Rhea Raj isn’t one to be fucked with.
When it comes to romantic entanglements, the unfortunate reality is that even the baddest of bitches sometimes get shafted. In Rhea’s world, though, this doesn’t happen to her or anyone else, so if you need a rallying cry to get you going, it’s going to have to be her new song “Venom.”
Co-written with friend Raquel Castro, “Venom” is, literally and symbolically, about reclaiming your power after cutting ties with those subpar suitors while finding strength in your femininity and sexual energy. Deeply influenced by her South Asian roots, Rhea has always put her heritage front and center, whether it be through dance or music, and in the Hector Toro-directed video for “Venom,” she executes both with astonishing power through movement that simultaneously feels sensual and dangerous.
Needless to say, we had to find out more about the artist and making of “Venom.” So watch your step and check out the video before reading our Q&A with Rhea below.
Lyrically, what is the story behind “Venom”?
“Seducing the serpent, I bite when I’m hurting,” is one of my favorite lines from “Venom.” I wrote this song with my friend Raquel Castro about regaining power after ending a toxic relationship. It’s a warning to past and future lovers that if you fuck with me, I will bite. Snakes are so captivating to me and they hold a lot of spiritual significance in India. They also symbolize femininity and sexual energy. “Venom” is about embracing that side of me and feeling fierce in my skin as a Brown woman.
Do you have a background in dance? How does that inform the way you approach music?
I started dancing when I was two. My mom taught classical Indian, Bollywood and belly dance for more than 10 years, so it was the first form of art I fell in love with. In her classes, she would play songs from around the world and I always connected to the music through movement. When I make music now, I’m driven by drums and melodies. Anything I write or produce has to make me move and want to perform. I love dancing in my stilettos the most, but I’m always learning new styles. It gives me this surreal feeling of being present and out of body at once.
What was it like creating this music video? It’s just you alone, so how did you go about commanding the camera’s attention?
I’ve been wanting to release a full dance video for a long time and “Venom” had to be the first. I reached out to Shirlene Quigley, an incredible dancer and choreographer who I’ve taken classes with in the past. She loved the song and created a beautiful piece for this video. It was a dream to work with her and she made me feel confident on camera. Because the focus is centered on me the whole time, she made sure my performance was captivating. My friend Hector Toro killed it behind the camera and helped bring my vision to life. I wanted to recreate how it feels when a snake is about to attack, but in heels.
How much of your work is about embracing tradition and how much is rejecting it?
My parents are Indian and Sri Lankan immigrants. I’ve learned so much from them about my heritage and spent a lot of time in South Asia growing up. I’ve been met with some criticism, but I’ve never felt the need to censor myself through my music or style. There’s also many misconceptions about Indian culture. It’s a country that has long celebrated art, music, sexuality and femininity. These are all things that are important to me and my motherland. I’ve read the Kama Sutra and studied traditional dance. To me, it’s about embracing many of those beautiful traditions and being a bad bitch. I don’t believe those have to be mutually exclusive.
How is this release reflective of the music you have coming out?
The project I’m working on right now is pop with a darker sound and influences from my background. I grew up listening to a lot of Indian and Arabic music, and those sounds are present in different ways. “Venom” is out now and I have singles lined up for early 2022 that I’m really excited about. I want my first album to make a statement, so I’m not rushing it. But I’ve finished a few songs that will definitely be there.
Artwork courtesy of Rhea Raj
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