While the world watched her on magazine covers, on the news for kneeling during the anthem and in tabloids for who her friends are, Skye was cooking. Four years in the making, the young singer-songwriter finally dropped her debut album ULTRAVIOLET last year and the future looks promising.
Justine Skye’s beautifully manicured fingernails delicately hold a mini powdered donut, powdered sugar falling to the floor like a winter wonderland. Somehow, the 22-year-old singer-songwriter consumes the treat without any traces left on her lipstick. She fixes her heels and steps right back onto set.
She whips her multi-banded ponytail to one side and strikes a stunning pose; from craft table to high fashion in no time at all. Her pony tail, of course, features the Brooklyn natives signature purple hue. The color purple often features in her outfits, visuals and even in the name of her debut album, ULTRAVIOLET, which dropped earlier this year.
Despite her purple pattern, the singer admits it isn’t actually her favorite color, aesthetically at least; “my favorite color is green. That’s purely based off of I love the way that color looks.” In a sense, purple chose her. “I actually used to hate the color purple. But then it became a lifestyle for me and also the comfort zone for me as well too. Because it was the only color that my mom never let me dye my hair when I was growing up and then it just kind of stuck.”
The purple unicorn, as she’s sometimes called, is currently on a roll. In May, the singer performed a concert at Los Angeles’ The Grove to celebrate the opening of a new Ray Ban store. Not even a month later, it was announced Skye and popular model Jordyn Woods were pairing up with Barney’s New York on shoes that represent their respective styles; Skye’s being an-ankle strap.
Skye was a social media influencer before the term was coined. Back in what feels like the ‘olden days’ of the internet, Skye made her mark and built a fan base on Tumblr. Thankfully for her fans, Skye moved from uploading covers to creating her own content. Late last year, Skye dropped ULTRAVIOLET, which saw the singer stepping into her own; a R&B pop princess who doubles as the friend who keeps it real and has your back. Her ability to be both fierce and captivating as well as approachable and grounded; a fresh and needed persona in her genre.
She laughs off the notion that her studio sessions get crazy. A lot of this album was created out of focus and emotional vulnerability; drawing on breakups, Skye’s debut work welcomes her as a lover of juxtaposition. Most of the songs are hard not to dance to, radio bops easy to fall in love with, but a layer deeper, lyrics analyzing the realities of opening one’s heart to another ache with relatability.
As she glides off the set and back to wardrobe, she switches into a deep cherry red outfit, her sleeves extending inches past her fingers and enveloping her in plastic wings. In the few yards from wardrobe to set, Skye adjusts to the glossy, stiff material like a ballerina to a leotard. Skye is made to adapt to whatever is thrown her way. She stands apart from the crowd in her unabashed openness to her self-awareness, evolution and struggles.
“The most beautiful thing about being an artist is that as human beings, we all have these emotions and we don't know. We think that we're alone and being an artist, you get to express your emotions and share it with the world and then your fans end up being the people that feel the same exact way that you do and you end up realizing that you're not alone.”
Skye builds that beauty perfectly and sincerely into ULTRAVIOLET. The follow up to Skye’s EP 8 Ounces is an insight into Skye’s rawest vulnerabilities; discussing love, Skye employs truly personal experiences into a widely relatable reminder that life is a rollercoaster of self-growth. “Each project, you should grow. Every project, you’re seeing me grow up into this woman.”
As an artist, her albums are so deeply personal that she scrapped an entire album’s worth of content because she felt it wasn’t authentic enough to who she was. When she went back to the drawing board, she was joined by some collaborators including PARTYNEXTDOOR, Prince Charlez, Hit-Boy, and Yung Berg. Determined to make an album she would be proud of, she made sure that this time around the collaborations were about creative brainstorming and not trying to follow a formula. Even so, Skye still had reservations but committed to challenging herself as an artist.
“In this project, I already knew where I wanted to go with it, but I wanted to see people who I like musically, who I listen to and whose sounds I really felt like I connected with. I wanted to see where they thought I should go. It was just me trying new things, opening up and trusting.”
A lot of musicians today struggle against negative branding because they don’t write their own songs. Across genres, artists are divided as to whether ‘real music’ can be distinguished by how many writers are listed on the track. Skye challenges the notion that having multiple people involved in the songwriting process dilutes the songs sincerity. “I’m a writer…but I also like to have other people in the room when I’m writing because you never know what could happen, you never know what could change in a song because one person was in there and they gave them this one idea and I think everyone deserves credit for it, obviously.”
Make no mistake, however; Skye would be where she was is either way. She collaborates for the purity of creation, not out of lack of talent or vision. “Just because there’s a million writers on a song doesn’t mean that you didn’t write the majority of it, it just means that person had their input. I think it’s crazy that people think that it’s mandatory to write every single word for it to be authentic” she says, her tone firm but light.
Even so, she doesn’t hold herself above others who don’t have as much input. Her tone holds no judgement, nor any notion of superiority as she continues: “Most artists, most of everyone’s favorite artists, don’t write their own songs, they just don’t. But you love the songs. It’s about how its delivered.”
And therein lies her truth; for Skye, music is about connection. Whether written by one person alone or with a range of contributors, when music connects with the listener and tells them they’re not alone, that’s what matters.
“While I went on tour, I actually got some family members that I've never met before. I met a little cousin who was 13. She came backstage after the show and she was extremely, extremely quiet and then she was like, ‘I wrote you a poem.’ I was like, ‘oh my God, wow, that's so crazy,’. and I started reading it and it started off saying ‘‘in case I was too nervous to talk to you.’ And it was the most beautifully written poem I've ever read; how much I've helped her get into certain situations, even quoting specific lyrics from songs that were crazy old and I was just like, wow, like this is what I do music for. This is exactly why. That was how I was feeling when I was her age as well too. I know how she’s feeling. She thinks that she's alone and that’s what I do it for.”
That being said, fans aren’t the only ones Skye thinks should connect with the music. When asked if she listens to her own music recreationally, the ‘U Don’t Know’ singer was enthusiastic. “1,000% I think it's the best thing ever. That’s what you’re supposed to do because you have to make sure that you love it. It’s not weird at all. If you're not bumping your music, 24/7, then what did you make it for?”
As for what she relates to, Hurt by Christina Aguilera is a go to cry song. “That one gets me really emotional, since I was young too and I was like, ‘what does this mean’ ‘why am I reacting like this to the song?’” But her music taste is definitely not one note. Growing up, her uncle put her onto the Knife and her voice warms up when she remembers the Swedish electronic music duo.
One of her all-time favorite icons though, is Beyoncé. Skye’s voice gets eager as she talks about Beychella. “The whole year since they had announced that Beyoncé was performing at Coachella, even when she got pregnant and didn’t even perform, I was just trying to figure out what exactly would she be doing. She surprised me.”
The surprise being that it was “life-changing.” Beyonce’s acclaimed Coachella performance heavily featured references to black college culture and black culture in general; “as a black woman, it was just extremely empowering. “As an artist, it just shows me using our platform for something extremely important. She has such a big platform and she knew many, many people would be watching and she uses her voice. A lot of people always say Beyoncé doesn’t speak out on situations, but she uses her specific platform that she knows will reach more people than an Instagram post or something. It'll have an impact.”
Even so, being given a platform as expansive and powerful comes with its downsides. Skye is no stranger to the difficulties of finding a personal identity in an ever increasingly viral world. “I've struggled with being this person that people know online. With social media, we show people what we want them to see and nobody wants to show sadness and the bad times. Nobody wants to show that but there’s also a balance of being real and sometimes you want things to be personal, but in being an artist, there is no personal space.”
It wasn’t always like that for Skye. “When I first started creating a social media presence for myself, I wasn't even concerned about like what everybody else is thinking and now, that I’m an actual artist, it’s kind of just like ‘how do I find that balance of where I was before and where I am now.’”
But with her constantly growing fan base, Skye can be seen on the cover of magazines, paparazzi’d next to famous friends, modeling and more. She’s multi-talented, ambitious and hard-working, she could do many things in life but music is her passion and it can be hard to keep other labels from drowning out her musicianship.
“I definitely feel like sometimes people get confused with exactly what it is that I’m doing which I guess is understandable; with social media, you see a lot of people online and sometimes this will reach more people than that. But I feel like with this album, I've been able to begin shifting the narrative that yeah, I am a musician and this is my story.”
Photographer: Irvin Rivera
Assistants: Corey Weston & Malorie McCall
Stylist: Wilford Lenov
Hair: Preston Wada
@Opus Beauty using Hidden Crown Hair
Makeup: Rebekah Aladdin
Writer: Malorie McCall
Location: Opulen Studios