Slut Island frontwoman Kate Hollowell became obsessed with group cycling classes roughly six years ago. Once a BMX rider, Hollowell thought the studio would be a fun way to exercise, but it wasn’t long before her classes took a strange and distracting turn. “People would look at the instructors as if they were like a priest,” Hollowell said. “… Again, everyone can have their own belief, but I just think it starts getting a little murky.”
Performing under the alias Number One Popstar, Hollowell took on the modern fitness movement through a satirical lens with the visual for “I Hate Running.” Hollowell isn’t a cult leader, though she might be just a bit too convincing otherwise in a video designed with irony in mind; Hollowell brought forth a new persona in the form of a healthy living cult leader — complete with a bubbly, luring personality, a nicotine addiction and a self-help book.
“The music video was inspired by just watching cult docs during quarantine,” Hollowell told EUPHORIA. “I got super into them. It’s kind of funny, if I’m this anti-workout cult leader that is just doing really bad — it’s like, I’m really transparently bad, right? I’m smoking cigarettes. I just am evil, right? But people are still kind of falling for it… No one sets out to join a cult. And then one day, you’re like, ‘Wait, I’m in a cult.’”
Now, Hollowell has taken the story of “I Hate Running” one step further with an infomercial, selling the prized book of Number One Popstar’s cult-ish persona. The late-night ad spot features a smoking Hollowell in an oversized suit with a wrinkled backdrop, tied with the bow of a grainy overlay to bring the ’80s picture into total fruition.
The track, once inspired by a vintage t-shirt, speaks to the anti-workout movement while simultaneously making you want to strap on your white Richard Simmons fitness sneaks. It’s all a game of reverse psychology, really; Hollowell’s lyrics whisper the sweet nothings of a life without running, while the cover of Number One Popstar’s required text, “Work On Yourself, Loser!” points in another direction entirely.
Where the song has a defined message, the accompanying visual thrives on entertaining contradictions. “The song ‘I Hate Running’ has absolutely nothing to do with cults, but I felt like it was a cool opportunity to kind of work that into the narrative,” Hollowell said.
Though watching and listening to “I Hate Running” takes on a humorous relatability, it reflects a larger problem: the endless road to self-improvement. Diet and fitness culture can perpetuate the notion that one should always shoot for the next goal, but where does the cycle end?
“It’s all about working on yourself, and it’s this kind of perpetual thing that you’re constantly working on yourself and you can never get to this ideal version,” Hollowell said. “And you look at these other people, and you’re like, ‘Oh, they’ve got it figured out.’ But they’re usually worse than you.”
Sonically, “I Hate Running” is packaged with a tone that reflects its nostalgic roots. First came the chord progression, which gives the songs its electric, upbeat ’80s moment, and last came the guitar solo that pulls the track together as a bridge. It’s a throwback, undoubtedly, but its accompanying storyline brings modernity to the sound.
So, what better time to release a song with this many layers than in January? When New Year’s resolutions become widespread, the self-improvement goals begin — and that’s OK. Hollowell explained that “I Hate Running” doesn’t spread the message that exercising is bad but, rather, tells the listener to take the pressure off.
“That’s a song where it weirdly makes me want to work out; it really makes me want to dance because it just has that natural, upbeat vibe,” Hollowell said. “I thought it was a cool song to motivate people and be like, ‘It’s OK to hate working out. Just have fun with it, and it doesn’t have to be that serious.’”
Though the narrative surrounding the track thrives on its subtle complexity, “I Hate Running” came rather naturally to Hollowell. After locking down the verse of the song, Hollowell listened on loop; the lyrics that followed are among the song’s catchiest. “Push it girls / do your best / put your fitness to the test,” feels like a line you would hear in an at-home workout video during the pandemic, and that authenticity makes it one of the song’s best moments.
“It was almost like I got taken over by a crazed ’80s instructor like Suzanne Somers,” Hollowell said. “I channeled her and I was like, ‘OK, I need to say this in the song.’ And I was like, ‘Is this weird that I’m not really singing? I’m just going to basically be giving workout instructions.’ And honestly, it’s my favorite part of the song. When do you hear songs where they’re literally giving you workout instructions and telling you you’re going to die? That’s what we need is honesty.”
And it’s that honesty — sometimes at its darkest — that makes Number One Popstar a standout. Now with a second single under her belt, it’s time for Hollowell to look toward the future of this fun, sometimes-over-the-top project that mixes a fascinating blend of realism and irony.
It’s a project that began in quarantine, but Hollowell (and Number One Popstar) are here to stay. As far as goals go, resolutions if you will, Hollowell has just one for Number One Popstar: “To be number one.”