Molly Soda and Labanna Babalon live together in Detroit. Their work defies easy categorization, inspiring rabid devotion and suspiciously eager dismissals by those who just don’t get it. Some find their frank sincerity and brutal honesty icky. Look no further than their thousands of acolytes. Their art comes in quick, immediate spurts, with every tweet, 30-second YouTube video, GIF, and re-blog adding to the same picture and persona. Cult of personality? Not really. Molly and Labanna are not malicious. They rail against the hierarchy of pre-Internet celebrities that put on a face for their fans and thought nothing of them in private. Their fans really feel they know them through their daily interaction in social media, and it’s far from a stretch. They’re Dear Abbies for the 9/11 Generation (in fact, Molly just started as an advice columnist for Bullett Media). Though obviously edited and sometimes exaggerated to an extent, their online personas are them, beauty, blemishes, bush and all. I talked to them recently about their work, their fans, how they’re perceived, the music that inspired them, and the future of the Internet.
Splice Today: What is the most common misconception people have about you and your work?
Molly Soda: Well, a lot of people think that I’m a teenager, just because of the content of my videos. I talk a lot about tweens and why boys don’t like me, and my general fan base is teenagers and tweens, so I think most people think I’m like 18. I’ve even had articles written about me that say I’m a “teen blogger.” That’s a pretty big misconception.
Labanna Babalon: Yeah, people think I’m a lot younger than I am. And that I’m a “wild, slutty, party girl,” airhead...
ST: Like they can’t separate the persona from the real person.
MS: Well, I think that my persona is me, though. People might have their own thoughts about what I’m like in real life, but I think generally everything I put out is sincere.
LB: I just think I’ve changed over time. I’m not necessarily twerking for a living, you know?
ST: Who do you think your audience is and how old is it?
LB: It really varies.
MS: Yeah, it really does. At least when I first started doing stuff on the Internet seriously, it was mostly other girls, I would say between the ages of 14 and 25. But obviously there’re a lot of people I’ve met that follow me that don’t fit that. I think generally my content is geared towards that age group, but they’re not the only ones watching.
LB: When I was looking at my YouTube analytics, there was a very small amount of women at first, but that’s grown over time. It used to be a lot more men.
ST: Some writers are confused about what you do and what your work means.
MS: It’s evolved a lot, because when I was first on Tumblr... I think when people think of “Molly Soda” and they’re not super familiar with me, they think of, you know, dyed hair, rats, candy, jewelry, that whole kind of super “cute,” raver style, which is the caricature I made for myself when I first started using my Tumblr, or when it first got big. That leads to a lot of confusion now because people still think of me that way. When I first started putting stuff on the Internet, my direction wasn’t super clear... I wasn’t totally formulated as an artist either... but, people being confused about what I do... I mean, what does anyone “do,” really? That’s my least favorite question: “What do you do?” People are always quick to ask that first.
LB: When I get asked that, I’ll answer with something completely over their head, basically trolling. Like, “what do you do?” “Internet energy healing.” “Oh, what’s that?” “I dunno.” I mean, what are they gonna say? “I control the computer with my vagina.” “Oh.” Just totally deadpan.
ST: A lot of people get scrambled when there isn’t an album, or a movie, or whatever to promote. You guys are the embodiment of your work. Everything you do is part of your art.
MS: Totally. Every single piece of content that I put onto the Internet is painting a bigger picture.
LB: It’s one big story, to an extent. Being able to experience someone else’s reality daily through sharing so much. One thing we both have in common with our fans is that they feel like they really know us. I feel bad when I don’t post for a really long time.
MS: Yeah, people send me concerned messages if I don’t post for a while, especially on Tumblr. When I first got to Baltimore someone asked me, “Are you dead? Where are you?!”
ST: Do you think it’s confusing to people past a certain age, or it’s the sort of thing where you just get it or you don’t?
MS: You either get it or you don’t.
LB: Yeah, because I have tons of older fans, too. When I started posting religiously on YouTube, I immediately saw that “oh, this is like a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ book,” where people could pick what they wanted to watch from what was put out there. Everyone’s attention span is so short now, it seems better to have these 30-second spurts. People forget so often, so having something that’s a constant in their lives seems like a better way to really get into their subconscious.
MS: Instead of putting out one big piece every few months, it’s putting out tons of content every day, or every week. There’s more pressure on something that you’ve worked on for a long time to go well, you know what I mean? It’s like, “Oh, I have to choose when to premiere this, the right timing...”
LB: It’s just way less attachment, concern, and seriousness.
ST: Growing up, what was some of the music that meant the most to you?
MS: Well, I went through some really intense phases. My first favorite band—besides Backstreet Boys in fourth grade—was No Doubt, and I was obsessed. I had everything No Doubt related. I was obsessed with Gwen Stefani, I thought she was the most amazing person ever. I remember when she dyed her hair pink, and I wasn’t allowed to dye my hair, I was probably 12? I would wear a pink wig to school every day. So that was a big influence on me. And then after that it was Weezer, I was really big into the Weezer forums...
ST: So was I. Around when the Green Album came out?
MS: Really? Yeah, dude... I was deep into it. Definite Rivers Cuomo fangirl. I would make fan art on MS Paint, like my own little backgrounds and stuff.
LB: I was always really into hip-hop, and I was like, twerking at 11. I had all these cut-outs of sexy black men in my room, my sister took a picture and showed me recently, it was just like... posters of Tyrese and DMX literally covering my wall. I feel like I’ve been through every single phase. I do remember listening to Fiona Apple’s “Criminal” and putting on black eyeliner and raising slowly up in my mirror a lot... being like, you know, really depressed.
MS: I want a video of that.
LB: I was also really into the Phish album Wading in the Velvet Sea for a while and I just played that on repeat when I was on anti-depressants, and go to sleep. My parents were really worried about me then [laughs].
MS: I think in high school though everyone goes through so many musical phases.
LB: Yeah, definitely.
MS: Like I went from only liking old school emo, like Sunny Day Real Estate, then switching over to, you know, “indie rock,” so I was big into Rilo Kiley...
LB: Cat Power, too... Then when I was 18 I started making noise music. That’s how I met Carly and Twig [of Nautical Almanac]. I’ve known them for years. I remember taking my sister to see Wolf Eyes in Sweden, and Devendra Banhart was playing at the same time, and I made her leave to go see Wolf Eyes with me. There was almost no one there. I had just made my sister sew in these fake dreads into my hair, so I was head banging to Wolf Eyes in the front row, with my fake dreadlocks. I told Joanna Newsom she had a nice ass.
MS: You told Joanna Newsom she had a nice ass?
LB: Well, I said I liked her pants.
MS: I saw Joanna Newsom and Andy Samberg on a date once when I was in college. I was at some diner doing homework at three in the morning in my pajamas, and they walked in. I was freaking out, I really wanted to go up and say hi and ask them to take a Photobooth selfie with me, but I didn’t.
ST: Missed opportunities.
MS: I know, right?
ST: What do you have to say about the gross glorification and Party Monster mythology of Michael Alig?
LB: Not a good role model. I haven’t posted anything about [Alig being released from prison] because I don’t think any of my friends should do so many drugs that they kill their drug dealer.
MS: It’s not just Michael Alig, either. When you say “club kids,” most people don’t even know who Michael Alig is half the time, because they’re thinking “club kid” means this different, bigger thing. Labanna and I have hosted a lot of parties, but I don’t see myself as a “party gal” anymore. I started throwing parties towards the end of my time living in New York, and also kind of doing it when I moved to Chicago...
LB: I think we both moved to Detroit to get away from all that.
MS: Yeah. Obviously it’s fun to host a party but I’m not trying to be a nightlife personality.
LB: Not trying to burn out fast.
ST: How do you keep yourselves from burning out creatively?
LB: Sit in our rooms a lot on our computers with each other, not talking.
MS: Just focusing on work and constantly making things. It’s easy to get frustrated or tired of doing what you’re doing... I mean, not really though.
LB: Yeah, I love what I’m doing.
MS: Yeah, I don’t feel like I’m going to burn out. I think if I was hosting parties I would resent my life or something...not that there’s anything wrong with doing that either, but...
LB: Just doing it forever seems like a death wish.
ST: It’s very strange seeing Michael Alig glorified by so many people.
MS: It’s just Charles Manson though, you know?
LB: Honestly, anyone that wants to just write us off as anything like that has obviously just barely scratched the surface of anything we do online. To an extent, I’ve posed myself as a “stupid, slutty party girl” just, in this instance, as a mirror for peoples’ shame and judgments of female sexuality, as a trolling mechanism.
ST: Molly, I was born and raised in Lower Manhattan and moved when I was 10. What was it like coming from Indiana to NYU and living in New York at 18?
MS: Super wild. I was super freaked out. I had never been to New York before I visited schools, and I moved there not knowing a single person and being totally freaked and not knowing how to be alone, you know? I think it was good for me though, I don’t think I would be who I am today if I didn’t throw myself into that situation, and obviously I had like the comfort of, you know, the dorm room, and college life. It’s easy to meet people in school, so it wasn’t super harsh or anything like that. Just getting accustomed to riding the train by myself when I was so used to driving everywhere in the suburbs.
Also, just awful, awful men. That was the first time I experienced any real kind of sexual harassment. That was a big shock, obviously I was aware of sexual harassment, but it wasn’t something I was facing on a daily basis in Indiana as a teenager.
ST: That was in 2007, were things still transitioning to Brooklyn?
MS: Yeah, it was transitional. Some people were living in Bushwick but not many. I remember I would hang out in Williamsburg a lot, but it wasn’t how it is now. But things have developed really quickly since I left in 2011. It feels a little bit different. I moved to Bushwick in 2009, and more people were starting to live there. Now when I go to Bushwick, I don’t have to leave Bushwick to do anything. But obviously back then, I did. There weren’t as many parties happening in Bushwick, that’s for sure. There weren’t really any bars and there was no nightlife when I lived there.
ST: Do you think a lot longer and harder about what you say and publish now that you’ve become role models for a lot of young people?
LB: Absolutely. There’s a responsibility that comes with all that, especially for young girls. And kind of being the voice of reality to an extent, as opposed to an over-processed celebrity. Even being more honest. I feel like I’ve started talking about more serious stuff, because of fans that have reached out to me that have had bad experiences, and just wanting to inspire qualities in young ladies that will get them far in life.
MS: I feel like I have to be more sincere. I feel like I can’t lie about anything.
LB: Yeah, I can’t lie about anything.
MS: When I was first posting, I was being really bratty, or trolling people, just saying whatever I wanted to peoples’ questions.
ST: What’s been your worst experience with weirdoes and kiss-asses?
MS: I don’t know if I’ve had anything that traumatizing that I can remember. Usually when people are crazy towards me, I just ignore them or block them. And then in real life, most people are too afraid to confront someone they don’t like to their face, so I’ve never had anything IRL happen to me, really.
LB: I’ve lived with a couple people just from knowing them on the Internet, and they turned out to be fucking psychotic.
MS: Yeah, that’s the risk you take.
LB: But, some of them are nice. And it’s pretty easy to block someone or ignore someone online.
MS: That’s the beauty of the Internet.
LB: I had a stalker one time that actually scared me. One time he grabbed me somewhere in Bushwick, and he would go to any event that I was invited to and then just like stand in the corner. He moved to Bushwick because he said that I was the Whore of Babylon and he was Jesus and we were going to end the reptilian race together. The last time I saw him, he came to my PS-1 MoMA show. I saw him and I ran. I think he finally got the point. He really freaked me out.
ST: Do you guys get freaked out about that a lot, knowing that people know where you live?
MS: I actually had, well I guess this isn’t that freaky since I still have the chair, but remember when someone dropped the chair off at my house?
ST: Good looking chair.
MS: It’s a great chair, it’s one of my favorite chairs, it’s a fuckin’ leopard print high heel chair. Labanna was staying with me at the time, and I woke up, opened the door, and there’s...this chair. And I still don’t know where it came from. For the first month, part of me just wanted to throw it out. The first night I tried to open it up to see if there was a camera or a recording device or something hidden in it. But I just don’t know who would do something like that. It’s probably just some really weird practical joke.
LB: You don’t really have any privacy any more, there are always people watching. I think one of the ways to combat that is to just share everything, and I think both of us are open books when it comes to that.
MS: I’m not really afraid of anyone kidnapping me. You get worried about that when you’re a kid and start using the Internet. “Don’t talk to men in chat rooms.”
LB: I feel like both of us would scare any potential creeps that would sell us into the sex trade because we’re too strong-willed.
ST: Never worried about being popped off on the street?
LB: No. I’m a nice person. I’m not ruining anyone’s life. Just Molly’s.
ST: Becoming more and more popular, do you have to check yourself from getting swollen egos and distorted self-images?
LB: We’re not famous.
MS: I also don’t think we have the kinds of personalities that would be affected by that.
LB: We’re also constantly combating that and talking about, I’m super anti-celebrity, and I’m not about that secret club, “oh I’m better than you.” Neither of us really relates to people like that, and that kind of stuff just pisses me off.
MS: That’s why I have a hard time in certain places, and why I’ve lived in the cities I’ve lived in. That’s why I live in places like Detroit where there’s less of an idea of a social hierarchy.
ST: You have a lot of fans in their early teens. What impressions do you have of those younger generations?
LB: I think they’re really smart. Very aware, they know what’s real and what’s bullshit. I’m stoked. I don’t think it’s doomed as much as everyone thinks. The extreme individualization that people are going through is just part of the path to Singularity.
ST: What’s Detroit like?
MS: It’s pretty low key, there’re a lot of cool people, I like the feel of the city. Whenever I go to New York I feel like I have to go out, but that I’m always missing out on something else. I still go out a lot in Detroit, I think as a person I’m just naturally attracted to going out. It’s a good place for self-sustaining artists. I don’t recommend moving there for anyone that doesn’t know what they want to do there. There’s so much space, it’s cheap, and people are pretty receptive to things. People are very supportive of each other there, which I like. I get that feeling a lot in Baltimore too, people supporting each other.
ST: Does the perception of Detroit as this crumbling, apocalyptic punchline bother you?
MS: No, it doesn’t really bother me. I think it’s more entertaining than…
LB: How is it a punchline?
ST: Just how it’s used as the go-to example for failing cities and extreme urban decay.
LB: I think that’s beautiful, that’s what I like about it. That’s what the rest of America will look like. People are having to fill the potholes themselves instead of worrying about what they’re going to Instagram at the party.
ST: What do you have to say about sites like New Hive?
MS: It’s what I’ve always wanted. I was taking a lot of web design courses in college, and messing around with that, making a lot of websites that existed just as “fun” websites, things people could just click through, as opposed to all the other people in my class who were making portfolio websites. I was always into the idea of websites as pieces. I was really influenced by Jodi, and Superbad, and other sites like that from the early net art movement. New Hive lets you easily create things like that without having to know how to use Dreamweaver or HTML or do that much coding. I know how to code a little bit, and I’ve made a lot of stuff on Dreamweaver, but this is just a quicker turnaround.
LB: I don’t know much coding. For me, I can use it as a great way to display my videos. It seems like a sweet and supportive community. It’s more artist-based, they’re trying to figure out a way to raise money for artists. They don’t own what you post. YouTube owns everything, and I wonder if at some point someone like us were to make a video that used that content and made money, if those sites would come after us.
—Follow Nicky Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER1992.