Cuteness, bubblegum, and cotton candy
Behind the scenes of Santi Storm’s debut music video
Amidst the darkness of Covid-19 and lockdown melancholy, we can expect to see a little light on March 1st. International drag performer Santi Storm is releasing their debut single Kawaii World with the accompanying music video arriving a week later. Known for doing shows in Tokyo and London and touring the world dancing for the likes of Charli XCX, SOPHIE and Dorial Electra, they’re now releasing their own hyper-pop, girl power anthem, alongside a music video featuring the RuPaul’s Drag Race star and long-time friend Gothy Kendoll. Think EDM meets nightcore meets “anime bubblegum cuteness”.
At the beginning of February, I met Santi and their behind-the-scenes photographer Olly Crown in cyberspace to get a sneak peek into the production of the music video and beginning of their musical career.
“I definitely feel like I want everything about this song and this project to be about escapism. I’m obsessed with anime, anything fantasy, anything that’s just like more out of this world,” Santi told me as they gestured their hand towards the anime-themed gallery wall behind them. Inspired by the alternate universe of culture, architecture and fashion that is Japan, Santi started writing their song in-between doing shows in Tokyo.
“Even before the pandemic, the idea of Peter Pan, and going into a magic world has always been something I’m kind of obsessed with. But now with the pandemic, I feel like it’s become suddenly really important for us to have virtual reality and just be able to go on our computers, stare at a screen, turn all the lights off in our room and just pretend you’re in a virtual cyber world.” But how do you create an escape when reality seeps into every conversation and every thought we’ve had since March 2020?
Originally, Santi and their team thought about including handmade 3D porcelain Hello Kitty face masks, but then decided against it. “I don’t want to ever look back at this video, and remember we were in a pandemic, you know what I mean?” Instead, they decided the focus would be on feminine empowerment. “Even though I identify as a boy, when I’m in drag I guess I’m dressed as a girl so I wanted a female director, I had female backup dancers, I had female makeup artists. There were probably only two boys, like, two male identifiers on the set, when we were in the big studio,” Santi explained. “When I’m performing in clubs and stuff, I usually have these muscly, hot, gay boys lifting me up, all oiled up and juice. I don’t really want that narrative for my music. I believe female empowerment can empower boys to empower their feminine side, which I think you need more in the world anyways.”
The music video serves as an introduction into Santi as an artist far and beyond their drag and burlesque cabaret performances. Inspired by influences such as cosplay, kawaii and Harajuku fashion, as well as 2yk aesthetics, they poured their whole self into the set design, the hair and makeup as well as costumes — all of which they produced themselves. “One of my probably biggest flaws but also my biggest strengths is that I’m a crazy obsessive planner, every single detail needs to be perfect,” they told me. “In my head before every film, even every performance that I’m doing in clubs, I’m always like, ‘something’s gonna go wrong, be ready for something to go wrong.’ It’s not about stopping things that are going wrong. It’s about how you deal with it.” Fortunately, much to the disappointment of my initial desire for a juicy mishap story, the production of the music video was surprisingly smooth. It was shot in East London and Seven Sisters in an infinity cove before agreeing with videographer Kassandra Powell to move the last scenes, which were originally meant to be in front of one of Santi’s final self-made set designs, to their house: one in the guest room, one on the couch in the living room, and one in their mum’s bathtub.
“If I can be honest, I haven’t told her yet. But the bathroom is gonna look exactly how it did before and she’s very, very laid back. Will she find out when she watches the video? Probably. Am I gonna apologize? Yes. Will she forgive me? Yes. It’s going to be a happy ending. There’s nothing to worry about.”
In addition to bringing friend and fellow drag performer Gothy Kendoll onto the set for the music video, as “to not have Gothy in a video would be a sin”, photographer and friend Olly Crown was also invited to capture everything behind the scenes. They first met during one of Olly’s first night outs in London on his 19th birthday, back when Santi used to host clubs before getting more heavily into performing. “Olly has always just been, like, one of the fun, cute, adorable people that I always loved to see out, so I always used to invite him to parties. And he’s also just an amazing photographer,” Santi reminisced. “So I was just hoping he would be in London and willing to do it. I wasn’t even sure if he’d wanted to. I was kind of like, ‘do you want to hang out with us for a couple of hours and take some pictures of us? We’re probably gonna be on a couch naked and it’s gonna be really sexy. And there’s gonna be bubbles everywhere.’ But it’s also really late at night. And I don’t know, it’s kind of a weird time in general.” Luckily, Olly agreed.
Going in rather blind, with the only expectation of seeing some explosively pink Santi extravaganza, Olly arrived on the second half of the shoot. “It was quite nerve-wracking when I didn’t know anything that was happening. But then I got there and obviously, Santi had Kassandra Powell there and all of her lighting team, and it was all very organized and amazing. I feel like because I have these amazing, strong people around me then I just need to, like, level my pussy up and do the best work that I can and it just kind of came.” Olly decided to shoot everything on Polaroid to emphasise the personal essence of behind-the-scenes photography, admitting that while some of the more questionable images will not be revealed to the public, the majority did successfully document the explosions of pink and personal insight into Santi’s first-ever music video. “I kind of just want to create these tangible little prints that you can look back at and we can cherish this huge moment in Santi’s career. That’s why I chose Polaroid as well because my dissertation was on the Polaroid as this retrospective moment.”
“Olly probably came during the more stressful part because it was getting later at night, and we were all getting tired. We were shooting five scenes, and we were on, like, scene number four or something,” Santi told me. “So whenever Olly was around taking photos that kind of felt like a fun relief moment. I just wanted this to be an actual real, captured memory. I didn’t want to have to think about how I look. Everything already looked beautiful, but I wanted to just show my personality. I hope that comes across in the photos.”
Starting their journey producing music with the question ‘How the hell do you make a song?’, they are proud to announce that every single lyric we will hear was written by Santi themself. When deciding to make a song, Santi embarked on a journey to consult several friends in the PC music and hyper-pop scene the likes of Dorian Electra and Charli XCX who were able to point them in the right direction of producers. But amongst a pool of well-established names in the industry, Santi found a Brazilian producer called Kylam on YouTube to make a beat for them. “I had a few song references, then I sent him my lyrics and I was like, ‘Let’s make some magic’,” Santi explained.
For the vocals, they worked with several producers to achieve the right sound and landed on producer Himera, who previously remixed for Charli XCX. Inspired by their friend and pop-singer Namasenda, Santi wanted to create a sound fitting for a ‘cute, robotic, high-pitched princess that wasn’t human’. “But it’s actually really hard to achieve that without it sounding like a weird helium Kesha,” Santi joked before clarifying that their love for old school autotune Kesha was unfortunately not what they were in the market for themselves. Namasenda then referred them to a producer who would help Santi achieve the sound they wanted and had another producer tie it all together. “I’ve now found one producer that I’m making all my new songs with. And I’m just working with that one because relaying between all those different people is a lot of work and a lot of energy.”
Santi Storm’s achievements have so far merely been a foreshadowing of all that’s yet to come. Over the past year alone, they gained a huge following of over 200 thousand people on TikTok with some of their content going viral, toured the world with famous artists, and inspired audiences cross-generationally. Santi’s art reaches anyone from Gen Z to even younger generations, offering them the pleasure to experience the world and its people in all the colourful variations they come in. But Santi’s mission is far from over.
“I wouldn’t say I’m ready for an album yet,” Santi admitted. “I still feel like I want to introduce everyone into who I am, because I feel like I have a few sides to myself as a musical artist. But I’ve been working on a few singles to be released, as we speak. So things are definitely coming.”
The song will be available on all streaming platforms. You can find Santi on Instagram here