PinkPantheress on chart success, Ice Spice and hearing loss: 'I did my mourning already'

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PinkPantheressImage source, Getty Images
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After sharing music from her university bedroom, PinkPantheress became one of the UK's hottest music talents

In June last year, PinkPantheress cancelled her performance at Spain's Primavera Festival due to "partial hearing loss".

Hoping it was temporary, she tweeted a message to her fans, saying: "In order to be back on stage again, I need time to heal."

But by October, the 21-year-old posted that years of exposure to loud music had left her 80% deaf in her right ear.

For any musician, hearing loss can be devastating, but speaking to the BBC from Los Angeles, PinkPantheress is now philosophical about her condition.

"To state the obvious, making music has gotten harder," she says. "But I honestly did all my mourning already. Like, I've really done that."

The deterioration "happened gradually", she explains. "I told myself that, whatever happens, you still have another good working ear. As long as you protect that, you're going to be fine.

"So I just try not to think about it."

Instead, PinkPantheress is looking forward.

Chart breakthrough

After gaining recognition with a series of underground EPs and mixtapes, she has just cracked the top 10 for the first time with her vibey, candy-spun single Boy's A Liar, Pt 2.

In the US, the track reached number three on the Hot 100 - the biggest breakthrough for a UK act in a while. Back at home, just 1,200 sales separate her and the current number one, Miley Cyrus's Flowers. "I didn't even realise that," she shrieks.

If she manages to dethrone Cyrus when the new chart is revealed on Friday, the singer already has plans to celebrate.

"You know what? I'm gonna go to a theme park!" she declares. "I'm like, I want to go quick!"

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A quick bit of backstory. Born in Bath and raised in Kent, PinkPantheress posted her first song, the Michael Jackson-sampling Just A Waste, to TikTok on Christmas Day 2020.

For the next 18 months, she created buzz by sharing 15-second snippets of her works in progress, fleshing out any songs that gained traction with fans.

A mysterious presence, she obscured her face in videos and hid behind the pseudonym she uses to this day (a name attributed to her on the internet, and to which her songs are credited, is also said to be an invention).

The secrecy only added to the allure - and in August 2021, she went viral with Just For Me, a throwback to UK garage that introduced the genre to many of TikTok's US users.

Quickly signed by Parlophone, she released her debut mixtape that autumn. True to her TikTok roots, its 10 tracks of teenage heartbreak clocked in at just 19 minutes. Even so, it contained as many melodic ideas and sonic inventions as some artists achieve on a double album.

After winning the BBC's Sound Of 2022, she dropped elements of her anonymity and embarked on what she calls a "step-up year", taking her songwriting and production to a new level.

That culminated in November's Take Me Home EP, where the original solo version of Boy's A Liar first appeared.

Image source, Danika Magdalena
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The singer's stage name was inspired by a wrong answer on the ITV quiz show The Chase

Written with her frequent collaborator Mura Masa, it was created in the same way as her breakout singles, with PinkPantheress singing over a pre-existing track.

"I sat with this beat for ages, trying to figure out what would work," she says. "It took me a while to understand what I should do, but once I did, it instantly made sense."

In a twisted way, it's a song about sexist objectification inspiring self-confidence.

"You only want to hold me when I'm looking good enough," she sings dejectedly in the opening verse, before realising she's worth more than the male gaze.

"You're not looking at me, boy. I'm good enough. I'm good enough."

"It wasn't based off of anything specific," says the singer. "It was just a lyric.

"And then, weirdly enough, after the song came out it felt like there was actually something for it to be about."

As in?

"As in, I suddenly started realising that boys were lying to me," she laughs. "But I've decided I'm gonna let them live."

Taking success 'in my stride'

After teasing the song on social media, fan reaction suggested it would become the EP's breakout single - and, sure enough, it caught fire.

To date, it has spawned more than 2.3 million TikTok creations and 225 million audio streams.

"It hasn't been a surprise where I've been like, 'OMG I'm not prepared'," she says matter-of-factly. "I've been taking it in my stride."

The song reached new heights in January when she messaged rising Bronx MC Ice Spice and asked her to appear on a remix.

"The whole idea was, I didn't want it to just be a song that passed on by. I wanted to culturally, like, stamp this song into this year."

Image source, Parlophone Records
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Ice Spice hooked up with PinkPantheress after they swapped DMs on Instagram

Ice Spice's verse expands on the original, telling her own story of a boyfriend who's giving her the run around - a huge departure from the braggadocious, sex-forward lyrics she's become known for.

"I don't hear that many especially female rappers rap about their insecurities," agrees PinkPantheress.

"I didn't ask her... but I feel like [that verse] flooded out of her more easily than we think.

"When you get an opportunity to start talking about that stuff, you get to unpack a lot."

'Not taken seriously'

In the space of a year and a half, the PinkPantheress sound - chirrupy, sped-up vocals; 90s and 00s samples; upbeat instrumentals and sad lyrics - has become TikTok's defining musical aesthetic.

She rejects the labels she's been given, from "new nostalgia" to "drum and bass revivalist", and says her forthcoming music will explore "different soundscapes" and "genres we're not used to hearing from women in the mainstream".

The barriers facing women in the music industry is a topic that gets her particularly animated. In a recent TikTok, she highlighted the fact that only 2.8% of songs have female producers, commenting: "That's not OK. Let's fix it."

She says the problem is an industry dominated by men who, consciously or not, intimidate younger, female artists.

"When I was growing up, I wouldn't want to step into certain rooms because I knew I wouldn't be taken seriously," she says.

"I'd go into the studio and, one, there'd be no-one that looked like me and, two, people wouldn't really pay attention, you know?

"That's what's putting [women] off and I think what we should do in order to combat that is [just] make music with other women.

"When you make music with other women it means that you're not in a position where you feel like you're lesser-than, or that anyone's treating you differently because of your gender.

"And then you build up your confidence."

Image source, Getty Images
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The singer only performed her first concert in October 2021, but has been growing more comfortable on stage

In terms of her own self-confidence, the last 18 months have been a huge learning curve.

Having emerged during the pandemic, her public persona is still a work in progress, and she's finding her feet as a live performer.

"Oh, for sure," she says. "For sure. For sure. For sure, for sure, for sure. Yeah, it's been a development."

Filming a music video with Ice Spice helped, she says. "Sometimes I was watching her and I was like, 'Okayyyy, so she does things like this?'

"It was like she was giving me advice, almost."

And while Boy's A Liar marks her mainstream crossover, she's not abandoning the softly, softly approach to her career in music.

"I definitely haven't started plotting [an album]," she says. "I'm just taking my time. I feel like, already, the year has been so crazy and hectic so I'm just taking a wee break."

And maybe, depending on Friday's chart position, a trip to a theme park.