefit from it but if it was gone what is your job occupation? What do you do?
Were you nervous moving from a Tumblr personality to an IRL singer? A little bit. Even now people are like, "Oh, you're that Tumblr girl." And I'm so much more than just that. I've got a record deal! Like, I'm on TV now! I'm on the radio now! But I'm still a Tumblr girl at heart.
Do you feel like the Internet is a giant equalizer for people—making people more accessible and placing everyone on the same plane? Not at all, I feel like there are definitely social statuses, especially with verification. If you're not verified on a social platform then like, who are you, even? If you're verified you're part of the select few. And then there are people who have like a million followers and if you don't have any followers, then who is really paying attention to you? I feel like the Internet is a bit of a war zone.
If the Internet ceased to exist tomorrow, would you still make music? Of course. Absolutely. I'd probably make sad music, because there's no Internet!
Lead Image: Lakendria-Browder