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Actress and singer-songwriter Emily Kinney didn’t expect “Skinny” to be the track off her deeply personal new album, The Supporting Character, that would garner the most attention. She’d assumed it would be “I Went Looking for You,” which she wrote after she attended the 2018 funeral of actor Scott Wilson (who played her father on The Walking Dead). Or, as she notes, “I always think my more love-song-type things will catch on.” But it is in fact the body-image rumination “Skinny” that has elicited the most feedback from fans. “Like, even close friends have reached out specifically about ‘Skinny.’ And it's interesting, because I wasn't anticipating that, actually,” Kinney muses to Yahoo Entertainment/SiriusXM Volume.
On the brutally honest folk-pop ballad, Kinney, also known for her work on Masters of Sex, Conviction, and Ten Days in the Valley, confesses: “I wanna be skinny, let my bones show/Let the world grow while I am shrinking/I wanna be beautiful, I’m constantly in fear.” At point, she even chastises herself, “You’re a smart, pretty catch, quite a winner/If you were just a few pounds thinner.”
Kinney says The Supporting Character, which she wrote while experiencing an “epiphany” following Wilson's death, is told “through the perspective of analyzing different things about my life, through the lens of being an actor — because I do feel my auditioning and my work as an actor has shaped my life in a very specific way. It has influenced the relationships that I have. It's influenced how I process relationships, how I'm able to be present or not present. … And I do feel like so much of my acting career feels very out of control. I find myself at the mercy of the push and pull and the ups and downs of getting a job, or not getting a job. And in a way, I feel like my music is my way of like making myself my own lead — the lead of my album.”
When it comes to disordered eating or distorted body image, a sense of not being in control is often at the crux of the matter, and Kinney points out that in show business, “It also has something to do with your work and your ability to work. … There's not a lot that you can control about whether or not someone picks you [for a role]. And so, I start to think, ‘Well, what can I fix?’ If you go out on several auditions and you don't get them, you think, ‘What can I tweak to be better, to somehow to be more competitive?’ … And being an actor, or being onstage all the time, you can't help but look at yourself. You notice if there's [physical] changes — what you think of as ‘better’ — every single day. I mean, I'm making self-tapes for auditions every day.”
Kinney says it’s all too easy her for to become obsessive and feel like she’s in competition with some idealized version of herself. “I remember when I wrote ‘Skinny,’ the question that I was having in my head was many times coming back to this control thing. Truly, I was weighing myself really often — and if I'd gained a few pounds, it'd ruin my day,” she confesses. “And then I just started to feel like, ‘This is ridiculous.’ One of the lines in that song is ‘let the world grow while I'm shrinking,’ and that's so ridiculous. No, I want to grow as a person. Like, why is [thinness] the measurement of my worth?’
“There are times when I even wonder, ‘Wait — do I want to be skinny? Do I actually care if I'm five pounds thinner? Or have I been brainwashed?’ Unfortunately, it's hard for me sometimes to know if I care that I look prettier or ‘better’ or younger, or if that is just constantly being fed to me,” Kinney continues. “And it's exhausting. I would rather have my goals be something like ‘be better at guitar.’ I feel like that would be more satisfying.”
Kinney notes that that she’s “getting to that place. I feel like most days I've gotten to a place more now where sometimes people will ask themselves, ‘Do you feel like you look good right now?’ — and I'm like, ‘I just feel like I look how I look.’” However, she admits that as an actor who also makes music, she worries about being taken seriously, and she still questions and doubts herself — an “imposter syndrome kind of thing,” which she explores in another standout track on The Supporting Character, “When the Midnight Fireworks Start.”
“I feel like that song is like a prayer of some kind, that I just have to keep staying on my little track of making my songs,” Kinney explains. “Even though I've like written all these songs, I sometimes think, ‘Am I not like a real songwriter, somehow?’ I don't know why I've gotten that in my head. I think there's also a sense for me, just like with my acting, that I'm so at the mercy of people accepting it or not accepting it. I truly just enjoy writing songs, and for a while, I almost wanted to keep it safe from the world — like, ‘This is my thing, and it doesn't matter if people like it or not.’
“Because you always remember [the negative critiques],” Kinney adds with a rueful chuckle. “So many people have said so many amazing, beautiful, kind things about my music, but I remember when I died off on The Walking Dead, [indie music blog] Brooklyn Vegan tweeted the next day, ‘Can AMC also kill off Emily Kinney’s music career?’ And I actually think that's very clever and funny, but obviously here I am, however many years later, and I still remember that! And I'm still I thinking, ‘No, I need Brooklyn Vegan to like me and want to interview me!’ Because for some reason, now I need their approval. Which is ridiculous.”
But as The Supporting Character, the follow-up to 2018’s Oh Jonathan, gets such a positive response, Kinney is feeling more confident about the music side of her career. “Even after Oh Jonathan, I sort of had this moment of like, ‘Well, this is my last album. I gave it my best. I'll have this moment to myself,’” she admits. “But with this album, I am thinking I might not be the most amazing musician ever, I might not be this or that, but I do have a real sense that I'm on to something.”
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The above interview is taken from Emily Kinney’s appearance on the SiriusXM Volume show “Volume West.” Full audio of that conversation is available on the SiriusXM app.