Like Benee, BBNO$ and about a thousand other acts that suddenly became superstars in the last 18 months, Ashnikko is blowing up off the back of a TikTok craze. But dig a little deeper and you’ll see that there’s much more to this blue-haired rapper than Miley Cyrus memes.
Barely a second into the intro, you get a pretty solid indicator of what’s on the way: a clapped-out synth bassline and a sharp-edged trap beat, underneath a solitary voice repeatedly screaming ‘WET’ on the track like its owner is trying to summon the ghosts of our crunkcore kings Brokencyde. The song is called ‘STUPID’, the voice belongs to a 23-year-old London-based rapper called Ashnikko, and like an increasing number of out-of-nowhere smash hits of late, it’s one which found its first major audience on that most democratic of platforms: I’m talking about TikTok, baby.
But as anyone who’s ever spent a long, fruitless afternoon neglecting crucial responsibilities and trying to nail yet another hellish dance challenge can attest, landing a TikTok hit is a lot less simple than that sentence may sound. So how did ‘STUPID’ blow up? And why? And who exactly is the diminutive blue-haired rapper behind it? All of these questions, and at least 1.5 more, sort-of-answered below.
First, I implore thee: what is an Ashnikko and whom hath summoned it?
Ashnikko, as mentioned above, is a young rapper operating out of England’s capital, although she’s called a few places home – born in North Carolina, she grew up stateside then spent the bulk of her teens in Estonia and Latvia, before moving slightly west at age 18. She’s been making music since the mid-2010s, and for the most part it’s all been pretty consistent both in style and quality – if you’re looking for an easy primer, her four-track 2017 debut Sass Pancakes gives a pretty complete prototype of her contemporary sound, splitting the difference between the extreme luridity of Brooke Candy and the hard-edged delivery of Rico Nasty.
So why did ‘STUPID’ blow up?
Why does the sun rise? Why does the world turn? Why do I keep buying headphones on deferred finance and then leaving them at the gym? Truly, it seems that some of this life’s mysteries are beyond solving. If I were to hazard a guess, though, I’d give equal credit to the track’s playful abrasiveness – similar to acts like the aforementioned Ms Nasty or art-pop weirdos du jour 100 gecs, its extreme heaviness doesn’t come at the expense of melody – and the incongruity of Ashnikko’s saccharine delivery against her low-level toxic lyrics; pro-ghosting lines like “Nothing about you is attractive to me now / Blocking you, avoiding you actively right now” may not constitute great life advice, but is there truly any human who can’t relate? That’s not a rhetorical question, the answer is no.
It’s easy to overstate the role of individual clips as catalysts for this type of blow-up, but it does also seem fair to say that Miley Cyrus played some part in its rise – the track was already blowing up on the platform itself, but Miley using the song to introduce new boyfriend Cody Simpson to Tiktok automatically meant that the virality became a little more mainstream.
As far as Ashnikko herself is concerned, she’s said that “for the most part” she thinks that the nature of the song’s buzz is true to the spirit in which she wrote it. Speaking to Fader at the end of last year, she said she’s proud of what ‘Stupid’ has ended up meaning to people, “It’s a breakup song, basically,” she told David Renshaw, “and it feels like it’s become something like a confidence song, which I really like — a “sing in front of your mirror with a hairbrush” type of song.”
Does all her stuff sound like this?
I’m so glad you asked! Because no, not really! If anything, Hi, It’s Me, the 2019 EP that ‘STUPID’ is lifted from, presents Ashnikko as an almost-surprisingly well-rounded artist – albeit an extremely on-trend one. Her stylistic touchpoint here range from the overdriven power pop of Sleigh Bells, or Charli XCX’s more bombastic moments (the title track) to the era-defining Bay Area bounce of DJ Mustard (‘Special’, ‘Working Bitch’), giving the overall impression of an artist who’s definitely aware of what’s hot in music, even if she doesn’t necessarily obliged to stay in any one particular lane.
Part of that is probably down to what seems like a pretty healthy working relationship between Ashnikko and her production partners. ‘Working Bitch’ and ‘Manners’ see return appearances from previous collaborators CallMeTheKidd and Jason Julian respectively, while ‘STUPID’ is produced and co-written by Oscar Scheller, a buzzed-about artist in his own right and someone who she’s already worked with a few times prior. The results are varied, but the consistent through-line is an artist who sounds just as comfortable with borderline balladry as she does with sex raps. Which, frankly, is the kind of versatility that 2020 demands.
I have decided to stan. Now what?
I’m so happy to hear that, and I also have good news for you: by all indications, Ashnikko’s not planning to switch up her approach too substantially anytime soon. She’s apparently got new work in the pipe, telling Billboard in November that 2020 will see her “making a lot of cool music with a lot of really cool people … I’m just going to be throwing so much music out into the world,” but in the meantime she’s just trying to keep the buzz bus rolling – just today she dropped chaotic new single ‘Tantrum’, and with last week seeing the announcement that she’ll soon be joining fellow Tik Tok superstar Doja Cat for a full US tour, it seems pretty likely that you’ll be hearing a lot more from her in the not-too-distant future. Maybe keep an eye on Tik Tok, just in case.