Music

Artist Martine Gutierrez Gets Trap-Y with Her New Single "Origin"

Now and then, a creative comes along whose talents leave you hypnotized and wanting more. Today, that person is Brooklyn-based multimedia artist Martine Gutierrez, whose new single, “Origin,” premieres today on L’Officiel USA.
Reading time 8 minutes

Already a buzzed-about name in the art world, the Rhode Island School of Design graduate is recognized for galvanizing the experience of her own intersectionality as a biracial, trans woman of color in her work as she casts herself as the quintessential rising star through various mediums. And she’s no stranger to putting herself on exhibition—literally. In the winter of 2016, Martine claimed a name for herself among the Big Apple’s iconography when she created a public billboard.

Simply titled ‘MartineJEANS,’ the faux fashion campaign, photographed by Martine herself, showed her gazing over Manhattan’s garment district clad in nothing but baggy jeans. This is just one example of the innumerable times Martine has wielded her image as well as her own gaze from behind the camera lens to question the politics behind modern pop imagery.

The acclaim of Martine’s head-turning work has reached both the high art pedigree of permanent museum collections and the lowbrow history of one’s YouTube search browser, and she is now adding bonafide musician to the list of tools used to spark up culturally poignant conversations.

On the trap-y R&B-infused “Origin,” which was written and produced by Martine, she’s joined by her mentor and lauded singer/songwriter, Nomi Ruiz. Their bewitching vocals, undulating from throaty moans to stuttering whispers, overlap in a merging call and response. Think of “Origin” as the brash, futuristic sister of Brandy and Monica’s “The Boy is Mine”—albeit in place of rivalry is an allyship of siren sisterhood. The duet is all about what brings them together, and it intends to challenge listeners to, in Martine’s words, “confront bigotry and stereotypes but still tempt listeners to challenge their social constructs of what femininity or identity as a whole means to them.” Mission accomplished. Swaying between innocence and mistress, empathy and revenge, Martine and Nomi play to each other’s similarities in a dance of withering sexual power. The track is somehow both luminous and shadowy, dazzling and dark, with their captivating vocals expressing a seductively hushed, come-closer intimacy. Sonic spoiler alert: Prepare to be spellbound.  

L’Officiel USA caught up with Martine to discuss her musical process, her experiences with gender fluidity, and how she’s ready to destroy the pop star mold.

 

Keep reading and listen to "Origin," below.

You’ve said your work as a multimedia artist has been a documentation of your metamorphosis into various imagined roles, using your own intersectionality as a biracial trans woman. Can you describe those imagined roles?

Well yes, I'm just as much a behind-the-scenes crew member as I am the star—whether that be casting myself as a supermodel in a faux fashion ad, acting as a pop star in a music video, or as a Hollywood actress in a film. But I'm always shooting the “ad” I'm in, I’m always producing the music I’m singing, and I’m always directing the film I’m acting in. I sound psycho controlling, but really I am just listing how solitary my practice has been. These are just skills I've had years to develop out of necessity because I wanted the fantasy and didn't have the budget. So I made it myself, and y'all called it art.

 

You are known for your visual work exhibited at the RYAN LEE Gallery in Chelsea, NY. Can you tell us about your exhibitions there?

It's always different. Sometimes the installation is a room full of photographs, other times it’s just projected videos or mannequins. But it’s always me. Whether you recognize me or not, I’m in the middle of it all. Usually, it's my goal to assume the identity of someone unrecognizable in my work, but my upcoming solo show at RYAN LEE is all about deciphering the labels I actually use—and that opens this September during Fashion Week. It will be the most personal narrative I’ve yet to share, for sure.

You speak about rejecting societal binaries but seem to identify as female. What part of your identity do you consider non-binary?

That’s a hard question. It feels like you're asking me to measure something that's in motion—it's only been within the last two years that I’ve started hormone replacement therapy. Before that, I lived as a non-binary person who, despite always being feminine, was so unwilling to be pigeonholed as anything. I look in the mirror now and still identify with what’s left of the queer emo kid I used to be in high school, even though I pass as a woman now, and in a way I always wanted. It’s a hard space to navigate.

 

Working on music is not new for you but you haven’t officially released music until now, right? What took you so long? Why now?

It felt so daunting! I started producing on my own while studying at RISD. My first single made its way to Paris where I later would be offered production freelance work, making music for editorials by YSL, Dior, and Acne Studios... But that fashion life was oddly unglamorous and the few interactions I had with industry hotshots were so cliché and gross. They either didn’t like my look, wanted sex, or liked my sound but wanted me to produce for other artists who were already on the radio. It felt like, if I was going to do it my way it meant doing it all on my own.

Is “Martine the pop star” a persona? Or is she just one aspect of you?

I think “Martine the pop star” is a manifestation of my knowledge as a woman—she’s teaching me how to be the destroyer I was meant to be. It feels like I’m in a constant self-evolution, and that in part is because of the many women in my life I’ve been blessed to know. No one makes me feel like a vixen the way Nomi does. “Origin,” the single and the video, wouldn't exist without Nomi Ruiz. She’s my mother and my muse.

 

You produce and write all of your music. How would you describe your sound?

Eclectic. I can’t help but be nostalgic, especially for ‘90s R&B. For “Origin,” writing for me and Nomi, it had to be epic but still speak to what brings us together as friends. I feel like the obvious is that we are both latin trans women, but it’s not chic to blatantly build a chorus around that, nor is it sexy.  

 

What would you define as CHIC and SEXY?

Subtlety. By talking about our “origin,” I felt like I could confront bigotry and stereotypes but still tempt listeners to challenge their social constructs of what femininity or identity means to them.

How do you feel about the recent mainstream spotlight on trans rights and trans women in the media? Do you feel pressure to make a statement with your work? To be an activist and a role model? Or are you just doing you?

Subconsciously, I think I use everything to illustrate my rejection of societal binaries, regardless of how unassuming or seductive the narrative may seem. If music didn’t also continue to inform how I see myself or want to be seen as I wouldn’t make it. I'm always looking to contextualize how small we are because it’s then you realize how unimportant what we represent or who we sleep with really is. Given the opportunity, I want to talk about more than transness.

 

That seems to be at the core of the song “Origin”—“how unimportant what we represent or who we sleep with really is.” Is a part of the song speaking to those who long for trans people as lovers but are timid to give in to their desires?

Absolutely, without hesitation. Well... he might hesitate… at first!

 

In a few words, answer this: “Who is Martine the Pop Star”?

She's a Mayan witch, escaping the hands of her colonizing boyfriend, set in a romantic rainforest surrounded by a desolate desert. She’s me.

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