Kaya Wilkins

The Musician

"I like shifting perhaps something that is a bit sad and vulnerable into something that could be hopefully just beautiful"

The 2023 Pirelli Calendar celebrates the muses who have inspired photographer Emma Summerton and, more broadly, the remarkable power, passion and talent of women

Like many musicians, Kaya Wilkins, who records and performs under the name Okay Kaya, draws on personal experience for her songs. She’s comfortable exploring topics that others often eschew,be it birth control (her song IUD) or sexual health (Asexual Wellbeing, in which she sings: “I know sex with me is mediocre”).

While the Norwegian-American artist’s subject matter is intimate, her songs can also be playful, filled with wit and humour and an experimental aesthetic that roams from pop and R&B to folk and disco. It’s little wonder she’s attracted such loyal followers and rave reviews. In 2020, Paste Magazine declared her album Watch This Liquid Pour Itself “an infinitely quotable, profound and moving bedroom pop masterpiece”.

“My music is my metaphysical practice and I love it. I love doing it,” said Wilkins, who lives in New York. “I like shifting perhaps something that is a bit sad and vulnerable into something that could be hopefully just beautiful.”

“I like shifting perhaps something that is a bit sad and vulnerable into something that could be hopefully just beautiful”

Being fierce

In Emma Summerton’s 2023 Pirelli Calendar , Wilkins, who is also a model and actress, plays the role of The Musician. She was photographed in a colourful, bohemian boudoir, reclining on a quilt-draped bed and clad in metal braand mesh lingerie with a raven overseeing the shoot from the foot of the bed.

“My role was being all rocked out and chilling with the raven, so that felt quite natural to me,” said Wilkins, who also appreciated the metal “snake bra”, in which a snake appeared to be “kind of biting me lightly”.

“I love my outfit. It always feels good to get dressed up in this, like, witchy armour type of vibe. It feels pretty powerful.”

Summerton said the set was partly inspired by the late Australian artist, dancer and bohemian Vali Myers, and “the idea of Vali [as] this wild woman, who was uncompromising, which is also how I imagined the performer to be – to be able to getup on stage and do that you have to be so fierce.”

Making music

Wilkins was born in New Jersey, but moved to Norway as a baby, growing up with her painter mother and five brothers on a peninsula near Oslo. She started playing music as a child, learning some Bob Dylan songs, but it was after she moved to New York, aged 19, that she began producing her own material using a guitar and the digital audio software GarageBand.

“I started making music and put it out on the internet, I guess, a year or so in. And then, slowly, people started being interested in listening. ”She released her first album Both in 2018 on her own record label.

Since then she has released three more albums and is now signed to US independent label Jagjaguwar.

Creative spirit

As a model, Wilkins has fronted campaigns for brands including Calvin Klein and Bottega Veneta, and walked for Off-White, Balenciaga and Marc Jacobs. She won praise for her performance in the 2017 supernatural thriller Thelma by Norwegian director Joachim Trier, which marked her acting debut.

Summerton, who is deeply inspired by music, said she was interested in the “transformation that happens when you see someone perform and how that can affect the audience. It’s magical.”

“So Kaya is someone who I had seen perform and photographed many years ago. And she’s a great spirit, a great artist, and it was fantastic to have her embody this fearless, strong creative musician and singer.”

“She’s a great spirit, a great artist…”