Brooklyn-based artist Carina Allen, aka rlyblonde, has long been the go-to photographer for New York’s indie scene. But now, she’s taking center stage with the release of her debut single, “Fantasy,” and its accompanying music video, which she co-directed with filmmaker Jisun Lee.
Inspired by her love-hate relationship with The Bachelor franchise, the video features rlyblonde as the bachelorette, struggling to navigate the unrealistic expectations of hetero-dating culture. With over-the-top displays of femininity and the pressure to fabricate romance in just ten-minute intervals, the video is a playful riff on the show’s formula.
As the video progresses, it descends into chaos, and rlyblonde ultimately becomes a runaway bride, rejecting the romanticized fairytale ending so often depicted on the show. The result is a commentary on the pressure women face to perform a certain type of femininity, even in seemingly progressive contexts like reality TV.
But the “Fantasy” video is more than just a clever critique of The Bachelor. It also serves as a luxurious introduction to rlyblonde’s wider creative world. Alongside her music career, she has founded HOT CREATIVE, a production company that aims to help musicians build their own unique “fantasy worlds” for their music to live in.
As she continues to push boundaries and challenge expectations, the multifaceted creative proves to be an exciting name to watch this year! We caught up with rlyblonde to discuss her foray into music, her new production company, and what’s next in this exciting chapter of her career.
Hey Carina! How’s life been treating you so far this year?
Hi! Honestly, life has been treating me pretty well lately! I’m excited for 2023. I’ve been sitting on this music release for months, so it feels a little crazy that it’s finally happening!
I know you’re currently based in Brooklyn—were you born and raised? What was your childhood like growing up?
I grew up in Westchester, New York… 914 girlies know! Growing up there is probably a lot like what people imagine — pretty safe, cushioned and insular, a great public school system, etc. I’m really lucky to have had a childhood and teenagehood that gave me a lot of access to art. I was a huge choir kid and theater kid.
I did theater at a separate theater company as well as at my high school. I was a pretty quiet, shy kid until I found my love for performing. I think for a period recently I was falling back into being that insecure child, and finding music has sort of been the second round of finding myself through performance and expression.
When did you first dip your feet into the universe of photography and visual arts? Reflecting on the early memories, how did you want your work to be perceived then versus today?
Me and my friends were huge Tumblr / Flickr kids and I was just absorbed in that creative world for a lot of my younger years. We loved magazines and fashion. I think for a while I was just interested in creating beautiful images, from a very “fashion” focused perspective.
Even through college I was very anti-concept and just wanted to be able to shoot pretty pictures. Some of my teachers got me, and some of them challenged me a lot; my classmates really didn’t get it at all. I went to Emerson, which is really a film school, so there’s not much focus on editorial or fashion work. I look back and think, “Oh my god, I was such a brat in college, of course they were riding me so hard.”
Typical fashion imagery is quite detached from any of the photographer’s actual emotions, so I think I used it as a way to avoid actually being vulnerable or sharing anything real about myself in my work. One of my professors once critiqued me, saying “Carina, you can’t just ride on being pretty in your photos.” Naturally I was very much like, “don’t hate me because I’m beautiful!,” but deep down I understood exactly what he was trying to teach me.
I still enjoy pretty imagery for what it is, and I do take a lot of pride in making my clients and subjects feel comfortable and beautiful. But I think my self-portraiture has become my strongest work now that I have worked up the courage to say something real with it. I want to continue to challenge myself and making my own music has been the ultimate challenge in that way.
Having established yourself as a photographer years prior, what inspired you to foray into music?
I honestly just started to get jealous of all my clients! They were all doing such cool things, expressing themselves so beautifully with their music. They’d be sitting there on set getting their makeup done, dressed in some incredible look, meanwhile I’m in sneakers setting up C-stands and I’m just like, damn, that would be kinda sick to be on the other side. But anyone who really knows me knows I’ve always loved performing and that low-key I’ve always wanted to be a pop star. It’s just been a long process to get here. Having a separate creative career is already enough of a commitment, so it takes a lot of time and dedication to cultivate an entirely new craft.
Your first single, “Fantasy,” serves as an earworming combination of alt-rock and pop. How did you come up with the concept behind it and what made this record “the one”?
I actually owe a lot to a songwriting course I took in the Fall of 2021 at the School of Song with Ellen Kempner from the band Palehound. I was floundering a lot before that course, but through the lessons with Ellen I learned how to put my ideas into a real shape and structure. She helped me find my voice as an artist. “Fantasy” was actually a demo I made for a homework assignment.
I usually write lyrics first, then guitar, and the challenge was to take a new approach with your process — so I started with the guitar progression and some sorta trap-like drum beat on GarageBand and ended up with “Fantasy.” I think it clicked for me because previously I had only written music when I was really depressed or just feeling alone. It was really emo and poetic, but it was also just fucking depressing!
Finally with “Fantasy” I was able to tap into this sarcastic, fun side of myself. I like to think I have a good sense of humor so once I could lighten up my songwriting, I felt so free and like I could see a clear vision of what my music project was going to be.
You’re releasing it on Valentine’s Day which is incredibly fitting when you listen to the lyrics—are you spending this year with someone special?
Everyone has always said Valentine’s Day is “my holiday” which I respect and appreciate. My very first photoshoot in NYC was a Valentine’s Day photo shoot. I will likely be spending this Valentine’s Day with my manager Heather to make sure everything is going smoothly with the release… and, of course, I’ll be freaking out! I mostly look forward to Valentine’s Day as it’s a time to love on my friends and have cute dinners. But if any of my crushes or prospective lovers would like to bring flowers/chocolate treats to my NYC show on the 17th, I won’t object!
Having a background directing videos for other artists and now your own, I can imagine it’s such a liberating feeling to bring your own visions to life. Talk to me about creating the music video, what was that like?
Honestly, the “Fantasy” music video was my dream project! The whole time I was like, “if I can just make this video happen, I can die happy.” I could see the video for this song in my head from the minute I wrote the shitty demo, so bringing that vision to life has been about a year and half in the making. I’m really grateful that I have friends and collaborators that I’ve worked with over the past 5 years who I trust, so when I finally came to the table with this idea, they all said, “great, when are we shooting?”
It was absolutely the largest project I’ve self-produced and I would not be alive today without my co-producers Jean-Luc and Alex, plus my co-director Jisun. Just about everything that could go wrong went wrong the week leading up to this shoot, but I honestly would not trade the learning experience for anything. It was the ultimate trial run for what I hope is many more dream projects for myself and other artists. I truly feel like if I can handle this, I can handle anything.
Is there anything that scares you about the whole artist thing, considering how different it is from the traditionally behind-the-scenes nature of photography?
Oh yes! The whole vulnerability aspect and how music is so personal has definitely been scary! I’ve gotten by for a long time as a photographer on being technically skilled, personable, and reliable. Music is completely different. You have to be vulnerable, wildly confident, outspoken, and unashamed. I have had to do a LOT of nervous system regulating (and still am) to not freak out at every step of this process. The first session I had with my producer Will I was absolutely shaking.
This whole thing has really shaken up a lot of inner-child patterns and thoughts about myself that I’ve had for years. I’m still very nervous about what will happen after this. I worry a lot about maintaining a career while also pursuing this new creative outlet. I feel like everyone in New York has like 5 different jobs, so I’m not really any different. I have to keep working and maintain relationships with people while also having this sort of following-my-dreams attitude. It’s a weird balance but I hope that people will see what I’m doing and feel inspired and/or comforted trusting me with their work knowing that I really understand the musician’s process first hand.
Both being mediums of creative expression, how do you see the worlds of music and photography colliding?
I think in this age, it’s hard to have music exist without photographic or visual assets to compliment it. Which is great for me because it’s kept me in business, but also I feel like half the fun of creating a body of musical work is crafting the visual world for it. There’s so much that you can express or evoke in music that you can’t with visual art, and I think it goes the other way too. There’s a beautiful harmony when a photo or video can add just that much more to the experience of listening to a song. It’s a magical thing to create a new world to explore.
Do you have any clue what your next chapter looks like or are you just going to go with the flow?
Naturally as an ambitious perfectionist, I have many eras of music in my head already plotted out—musically, visually, stylistically. But I’m going one step at a time. There’s still a lot of the “Fantasy” world that I’m excited to share with everyone. I’m excited to try new processes, work with new people, learn more, and experiment more. I’m trying hard to not get lost in the aspects of music that tend to drive people crazy— stats and numbers, generally comparing yourself to others, etc. I have a lot on my bucket list but, for now, I’m just taking a moment to be proud that I got here in the first place.