With her bright Bambi eyes, Shinjuku style, and popular Japanese language covers of Western pop songs, you might mistake the petite UK-based phenomenon for a real-life anime character. ButKELSEY ELLSIONis not a mahou-shoujo princess. Nor is she just another YouTube sensation.
A singer, dancer since the age of five, and entertainer of many sorts, Ellison had a “nice upbringing, always surrounded by music.” She explains, “My mum loves watching musicals and my dad is in various bands. [My sisters and I] were all into singing and dancing, so it’s never been a quiet house. I guess I was a typical theater kid, always in dance class after school. But I loved it!”
Artists like the Spice Girls, Gwen Stefani, Duran Duran, and Michael Jackson were always on repeat in the Ellison household. It’s no wonder then that her official musical debut, “Pom Pom,” sounds like an ooey-gooey, colorful concoction of various musical leanings, all sticky and sweet and just a bit twisted. A punky electro-pop jam with a much darker meaning than the video’s wacky Technicolor visuals suggest, she explains, “[The song] is about those times when you feel a little lost, as though you’re losing your mind. It can have quite dark connotations to it.”
For such a bright entertainer, the song’s undertones can be a bit jarring at first. However, descending into madness doesn’t have to be entirely gloomy. “[The song] was originally written by Maya Von Doll,” the artist explains. “But [we] decided to work on it for me and added lyrics like ‘Hey Car, where’s my dude?’ to add a lighter tone, as well as a sense of fun to suit my own style. The lyrics and title is inspired by Gwen Stefani’s ‘Hollaback Girl,’ with those girly chants.”
Just as you think you have the quirky young dynamo all figured out, she throws you for a loop. Of misconceptions about her, Ellison laments, “[Some] think that I’m immature or naive because I like youthful, colorful things. I love having fun and being silly, but when I’m working, I work hard and I also do my research. I’ve lived on my own since I was young, and I have to travel by myself a lot too, so that has made me more mature and independent than some people may think.”
Currently, Ellison lists Katy Perry Die Antwoord, Natalia Kills, Ed Sheeran, and Iggy Azalea as some of her favorite artists. As for her dream collaboration, she cites will.I.am: “I love his style and music. He’s always looking at the future and knows what’s happening.” She quickly adds, “But sometimes I like to geek out and listen to Disney songs and soundtrack music!”
To really talk about Kelsey Ellison, however, it’s crucial to touch on the thing that she just may be best known for: her love of East Asian pop culture. But how does a young girl from an English mining town who grew up on the Spice Girls suddenly find herself at the center of kawaii culture online? The answer, of course, is music.
“The first J-pop artists I listened to were a group called C-ute,” Ellison explains, “and the first K-pop artists [I found] were a group called 4 Minute. One day when I was looking for a song from an anime on YouTube, I stumbled across more J-pop songs, which then led to more K-pop songs… I thought it was so different and fun, and I was immediately hooked!”
A fusion of Western and Eastern influence, Ellison’s music perfectly synthesizes the sweet spot where British pop and Korean pop meet. “I love so many different types of music, but I especially love pop music with electronic and dance influences,” she says. “A lot of K-pop has electronic influences, but I like how fun and quirky it is, which is what we try to do with my music and merge it with UK vibes, too.”