Kat Cunning is a Jill of all trades — and a master of all.
The singer-actress-performer-photographer (the list goes on!) is on the rise thanks to her many talents. From concluding her sold-out North American tour with acclaimed singer-songwriter LP to the release of her new single “Stay on the Line” — not to mention her recurring role in the second season of HBO’s The Deuce alongside James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal — Cunning is making her mark in the industry quickly.
Read on for five fun facts about the young Renaissance woman.
1. She got her start as a dancer
“It all started with dance, for me,” she tells PEOPLE. “I was a very, very intense ballerina when I was younger, and I started when I was 3 years old.” Though Cunning thought her pink silky flats would lead her down a road of success, she decided to walk down a different path when she “grew a feminine curvy body [and] realized that the ballet industry, at least as it exists, wasn’t for me.”
“That’s when I started extracting the things I loved about dance and finding them in different art forms,” she continues. “I was in school at Conservatory of Dance at Purchase College in New York. [Then] I started dabbling in spoken word poetry as the very first use of my voice, which, post-graduation, turned into singing.”
After appearing in Company XIV’s burlesque-themed shows Rococo Rouge and Nutcracker Rouge and receiving praise from The New York Times for her sultry voice in the process, Cunning realized it was time to switch gears.
“I got a dance job for one of their shows and I just realized I wasn’t the best dancer. I mean, I was really good, but I wasn’t the best one in the company. So I told them I could sing, and I ended up getting a solo part in the next show,” she says. “Eventually, I was reviewed by The New York Times and they were like, ‘Where’s this girl’s album?'”
“It was pretty much a Cinderella story,” she adds. “I found what I loved so much about dance was music in the first place.”
2. Her sexuality inspires her music
Identifying as a “queer,” Cunning says her music is inspired by both “the personal, as well as the political, for me.”
“A lot of my music is pretty queer because I’m telling my stories and I’m queer, and I really believe in representation for anybody who’s marginalized. Being a queer person, I can’t really help but write true stories about love with female pronouns,” she says. “The themes my music ends up being about are sexuality, religion — as one of those metaphors for sexuality and love — and also heartbreak and love.”
“Usually, sexuality in my music is a metaphor for finding yourself or finding your community,” she adds.
3. Her tenacity was key to making it in the industry
“One of the surefire ways to make it is just to literally not give up,” she says of the hardships she’s had to overcome while breaking into the industry. “It’s really hard to be in New York and to survive as an artist.”
4. She’s a talented photographer
“I’m a photographer and really love shooting portraits,” she says of what she loves to do most in her free time when she’s not binge-watching her favorite television shows. “I feel like it’s the coolest way to take the spotlight off myself and celebrate other people.”
“I changed my house into a studio, where I hang a backdrop and lights and shoot,” she adds. “It’s sometimes headshots, but shooting soul portraits for people who really just want to have a good portrait for who they are in that time of their life is really cathartic for me.”
5. She wants to play the Super Bowl halftime show – with some big names
Cunning hopes to one day be the center of attention for hundreds of millions of eyes taking a break from watching football.
“I wanna sell out a world tour and play the Super Bowl, and I want to invite Justin Timberlake, Florence and the Machine and Rihanna to be on my stage with me,” she says of her dream gig. “My music taste is super-duper eclectic.”
“A part of me wants to collaborate with SZA and Rihanna, and the other part of me knows it would be amazing to share the stage with Florence and the Machine, but then it would also be cool to do a show with Arctic Monkeys,” she adds about her dream collaborations. “I also feel like me and Sam Smith would put on a real amazing show.”