I meet the performer Saturn Rising in one of those San Francisco cafés—twee and minimal, more succulent emporium than coffee shop. Saturn is easy to spot amidst the sea of jeans and hoodies, a cropped turtleneck and tastefully mismatched socks complementing his swinging hip-length blue braids. A mainstay of the Bay Area's queer hip hop scene, Saturn and I got to talking about his newly released EP, queer bodies on Instagram and Britney Spears. Text Tim Carlson. Photographed by Kyle Hanson McKee.
What’s it like to be a queer artist in a city full of transition and tension?
You said it best, San Francisco is in transition. I think there’s room for artists to capitalize. It would be great if we weren’t going through this, but I also feel challenged to come out on top of this as a community. We have some of the smartest people within the queer art community in San Francisco, a ton of people who are fighting and I think their efforts will eventually be rewarded. Everything is in transition—race is in transition, gender is in transition, the world is in transition. We will come out of it greater.
How long have you been performing?
Forever. I’ve never not performed. Whether it was personal, just in my room as escapism from dark shit, or when I started performing professionally at 10. I started my show as Saturn Rising a couple years ago. We just had our two year anniversary.
You have a lot of different looks, but it doesn’t feel forced, whether it’s femme or masculine. Have you always gone back and forth?
I think so. I’ve never thought about it. It’s funny cause the queer community has taught me about it. Growing up it was just my expression, this is what the fuck I want to do, I never really bit my tongue in how I expressed myself. I think it’s effortless in the sense that I don’t think about it; if I like it I try it. If it looks good and feels natural, then I keep it.
Tell me about your new song and video.
Young Forever is my new song. I was at this point where I was trying to get this music out of me. Then I went in the studio and my uncle died that morning, so the lyrics I was singing were just kind of words of respect, “we will always be together.” I thought about how the minute you fall in love with someone you guys always have that, so you’ll be young forever in that sense because you’ve actualized yourself with love. Even though he was gone I admired that my aunt had had that moment in her life. When I got to the studio the producer had the perfect beat and it turned into this thing where I was convincing myself to have that moment. So when I saw the lyric, “you don’t have to fade out tonight,” I took it to mean that I don’t have to disappear when I meet guys. I don’t have to run away from them, I can really be alive in the moment and feel it. It was really personal to me, it’s how I’m trying to live my life. It’s a scary thing to be full, but that’s the goal. I think we can all achieve it.
What’s your creative process?
I’ll sing the most random thing that comes to me and then I won’t touch it. I’ll send it to my producer and he’ll pick the best shit, here’s the chorus, here’s the verse. I love improvisational things. I think when things are controlled you don’t get the best work. I just spit what comes out, I don’t think it has to be about me. Young Forever is the first song that came easily to me.
Tell me a little bit about the video. You’re in a bodysuit, the butt is out. Your Instagram has some skin too. Have you always been comfortable with that? Or have you ever felt exploited by putting yourself out there as a black, queer performer?
Comfort is a strange thing. I am comfortable in my body. I love my body in the most pure sense, in a non-sexualized way. I do know that showing my body is sexualized by other people, so then I become uncomfortable because that is not my intention. I enjoy images that are perceived to be sexualized. I view myself in that way, but the intention is just to be as free as I want to be. Why can’t someone who wears a turtleneck be just as respected as someone who wears a thong? There are the same brain cells. Exploitative of the black body? Of the black queer body? No, because I’m doing it. I own my body and I own the expression of it. If that titillates anyone else, good for me. I’m in control of that.
Speaking of titillation and control—what's your favorite Britney album?
Blackout. Easy. Because that’s who Britney is. Britney is a girl who rebelled against Corporate America. I mean, I’m giving her a lot, but those were the people who wanted her to stay blond and skinny. They didn’t want her to have kids. She recorded this album kind of in the way independent artists do now. It’s a culmination of this girl who was only there when she could be. At the end of the day she chose all those songs, it was the only album executive produced by her. I think it was the most raw expression of that time period. Lindsey doesn’t have anything to say about her time being a wild girl. Paris has nothing to say. Britney has a full album that encompasses that time period. Granted, there are no powerful lyrics about the struggle, but she is letting you into what she was doing to escape—partying her ass off.
Any last words of wisdom?
I just want to shout out all the artists who are struggling and supporting themselves. I’ve been thinking lately about this world and how it shapes you to not pursue your dreams or succeed. Even my mom, when my single came out, she went to go download it and we talked a couple days later. All she said was, “You look like a woman on the cover.” I was like, sure I’m giving you what you’ve been bred to believe is female sexuality, but sexuality is just what it is. She wasn’t listening to me, but that kind of thing is not her fault, that’s just how her world was shaped. At the end of the day you want to connect and all you have is your family, your chosen family.
Yeah, chosen family is a gift in the queer world.
Chosen family is everything in the time of pushing yourself.