Curtis Waters Isn’t Afraid To Explore Who He Is, And We’re All The Better For It

Fame isn't as clear cut as it seems.

Curtis Waters saw near overnight success early on in his career. Now, he’s using his new music to discover who he truly is.

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What happens when overnight success thrusts you into the public spotlight at a point of your life where you may not be fully prepared for it? That’s the scenario Curtis Waters finds himself in. The 22-year-old first entered the radar of millions when his single, Stunnin’, went viral in 2020. His debut EP, Pity Party, was equally as successful, achieving over one billion streams globally. That level of success, especially that early in his career, turned Curtis into one of Canada’s brightest new stars, working with major brands, collaborating with artists like Kim Petras and Brevin Kim.

WITH FAME, COMES PRESSURE

His career start is the envy of most. But the increased attention also brought with it its challenges. At his young age, Curtis had to navigate his newfound fame and success, something that has colored his recent music releases. And on top of it all, he strives to remain true to his roots as a first generation immigrant from Nepal. This balance can be seen in his latest single, STAR KILLER, an early aughts-inspired pop-rock production that serves as a personal commentary for Waters.

The Nepali-Canadian’s upcoming new album is set to expound on this even further as it serves as a reflection on a young creative being thrown into the mainstream overnight, while navigating deep issues of self-doubt and cultural identity along the way. And at the end of the day, it makes for music that sees the young artist explore new sides of himself yet retaining the spark that made him so great in the first place. NYLON Manila had the opportunity to catch up with the 22-year-old as he opened up about his new music, his rise in the industry, and much more.

What made you decide to become a musician?

My main goal in life is to express myself to the highest extent humanly possible. I always used to draw and write poetry when I was a kid because my dad was a poet. I started learning graphic design and producing beats when I was 14 and then started doing vocals a bit later. At this current stage of my journey, I’ve been getting more and more involved with character building and seeing how it fits with the music. It’s all the same to me. One day I’ll make video games, too.

How would you describe your music?

I wouldn’t describe my music at all. Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s depressing, sometimes it’s, silly sometimes it’s dramatic. It’s all just a reflection of how I feel as a human that day. All I can do is be honest in my expression.

When did you first realize that your songs were going viral?

In 2020 when I posted stunnin on TikTok, it was going crazy and then I think Joe Jonas sent me a DM on Instagram. I was freaking out that night.

What is the inspiration behind STAR KILLER?

Overcoming oppression. For me personally, it was about my experience with the music industry and feeling trapped by my own mental illness, but it could mean something totally different to somebody else. It’s just a celebration song and I hope this song gives people energy to get their shit together.

What’s the best thing about being Nepali-Canadian?

A lot of people are really proud of me, which is very nice.

How would you describe your experience being a first gen Nepali-Canadian in the public spotlight?

Gives me a sense of purpose. A lot of young Nepali kids message me saying how inspired they are by me, which means a lot, because I have a habit of hating myself and not wanting to share my art with the world. It makes me remember that my story is important and I gotta keep sharing, because there’s a lot of other people that feel just like me.

How do you think your heritage and culture influence your music?

It’s influenced me more as I’ve gotten older. A lot of my music, especially on this upcoming album has been a way for me to get closer to my roots and come in terms with my immigrant experience growing up in North America. I think sonically, I’m inspired by internet culture, but a lot of the lyrics deal directly with my immigrant identity.

Photo By: Theodore Sielatychki

How do you manage to stay true to your roots as an artist while dealing with your success?

My mom keeps me humble when I act up. She’s very real and will tell me if I’m going crazy.

Your career blew up pretty quickly. What was that experience like to go from a small time artist to mainstream success?

It was very confusing to be honest. I’m very grateful for my success, but sometimes I wish I had more time to figure myself out and taken the longer road. I felt like I wasn’t ready for my success and it felt like lightning struck me, and I didn’t know how to harness it. I’ve dealt with a lot of insecurity and imposter syndrome because of it and I’m only now regaining my confidence. It’s funny how that works. 

If you could do it all over again, would you stick with how your career has been going so far or prefer a more gradual incline to success?

There is no right answer. Either way, I would complain about something. Sometimes, I wish I had a more gradual incline and figured myself out before, but then I wouldn’t be here doing what I do now. My music career blowing up helped me quit my job and leave school and focus on music full time. Maybe if my music didn’t blow up, I would’ve just given up. Who knows?

Considering how some of your songs have done so well, do you feel a pressure to meet expectations?

Yes, it used to paralyze me to the point that I never wanted to release music unless I knew it would be a viral hit, which led me to making bad art. The pressure and expectation still f*cks with me, but I always remind myself of this interview I saw of Tyler the Creator’s manager Christian Clancy where he said something about detaching yourself from the results. All I can do is be honest and make the best art I can possibly make. The rest is up to the world. As long as I feel pure and I think the music is amazing then I did what I could.

You aren’t afraid to discuss serious topics in your music. But do you ever get afraid that you may be too honest in your music?

Never.

What can fans expect from your new album?

My fans can expect an album to soundtrack every scene in their life. You can play this album when you’re happy, when you’re depressed, when youre angry, when you’re horny. It doesn’t matter, there’s something for every scene of the movie.

For new fans, which song/s of yours do you think they should listen to first if they want to know what Curtis Waters is all about?

Probably manic man, star killer, shoe laces, and stunnin.

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