As a self-proclaimed ‘product of the Internet’, Curtis Waters is a TikTok audio legend, who has seen huge success in producing music for an adoring online audience. With over 250 million streams on Stunnin and a dedicated following, Curtis has since explored different genres, with his most recent single RIOT featuring alternative hip-hop.
With a huge mixture of experienced cultures and influences, Curtis’ music is really a journey – and a true expression of his thoughts. He is also very vocal about his mental health struggles and the issues of being an ‘authentic’ artist in the modern Internet age – something that can easily be lost on social media.
In conversation with 1883 Magazine, Curtis Waters discusses the components behind his music, his new tour and future projects.
Hi Curtis! We’ll start off with your single Stunnin’ in 2020. I know you don’t feel it’s a true reflection of your work, but it was really loved by TikTok. Do you think TikTok has helped your career?
Dude, absolutely. Before TikTok was even invented, there was no way for me to even know that was possible. I was just a kid, I think about this every day. I’ve got to be grateful you know, like you can’t plan this! I was a broke college dropout trying to figure out what I
was gonna do with my life and it was just perfect timing for this new thing to come out. Something would’ve worked out eventually, but without TikTok I don’t really know what I would’ve done.
Do you have TikTok in mind when you’re creating new songs? There’s a specific kind of sound that gets successful on there.
It sucks because I try not to but it’s sort of this perversion in my mind when I make music.The best music is made when you’re making it without the thought of commodifying it but it sort of seeps deep into my subconscious mind now because of how Stunnin is. So I do find that sometimes I do think about things like that, but I don’t always think that’s the best idea on making music and authentic art.
Definitely. Speaking of making art authentic, you’ve changed your style of music a bit – it has a punk aspect to it now, as well as pop and rap like you’ve had before. Do you think this reflects what you want to do or would you like to carry on genrehopping?
Nothing is ever that intentional, it’s just what I feel at the moment. I think the last two years it’s been me sort of lashing out; I felt kind of angry and aggressive and I felt constrained by a certain image – or even my mangers or labels or whatever. I think in that moment I was angsty so I made the music that helped me. Honestly, now I don’t even listen to punk stuff right now, I really wanna make ambient chill stuff. I don’t tie it to my identity as much, it’s a means of expression.
Would you say that what you’re listening to at the time influences the creation of your music – what’s inspiring you?
I’m not even kidding, I like old Japanese ambient music. I like PARTYNEXTDOOR, I like Majid Jordan. You know, I go through phases where I’m very aggressive and I want, like, crazy stuff that I’ve never heard. I want it to hurt my brain when I listen to it, but right now I’m like an old man. I go grocery shopping and I wanna listen to jazz or something.
Nice! A lot of really cool samples come from Japanese ambient music.
Exactly, I’ve been really into finding old samples right now. The vocal delivery lately has been honestly more like Stunnin’ – like my earlier work, where was more chill and you can just be laid back listening to it.
Your songs such as MANIC MAN have more of a focus on mental health and you really open up on them. Do you see it as therapeutic?
Oh absolutely. Before I made MANIC MAN, I was in such a decision paralysis and I was getting in such a bad headspace. I made the song about what I was going through when I felt stuck and paralysed, and I released it and so many people loved it that it actually gave me the validation and hope to release music again. It showed me that you don’t have to make trendy music or whatever Target will play, make what you wanna make and people will love it.
So it’s good that you can have this sort of fluidity in your music.
Yeah. You know, the thing that’s corny is that if I made ‘MANIC MAN’, people liked this punk sound and then I became a parody of myself. I think it’s just about being authentic, it’s not about a genre. Just because you make punk, it doesn’t mean you’re authentic – just because you make pop, it doesn’t mean you’re inauthentic. It’s what feels genuine to you in the moment.
You’ve also lived in a lot of countries and therefore a lot of cultures whilst growing up – Germany, Nepal, Canada, America. Do you think this has influenced your taste and production of music?
It’s not like I’m thinking ‘Oh, I’m in North Carolina, let’s make some Southern country music’. I feel very much a product of the Internet. Like, I know I’ve just made a bunch of punk songs and I was rapping but yesterday I was listening to Dolly Parton, and I would love to make a song like ‘Jolene’ one day.
You’ve got your first tour coming up – how are you feeling about that!
I’m feeling good. I was feeling nervous, but now I’m excited. When I do shows I’m jumping around and doing stupid things, and it really kills me because I’m not very athletic – but I go on there and I’m just screaming and jumping for hours – well, 45 minutes.
That’s a pretty good advert for your tour! What else do you have lined up for 2023?
Dude, I’m finishing my album right now as we speak. I’ve been working on this since I was 14, I’m not kidding. I’m so sick of this album – I love it but I have been working on it for so long. I’m just tunnel-visioned and want to get it out and stop being a perfectionist.
What are the three songs to soundtrack your day?
Kamal. – Essential
BashfortheWorld – 50-0
Ice Spice – the whole discography
Interview Hannah Barrett
Photographer Theodore Sielatychki