• Darby VanDeVeen

Katja Glieson connects with fans and encourages everyone to be their authentic selves

Australian singer, actor, producer, and content creator Katja Glieson has worn a lot of hats over the course of her career. She has engaged her audience by being true to herself and her journey and has managed to grow an impressive platform for herself. Her debut as a musician was as Elsa in the “Princess Rap Battles” on YouTube and has since been creating brutally honest original songs that her fans can relate to. I got to talk to Katja about how she built her fanbase and how her own personal struggles have helped her succeed in her career.

To start out, I saw that you moved from Australia to LA. Has that move been a big catalyst in your career? Did that give you more opportunities?

Yeah, I think so. For me when it comes to making music and talking with people in the digital entertainment space there's just more people that are like-minded whereas in Australia, they're there but they’re more scattered around and harder to find. The entertainment industry is very closed; It's very cliquey and it's difficult to get people to take you seriously because if you're an independent musician they’ll ask “what's your real job?” It’s fair enough because I get it and I'm not a doctor or a nurse, which are very important jobs to have. I always felt like there's just a bit of judgment there that, unless you’ve already made it in Australia, you don't have permission to be an artist or an entertainer. I felt LA is the hub for all of that. The like-minded people are there, and there are many interesting personalities that are attracted to the entertainment industry. It's definitely been an interesting journey.

Growing up in Australia, you said you might not feel like you have the permission to be an artist so what got you inspired to start creating music and become an artist?

I think it was the fact that music had such an impact on me as a kid. I grew up really shy and I was very, very sensitive. I was a target for bullying a lot because I was clinically obese for a long time. I found solace in music and I found relatability in music. It was a world where there were people like me that existed and they were allowed to speak on how they feel. That connected with me so much and it had such an impact on me. I feel like it's saved my life so many times. It feels like my responsibility now to bring that to another person because it gave me so much so it's kind of my job to continue it and pass on the torch. That's the real reason why I do entertainment and music is because comedy and music are so healing and relatable. It's the one thing that no matter the ups and downs, the industry, what you think is going to happen, it’s that one driving force. I have to do it.

Yeah, of course. Do you find yourself relating and sharing your own struggles in your music? I know you said you want people to relate to it.

It's been a journey for me for a long time. I thought I had to be a positive light to people by always being positive and showing that I've conquered all of my issues and that everything’s great. I quickly realized that my honest journey was more important to talk about. So over the recent months, I have been planning and producing. I'm learning more about the back end of music as well, so that I can really tie in all of the moments to create a story that's relatable and truthful. I found that people relate better when it's completely and utterly truthful. Even if I don't want to spill my heart out. I think my most honest song was probably one of my most successful songs and it was called “Come Through.” That came out of me being so angry with the music industry because I felt like I was doing everything everyone told me to do. Every time someone said, “you need to go get a following” or “you need to go do this first” or “work with this person first,” I always found a way to take off every box that the gatekeepers set up for me. I was feeling frustrated because I wasn't feeling like the opportunities were coming my way. So I wrote this song “Come Through.” I was so upset and angry and it just came out as this really cool song and people loved it. And I was like, okay just be completely honest. No worries. I got it now.

I think one thing I've seen talking to a lot of artists is that the songs that are closest to them, are the ones that end up doing the best. Even though it might not be universally relatable, it somehow still is.

Exactly and I feel like humans can sniff out trash. Like we can sniff out when someone's lying to us. It's interesting because as an actress, I can put on a character. I did theater and musical theater first. So that's very “put on a show, put on a character” and then with being a recording artist or working on film, where the camera is really close to you, it's about being vulnerable. That was a lesson I'm still learning. My go-to is put on a show because I was the

youngest in the family, and there was a lot of anger and a lot of hostility in my family growing up. No one ever talked about emotions or feelings, it was just a really bad feeling in my family all the time. So anytime someone was about to have an angry, crazy fit at the other member of the family, I put on a little show like “look at me!” That's kind of my go-to when things get uncomfortable. I have to stop myself when I want to do that and tell myself that I don't have to put on a show and distract everybody to make everyone else feel better. That's a journey I think we all have to go through in our lives and it's like when you sort of see a trigger coming up to stop yourself and re-evaluate and just take a breath. Be real in the situation, you don't have to do anything. You don't have to solve everyone's problems. That's not your responsibility. Just worry about what you're going through and that is actually what helps other people.

It definitely is and I think your fans really see that you're being relatable and vulnerable to because you have so many of them. your fanbase has grown to almost 10 million on Tik Tok and 500,000 on Instagram. How do you manage to keep your fan base engaged and still manage to make personal connections with such a big platform?

I'm always looking for people to be real with me. So I have DM sessions and DM groups and street team leaders. One of my earliest fans reached out to me and told her life story after hearing a lot of things that I went through growing up in interviews like this. She’s now become one of my best friends and she’s the street team leader of all my fans. It’s seeking out your vibe tribe talking to people like they’re people. Being open and willing to interact with the people that you want to follow you rather than engaging in drama too much or trying to rile people up to get them upset because that does drive engagement. But ultimately I don't think that creates deep connections and it’s not a real connection. That’s why I think the fans that I’ve had have followed me over a long period of time and we'll be chatting when we’re all old in wheelchairs and giggling about life. It’s really all about cultivating your vibe tribe and just being real with them. I’m so real on my stories. I’ll write back privately when someone’s being real with me and not trying to get a rise out of me. I don’t engage with that. I engage with the people who are being real with me.

That’s interesting. I haven't really heard a lot of artists having DM groups with clusters of their fans before. Do you get a lot out of that? Do you use them as a sounding board for some of your things too?

Yeah! I’ve sent my fans demos of songs before I release them. I let them know what’s going on in my life. I’m very careful with how much I share and what I say because I don’t want to be a part of cancel culture. It’s about finding this balance of genuinely being there for each other and listening to our problems and relating to those and figuring out how to be for ourselves. It’s not about demonizing someone else when something bad happens, it’s about working through it and figuring out how I can grow out of this. So even while I tell them what’s going on in my life, I don't name people. I don't want that type of energy to come back since I believe in karma. We have real conversations. I love hearing about people’s lives and what they’re going through. And I love to kind of chime in with what I think about it and what might help people. They usually help me more. My friends normally help me more than anything because I’m a bit of a recluse. I’m like a shy, crazy artist and I’m not really one of the people that goes out there partying. There were a whole lot of parties after the BET awards and I just stayed with my fans and talked about music, what we loved, and what we’re connecting with. I think that’s what's really important to me as well, finding fans that are similar to you in a way.

I’ve noticed that you’re very outspoken on various social justice issues. Is that something that goes with you finding fans that are like minded to you and will support you as you are making these statements?

Yeah absolutely. It’s funny because there's certain trends and certain creators get pushed when they are speaking out about things. There's a lot of topics that get silenced, but my fans really support everything that I say because they agree with my heart and my soul, which is that love conquers all. Live and let live, love is love and that kind of stuff. I find it easy to speak from my heart and what I think is right and wrong because I come from a place of love and there’s not many people who can disagree with that.

Of course. Love is one of the most important things around us.

I know it sounds so cheesy and it’s so like from the 70s but yeah I wish that that 70s love movement could keep going. We should bring it back, but practicing it a bit safer than before [laughs].

Yeah so, what's next for you as the world is opening back up? Are you planning on doing some more live shows, or continuing creating behind the camera and stuff like that?

Yeah we’re casting right now for series 2 of the “Barbie IRL” series which did really well on Tik Tok. We're going to sort of delve a little bit deeper into the origins of the Barbie doll, where it came from, where that blond stereotype comes from, how it how it was created by the male gaze and try to break apart that stereotype so that the people can see things for what they really are, and not try and aspire to be something that's absolutely ridiculous. That sort of stuff is so important to me because we're constantly barraged with all these perfectionism standards and stereotypes. So I like to bust those systems and break them apart so that people can live in reality.

Yeah. And with social media too, it's not real. You really have to distinguish what's real and what's not. So it's nice that you’re doing that series.

A lot of people don't realize how much on social media is fabricated. There’s a huge success for a lot of people in creating a reality TV show situation. A lot of people get really upset or they aspire to be like them and will live like them. They don't realize it's not what they think it is. There's a lot that goes on behind the scenes and what they think is organic is all planned out. it's all organized, it's all entertainment. Sometimes it can have a really detrimental effect on people that take it really seriously. We gotta lighten it up a little bit so no one’s getting hurt.

Of course! Well, that was my last question for you, is there anything else you would want people to know?

Just don’t take it all so seriously. I see just a lot of negative energy always rolling around on the internet. And if you know people are having fun and no one's actually taking it that seriously and even the upset feelings are just a joke, then that's right through. But, we just have to all be mindful of people that think it's all real and lighten up!

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