During a recent show at the cavernous Studio B in Greenpoint, Little Boots, a.k.a. Victoria Hesketh, teetered unstably on patent-leather platforms. In her semi-sheer hooded black dress, thick smears of eyeliner, and bondage belt, the pint-size blonde looks the part of New Kylie (as in Minogue), a title that the music press back home in the U.K. has bestowed upon her. But she doesn’t yet have Ms. Minogue’s balance in heels. During what was only her second New York show, Hesketh displayed an endearing clumsiness that distinguishes her from the super-shellacked pop stars who inspire her. At one point she tripped over a cord, unplugged something vital, and spent a full minute squatting indelicately while trying and failing to reattach it, all while serenely singing. A chivalrous hipster eventually climbed onstage and fixed the thing.
This display was not about Little Boots still ironing out the kinks in her act or cultivating a sense of dear-audience-I-am-just-like-you familiarity; rather, it was about her seeing no conflict in being a total nerd and a giant star at the same time. “There’s this whole thing that pop’s embarrassing,” Hesketh says over Bloody Marys at Coffee Shop in Union Square. “Look back at people like David Bowie who were massive pop stars and still such characters. Why can’t these things be combined? If you’ve got a great song, then you can get away with being weird.”
Hesketh, 24, grew up in Blackpool, Lancashire, a working-class beach community where it’s always too cold to swim. People from northern England and Scotland descend on the town on weekends, get loaded, puke in the streets, then split. It’s a place that’s ostensibly about lightness and freedom and celebration but is dark and damaged beneath the surface, kind of like Little Boots’s music; she writes exquisitely constructed pop songs so innately appealing, you’re certain you danced to them at your prom. Yet they convey a lyrical depth and sadness most chart toppers pay someone else to feel.
The oldest child and only girl in a family of four kids, Hesketh was gifted at pretty much everything that won’t get you laid in high school—she got straight A’s, read a lot of sci-fi, and wrote songs on vintage keyboards in her spare time. When Hesketh was 16, she auditioned for Pop Idol, the U.K. show that inspired American Idol, and made it through three rounds. At University of Leeds, she hooked up with the all-girl electro new-wave group Dead Disco and for the first time showed her songs to outsiders. It didn’t go well. “They didn’t like anything I wrote,” she says. So she set up a secret MySpace page where she put up songs, including “Stuck On Repeat,” a throbbing dance track about the curious pleasure of being miserable in love, for her favorite sequined icon, Kylie Minogue. It started a firestorm. “It was on like 30 blogs in that one day,” she remembers. Little Boots’s own YouTube channel and a popular blog followed, as did the release of an EP, Arecibo, on the Los Angeles–based indie label IAMSOUND, and a record deal with Atlantic. Little Boots’s full-length debut comes out later this year.
In an era where literally anyone with a webcam can become a rock star, there are two increasingly polar kinds of artists: doe-eyed ingénues who get discovered playing covers in their underwear on YouTube (Esmée Denters), and remote icons in training who carefully craft every gesture, hairstyle, and acceptance speech (Rihanna). Little Boots wants to be both. “Some people say it destroys the mystery, the spectacle of pop stardom to blog and be on YouTube,” Hesketh acknowledges. “But just because you’re DIY doesn’t mean you can’t have ambition. I want to be everything. I want to be as huge I can be, but I also want to put up stuff to share and get an immediate reaction. If the Internet were around when David Bowie was, he would have found some way to use it. Bowie Twitter! Can you imagine!? It would have been fucking amazing!”