What Syd The Kid Learned Writing Songs About Women
The Internet’s lead traces her steps from her first demos to her boldest work yet.
L.A. outfit The Internet took two steps forward with their new album, Ego Death. The band hopped into frame on the cover art, casually posing as a six-piece in comfy clothes (co-founder Matt Martians even has an earbud in). And it finds frontwoman Syd Tha Kid stepping into the light as a songwriter, leading the band through a dozen vivid tracks about relationships good and bad, fresh and dead. Ego Death is filled with stray thoughts that any kid at their recent midnight release show could cop to: We don't fight, we just fuck, I'm in like, she's in love, she gave in, I gave up, Syd sings toward the tail-end of "Girl". Can we just live in the moment?
Ego Death is almost political in its depiction of same-sex relationships as just as impulsive, messy and petty as the ones we're used to hearing about in R&B songs. Frank Ocean toyed with gender norms more obscurely on his Channel Orange, swapping a pronoun here and making a pointed allusion there. But what Syd accomplishes is a bit bolder: consider the snaking "Special Affair," where she flips the male gaze from a couch in the club, eyeing a girl that should know better: Waiting in the dark I might break your heart/ I can get you high if you want to climb/ 'Cause fuck leaving alone, let me take you home. It's a benchmark for 23-year-old Syd, an engineer-turned-singer/songwriter who'd originally planned to be one of the rare women behind the boards, if music even worked out at all.
Here, in her own words, Syd walks us through her progression as a writer from her first song to her latest, and how the epiphany that everyone else loves women as much as she does helped her write more honestly.
SYD THA KID: I didn't grow up singing! I started four years ago. When I was 16 or 17, I wrote a song called “Flashlight” and I put it on my MySpace. Some people know about that. That was the first song I ever wrote by myself. I produced it, I wrote it, I sang it. I was really proud of that. Then I did another one, and wanted someone else to sing it. That's when I was like, “Okay, I want to be a songwriter.” I want to produce songs, write them, and send them to people.
The second song I ever wrote was called “Lay It Down.” I don't know if I ever put that one out. I have an uncle in Jamaica who’s an OG producer/songwriter over there, Mikey Bennett. He has a studio, and he has his artists or whatever. So I sent the song to him like, “Hey, do you have anybody who can sing this?” I sent him a reference. I got the beat, I wrote the song, I recorded it on a little tiny—it was a Radio Shack microphone, I paid like five bucks for it—I sent it to my uncle and he was like, “Yeah, for sure.” He booked the trip to L.A. with his artists, came out to L.A., stayed at my house for a week, came through to my studio and recorded the vocals. It was dope. It was my first time really recording somebody doing something that I made all together.
It was a sex song. Kind of. It wasn't nasty or anything. It was very romantic: I'll lay it down, I'll lay it down/ Na na na na na na na.... That shit was tight. I never really fully promoted it. That's one song I wish I did. And it sucks, too, because then the Odd Future guys found the instrumental on my computer and they recorded a parody R&B song over it, so it made it impossible to release the song afterwards. It kind of sucked.
Even [2011's] Purple Naked Ladies was supposed to be a Neptunes Presents… kind of situation. All of those vocals are reference vocals for someone else to sing. I couldn't find anybody else to sing it, and I couldn't sing it any better than that. I love “They Say.” That's what I was going through at the time. That was right when I was like, “Okay, I don't want to DJ for the rest of my life, but if I quit, [Odd Future] are gonna hate.” So that was a song I wrote to myself. I just freestyled the verse, and I think Tay Walker helped me write the chorus. I still really do love that song still to this day. I think that was my best vocal performance.
I had the first three lines of “Special Affair” [from Ego Death] written for like two months, and I couldn't figure out where to go after that, because I was like, “This is so bold, Oh my god, is this me?” I found somebody to help me write it. I bet this patron make you feel nice and comfortable was actually a joke. I was stuck on the lyrics, I was spinning around in my chair, I was just being funny. I started laughing. She was like, “Oh that's tight!” And I was like, “No.” She was like, “Nah that's dope for real!” Writing this album was a lot of me letting go and just saying, “Fuck it.” And I know a lot of people are going to be able to relate.
"I don't talk to girls about girls. I mostly talk to my homies about girls."—Syd Tha Kyd
With this album, we wanted to make sure we were relatable, honestly, to our peers. [2013's] Feel Good was catered to music nerds and older people. Older people generally appreciate live music. After we did that it was like, "Okay, this is cool, but I'm 23. I want to be cool to people my age." And I get it, because as a gay women, I find it hard sometimes to relate to other gay women, because I'm not really part of any kind of gay scene. Most of my friends are straight dudes. I talk to them about girls, I don't talk to girls about girls, I don't talk to gay girls about girls. I mostly talk to my homies about girls, so maybe that's why it's so relatable to people across the board.
Before, I was scared of cussing. I was scared of, like, flexing. I was scared of all of that stuff. I think it was my confidence. I didn't feel confident enough to say that stuff out loud. I didn't actually feel that way. Now I can genuinely say that there are times where I walk into a club or party or whatever and I see a girl that I'm interested in, and I'm like “Girl, you know God damn well who I am, and if you don't, your friends do.” There are times when I feel that. Not all the time. Honestly, another thing about me is I'm not one that approaches girls. I'm the type that actually sits in a corner, stares at the girl I want, and that's what's going through my head. It’s so rare that I'm here, you should take advantage of this opportunity, but I'm not going to say this out loud. Hopefully you get it through the eye contact. I know you know who I am.
"I wrote one verse about an ex, and one verse about an old friend."—Syd Tha Kyd
“Just Sayin/I Tried” was me being unapologetic. Like, "You fucked up, I tried regardless, and that's okay—and I'm happy for you. There’s no hard feelings, it's cool, but I'm not sorry because I tried." I wrote one verse about an ex, and one verse about an old friend. I would come up with the line, and then be like, “Oh, that does make sense to my life.” I freestyled my first line, Got a call from an old friend the other day. Then I was like, how could I relate this to myself? That's a part of working through it.
“Special Affair” is my favorite one to perform right now. It's the crowd favorite. That was one of the first ones we put out, but people can relate to that one because everybody goes through that. You're in the fucking club and you see somebody you want and it's like, “Okay?” It was somewhat conscious making a song like “Special Affair.” I mean, it's no secret that I love women. I think everyone loves women. And I like having beautiful women around me. I realized in the process of making this album, if I actually was just honest about that—about how much I love women—it might just open some more doors for me. That, and you don't have to be good looking or buff or any of that to be a sex symbol. It's about your confidence, and how you present yourself.