Kat Graham is a triple-threat, though most of her fans in one of her areas of expertise hardly know about her other talents. To tweens, she's their favorite witch on The CW's soft-core answer to True Blood, The Vampire Diaries. To those who knew her early on, she's Missy Elliot's (among other musical superstars) hottest back-up dancer. To the rest, she's a sweet and sassy pop star whose hit "Put Your Graffiti On Me" is on regular rotation. Plus, she's number five on our list of the The 25 Sexiest Musicians Under 25.
Tonight, all of those combine when Kat Graham, the star, joins a crew of other musical acts (including Tech N9ne, Mac Miller and Childish Gambino) for MTV2's Peter Rosenberg-hosted reboot of a classic game show, Hip Hop Squares, which airs at 11 p.m.
Complex got a chance to talk to Kat about her experience on the game show, her budding musical career and why she considers Perez Hilton one of her muses.
Interview by Tara Aquino (@t_akino)
Thanks for taking the time out of your day to talk to us.
Yeah, are you the girl who did the sexiest list?
Yeah, that was me.
It was you! I didn’t mean to embarrass you. [Laughs.] I was actually going to find your Twitter and thank you 'cause I was so flattered. Is that weird? Is that awkward?
No, that’s totally cool. [Laughs].
I was like “Who wrote this?!” and I was surprised it was a girl and I was like, “Yes!” I didn’t even know Complex knew I existed. I’ve been trying to do something with your magazine for like years. So I’m super excited that I’m on the phone with you and that you guys have been supporting me over the last 24 hours.
Yeah, it's cool. We've been pretty aware of you for awhile now, actually. So, how did you become involved with Hip Hop Squares?
They literally asked me to do it. At first I just thought it was like Hollywood Squares, then I realized they were doing the hip hop version. Here I am, this little pop girl and they stuck me right at the top, and I’m like the only girl in the episode or in any of the squares. I just thought it must be for comedic purposes that they threw me in there 'cause I’m in between like Fat Joe and DJ Khaled.
Did you feel any pressure being the only girl on the show in that episode?
No, I mean I definitely felt like I pulled my weight as a girl. It was really cool 'cause like before we actually went into our little cubes, they had us hanging out together. So I actually of got to know my “competition” and I formed an alliance with Fat Joe and DJ Khaled. It was the “We Takin' Over” square boxes at the top, which was good. I got to teach Ghostface Killa what macaroons were 'cause he had no idea what a macaroon was. [Laughs.] It was really cute.
How much confidence do you have in your pop culture trivia knowledge?
[Laughs.] Well I could say I have a lot but then you might surprise me with a question and then I’ll have to retract my statement. I feel like I’m ok. I don’t know. I mean, I have friends that have way more pop culture knowledge right now and read all the gossip stuff more than I do. I just haven’t had any time to myself.
Don't worry, I don't have any trivia on hand. So, how would you say you did on the show?
I think I aced it! [Laughs.] I think I did good, I’m really proud of myself. I think what you can expect is a lot of funny stuff, especially Mac Miller. I didn’t know he was gonna be that funny and he was incredible. He ran it! It was just great. Tech N9ne, he was amazing. You can expect a lot of funny moments in between like the group and I. It’s very cool.
Did you watch ever watch Hollywood Squares as a kid?
I was a little young for it, so I never watched it as a kid. I heard about it, obviously, but I didn’t like know.
Switching gears a little bit, I wanted to talk about your fan base. You have such a huge teen following from the Vampire Diaries, but you also have such awesome support from the gay community. Can you talk about being embraced by those different groups?
You know, I think it’s interesting. I think the gay community caught on before anyone else did for what was going on with me. Then, I feel like with the teen fan base it’s been great because they’ve really been able to like cross over and really appreciate my music, too. Also, the black community obviously has been really supportive. It’s been great. I’m happy when I have like one fan, but the fact that I’m getting fans from different places and different communities, it’s really amazing.
Did being a background dancer for Missy Elliot and Pharrell influence your desire to pursue music as a career?
Oh, absolutely, I was kind of like “I can do this!” I was kind of tired of being in the background and doing so much work and then feeling like I wasn’t really fulfilling everything I was capable of. It was great. I got to see how shows are put together and how much an artist works, and like what I want do when I have my own dancers. So yeah, I still go back to that a lot.
So what was it like for you when you went on tour with the Black Eyed Peas and you took center stage?
Crazy! My first show was in front of 30,000 people with will.i.am and I wasn’t even that nervous. We did a country a day and Will had told me that this would be the longest and the craziest tour that I would ever be on. I was like, “Great that’s my first and craziest tour. Thanks so much.” [Laughs.]. We literally were like losing our minds. We just got no sleep because we did not get the right time zone ever, like no point of time to adjust your watch. You just did not know where you were; it was like The Twilight Zone.
At this point do you have a preference between acting or singing?
It’s so weird when I get this question because it’s like—OK, I think I found you on Twitter. Can we take a break. Yeah, I think I found you. I’m sorry, I’m just stalking you right now while we’re on the phone. Yep following. [Laughs.] Totally just followed you.
Ok, not a stalker. What was the question? [Laughs.]
[Laughs.] Your preference between acting and singing.
Oh yeah it’s a weird question because it’s like I come from the old school and I was like looking up to artists like Janet Jackson and back in that day. I just don’t know why you can’t do it both you know. Why you know the J-Lo’s of the world can’t be able to grab both by the balls and do it right. I do think that you have to do one at a time, like you can’t be touring when you’re on a TV show and you can’t be doing film while you’re in the studio necessarily you know what I mean. At a certain point you have to really pick in terms of schedule wise and stuff but I don’t feel like my passion for anything is necessarily compromised. I feel like I’m always passionate to create and make stories out of music or out of a character. This music is a huge huge goal of mine and there’s so many things that I want to do.
How would you describe your sound and your influences?
Industrial Pop, like marching band beats with strong vocals. Almost like militant-styled fashion mixed with ‘90s melody.
It seems like you’ve been working on your debut album for such a long time.
For years! [Laughs.]
When can we finally expect that to drop?
I’m not trying to take anyone’s spot. I want to create my own lane and shoot to the sky.
Well, I know the label is thinking of dropping an EP in June and then after that we’ll start gathering tracks together. I want to record as much as I can so people get the best possible first look at me. We’re about like 40 songs deep right now, so at any moment we could literally drop an album, but we want it to get within the the lane of "Graffiti." We want it to be competitive and we want it to be strong. We want it to be the best definition of me who I am as an artist.
Do you have any exciting collaborations on the album that you can talk about?
I do but I can’t talk about it. There might be somebody very special who I’m a huge fan of that might be on the remix of “Graffiti” coming up. I’m working with Red One, I’m working with The Cataracts—basically bunch of different people in terms of producers.
Cool. So, I've heard you say that Perez Hilton is your muse.
Isn’t that funny?
Yeah, so how is he that inspiration for you?
When you think about a muse you think about somebody who inspires you to create, right? With my schedule sometimes, I feel a little bit pigeon-holed and I get creatively stifled. He’s a very strong encourager of me. He’s like filled with ideas and he thinks on another planet. He just totally inspires me with so many different concepts and we’ll just talk about ideas, ideas, ideas for hours sometimes. So, I would definitely call him my muse and somebody that consistently inspires me to create and to work harder and to not give up and to not let certain things that would affect other artists affect me. He’s kind of a best friend; I feel like your best friend is always kind of your muse. Also, It depends on the song because I feel like my boyfriend (model Cottrell Guidry) is kind of my muse too.
In terms of your musical career goals, is there any one artist who you’re aspiring to be on the same level as?
This is such a dangerous question. I feel like all their fans would come out and attack me if I even tried to remotely compare myself to them. I just want get to as high as I can go. I think that’s the safest and most politically correct thing I can say. [Laughs.] I’m not trying to take anyone’s spot. I want to create my own lane and shoot to the sky.
Well, thank you so much.
I am now following you.
I know, I’m gonna follow you back right now. [Laughs.] I’m flattered, thank you.
You’re welcome. I was like “Who is this girl that’s like giving me the top press?” Then Mac Miller texted me and he’s like, “Aw they did you dirty. They should have gave you the number-one spot!” He literally texted me that this morning. I was like, “It’s Fine!” I’m happy I even got on the top five. I saw the list and it was like Rihanna, Rita and who else?
Sky Ferreira, Selena Gomez—
Yeah, amazing. I love that you had so many brown girls at the top. I love it. Thank you so much. From all of us, thank you.