Curtis Waters talks being in a world of his own design

Curtis Waters
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Curtis Waters could hold his own as an animated character. With the casually curated look of a ringer T-shirt paired with delicate heart-shaped dangle earrings, Waters has stepped into the music industry ready to create his own universe. His first album Pity Party was released Oct. 9, and invites listeners into that very eclectic, exploratory universe. 

Waters, the musical stage name of 20-year-old Abhinav Bastakoti, hit the ground running with a debut hit single “Stunnin’,” which found internet acclaim largely on the social media platform TikTok. The viral reception of “Stunnin’” originally floored Bastakoti, not only because the track now sits with 145 million Spotify streams and has gained the attention of celebrities such as Rick Astley and Debbie Ryan, but also because the song exceeded his intentions.

“It’s so much bigger than I ever envisioned it. The original plan was, ‘Hey, I’m in my room and I’m making a dumb joke song for me and my friend Harm (Franklin) to laugh at and cheer ourselves up right?’ ” Bastakoti said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “I talked to my therapist and he was like, ‘I heard your song.’ And I was like, ‘How do you know I make music? Like, how do you know all this?’ It’s crazy.” 

While TikTok welcomed Bastakoti with open arms and a ready, well-deserved fanbase, the artist is now taking a slight step back from the cyber community. 

“People are really supportive, but I kind of stopped going on TikTok. I’ve been minimizing my social media presence,” Bastakoti said. “TikTok is cool, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t scary, man. There’s so many people commenting, and people are commenting crazy mean s— all the time. … The internet is such a double-edged sword. You really have to, like, swallow your pride and be brave to put yourself out there.” 

As “Stunnin’” started out as a gag, with Bastakoti himself calling the track an “anomaly,” it’s not surprising that his other discography takes a drastic turn in a different direction. Instead, he views his songwriting process more seriously to respect his more personal, honest lyrics as a “cathartic thing.” 

That catharsis is found in the deep-set emotional lyrics throughout the album’s entirety. Bastakoti speaks to his experience as a Nepal-born immigrant, fighting depression and witnessing structural oppression. In an especially poignant moment in “System,” Bastakoti takes on an aggressive tone as he sings “To them we’re all just machines/ In the American Dream/ They say they just want peace/ But then they leave us to bleed,” in response to domestic police brutality. 

With Pity Party, Bastakoti ventures into a genre-bending project of his own design, paired with music videos of his own conceptualization that equally parallel his ownership of the Curtis Waters world. The video for “Shoe Laces” took inspiration from all corners of the internet, as Bastakoti drew from the children’s television show “Blue’s Clues” to viral video “Don’t Hug me I’m Scared,” which amalgamated in an imaginative technicolor world that contrasted with certain lyrics about growing pains and inner emotional turbulence. 

Although Bastakoti was originally deterred from working with a label on Pity Party, he’s now welcoming the opportunities that come with his partnership with BMG, one that allows him full control over his material. 

“I’m not working at Tropical Smoothie and doing schoolwork and trying to balance (music). I have the time to pick up stuff and learn stuff and keep moving forward,” Bastakoti said. 

With extra time afforded to honing in on producing music, paired with time away from social media, Bastakoti has fully embraced experimentation. Most of his days are now spent in his room in his mother’s North Carolina home, petting his cat and eating microwaved food — quite the contrast to the online persona of Curtis Waters seen in his zany music videos.

“The only time I know I released an album or that I’m Curtis Waters is if I log on Instagram and I see, like, thousands of DMs. But I’m still at my house,” Bastakoti said. “There’s a weird disconnect.” 

Despite the conflict between internal personality and external presentation, especially on the internet, Bastakoti has been grounding himself in producing massive amounts of music during this time. 

“Right now I’m kind of just making everything. And hopefully, eventually it’ll start to form. I’m really enjoying the vision right now as well,” Bastakoti said. “I couldn’t tell you which direction I’m going.”

Bastakoti described his current fascination with exploration, citing inspirations from 100 gecs to Phoebe Bridgers. Without doubt, Pity Party spoke to Bastakoti’s immense range as an artist, songwriter, producer and creative. However, he refuses to sit on the accolades from the album and “Stunnin’,” wishing to continue the upward projection. 

“I have to catch up a little bit, because I’m now like, ‘Oh, my God, everybody’s looking at me.’ I want to make sure I do my best,” Bastakoti said. “So that’s why I’m here everyday learning all these instruments, making so many songs.”

Contact Francesca Hodges at [email protected]. Tweet her at @fh0dges.