Two years ago, no adult had heard of Olivia Rodrigo, Donald Trump was still the US President and the thought of a global pandemic upending life as we know it was science fiction. As the world was thrust into a strange maelstrom of unprecedented mayhem, it felt harder than ever to give ourselves a break. Yet, in those two years, Miss Blanks did just that – she took stock, she metamorphosed and now: she's ready to fly.
Before 2021, Miss Blanks’ most recent track was 2019’s “Tommy” – a swaggering, thumping ode to Tommy Hilfiger – who himself publicly recognised the rapper’s shout out. She tells MTV Australia that she’s happy with how the song did, but also knew she was due a break.
“I was really happy with how things went, how the roll-out went and how I decided to step back, it was all organic,” she says. “I stepped away from the label and it was all amicable. I decided to release “Tommy'' independently. And it was just divine timing with my interests leading me elsewhere at the same time.”
That divine timing, unprovoked by COVID-19 while still aligning with it, led Blanks to start her own creative communications agency, Point Blank Group. After years of forging her own path in a ruthless industry, she was ready to help others forge theirs.
“I think, in the first few years of Miss Blanks, I was very much vocal and not exactly behind the scenes, not exactly quiet, not exactly submissive to what was going on around me,” she says.
“Stepping back from releasing music and stepping back from being in the spotlight just meant being able to refocus, refuel and also not surround myself with those kinds of external pressures that I think most emerging and introductory artists are under. And the combination of going into early 2020 with [an emerging pandemic] definitely reaffirmed that I just needed to focus on me.”
After cocooning in self-care and self-preservation, Blanks emerged last month with her first song in two years, “Fly High”. With crisp production from the ever-versatile Oh Boy, “Fly High” proves Blanks has lost none of her flair in time spent away from making music. Diving head first into an opulent blend of hip-hop and house, Blanks flexes her lyrical prowess with a cool head and a stunningly laissez-faire tone. She doesn’t need to scream that her absence has only improved her craft – it’s obvious.
“I've been happy with my journey in music and my creative output to date,” Blanks said.
“Do I think that now I am in a space where I can turn up the heat a bit and fine tune everything? From messaging to lyrical content to production to the visuals to everything else? Yes, I have that opportunity now.”
“Fly High” is the first taste of that fine-tuning, cementing Blanks’ position in a lane that no one else in Australia dare veer into. The way she manoeuvres the spaces between electronic and hip-hop music is effortless – there’s no forced versatility, she just is.
“I was in Melbourne lockdown, it was tough and I remember being like, ‘Well, I have this time and I'm not going anywhere. Let me get back to having fun with music and not having the pressure to stick to a particular release timeline’.”
“I think what me and many others were feeling in lockdown was just wanting escapism; to get away. Those feelings of taking your first few steps into the club with your crew and your song comes on and it's a moment. You feel good, you're feeling yourself, you're looking good, you're smelling good. I miss that.”
I wasn’t feeling myself in this Melbourne lockdown with my nails grown out, eyebrows bushy as hell and all the rest of it. So I was like, ‘Let me just do a track for me and my girls’.”
Blanks went on to explain that “Fly High” lasers onto the sound she wants to perfect, and she knows exactly who for.
“It's for the messy bitches, the runaway bitches, the club bitches, the 7am kick-on bitches, it's for the problematic bitches. This is what my music is for and I feel like that fun and that messiness in it has been missing from hip-hop in Australia.”
The video for “Fly High” matches that fun, scene for scene. It’s luxe and it’s dramatic, camp and couture. Styled by Megan Thee Stallion collaborator Ntombi Moyo – including an actual lampshade that required its own plane ticket to Brisbane – the “Fly High” music video revels in its own excess; shining light on a culture the Australian mainstream has yet to acknowledge.
“Ballroom started in New York among Black Latinx communities,” Blanks explains. “But I think there's a lot of people here in Australia that are genuinely committed to the ballroom community here. They're so sacred but not [cliquey], which I love. It’s small for sure but it's growing and it's special, with open space for people to ask questions and engage.”
“In Australia,” she explains, “I would say it's been just under 10 years that [ballroom] has been around, but thanks to representation and visibility in shows like Pose and the growing visibility with the local community pioneering the scene here, it's growing at a rate that it just hasn't before.”
However, she concedes that “like most cultural and political things that are imported into Australia, there’s definitely a delay.”
That delay extends outside of the messages Blanks directly showcases in her music – she’s long been outspoken about the mistreatment of minority groups within the music industry. Over three years ago, Blanks took Laneway Festival to task over including Kirin J. Callinan on their line-up – which she also featured on – citing past incidents that Callinan allegedly engaged in which she argued could be damaging to certain groups of people, such as women and people of colour. Callinan was ultimately removed from the bill.
That same year, she spoke out about Sticky Fingers’ inclusion on a Newcastle festival’s line-up, a band that has been mired in controversy for some time. These discussions were led in part by her as well as other women in the business, with Blanks shouting out Camp Cope and Thelma Plum specifically.
Blanks describes Plum as one of her closest friends. “She has championed so many conversations in race and gender equality and equity and she's not given the flowers that she rightly deserves.”
“No one likes strong, staunch women or femmes or non-binary people,” she says. “They just don't like them. But they're happy for you to sing and dance – to show up on International Women's Day, show up on Pride.”
Even during her break, she hosted an eye-opening Instagram Live with Ziggy Ramo, a trailblazing artist in his own right, about the treatment of Black and Brown artists by the industry soon after Black Lives Matter protests took place around the world last year.
Despite the very vocal fight that Blanks and a select group of other artists were leading years ago, it hasn’t been until now that we’ve seen a real reckoning in abusive or harmful behaviour in the higher ups of the industry. This year alone, the Australian legs of Sony Music, Universal Music and Warner Music have all had to conduct investigations into workplace culture and remove some men, including Sony CEO Denis Handlin, from their very senior positions.
While she recognises that these steps are progress in the right direction, she also remains focused and realistic about the end goal. “I think in order to really build something long-lasting, I think this needs to go beyond the music industry. The music industry doesn't act as this insular thing.”
“There needs to be space for conversation at a grassroots level and for those at the top to demystify that pathway to access,” she continues, before noting that several campaigns pushing for similar change – Me No More, Now Australia, Don’t Be That Guy – have all come up against roadblocks.
“But there's this momentum now, and conversations that some of us have been having years ago, people are finally having, which is great.”
While she admits that she’s a little frustrated it took many other artists so long to stand alongside and amplify those marginalised voices – “I’m a Leo” – Blanks maintains hope and claims “the more of us the better".
“I think there's a lot of people that corrupt these spaces because of their own personal agendas...I have my own agenda but my agenda just happens to include more people.”
“I'm really hopeful,” she continues, “I have always been hopeful otherwise I would have left this industry a while ago. But I'm also mindful that the pressure's on. The time is now and I have the energy for it. I’ve always had the energy for it.”
That energy is something she admires in artists like Plum and Ramo, who she praises for their “strength and courage”; traits that can also be felt in everything Miss Blanks does. It’s partly out of necessity due to her being a trans woman of colour – which makes the silence from her white, male peers all the more deafening – but it also feels inherent to her very spirit.
When you talk to Miss Blanks, she laughs and she cackles but she also reminds you that she knows what she’s talking about. And if she doesn’t, she acknowledges that she’s got space to learn and grow, and she offers others the same opportunity. She says herself that she has a rebel spirit, and she says that sometimes she needed to be outwardly strong and courageous because no one else was.
Not to mention, she maintains a level of self-assuredness that is immovable. “The only people that's going to come down on me are either the police, the tax man, my mum or God. Other than that, I don't know who else is going to touch me.” Miss Blanks is exactly that – untouchable. But, she is still inviting us all to watch her soar.