With her blue-lagoon eyes, dishevelled blonde hair, mystic tattoos and sexy-scruffy air, 24-year-old Paris Jackson seems like one of those archetypal Californian girls you run into at Los Angeles gigs and beaches, her cool, radiant and slightly cosmic aura immediately captivating whoever she meets. On Instagram, she reveals a certain spirituality, thanking the moon amidst a gang of undressed girl- friends while performing a sort of shamanic ceremony. When Numéro spoke to her over Zoom, the sing- er-songwriter, actress and model joked about her Californian clichés. “I thought I was unique and special,” she laughed, “but when I saw the second season of You, on Netflix, where they poke fun at people from LA, I realized I’m a total Californian stereotype!” And, like all hip Californian girls, she comes across as very relaxed and low profile. “Sometimes I go on stage in my pyjamas. I always put comfort before everything, even if I doll myself up for an event and adore punk designers like Matthew Williams from Givenchy and Vivienne Westwood. I particularly like wearing soft, oversize clothes that make me feel I’m wrapped up in a duvet.”
But, behind the image of a well- born, pretty young woman (she came into this world in 1998, in Beverly Hills) whose godmother was Elizabeth Taylor and whose godfather is Macaulay Culkin, there is a depth and a spleen that make her yet more endearing. Being the daughter of a king is not necessarily easy, nor does it automatically guarantee happiness. Paris-Michael Katherine Jackson’s destiny to date has been littered with obstacles and doubts. The “King of Pop,” Michael Jackson fathered her with the nurse Debbie Rowe, who, after the couple divorced, was absent from her life until her adolescence. Brought up by Jackson on his Neverland ranch in Santa Barbara, Paris was protected from the outside world, as though living in an unreal bubble, to the point that, when the family appeared in public, Jackson would mask his children (Paris has two brothers, Prince and Blanket) so that they would avoid media overexposure.
It was only on her father’s death, in 2009, that the world discovered Paris Jackson’s sweet face and moving expression at the very public funeral of one of the greatest stars in the history of music. She was deeply affected by the passing of her idol, when she was just 11 years old. Taken in by her grandmother, she was constantly followed by paparazzi, which led her to suffer from PTSD, aural hallucinations and paranoia – even in the safety of her own home she still saw the flash bulbs pop. She was also the victim of brutal online harassment, all these difficulties so young in life leading to her frequenting both a Utah clinic and Alcoholics Anonymous as an adolescent. After several suicide attempts, she set about rebuilding her life, and, like her father, it was her passion for music that saved her. “I started the guitar at 13, but it was only three years ago that I seriously committed to music. Before that, I already had a creative approach, but of all my passions it’s really songwriting that came to seem essential to me. For me, music is cathartic. If I write a good song, I immediately feel better afterwards. Even if it doesn’t work so well when the song is bad,” she laughs.
In 2020, Jackson, who had already begun successful careers as a model (posing for Calvin Klein and walking the runway for Jean Paul Gaultier) and an actress (appearing in Star, Scream and Gringo, along- side Charlize Theron), released an EP with her then boyfriend under the name of The Soundflowers. After that came an album, Wilted, which was both an artistic and commercial success and revealed her spiritual, melancholic and dreamy timbre – that of an “old soul” – set against authentic and intimate pop, rock and folk melodies. “I don’t consider my- self a singer,” explains Jackson. “I can’t reach the notes of a Mary J Blige or a Whitney Houston. I see myself more as a songwriter and musician.” With modesty and humour, she defines herself on Instagram as a “mediocre Thom Yorke impersonator” – Yorke being the singer from Radiohead.
Among her influences, the British band is right up there, but she also likes heavy metal and the hard-rock singer Alice Cooper, going so far as to miss her high-school prom in favour of a Metallica concert. She confesses to her love for stage diving, and to having had “Mötley” tattooed inside her mouth in homage to the glam-metal band Mötley Crüe – just one of the 50 tattoos she wears, which reference, among others, her father, David Bowie, Prince, John Lennon and Van Halen. “I’m a fan of indie, folk and rock. All the artists I listen to, like the Nashville band Kings of Leon, have changed my life with their songs. I don’t hold any- thing against the music that’s played on the radio, but at home I need to listen to tracks that have a profound effect on my being and transport me.” Jackson is currently working on a new album inspired by 90s grunge, Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana. Moreover, watching her over Zoom, she strangely resembled Frances Bean Cobain, the daughter of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love.
But, even if music is the art form that attracts her most right now, Jackson has not abandoned her other careers. Last year she starred in the series American Horror Stories and in the film Habit, in which she played a lesbian version of Jesus (300,000 Americans signed a petition against the movie, which they considered blasphemous). She’s also just signed a contract as the face of KVD Beauty, a vegan, cruel- ty-free brand that she was attracted to because of its commitment to inclusivity, self-expression and animal wellbeing. “I’ve always spoken out about these subjects. Each time I’ve been involved in a fashion or film project, I showed my activism by talking about the themes that are important to me. I want to use my time and my fame to spotlight what matters to me. And I think that doing something only for money or for glory is a waste. That’s why I adore posing for Stella McCartney, who is fighting for a more ethical and sustainable fashion business as well as for animal rights.”
An ambassador for the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation and the Heal Los Angeles Foundation (which helps the homeless), Jackson has always been an activist. She is proud of her sexuality, having coming out as bisexual in 2018 (she is rumoured to have had a relationship with the model Cara Delevingne) and has no taboos about discussing the highs and lows of her mental health. Like Lady Gaga and Kanye West before her, she has lifted a veil of silence and started a discussion, in particular about depression and self-mutilation. “Questions of mental health are part of my daily life. And I think it will always be a part of who I am and of my music, which is inspired by my life and the things I’ve been through. I can’t see myself not talking about it.” Though her father didn’t get the chance to teach her the moonwalk, that doesn’t stop this rising rock star from aiming for the moon, and from believing in the power of hope. And indeed what could be more natural if you bear the same name as the City of Light, which she considers her second home.
Paris Jackson, The Lost (Republic Records/ Universal), out now.