Kiddy Smile: ‘People in France were upset I was black, gay – and proud’

Kiddy Smile towers over me. I am 6ft 3in, and feel petite next to him. He is relatively svelte at the moment, having been ill during the past year with phlebitis and “the beginning of a pulmonary embolism”, but he has always been defined by being, in his own words, “fat and tall”. But this is, in part, what led Pierre Hache from being a kid from the Paris banlieues becoming a charismatic house artist, whose debut album One Trick Pony is a celebration of his identity as a black, gay man. It is enormously sexual, at times squelchingly acidic, and huge fun – energy he also parlays into his appearance in Gaspar Noé’s new dance-troupe movie, Climax.

In June, Kiddy Smile was invited to DJ at an event at the Elysée. He agreed, assuming it was at Elysée Montmartre, a club everyone refers to by the first part of its name. Then his manager called to say President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte wanted to do something with him. “I laughed. ‘Macron isn’t going there!’ My manager said: ‘No, we’re going to the presidential palace. I’ve just been doing your security clearance.’”

Some fans were furious. “A lot of queer people were sending messages about being very disappointed about me going there. But all of them were white. And all of them were trying to tell me to find the way to fight oppression. I understand that somehow they feel I represent them, but not all the time. People were insulting me and telling me I would have had a great career in 1943, collaborating with Nazis.”

Kiddy Smile performs at the Elysée Palace wearing his provocative T-shirt.

Kiddy Smile performs at the Elysée Palace wearing his provocative T-shirt. Photograph: Christophe Petit Tesson/AFP/Getty Images

He went because he felt he was representing an invisible community. “Even though there’s a risk that people are going to think I agree with his politics, it’s much bigger for people like me to be seen there. And my mum said: ‘You need to go. You don’t see people like yourself over there.’ OK, I’m from the LGBT community, but I’m also black and I’m also an immigrant’s son. So it’s different. I don’t get to feel disgusted [about Macron]. I have to feel proud, for my parents and their journey.”

He made the right furious, too. He knew portrayals of the event would be controlled by Macron’s team – look, here’s the president and black people and gay people, all being smiley – so he wanted to make a statement that could not be misinterpreted 10 years down the line. Instead of wearing his usual peacock colours, he put on a simple black T-shirt with the slogan: “Fils d’immigrés, noir et pédé.” He translates: “Immigrants’ son, black and faggot.”

“That shirt and the way the dancers were dancing upset a lot of people in France,” he says. “Mostly racist people. But it got a conversation started. Some people didn’t even know there were people who are black and gay. They were upset about me being black and gay and not being apologetic about it. They were upset I was proud.”

Kiddy Smile recalls being young and seeing Madonna’s Like a Prayer video, in which Jesus is portrayed as a black man. “Something felt right to me about that.” He had learned to dance – appearing in the video for George Michael’s An Easier Affair in 2006 – and wanted more than anything to dance for Madonna. Then the call came to try out.

“It was a one-week audition. She does workshops where she puts people into different situations so she can see how they work together,. At the end of that I was released,” he says. Then he heard from the Madonna camp that they had really liked him: but his size made it very hard to partner him with anyone. He was elated by the praise, but realised “she told a truth about people who look like me. I had to be honest. I had always loved music, and I loved to sing. So I thought: ‘Do your musical project and see how it goes.’”

It didn’t go all that well until summer 2016, when the video for Let a Bitch Know – five minutes of gay sexuality, burning cars, vogueing and gangs – blew up. “I really wanted to start a conversation in places where they don’t talk about stuff,” he says. “I wished I had known growing up [more] about my sexuality, that I wasn’t the only one. That it wasn’t just something that happened to white people. All the information I had about my sexuality was always centring on somebody who was white. I really wanted it to be about me and my community: we all came from places that would never allow us to be ourselves. What if it was possible?”

That question – what if it was possible to live freely? – is central in everything Kiddy Smile does, just as it was the central question in disco, and the other musical movements that have thrived as celebrations of LGBT sexuality. And, as he explains to me, it is impossible for a straight white man to understand what it is like to be black, to be the child of immigrants, to be gay. In the eyes of society, he says: “My crime is homicide: homicide is being black. And homicide with premeditation is being black and gay.” He puts it in practical terms: “I know you don’t get followed when you go into a store. Could you imagine the effect it would have on you if every time you went into a store someone was following you? Every single time. I know all the security people’s tricks. They have things that will set off the alarms in their shoe – so they can say they just want to check what’s in the bag. Try to live like that for 15 years, when you have to open your bag once a week for no reason. It has to mess with the way you live.”

While he doesn’t think his album is conventionally political in any way – “but I get why someone who doesn’t look like me would see it as political” – he agrees there is a statement in making music that represents people like him. “My track Dark Knight is about finding a way to love yourself when you are never represented as somebody who could be loved. That’s powerful. I had to look at American literature in order to find a representation of myself. That’s not normal. Where are the books in French that talk about me? Why can’t I see myself?”

It is important to remember that the event at the Elysée was a party – and that Kiddy Smile makes party music. In June last year, I watched him play a set on the beach in Cannes, in front of the Croisette. As feet shuffled on the sand, and 4/4 beats disappeared across the water, there were no questions about identity. There was just ecstatic, electrified dancing.

One Trick Pony is out on Neverbeener Records


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