Canadian-born, Los Angeles-based DJ Cray is a one-woman show, or so she told me when I interviewed her at a music festival in Atlanta—just us, no publicist, no manager. That’s very rare in the music world from what I’ve encountered, but it fits right in with Cray’s laid-back, completely unpretentious vibe. “I’m kind of get in, get out,” she explains. “I’m pretty independent. I’m a one-woman show!”
Speaking of, being a woman in show business was a huge topic of conversation. I didn’t mince any words; I just jumped straight into it and asked how she dealt with working in a historically sexist industry. “I think there’s a ton of judgment against women,” she admits. When they see a woman in music, people question, “if she’s doing what she is doing for real, if she’s too pretty,” and on and on. (Not that it matters, but Cray is gorgeous and looks like an e-girl-meets-Instagram model.) I express incredulity that people would actually count attractiveness against a woman (because who among us has not been called an ugly bitch who isn’t talented by our haters). Then again, how could I ever underestimate the hypocrisy of men? Cray assures me that, yes, it happens. “I get a lot of like, you’re too pretty to make music,” she confesses. But she questions, “Like, if I was ugly, would it be chill?”
She continues, “You would never tell a man, ‘oh you’re too hot to be doing what you’re doing’… but I’m being told those comments.” And while it seems like a no-brainer to say, it’s apparently not: she asserts, “I’d rather you look at my talent and not my face.” But think about it: has anybody ever said Justin Bieber was too attractive to sing? Or, if you think that’s a more objective skill than being able to produce music and DJ: have you ever taken a look at Calvin Harris, or Martin Garrix, and thought they were unqualified? I’ll wait. “If someone’s making art, and giving art to you, it’s a pretty vulnerable thing,” she asserts. “So just respect their art. If you don’t like it, don’t listen—you don’t need to make mean comments or judgmental things like that.”
But the music industry isn’t the only space where Cray is on the receiving end of sexist comments and doubt. She’s also a big gamer with over 40,000 followers and 500,000 streams on Twitch. Anyone who paid attention to #gamergate in 2014 knows the gaming world as a whole is not exactly welcoming to women (understatement of the decade). I pose this question to Cray, and she seems like she’s thought about this a lot. “So I’m basically in the middle of two [male-dominated] industries that have issues with equality of women,” she says without missing a beat. While she admits, “music and gaming are very different,” she finds, “the issues they have are the same.” She again cites the skepticism she has encountered that women are gaming “for the right reasons” (right, because women only pursue hobbies for the approval of men) and, again, the doubts about her sincerity and skill because of her looks. And yet I hate to think of the types of vitriol Cray might get if she weren’t conventionally beautiful. It’s a lose-lose.
It wasn’t always this way—getting metaphorically beaten down for being too pretty. “In high school I was so insecure, and thought I was so ugly all the time,” she admits. You’d never know it by looking at her Instagram, where practically every photo she posts is envy-inducing. It looks effortless, but the reality? Far from it. After being frustrated and insecure in high school, she says, “I took a selfie, every frickin’ day for literally ever.” At some point, she recalls, you just start figuring out your angles. “So now,” when she poses, she says, “it’s like clockwork.”
But taking good pictures on Instagram can blur the line of reality, and even though Cray plays into this to an extent, she also acknowledges the danger. “What happens when you see someone in real life?” she asks rhetorically. “The more we edit and the more we try to post those unrealistic expectations, the sh*ttier we feel inside.” She admits, “I see some photos and I’m like, ‘oh my god why can’t I have that body?’ And I go to the gym and I’m like, can I have this body? And [my trainer is] like, ‘that’s not f*cking real’. So it’s unrealistic and makes you feel like sh*t.”
And she insists that the camera-ready version you see of her on Instagram is not her reality. “I have so many days like that where I’m like, I can’t even fake it,” she confesses. On those days, it can be hard to show your face to over 190,000 followers, but she does it even if it’s uncomfortable. “I make sure to show people me with no makeup, no editing,” she assures me. “I want to make sure that young women who follow me don’t see it as an unrealistic beauty expectation. I want people to realize we all have insecurities. I want people to understand that even the most beautiful people have insecurities, it’s just something we live with as people.”
So even though she’s still being discredited because of her looks, and even though the music industry is far from equal, Cray admits there are “strides being taken.” She recalls, “I started in this industry 5 years ago when I couldn’t even tell you how many women were on the lineup—maybe two or three—so now the fact that we have more is great, but still have a long way to go.” On the one hand, she acknowledges that “women [being] treated equally is hard in a male-dominated industry, and it’s hard to change something that’s always been the same, it’s kind of hard to go against the grain.” But she does give props to a number of women in the industry who are uplifting each other, like Anna Lunoe, Whipped Cream, and Kitten. “All these women are just fucking killing it, and we all respect each other, and I wish that respect was everywhere,” she says wistfully.
Obviously, the problems facing women in the music industry were not created by women, though, and it’s not solely on their shoulders to fix it. It’s on everybody. When I ask what we can all do to make the music industry better for female artists, she rattles off a laundry list of solutions: “Just honestly more men becoming allies, more fans understanding equality on how to treat women in the industry, more agents and managers picking up female clients, more people just honestly researching too.” To that last point, she elaborates, “there are so many women out there making such amazing music, and if you just take the time to check it out, it’s out there.”
Being modest, she doesn’t explicitly include herself in that list, but she should not be counted out. This October, she dropped her newest EP, seasons change and so do i, via Ultra Records. “The debut single, “idontwannatalkaboutlove,” has a total dark-pop vibe and exudes themes of female empowerment and authenticity. “This EP is my heart on my sleeve,” she admits. “It’s honest and real and I just want to connect with people.” And even though she admits that the EP is very vulnerable and there’s apprehension in that, she says ultimately, “I’m excited to show that side of me to the world, and finally put it live for everyone to see.” Because with her music, as with her Instagram, interviews, etc., she wants to get across to people that, “we all go through changes and heartbreaks. You aren’t alone.”
Images: Ashley Osborn