Okay Kaya's 'Watch This Liquid Pour Itself' is earnest pop inspired by gallbladders and bile

Nadine Fraczkowski

The musician Kaya Wilkins remembers a revelation she had at a karaoke bar. It was during "Sexual Healing," by Marvin Gaye. "I was just complete trash. Garbage," she recalls. In the moment, the song's overt confidence rang untrue. So the 29-year-old singer, who performs under the name Okay Kaya, went home to write "Asexual Wellbeing," a standout track from her latest record, Watch This Liquid Pour Itself. On that song, Wilkins sings, "sex with me is mediocre / but I can probably feel what you’re feeling." The melody trapezes on subdued drums, like an '80s pop ballad put through a filter of vulnerable moodiness. Wilkins sounds confident as ever.

"There are so many pop songs that are about being good in bed," she explains. "It helps me to do it this way, I'm not someone who can fake it until they make it." It's sexual anxiety made sexy — a fitting description for much of Watch This Liquid Pour Itself. The album, Okay Kaya's second, is full of disarmingly earnest lyrics that make you wince, laugh, and cry all at the same time. "I try to be so honest that it can be sort of funny," Wilkins says. "I just don't see the point in making a body of work to not be honest with it."

Wilkins was born in Norway and moved to New York close to ten years ago. On songs like "Mother Nature's Bitch," she shows off a dry humor and a nimble way with words. "Here I am / wabi sabi papi / here I am / desperate for attention / here I am / being mother nature's bitch," she sings. A pensive, if not cutting endorsement of the type of calm serenity that wellness gurus such as Gwyneth Paltrow evangelize.

On Okay Kaya's first record, 2018's Both, the singer built on a vivid visual language that translated equally into her cinematic music videos, which felt like worthwhile films in and of themselves. On Watch This Liquid Pour Itself things are just as visually impactful — Wilkins recorded music videos around the world, from Japan to Norway — with lyrics that paint a picture as much as create a sonic environment.

"I actually think making this second record was a bit of an aha moment," Wilkins says. "I had to learn so much, and I'm still learning."

On "Psych Ward," We're brought into a psych ward with emotional and physical clarity. "Better swallow the pill / in the psych ward / everybody’s wearing those light blue scrubs / in the psych ward," she sings. Kaya's soft croon gives all of the songs on Watch This Liquid Pour Itself a gentle kind of intensity. We follow the singer as she confesses resenting her boyfriend, as on "Insert Generic Name," where she sings: "It really sucks to be your girlfriend / although you're a prolific boyfriend / I’m suddenly the center of resentment in your harem."

Kaya explains that her inspiration for the album came from ancient Greek medicine — specifically the idea of the four humors: liquids in the body that when out of balance can allegedly cause anything from depression to mania. According to Kaya, the songs on the album "come from my gallbladder." As it often happens for the singer, an image appeared in her head. She describes picturing herself, mouth agape, with black bile rushing out.

"This is what it feels like to write these specific songs," she says. "It felt like I needed to purge it out."

There's a courageous honesty throughout the record that suggests a concern with connection. It's hard to listen to the songs on Watch This Liquid Pour Itself without feeling the warmth of recognition. In a music industry dominated by streaming giants, hearing a record that comes from the heart — or the gallbladder — is decidedly refreshing.

"I think success is someone listening and it resonating in their little heart pocket," she says, laughing. "You know, the heart pocket!"

Watch This Liquid Pour Itself is available now via Spotify and Apple Music.