equality factor: celebrating queer POC right front and center
last album: American Queers
our favorite song: Glitter And Blood
based in: Chicago, USA
Chicago-based multi-instrumentalist and singer Ellie Kim, aka SuperKnova, is a true virtuoso: she composes, writes, records, engineers, and masters each and every one of her guitar-driven alternative pop songs entirely by herself. Her music is fueled by her very own coming-of-age story of finding her place in music and life as an Asian American, queer woman, and artist. It celebrates the good and the bad, the glitter and the gore, and above all: the beauty and complexity of queer culture.
Ellie Kim’s love for music began long before SuperKnova saw the light of day. She first picked up the guitar at the age of 8, and soon after joined her first band. Soon after, studied jazz guitar and played in bands of all kinds of genres, from punk rock to hip hop and R&B. However, it wasn’t until nearly five years ago that she began releasing her own songs as a solo artist. When Ellie began transitioning in 2015, she quietly began writing songs, putting her thoughts and feelings into music.
“Originally, I just wrote them for myself as therapy. But a friend of mine who heard them was like, 'you should release these, these are really good'”
Eventually, Ellie decided to follow her friends’ advice, and she released her first songs on Bandcamp. At the time, Bandcamp was in the midst of raising funds for the trans community, and even more, like-minded music aficionados found her than expected. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and so she decided to seek a solo career as SuperKnova. “A supernova is the last final most energetic explosion before the death of a star. It's the final big bang before a star extinguishes. And I thought that kinda reflected my theory on life a little bit – like, giving your all to something, being very passionate about something in the short time that you have”, Ellie explains her choice of the artist name. Moreover, the destructive bloom of a supernova is also reflected in the recurring themes of her music. Whether SuperKnova signs of depression and pride, suppression, or power – she finds beauty in the chaos of it all.
“For me, I think good music is anything that moves you on an emotional or physical level.”
As a one-woman band and multi-instrumentalist, SuperKnova’s songs are highly personal, at times biographical, and often intuitively provide insights into American queer culture – the good, the bad, and the painful. Coming from a place of self-expression, maintaining creative control throughout the entire songwriting process has always been a priority for Ellie. That’s why she even taught herself how to engineer and master by herself. “I feel like mixing and engineering is its own art. And I think some people think it’s a very technical job – but it’s really its own art. You give two different mixing engineers the same track and it’ll sound completely different because it’s so subjective and its own art. For me, it’s also about creative control. I want to be able to control every step of the way how it sounds like”, she elaborates.
While not all of Ellie’s songs might be the “rose out of concrete” that “bloomed from darkness” and were created in particularly dark periods of her life as was one of her own favorites, “Serotonin Serenade”, they all serve the same purpose. “My main goal is just to feature queer POC people up front and center in a positive light.”, she brings her artistic vision to the point. Growing up queer and of Korean descent, she never saw herself represented in pop culture. There were only a few Asian American artists she watched succeed in the industry back then and even fewer of transgender identities. This lack of representation and role models to look up to instilled a major sense of not-belonging in Ellie.
“Even when I was playing in bands, when I was making professional music, I always felt like I was not a real musician. Because I never saw anyone like me, who’s Asian, growing up who was a musician.”
Only now, as SuperKnova, Ellie is beginning to finally overcome the impostor syndrome that influenced her artistic confidence for the majority of her professional life. “I had a degree in music and I still felt like I wasn’t a real musician”, she looks back on her younger self. Today, Ellie strives to create “more of these media images, the ones [she] never had growing up” in all of her work. This, of course, also applies to her queerness. As a proud transwoman, she wants to represent her community in all its colorful facets – but most importantly, she wants to celebrate queer identities. “Whenever queer people are represented in media it’s like, we’re getting killed. It’s true and important to highlight. But when you’re a trans person and you wake up and it’s like, ‘Oh, another transwoman killed’, it’s very debilitating. So I want to, as much as possible be a positive representation of our strengths and our positivity.”
“I’m happy to see any transwoman succeeding in the business today.”
When Ellie Kim began her journey as SuperKnova five years ago, her music mainly served as a vessel for her own emotions. Today, she connects with people who share similar experiences and sentiments on a daily basis. Her guitar-driving pop sound with intricate poetic lyrics creates a safe space for people of color, queer people, and other minorities and oppressed majorities. Songs like “Power”, “Glitter and Blood” and “Serotonin Serenade” are filled to the brink with beauty and pain, strength and vulnerability. It’s safe to say that as SuperKnova, Ellie Kim has finally become the representation she never had growing up, serving as an inspiration and role model for others, giving confidence and hope to many. Her example proves, yet again, that representation matters.