by Kathy Iandoli
Photography by Absinthe
Few new artists would place their name at the head of their lead single, but U.K. songbird Katy B did just that on her debut “Katy On a Mission.” A womanifesto of sorts, the dubstep track drops the 22-year-old in the heart of a club, where her bravado (“Now I’ve reached my element you better move over”) gets reinforced by the music as she emphatically chants: “This right here I swear will end too soon.”
Just last year, Katy B (nee Kathleen Brien) was putting the finishing touches on her album, On a Mission, while simultaneously completing a music degree at the University of London – Goldsmiths. “It was a lot of late nights and finishing up lots of things last minute,” the young Siren recalls. “I literally finished my degree as the ‘Katy On a Mission’ video was ready. It was all perfect timing, really.” The video has reached 14+ million and counting YouTube views and was the catalyst that propelled Katy’s career to the proverbial next level.
Katy B comes from a long line of graduates of London’s performing arts high school, The BRIT School, who have made their way to the States – most recently Adele and Jessie J. She recalls watching the latter cover Lauryn Hill’s rendition of “His Eye is on the Sparrow” at school and being blown away. But instead of going the soul route, then 16-year-old Katy turned to making songs for pirate radio, which gave her the golden ticket to London’s underground nightlife. “When a couple of my first tracks were released, I was even too young to be in the club,” she explains, “so it was amazing for me because I got to go clubbin’ and be like, ‘Yeah yeah, I’m performing’ and not have to show my I.D.”
She hooked up with community radio station RinseFM and its boss man, DJ/producer Geeneus, took Katy under his wing. RinseFM moonlights as a record label, so the young songstress was signed and began her journey to the top. The resulting album incorporates elements of house beats that hug Katy’s soul-brushed vocals. For a girl raised on a healthy diet of Mary J. Blige and Big L, it’s no wonder her songs scream passion and swag amidst slick production. “I figured, why don’t I combine all the music I listen to rather than [focus on] one specific thing?” she says. Her album debuted at No. 2 on the U.K. charts, a huge surprise to Katy. “When I was making this album, I thought it was going to be on a much smaller scale than it is,” she admits. “I didn’t have many expectations, really.”
Wide-eyed and ready for the world, Katy B is in fact on a mission. While she already has a few embarrassing moments to share – including one in a non-English speaking country (“They taught me how to say ‘Hello, how are you?’ to the crowd and then I forgot it 30 seconds later”) – her main objective is keeping people entertained. “I always get scared when I look down in the audience and I see someone yawning,” she says. “Then I start freaking out.”