“I would love to see the story itself convey queerness just as much as the character’s haircut does.”
By Marissa Lee.
Kat Cunning, if you didn’t already know, is the coolest thing in the artistic scene right now.
From their roles in live performance art such as 29 Rooms and Sleep No More, to performances in TV shows like The Deuce and Trinkets and using their voice to serenade listeners everywhere, Cunning is an artistic vanguard in every sense of the word. Now preparing for the upcoming release of their music video for “Supernova (tigers blud)” and their forthcoming EP, Kat sits down with Mission to talk about their music, the queer art space and how to gather your magic.
You’ve had quite the year! How does your life look right now?
It’s actually been super positive. Recently I’ve been able to participate in some really intentional writing sessions. They’re remote and have actually been super productive for me. I think I’m outgoing as a performer and live for that connection with the audience, but at the same time, I’m an introvert, so this has been a cool opportunity for me to catch up with my emotions.
What is your musical process?
I’m definitely not someone who writes every day; I wait for the day that I choose to write, and then a well of emotional notes come out. I have so many songs coming out on the EP that I’ve been excited to share for a while.
Would you say you have any musical influences?
I always struggle when it comes to articulating my influences because I don’t come from a musical place; when I write, it comes from the story. I’m inspired by the way that people like Julia Michaels have very sparse but special production. I appreciate artists that can successfully nail down multiple genres and narratives. I aim to be a performer who can tell all these different stories, but without compromising the things that are inherently me.
You’ve also participated in live performance art – 29 Rooms, Sleep No More – how are those different from acting on camera for you?
It’s thrilling in a totally different way. Acting for film is so much more controlled, there’s no audience and it’s just you working with your imagination. I think of roles like 29 Rooms and Sleep No More as being akin to my music concerts, they’re live and there’s nothing like it.
In terms of working on screen recently in roles like The Deuce and Trinkets, would you say you’re moving away from live performances and more towards on-screen acting?
I would like to think that I could do both forever, but the reality is that a live show is a longer commitment. Since I’ve had my first taste of film and TV, I would really love to dive into it more. I will always need to balance it out [with live performances] – there’s nothing like being onstage and connecting with people, whether it be a role in someone else’s creation or my own musical performances. I’ll definitely always be doing both things.
How is being a non-binary person in the entertainment space?
I believe it’s your choice who you want to educate regarding your identity and pronouns. Personally, whenever I’m working with someone new, I lead with that information and have to pick my battles with regards to who I want to educate on the topic.
As an actor, I’m probably not the first pick for every non-binary character; I identify as non-binary but I present very feminine – I don’t resent that. A big reason why I keep this presentation is to tell more surprising stories about queer people – I want to represent people that are not safe or free.
Speaking of non-binary roles in film and television, how do you feel about the representation of non-binary people on and off-screen?
I love to see it growing every day. I would, however, love to see more non-binary characters that are story-driven and not a token. There excitement surrounding representing androgynous and gender non-conforming people on screen, but at the same time, gender identity and gender expression are two very different things. I would love to see the story itself convey queerness just as much as the character’s haircut does.
There’s a tendency to tokenize one thing about a character and make it their whole story – it’s pretty exploitative. I would like to see more casual representation of them to normalize that non-binary people and queer people experience other things beyond just our queerness.
In terms of the queer music scene, what do you hope to contribute to that space?
I hope to keep doing what I do while also breaking through the rainbow ceiling. I want my music and lyrics to be relatable for the whole world for whoever is listening, whatever their love story is. I want to keep working with my community, but I also want to see queer music transcend ‘queer music.’ I want it to be a universal concept; love is universal.
I hear you, I think we’re moving past the ‘queer music’ box in strides.
For sure, I want my music to be transcendent. I want my music to play on the radio in a small town and that little kid to be like, “Am I a boy or a girl?” I want them to hear my music and feel seen and accepted by me. Those moments were few and far between for me growing up.
That’s a great vision to have. What does the future look like for you?
I’m just going to continue writing great music and auditioning for projects. I’m gonna continue not to panic in the pandemic, making art that is intentional, gathering all of my magic for it to release when it’s time.