Nai Palm has no idea who Kat Von D is. When the 28-year-old singer recently asked me for eyeliner recommendations, I rattled off a list that included Kat Von D’s Tattoo Liner along with Shiseido’s Inkstroke Eyeliner, but she didn’t register the name at all. Make Up For Ever didn’t ring any bells either.
“I live in my own little world,” she tells me on the phone as she sits in an airport. “I live in Australia, and I have a parrot, make music, and hang out with my friends. I don’t watch TV. There’s a lot of regular shit that people are exposed to that I am not.” She could have had me fooled. The way Palm draws on rounded liner and spackles her brows with glitter are things of Instagram dreams. The thing is, though, she’s been doing her makeup like that for years.
Despite not knowing the names of some most popular makeup brands (or owning a TV), Palm is fully aware of the Kardashians, and their growing influence on the beauty industry. She isn’t into all of the contouring and highlighting like the KarJenners. However, Palm does appreciate that Kim Kardashian’s affinity for neutral lip colors and Kylie Jenners’s Lip Kits have made matte brown lipstick easier to find. “I’ve always been a matte brown lip girl, and it’s been so hard to find good matte brown lip stuff,” she says. “I’ve been to the M.A.C. Pro showroom and they’re like, ‘you have to do multiple steps.’ Since the whole Kardashian movement, I’ve noticed that it’s a lot more accessible.” Her go-to is from an affordable Australian brand, called Sportsgirl. “It’s just a $10 generic matte brown lip, but for some reason, it’s pretty solid,” she adds.
Nai Palm’s influences, instead, come from everyday women from across the globe. While I chatted with the singer as she made her way to the next stop on her first-ever solo tour, she listed off countries on almost every continent as the inspiration for her makeup. By the time we hang up, she basically gave me a full history lesson on eyeliner, despite referring to herself a makeup “rookie”.
The time Palm has spent in central Australia influenced her signature eyeliner look. From the women who live in the desert, she learned about the wonders of kohl. “Kohl has properties that cool your eyes down,” Palm explains. “It also reduces glare, which is why hockey players wear black lines on their cheeks.” She also tells me that women in Rajasthan put kohl on their babies because they believe that it protects them from negative energies. As a tribute to all this, she paints on liquid liner every day as part of her daily ritual.
Even when Palm isn’t performing solo, as she is now or as the lead singer of future-soul group Hiatus Kaiyote, she still partakes in this daily ritual. Her eyes are always adorned with rounded liner — even when she’s waiting to board an airplane. Sometimes, Palm plays with textures by adding gold leaf and glitter to the mix. “I don’t think it’s necessarily reserved for performance,” she says. “I love that playfulness of how you adorn yourself.”
The way that I adorn myself is an extension of who I am.
The word “adorn” comes up a lot while I talk to Palm. She sees her makeup as an adornment. Not as a way to perfect her skin or cover up an insecurity. Instead, she sees makeup as an art form — just as much as her music. “The way that I adorn myself is an extension of who I am: my sense of spirituality, my sense of playfulness, my sense of curiosity in the world,” she explains. “It’s all throughout my life and the way that I create music, and the way I project myself to people.”
She always does her makeup herself, too. No matter if it’s for a performance, photo shoot, or event like the Grammys (she’s been nominated for two awards, BTW), Palm acts as her own makeup artist. “There’s something about doing it yourself,” she explains. “You know yourself and you know what works for you and who you are.” In the past, Palm notes she has worked with makeup artists, but the experiences weren’t always positive. Often, “They’d just see me as super weird and make me look like a hectic Halloween drag queen,” she says.
Makeup artists aren’t the only ones who get Palm’s look twisted. People often make assumptions about Palm just by looking at her. Upon seeing the tattoos sprinkled all over her body and bold makeup, they decide she’s in a punk band. Her music is completely different from that genre, though. It’s soulful and driven by her voice. When I saw her perform in Brooklyn a couple weeks ago, it was just her on stage with a electric guitar singing love songs that made me believe that love might actually exist. You can also hear her voice on a song from Drake’s latest album, More Life, called “Free Smoke.”
My influences are very vast, and sometimes people don’t necessarily get all the references.
“There are certain artists that would maybe identify [by their genre], like, ‘I’m an R&B singer, so I’m only going to wear hoops, sneakers, and specific brands and be all about one genre and one identity.’ I don’t identify as a one-dimensional person,” she says. “My influences are very vast, and sometimes people don’t necessarily get all the references, so they’re like white, tatted chick — she must be in a punk band.”
Her tattoos, in particular, are often sources of criticism, too. When she was 19, Palm got her first tattoo: a line down the side of her chin. Since getting it done, people have scoffed at her decision, saying, “You’re such a pretty girl. Why would you ruin your face like that?” or even straight-up, “You ruined your life.” To that, she says, “Why do you feel like it’s your responsibility to tell me about my fucking body? Tattoos are like a journal. I think they’re empowering and beautiful. “
Loving yourself is the most rebellious acts that you can do.
To her, her inked line is a representation of beauty. Before getting it, she hand-reared a baby crow before releasing it into the wild. One day, it scratched her chin, and later, she had a dream that she got a tattoo in the same place. “After I lost my mother, it was really powerful for me to look after something else,” she says. “What’s more beautiful than having a powerful experience with a native animal and not having it as a pet? For me, it was really liberating from my own sense of vanity, as well. It was more than an aesthetic thing. It was a deeply emotional and spiritual thing.” Palm also discovered that woman all around the world, including in the Middle East, Algeria, and Papua New Guinea, have tattooed their faces for centuries as a sign of beauty, strength, and feminity. “I want to be a crazy old lady covered in tattoos with pet snakes and stories on my body,” she says. “Loving yourself is the most rebellious acts that you can do.”
You can listen to Nai Palm’s new album Needle Paw now on Spotify.
Now, see what punk fashion looks like around the world: