A report by Sophie Kemp for Vogue.
Charlotte Adigéry is making ASMR noises into her phone. It’s 10:30 a.m. in New York, where I am very much just waking up, but mid-afternoon in Ghent, Belgium, where the Belgian-Caribbean musician is on the other end of our FaceTime call and full of energy. We were speaking about YouTube and Adigéry’s fascination with the percussive effects of ASMR, or autonomous sensory meridian response, the viral video format that employs whispers and other soothing or stimulating audio “triggers.” She begins mimicking the sound of “a woman just brushing her hair and rubbing her hands on the mic,” which are two ASMR tropes, then breaks into laughter.
Today, Adigéry has released her own interpretation of ASMR in a new music video for “Cursed and Cussed,” a song off February’s debut EP, Zandoli. We see the artist in five skintight black latex ensembles, several wigs, and dramatic makeup, such as metallic blue lipstick, hot pink eyeliner, and long acrylic nails. As the track plays in the background, Adigéry cracks an egg on the head of a model in head-to-toe latex, grips a bowl of crisped rice cereal, and stabs a styrofoam block with a knife. The resulting visual is absolutely indebted to the artist’s gaudy and theatrical sensibility, the exact knowing and ironic brand of camp that is a defining point of Adigéry’s work and what has made the wildly experimental singer one to watch.
Born and raised in Ghent to parents from the Martinique and Guadeloupe islands, Adigéry has been surrounded by music her entire life. Growing up, she recalls hearing her musician mother singing along to everything, but with a specific fondness for French (yé-yé, chanson) and Caribbean (zouk, bachata, salsa) genres. Adigéry began performing in her late teens and studied music at a university in Hasselt, at the same time becoming part of Ghent’s tiny but compelling music scene, which is largely recognized for its noise and hard-core punk bands. She began WWWater, a post-punk solo project, in 2015 as a therapeutic way to explore her interior life. That very year, she met her now primary collaborator Bolis Pupul, with whom she shares her current record label DEE WEE, and the pair began working under Adigéry’s name and delving deeper into the realm of darkwave. Of her relationship with Pupul, Adigéry says, “We speak the same musical language, and he has the best and most encyclopedic taste. But most of all, he’s so raw and genuine when it comes to music. And, yeah, punk! He’s like, 20 years older than me, and it’s really good to have someone who’s been around and never lost the urge or energy to make music.”
It’s immediately clear that Adigéry stands out in Ghent, which she says is a small and not particularly diverse city. “I always say, Ghent is cute, but sometimes cute isn’t enough,” she explains. Her complex relationship with her hometown plays out largely in her music, which covers topics such as the frequent and unwanted comments she has received about her hair. Her musings come together with beautiful force on that new five-track EP, in which Adigéry explores her personal spaces like nightclubs and hair salons with a sound that slots somewhere between David Byrne, who she has played a festival with before, and Neneh Cherry, a former tour mate. Ultimately, Adigéry isn’t really interested in being pegged to any genre; what she values is “being boundary-less and free in creativity,” she says of the relatively free-form parameters that guide her sound.
Music might be Adigéry’s whole world, but fashion has begun to come to the fore with help from Antwerp-based stylist Maame Nsiah. Nsiah understands how to translate Adigéry’s eccentric approach to music into a recognizable style. See the video for the single “High Lights,” which addresses a comment someone once made to Adigéry about changing her hair too often. In the video, we see Adigéry in a salon, switching between bright blue bobs and long, wavy blonde wigs within the space of the song’s five minutes. She wears an off-the-shoulder pink-and-white patterned plastic prom dress, furry orange mules, a debutante’s white gloves, and a princess tiara; her friends are dressed in vivid ensembles, adorning their hair with colorful clips and their ears with gold hoops. The whole effect becomes a conversation about the power that Adigéry finds from constantly changing her hair. “Especially in Belgium, there’s diversity, but it’s not the same as going to London or the States,” she says. “It took me a lot of courage to wear blonde hair. It still does sometimes because you get so many remarks. The song reminds me of not being afraid of expressing yourself the way you want to be.”
Much of Adigéry’s versatility relies on using secondhand clothes in unexpected and absurd ways. In “Paténipat,” for example, a vintage metal butcher’s apron becomes a silver minidress that glows brightly in what appears to be an S&M dungeon; the creamsicle mules she wears while sitting pretty in the salon chair in “High Lights” are vintage and covered in unprocessed sheep’s wool. When we speak, she’s wearing a Hawaiian shirt of no less than three different colors, despite the fact that it is very much still winter in Ghent. “The essential thing is, if I get my music right, the rest is extra,” she adds. “I don’t want limitations. If I feel like I look good, it’s okay.” Adigéry’s entire m.o. comes down to finding the sweet spot where fashion, art, and music intersect and is stuffed to the brim with absurdity. Nothing about her feels obvious, but it does feel calculated—and that’s entirely the point.