When Kailee Morgue was looking for a collaborator to work with on her new track, she had one important qualification — they had to be another queer woman. The 20-year-old singer felt that finding proper representation was important for the authenticity of her new sound.
Enter Hayley Kiyoko. The pop star followed Morgue on Instagram, leading to a direct message conversation where Morgue successfully pitched the idea of her new song “Headcase,” a dreamy alt-pop jam exploring Morgue’s own insecurities in how she’s viewed. “She fell into my lap at the perfect time,” Morgue tells Billboard. “She has become the perfect person for me to collaborate on this with."
Getting to work with Kiyoko is just another notch in the up-and-coming singer’s belt, as Morgue has been making her way in the music industry since the release of her hypnotic EP Medusa back in 2017. But the young star says that it wasn’t until recently that she truly found her voice, accepting her own identity as the one she wants to show the world.
“I was constantly asking myself, ‘Oh, what do I want Kailee Morgue to be?’” she says. “That was my whole mindset in the beginning. More recently, I was like, ‘Oh, Kailee Morgue just accidentally became me.’”
Morgue spoke with Billboard ahead of the release of her new track “Headcase” about working with Kiyoko, her love for Pixies’ 1988 classic “Where Is My Mind?,” and the importance of queer authenticity in the modern age.
How did "Headcase" come about — what was the concept?
So the song samples "Where Is My Mind?" by the Pixies. I really love that song, I grew up listening to alternative, and I never really got to channel that in my own music. So I guess because of that song, and that feeling of paranoia it gives you, I wanted to channel my own struggle with bipolar disorder. I've always tried to do that, but it's been difficult to really grasp at what that feels like through a song. "Headcase" is definitely about the push and pull of my feelings, on top of being in a relationship, and being around other people in general. So that's kind of about the two different sides of myself.
I am so excited that you got to work with Hayley. How did the two of you link up?
I knew that I wanted a female feature on it, and I was really adamant before knowing before it was going to be her, that I wanted it to be a representative of the LGBTQ community. We got in touch through Instagram, which is insane to me. She followed me, and I just had this song and was looking for a feature, and she fell into my lap at the perfect time. I was like, "Hey, I swear I don't just send people demos like this, I'm not trying to be annoying, but I really feel like you would like this song, and it would be great if you would be on it." She really liked it, and happened to really relate to what it was saying in her own mind. It had really interesting timing and it worked out perfectly.
I love that you wanted to find someone who represented the community. What was it like getting to work with someone who is so openly queer? I mean, her fans call her Lesbian Jesus.
Okay, first of all, every comment when I posted the cover art just said "Oh my god, Lesbian Jesus has blessed us!" [laughs] It's really insane, because like I said, I knew that's what I wanted, and I feel like this is one of a very select few songs out that have two openly queer women collaborating. We’re still not in a place where we're getting it that often, or where we're getting the right message where it's not just like, "Oh, I like girls sometimes." We're very open about it, and we're not trying to portray it in any way, it's just who we are. That's a really strong thing for me, and I've been really lucky to have her on it, because she has become the perfect person for me to collaborate on this with.
Is that important for you —having representation that's not as defined or one-dimensional?
I think that needs to be done, because I think that everyone is just assuming it would be about ... you know, girls who like girls. Overall, it's more like, "No, the whole message is about us, and how we feel as people, and it's not even 100 percent about relationships, it's just about how we assess the other people in our life." I think doing more stuff like this challenges the idea that two queer women working together always has to be about liking other women, or sexualization, and I really like that it veered away from that.
Hayley is one of a number of queer women over the last year or so — like Janelle Monáe, Kehlani, Kim Petras — who have gained a lot of traction in the mainstream. As a queer artist, what is it like to see their level of success?
It's obviously very inspiring, but it also just makes me feel so secure in the fact that you can be openly queer, and not have the label wear you, you know what I'm saying? Like, "Oh, this is a queer artist." Like, no, this is an artist that's making amazing music, who happens to be queer. I feel like sometimes it can tend to be scary or kind of feel like that label is going to be who you are, and you're not going to own it. So I think those are really good examples of the people who have kind of shown me that I can be what I am, and I still have it worked through the mainstream, which is awesome to see other people doing.
Authenticity seems to be important to you — you're very open about your pansexuality online. How do you view that line between personal and professional life?
I guess for me, it's just part of who I am, and I couldn't really try to hide it if I tried to. And I know there are people who are queer and who aren't as open about it, and for them that's more of a personal thing — I totally understand that. But I think there's not enough of that representation. Like you're saying, there's very few people who are openly pansexual, and pansexual is really about complete fluidity. And that comes down to the message of, you have the potential to love anyone that makes you feel love. I think that's not something that I felt intimidated by sharing. That's okay to kind of explore that feeling, that it's okay to be fluid and feel confused, because there's not that many people that are like, "Hey, it's okay if you don't know how you feel. If you change your mind, that's really important." I wish more people were representing that when I was 11 or 12.
Who did you have to look up to when you were growing up?
I mean … Lady Gaga is an example. She was more in pop, and I listened to more alternative stuff, but I did look up to her. Most of the music I was listening to was bands that my dad put me on to when I was growing up, like very alternative stuff. I was more looking up to that idea of personality and ideas. I felt so influenced by artists doing that, and there's definitely a lot of people doing it now.
You've had this very fast, really fascinating journey to this point. How do you think you and your sound have evolved?
It's been really interesting. I think it's more than just figuring out what I want sonically — being a solo artist, you are really your brand, and what you're selling is yourself. I was constantly asking myself, "Oh, what do I want Kailee Morgue to be?" That was my whole mindset in the beginning. More recently, I was like, "Oh, Kailee Morgue just accidentally became me." That's why, with this new music and how I've evolved into what I'm doing now, everything is super transparent in a way where I was struggling between what I wanted to write and what other people will like. I just kind of found that recently, and found that confidence in myself. Who I am as an artist is actually me, instead of putting on this image of what I think it should be. Sonically, because of that, I have drawn back to the roots of what made me want to do music — like this 80s kind of stuff, and the things that inspired me as a kid and now. That's a lot different than the EP that I put out last year. Like, you can still hear Kailee Morgue in it. I think I've really figured out who I am personally and sonically.
What can fans expect from your new EP, coming out this spring?
I am so excited about this. When you hear "Headcase," you're getting a piece of the Medusa EP and what's coming next, because I wrote "Headcase" closer to last year when I was still writing that other style of music, but I was hinting toward something more alternative. But the other songs on this EP are much more current to what I've been making recently, and they are very much drawn from that '80s alternative scene. They're lyrically very honest, and I think they really kind of 100 percent give what I have been going through, instead of generalizing it so more people will understand it. You are kind of getting a feeling — I came out and have been openly struggling with my bipolar disorder, and there are all of these things that happened to me that you get to see these pieces of. That is everything, so I'm really excited for the whole feeling of what it's going to be like.