Among the eeriest of Semaine’s short films, Galatea, makes its debut this week. The production—directed by Zoé Le Ber—features the inimitable Kaya Wilkins as a statue that comes to life one night at an otherwise empty gallery. Wilkins, a winning all-star trifecta of model, musician, and actress, also penned the soundtrack: Under the stage alias Okay Kaya, she recorded an acapella version of a song from her long-awaited inaugural album that’s slated to be released later this year. “The song is about wanting to go out and pursue sex,” she states simply.
Wilkins first started writing music five years ago. At the time, she already had three years of professional modelling under her belt and was gaining a reputation as an underground style icon. A quick scroll through her Instagram account and it’s not hard to see why. A lithe 5-foot-nine, with full lips, searching brown eyes, and poker-straight hair, she carries the air of a woman as confident in her pajamas as she in Chloé. Her social media presence is also refreshingly free of digital influencer hashtags: Posts range from candid shower selfies to acoustic music videos filmed in her Brooklyn apartment.
Kaya’s musical education began as a child in Norway. Growing up, her mother rotated Prince, Otis Redding, Mariah Carey, and Miriam Makeba records at their home in Nesoddtangen, a peninsula outside of the capital city, Oslo. Kaya describes her native country as “beautiful,” but says that she needed to fly the coop in order to put down roots somewhere more expansive, like New York City. “I think I was in need of more culture as Norway is quite homogeneous,” she reflects. “I wanted something grounding and stimulating that I could conquer on my own.” Writing music solely in English is one way the singer continues to redress that balance.
The theme of Kaya’s lyrics tend to follow the same thread of unbridled intimacy as heard in Galatea’s soundtrack. In her recent hit “IUD,” for example, she tackles the subject of safe sex: “Baby, you’re so baby, but I don’t want your baby,” she sings languorously over a pared-down guitar and drum melody. In the track’s accompanying video, the singer drags a replica of her own head by the hair to Planned Parenthood. A sense of urgency informs her creative process: “I try to write or record a thought as soon as it comes,” she explains. “Something I’ve heard, felt, or read can spark it. Then I go back again later when I find the time to work on it.”
Last year, her career took an unexpected twist into the movie business. Acclaimed Scandinavian director, Joachim Trier reached out about an audition for the lead support in his upcoming film—a supernatural lesbian coming-of-age story, titled Thelma. Kaya walked into the role of Anja and shooting began shortly thereafter. In November 2017, the finished picture premiered to rave reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival. Wilkins describes the acting process as visceral and akin to singing on a stage in front of people: “I feel more comfortable modelling in front of the camera, but how I look is only part of me. When I’m singing I use every part of myself so I’m more vulnerable, but also more confident because it’s my medium. Acting is similar.”
Kaya is reluctant to look too far into the future and questions about it or other potential acting projects will elicit little response for the time being. Instead, she wants to talk about right now and booking shows to mark the release of her album, so she can finally “play it for people!” Post-performance celebrations will—naturally—include a lot of alcoholic beverages: “I don’t know what I would do in the same room as the person I admire, but in a dream world, I’d have a drink with the writer Maggie Nelson,” she says to close. “Only drinks though—dinner is too much pressure.”
By Elsa de Berker for Semaine.