Sex, love, and electronic music–Ze Rebelle is here.
Ze Rebelle is an electro-pop artist from Kuala Lumpur who throws mainstream notions of passive femininity out the window. She has collaborated with artists like Blaqstarr and Mos Def. She is played by DJs like Laidback Luke and Eddie Halliwell. And she has multiple viral videos, like her Malay cover of Rihanna’s “Work.”
Ze sang about the joys of safe sex and kink in Kongkek Time, where viewers discover how wide a condom can stretch. Sexuality, sex play, and sexual embodiment are themes in Ze’s music. There is nothing radical about playing with condoms and singing about boys she likes—a lot of us do that at dinner parties. But by owning her sexuality in the public eye, she is subverting common notions of what femininity is supposed to look like under the patriarchal gaze.
She used to be the quiet one in school.
“My friends would say, ‘she has a very soft voice,’ but no one would say that about me today,” she laughed.
Ze says she gets her gregarious, “don’t-give-a-shit” attitude from her dad.
“At a dinner party, he’ll be the one up on stage doing his thing, absolutely. Shameless,” she said.
Still, Ze had to overcome shame and low self-esteem to get where she is today. Around age nine, she began to feel like she wasn’t good enough. While her friends were starting to have girlfriends and boyfriends, she felt invisible.
“I started feeling like an ugly duckling because I felt I was darker [skinned]. Now, I write about having self-esteem and confidence. And not caring about what you look like; you should feel it [inside]. That’s where sexiness comes from,” she said.
In 2016, Ze won the VIMA Fashion Award. The accolade followed an instance where she made “Worst Dressed List” at a different awards show.
“[Fashion lets you] express yourself without talking. Like you’re walking artwork. I absolutely dress the way I feel,” she said. “Ze Rebelle is a part of me. There’s no part of Ze that is a made up version that doesn’t exist.”
All the while, Ze understands just how much she has to subvert and just how far she has to stretch her art in order to be recognized. But she has found success in skipping the middle management of the music industry to bring her work directly to the people it’s intended for.
“Facebook videos help people like me who would normally be rejected by radios,” she said. “I found a way to not need [radio] approval and just get straight to the people. Especially when I’m doing something that’s uncensored.”
Art, fashion, destroying industry standards, and setting the patriarchy on fire, Ze Rebelle is a figure for this age.