Culturally, we have drifted from the tragedy-ridden early 2010s coloured by – to name a few – the aching lyrics of Halsey, Lorde, Taylor, Haim. Heartbreak is not exclusively outdated, but it can sometimes seem as though it is, socially, less relevant – though, of course, any of us who have ventured towards digital dating are entirely aware, this could not be further from the truth. XANA, a glad erraticism and Canadian based Queer artist, is an ally and fellow sufferer to all the frangible (and sometimes furious) hearted Queers.
In 2020, XANA debuted her solo career with Goddess, a song that since has amassed over 3 million streams across various platforms. XANA’s music has branched with fervour beyond LGBTQ+ digitality into mythological, cosplay and feminist circles.”Goddess was an important moment for me. Like look – this is me as an artist. This is how much space I’m gonna take up.”
During our Zoom chat, she positions herself against a blank, somewhat stark background. Her neat, Stygian cuticles and lambent eyes strike. Topically, we move chronologically and I ask why she, a lesbian-identifying woman, favoured male pronouns in this arresting debut. “The song speaks to many different situations, personal or otherwise. It was a fuck-you to those people who think they can walk all over you and take whatever they want. With everything that I was dealing with personally and seeing around me in the music industry, the use of “he” pronouns reflected those experiences.`”
“Goddess was an important moment for me. Like look – this is me as an artist. This is how much space I’m gonna take up.” – XANA.
Xana’s origin story, however, was in motion far before this infectious anthem. Many of her current fanbase know XANA, the musician, the heartbroken lover, an icon of self-marketed sensuality. Of Xana, the band member and complicated lesbian – we know less. And I don’t know about you, but here, at Nonchalant HQ, we’re sinfully curious.
With stylistic veerings from antebellum to Emo, the now dissembled Coffee Eyes was an acoustic duo – in which Xana served as the dykier, more vocal half. Musically, Coffee Eyes, which strived to centre, according to their Facebook, tightly crafted songs and lyrical emphasis, was less synth and more georgic. In their burgeoning, Xana’s adulation of Swift (no, not Jonathon, Taylor) tends to saturate rather than elevate. This said, however, it is a strange phenomenon to witness an individual before they have entirely realised themselves. To know that they may have stayed this one person forever, but didn’t.
Nevertheless, for one reason or the other, Coffee Eyes did come to an end. Following their defunct, Xana launched into a two-year educational course. “During that time – I actively avoided writing. I didn’t want to be distracted; it was so intense. Yet, somehow, when it wrapped, I ended up a better, stronger songwriter.” In the two months between her studies ending and work beginning, Xana bought herself a new computer and keyboard, downloaded Logic and locked herself in her room. There and then, “Tipsy” was born.
“That following year, for some reason, I was a much better songwriter. I had a clearer, better idea of what I wanted to do, knew the sounds I wanted to use and what I wanted to say. I worked and wrote music like crazy. Now, we’re just bringing it all to life.” – XANA.
Xana cites “Tipsy” – her third release – as that which: “opened the floodgates” for her current project. In the accompanying video, she rips a Y2K inspired bedroom apart. We catch sight of Buffy posters, fluorescent rainbows and pride-themed bed sheets. Social media’s romanticised image of WLW lifestyles buckles, materially, at the least. Xana later revealed to her fans that “she loved the set [her current bedroom, decorated to appear as her teenage one] so much,” she decided to live in it.
As she speaks, Xana’s unease with creative constriction of any kind becomes apparent. When asked about future projects, she is coy, revelling in her mystery, her capacity to be untraceable, unleakable – free. An impetus perhaps captured in the childhood statement that when she grew up she would, without a doubt, be Avril Lavigne. Somewhat hesitantly, Xana agrees that if she were to align with a specific genre, then, yes – it would most likely be anti-pop. Anti-pop: a counterculture of alternativism that has become a culture, in itself, discovers cadence in reified play rather than refinement. Think FLETCHER, CATBEAR, LAKY.
“Anti-pop very much formed the bones of my current sound. It allows the artist to branch out and can take so many different forms. I think that’s what makes it feel so authentic to the creator. I can experiment, try out different genres, themes and still sustain that anti-pop feel.” – XANA.
Testifying to this is Xana’s sophomore single, “Pray.” The music video, bellied by dangling rosary beads, confessionalism and baptismal discontinuity shows little similarity to the kitsch of “Tipsy”, nor “Kitchen Light” kismet. It drifts. On the anti-pop genre, producer and audio engineer, Liam Moes, one of the many exceptional creatives in Xana’s throes, reflects with the ease of an individual enthralled by his craft. “It’s a freedom, I suppose; a single song can ebb, almost instantly, from desperate and passionate to gentle and cradling. There’s this capacity to be nuanced. To produce something with all these sonic, artsy elements that prevent the music from becoming dull after a few listens.”
Mysterious, not obnoxious, Xana does not believe her work is beyond wholehearted unravelling. The T-Swift-Esque easter eggs found at every turn prove this. Lindsey Blane, cat owner, visual artist and Xana’s co-director on multiple music videos, observes. “Thematically, lyrically, narrative-wise – there is this one overarching thing, or rather person. The real person behind Jodie had – not necessarily a power – but definitely, a strong influence on Xana’s life, and music.”Blane identifies, perhaps the secret to Xana’s appeal. It is not sound which transforms discography into dynamite, but rather, story – the XANA/Jodie Starline, more specifically.
Xana’s track-list boasts a throng of anthems incredibly different in tone and theme. Yet, they remain linked, forming a body of work spanning, dually the spectrum of genre and emotion. What unites them is nothing heteronomous; it is XANA herself. With the rise of TikTok, individual artists are gaining the freedom to finance – and market – their art, free from the catchings of dominating labels. Artists are making choices that reflect their realities and their visions. They are not striving to appease everyone. In this era of the niche, they no longer need to.
“It’s a freedom, I suppose; a single song can ebb, almost instantly, from desperate and passionate to gentle and cradling. There’s this capacity to be nuanced. To produce something with all these sonic, artsy elements that prevent the music from becoming dull after a few listens.” – Liam Moes, Music Producer & Audio Engineer.
Xana dives into heartbreak, not carelessly, not without first catering to her own ache and need, but with time and acceptance that if an abscess exists, it needs tending to. “With Jodie, I kind of just gave that particular person a name and a visual. To keep that storyline clearer. It all connects – Jodie is inspired by someone very real and very important to my life and journey.” There is an awareness in Xana’s voice and a distance in her eyes when she speaks about this topic, a self-editing as she thinks, perhaps a mark of successful therapy sessions, an awareness that heart-stationed maladies are very much phoenixes.
What we, or I at the least, seem drawn to between Jodie and XANA, is not the sexuality nor the loss, but rather their self-possession: the fracas of two individuals tied by their apartness. Not unlike the affecting of a chorus or gently sequestered bridge, Jodie’s tenebrity becomes dually her allure and often, the hook of the appending visual vortexes. We see Jodie in her widened smile, the litheness of her caper, her faraway gaze, a tasselled boot. “Jodie is a bit of a mystery.” Bella St. Clair, who discoursed Jodie in “Tipsy” notes. ““She’s this mix of light and dark. Jodie’s fun and outgoing and can set your world on fire but, just as quickly, she shut you out and turn cruel. She’s so funny and seemingly carefree and makes you feel like the only person in the room when she wants you, but can leave you like it’s easy.” What some may backhandedly deign coquettish is a mosaic factor in the making of Jodie as a complex, inundating agent.
“Jodie’s this mix of light and dark. She’s fun and outgoing and can set your world on fire but, just as quickly, she shut you out and turn cruel. She’s so funny and seemingly carefree and makes you feel like the only person in the room when she wants you, but can leave you like it’s easy.” – Bella St. Clair, Musician, Actor, Model.
In “Yellow,” – coincidentally the only shade Xana’s hair has never been dyed – despite Maia Cervillin’s utter presence as a dancer and performer, Jodie seems fleshless to the point that we wonder how long ago this heartbreak was. I find my gaze moved beyond the focus, guided to the margins; I move to understand that something entirely, something I may have mistaken as tractable.
On the breathtaking energy of their first creative venture together, Maia Cervellin – outlines that – for her – what stood a challenge while choreographing the “Yellow” music video was not understanding either side of the relationship, the committed or the absent, but rather the act of having them collide. “If you watch closely, you’ll notice a pattern in the movements throughout the piece. These choreographed repetitions represent the different stages of the relationship. It was something I really hoped the viewers would notice.”
Maia and Xana demonstrate that the means by which we wind and impart our stories, be it body or mind, pen or pantomime, are powerful mechanisms of not only storytelling, but also – reality structuring.
“Originally, I was going to have the same person to play Jodie. But once I worked with Maia, having felt our on-screen chemistry and off-screen capacity to communicate and collaborate, I knew Jodie had to be her.” – XANA.
For Xana, art is healing. A few days after our final conversation, she reaches out to me with this message, “I’m really enjoying falling in love with myself and creating the life I want to live.” Her heartfelt divulging is in response to an inquiry as to whether she believed she could feel such emotions again. And whilst we cannot annex an answer to this question from a highlight reel, perhaps we can glean. Xana’s Instagram Stories luminesce with bright teeth and beautiful faces, suggestive studio shots and naturally, a plethora of cat snaps. She teases her fans, dropping suggestive photos and studio shots, typically featuring Maia Cervellin, Liam Moes or Lindsey Blane. Xana grasps the psychology of her, largely sapphic, fanbase. She plays into Queer female culture – our desire to feel attended to, yet to be left wanting more, to have our cup – just a little – less than full.
Recently, Xana posted a remix of her song with Taylor Swift’s “Cruel Summer.” The shared truth of the songs plays on her face, a reminiscence to the Coffee Eyes days, and jokingly, she suggests that she might just make Taylor Swift mashups with all her songs and call it quits. A flurry of fearful protests ensue. Her fans who frequently drop laudations, praising Xana’s honesty and the bravery it takes to be so – are aghast. A few days later, she reacts. In standard, affection-infused nonchalance, she assures them that, in terms of a, we might say Lorde-scale disappearance, they have absolutely nothing to worry about. She’s not pulling a Jodie on us, anytime soon, at a minimum. Babe, relax.