“Thought your mama taught you better,” sings Queen Sateen in “Karmas Gonna Get Ya”—the newest track from underground pop duo, Sateen, formed alongside her husband Exquisite. Self-described as a “regular hetero married couple,” Sateen and Exquisite have become ringleaders this year in the NYC club circuit, naturally attracting a flurry of online haters who’re clearly jealous of all the incomparable looks they turn nightly.
This is their response—and an effortlessly fabulous one at that.
Featuring Sateen on vocals and Exquisite behind production, “Karmas Gonna Get Ya” is an easy, ambient pop record, sonically imbued with Indian references, like a traditional sitar directly reflecting the chorus’ Hindu-inspired lyrics. “All of the little things you do will end up coming back to you,” she softly sings, nonchalantly warning all those nasty keyboard warriors of what to expect from their actions, without batting a fake eyelash.
The music video, directed by PHI, was inspired by what the couple watched growing up, with aesthetic nods to ’90s art direction and tight choreography that recalls the best of early 2000s MTV. Much like their high-low nightlife looks, which never resemble the previous, Sateen appropriately wears an incredible lineup of fresh talent in this film, looping in rising local brands, like Bror August and Vaquera.
Watch the BULLETT premiere of Sateen’s “Karmas Gonna Get Ya” music video, below:
How did you and Exquisite meet?
I made an OKCupid account looking to connect with other musicians. The profile actually stated, ‘DO NOT MESSAGE ME IF YOU WANT TO DATE OR HOOK UP. MESSAGE ME IF YOU WANT TO COLLABORATE ON MUSIC.’ Exquisite was working as a paralegal on Wall Street at the time. She found my profile while at work one day and messaged me. We met later that day and immediately started our music project.
Where did the name Sateen come from?
The name ‘Sateen’ comes from the tag in one of Exquisite’s old button-up work shirts. The drab olive Geoffrey Beene shirt was staring back at us screaming, ‘100% SATEEN.’ We both gasped—this was our name. The relationship turned romantic about a month. We began sleeping at each others’ places, and spent basically every waking hour together, apart from the time Exquisite was at her day job. The two of us fell deeply in love and got married a little more than a year later.
At what point did you decide to pursue nightlife?
One winter we hibernated and starting to consume a lot of drag-related media: John Waters [and] Divine, Rupaul, Klaus Nomi. After that winter we decided to do drag, but we still hadn’t made the connection between our new image and its obvious affinity toward what was going on in NY nightlife. Rather, we just performed as another NY ‘indie’ band, [but] just as drag queens. Needless to say, the reaction was tepid.
Did you ever leave New York?
In an attempt to test new waters with our drag [and] music, we went to Paris for a month, [where] we had an even harder time. The one exception was a collaboration with Mara Zampariolo, an Italian photographer living in Paris. She shot tons of pictures of us in full drag, in broad day-light, all around the streets of Paris, in the Jardin des Tuileries and even on a rowboat in the Bois de Vincennes. After that, we decided to shoot a video for our song ‘She’s Fancy,’ which entailed driving a ’70s gold Mercedes, which, it was rumored Naomi Campbell had once modeled atop of, to the northern coast of France.
How did you meet nightlife legend Susanne Bartsch?
When we got back to New York, we realized we needed a new way to promote Sateen. We’d heard about nightlife goddess Susanne Bartsch, and while we were in Paris, learned about her weekly party, On Top. We became obsessed with the notion of going, so one of the first things we did that summer was attend the party. There, we encountered not only Susanne, but also club icons Ryan Burke, Domonique Echeverria and Amanda Lepore. Everybody was kind and encouraging, so we started to attend a lot of the parties—pretty much any party with a host we knew the name of. Slowly people started to hire us and we became more well-known to the nightlife underbelly of NYC. We shot another music video, ‘TREAT YASELF,’ and pushed ourselves as not just hosts, but as musicians and performers. By being who we are—a MAAB and FAAB married couple—and being musicians, we’ve carved out a good place here in NY.
Was nightlife a way to build your audience for this new music?
Music has always been our primary medium for creative expression. We both played music since we were young. I’ve been taking technical voice lessons for seven years and Exquisite started playing the saxophone when she was nine. Before Sateen, we both had numerous musical projects, have written many songs and dabbled with different genres. That being said, our strongest inspiration comes from nightlife—its people, its legends, the looks and of course the music. Some of our first songs together were inspired by nightlife and drag culture. Our songs, ‘Give a Look,’ and, ‘Take My Picture,’ are about going out multiple nights a week and turning a new look each time.
Tell me about your sound.
We make infectiously positive, vocal-centric pop music with empowering lyrics that you want to dance to. Some songs are more pop, some are more of a traditional disco moment. We are heavily influenced by the great ’90s house divas Cece Peniston and Crystal Waters, but we also love Céline Dion and Mariah Carey with a passion. All genres and eras of music inspire us, [but] we strive to make pop music first and foremost.
What’s the collaborative process like between you and Exquisite?
Exquisite makes all our tracks, produces and mixes all our music and I do everything on the vocal end. It’s a completely in-house operation. She makes tracks and works on new stuff all of the time. Sometimes I will hear something she’s made and will immediately have an inspiration for the hook or lyrics, and the whole song pours out organically. But a lot of the time, we sit and work out the track together and slowly carve the intention of a song out. The lyrics and melodies are really created 50/50.
What inspired your single, “Karmas Gonna Get Ya?”
‘Karmas Gonna Get Ya’ is our reaction to haters on social media. People feel the freedom to say things that are too awful and hurtful to ever say to someones face, because they are typing to a screen. They forget there is a human on the receiving end of that comment reading what you said and internalizing it. The song is our response to every nasty comment or message we’ve received, and we hope people can just send this song to a hater, instead of being nasty back. Sonically we wanted to experiment with world music elements and the Sitar seemed to fit well with the idea of Karma. I’ve also been a big fan of Bollywood film and music for a long time. I love Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle and wanted to sing like them.
Who directed the music video?
Michael Intile and Katie Hickman of PHI directed the video. Being children of the ’90s, we fixated on early Destiny’s Child, TLC and X-Tina videos where they’re singing and dancing in very futuristic, nondescript places. We wanted to create sets that felt like you were in a chic spaceship designed by Philippe Starck, but obviously on a much tighter budget. We also wanted to incorporate choreography like many early 2000s videos. Our last video was girly and fun, and the looks were very Lizzie McGuire—pink cheetah print, rhinestones and patchwork denim. We’re serious about our music and wanted the video and song to reflect that. Drag is part of what we do, it’s not the whole, so we wanted a more minimal, sophisticated look. There is really no narrative and that’s intentional. It’s about beauty, color, outfits and movement.
I see some amazing young designers in the video—tell me about the fashion direction.
I think we had 10 or so different looks, and that’s what we had time to film in two days. We couldn’t have done any of it without our stylist Heather Dunphy and hair artist Sean Michael Bennet. It was our first time ever working with a stylist and it was important for us to serve many different looks, because that’s the one thing people who follow us have come to expect. When I watch pop music videos with very high budgets I’m always disappointed when there’s only one or two looks. We’re wearing some of our favorite new designers, [like] Vaquera and Bror August. I think designers are the new Buzz Bands, [just] now it’s Buzz Brands. But you always see these amazing, gorgeous clothes on beautiful Nodels with glossy cheeks and no mascara, so I wanted to re-contextualize them our way: Full glam.
Tell me about your forthcoming EP.
Our upcoming EP, Blacklisted, will be out this October, on Halloween, and [it’s] our first official release of a body of work. Like everything else we do, it will be completely self-produced and self-released. We may seem glamorous from afar, but this is a very homespun operation—we turned an old coat closet in our house into a vocal booth. The album is a collection of our most recent work, and we didn’t try to color with the same box of sonic crayons throughout the EP. Sateen is really a lifestyle—it’s about opening your mind, loving yourself, being strong and sexy, and dancing the night away.