He’s as buff as Arnold (almost), as agro as Riff Raff, as hairless as a pre-pubescent Hello Kitty fan (and coated in even more Hello Kitty temporary tattoos)… Introducing Candy Ken, the Berlin-based Austrian rapper, internet sensation and fashion inspiration to Diesel’s artistic director Nichola Formichetti (and a growing number of acolytes).
In his videos, he raps about the unimportant things in life, from basic bitches to Barbies. Over Instagram, he showers followers with a constant stream of pink Speedos, rippling abs and third-person captions describing “daddy’s” latest adventures. In person and over the phone, he’s shockingly sweet and innocent as he describes his plans to take over pop culture through a unique mix of cuteness and flexing. On a trip to L.A. last month to perform live at the party Heav3n, he struck a pose or two for MEL photographer Jared Ryder, before opening up about his past-life as a football-playing exchange student at an American high school.
What were your favorite things in L.A.?
Muscle beach, Hollywood, all the palm trees and the lifestyle and the people, of course. It’s just a good vibe; it’s very accepting. You can run around all Hello Kitty, all unicorn, and nobody cares, everybody’s loving it. It’s always been a dream for me to go to L.A. Instead of going two weeks, I went for a month. It’s a good place for Candy Ken.
Did you show off your muscles in Muscle Beach?
Oh yeah. That was like the best place. I hate wearing t-shirts, so finally working out with swim trunks — that’s the best.
What’s your workout routine like?
It’s like a very strict daily routine. Plus, very, very healthy food and a lot of sleep.
A lot of sleep?
You got to do the whole package to do the whole package.
Have you worked out your whole life?
No. I spent an exchange year when I was 17 in the U.S. That’s when everything started: my confidence and my working out. I went to high school in Washington state and played football, and that’s when I got into working out.
What’d you think of American high school?
Oh, I really liked it. It’s definitely easier, of course, but you can choose more, it’s more about finding out about yourself. I chose photography and art class and football, of course. I really liked it. Of course, as a foreigner you can appreciate a different culture so much more.
How long have you been performing and making music?
I studied photography and film in Berlin and I got very frustrated cuz I got crazy ideas and I would propose them to people I was working for and they were always turning me down, telling me it was too much. And out of this frustration of giving my ideas away to people who don’t appreciate it, I created Candy Ken, and now I’ve been doing this two years.
What’s the reception like being an Austrian rapper rapping in English?
The Austrian rapper is not the problem. It’s more like — what is my style and what I look like and the images I do and my music videos. In Europe, especially on the street, it’s problematic a lot of times. In New York, people are very open-minded, very tolerant. The same in Asia, in America, the big cities in the U.S. — it’s been amazing, too, compared to small towns, especially where I’m from. You mostly get ignored, or people whisper, or take photos of you.
I’ve been to Manila in the Philippines — especially in poor societies the tolerance is very low, and if you walk around like this, you kind of provoke people and it’s dangerous. That’s why I feel like because I’m privileged as an Austrian, as a European, I have to express myself and use this advantage to show everyone what’s possible, and show everyone you can express yourself. Everybody tries to fit and look the same more and more and live a secure life, and there’s so many rules. That’s why I do this Candy Ken thing — to question stereotypes and gender roles.
Especially as a pink, Hello Kitty rapper, it’s very new and very crazy for most people — not for people from L.A, like you of course — but in most parts of the world, it’s very unusual.
What’s the deal with Hello Kitty? Have you been a fan since you were a kid?
I really love to have it on my body. I found these Hello Kitty stickers, and I was so fascinated by the muscle and Hello Kitty and to combine things that were not supposed to go together. Just body building is too flat for me, and just being cute or doing cosplay is also too flat.
What are some of the collaborations you’ve been doing?
My best collaboration is with Nicola Formichetti, the creative director from Diesel. He found me a year ago on Instagram and really understands what I’m going for and why I’m doing this, and he really gets the concept and he pushes it even better, so he got me to shoot for his magazine, a Japanese magazine called FREE, and we’ve been working together since then. He was one of the first people really understanding — and not using me as a model, more using me as a personality, using my own stuff, my own clothes. I do a lot of styling myself: I came up with the Hello Kitty thing; I organized the grills, the contact lenses, the My Little Pony. That’s all stuff I got together. [Nicola] actually lets me do my thing, and I really really like that. He also got me to Terry Richardson and of course to Diesel.
Who are Candy Ken’s fans?
Especially in the beginning it was actually L.A. people who picked it up the first. Then of course I have community in Berlin, Austria, surprisingly in Russia — a lot of Russian fans — and then Asia, of course, and then also Mexico. It’s kind of all over. It’s definitely the internet generation: people who grew up with the internet or spend a lot of time on their smartphones, of course, cause most of my stuff happens on social media. Because I only perform once or twice a month, so most of the stuff people see is online. Also, I get a lot of support of the LGBT community. They don’t question Candy Ken; they love and support me 100 percent. And then of course, lots of people from small cities that just feel that they want to express themselves, too. I get a lot of messages from people who say “Wow, Candy Ken, you inspired me to color my hair”—or do a crazy outfit today or help me to be myself.
Do you identify as LGBTQ?
I always tell people that I love everybody. I’m definitely a part of the LGBT community cuz I kind of stand for them, in a lot of parts of my songs—I really stand behind them and fight for tolerance and for people stopping to be so judgmental and put something in a box and saying “That’s female” or “That’s male.” I think everybody should be more tolerant and I’m really trying to make a statement with my music.
What’s next for Candy Ken for the rest of the year?
I got a couple performances coming up. I also want to work on new music. At the moment there’s a company that wants me to go for a month to Tokyo, so I’m planning that at the moment. I really want to make myself a name in Asia, so I think that’s what’s best for me at the moment. And also, my first real music video, I would maybe say, is coming out. All my music videos so far have been produced, directed, even cut by myself. Now i finally have a team in London, and they shot the video and it’s going to come out very soon. It’s called “What I Like”.
Who would be the ultimate person to collaborate with?
I think Miley Cyrus. And Psy — that would be the best, I think. I think he’s doing the same thing as me, not taking himself seriously, making fun music that people enjoy. Especially the not taking yourself seriously thing is very important to me, too, and his productions are always very high quality. A music video of me and Psy dancing around in Asia — that would be one of the best things.