UC Berkeley alumna Kelsey Ferrell talks going viral on TikTok, music intersecting with comedy

Photo of Kelsey Ferrell
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Kelsey Ferrell reigns over what she’s jokingly christened the “TMI genre.” The recent UC Berkeley graduate goes by Feral — a fitting play on her surname that perfectly captures the unrestrained nature of her brutally honest, often witty lyricism.

Steering clear of lovey-dovey cliches, Ferrell’s 17-song discography is perhaps most boldly marked by her popular song “Fuck the Bourgeoisie.” The track hit 1,000 Spotify plays early this year, and Ferrell shared a celebratory TikTok to promote it in late January.

“It pretty much immediately blew up my phone,” Ferrell recalled in an interview with The Daily Californian. “In a matter of minutes, it had like 1,000 likes and I was like, ‘wow, that’s pretty good.’ And then it just kept going.” Now, her TikTok has accumulated more than 847,000 views.

In “Fuck the Bourgeoisie,” Ferrell unravels the complexities of her past relationship with a billionaire’s son, singing the apt lyric, “Fuck the bourgeoisie/ I mean, I did.”

“At first glance, it’s kind of like, ‘Okay, why is this rich white girl singing about Marxism?’” Ferrell said. “Like, it seems kind of hypocritical.”

Her hardcore heartbreak anthems often incorporate political commentary, and while she acknowledges her “limited perspective” as a heterosexual white woman from a wealthier background, she doesn’t want to understate the importance of exploring her emotions through art.

“The fact that I dated him was this immense privilege, that’s true,” Ferrell said. “But it was also really hard and really painful to be with somebody who will always, always, always get whatever they want … no matter what you do, you’ll never be on that level.”

While Ferrell initially found her breakup “incredibly isolating,” her song has evidently resonated with many others. Not only did “Fuck the Bourgeoisie” jump to more than 170,000 Spotify streams following her viral video, but Ferrell also received many comforting messages from listeners who deeply related to her track. 

“I’m so thankful that people reached out,” she said. “It made me feel so much less alone.”

Ferrell’s songwriting has come a long way — from making up stream-of-consciousness lyrics in preschool to singing to her mom’s Sheryl Crow and Jewel CDs, she began journaling lyrics at age six. “I remember very vividly completely plagiarizing an Avril Lavigne song,” Ferrell laughed.

Ferrell eventually learned how to play guitar, writing her first song with original lyrics and instrumentals in fifth grade. Though she grew self-conscious about songwriting during high school, adjusting to UC Berkeley four years later helped her rediscover passion for music. After a semester of hesitantly glancing at the promotional flyer pinned in her Clark Kerr dorm, she decided to join the musical club Songwriting at Berkeley during second semester freshman year.

“I am so glad I made that decision. It changed my life completely,” Ferrell shared. “I started writing songs again, and I just had the perfect amount of previous experience, like from my younger years, and then current trauma and pain, to coalesce and make really good music.” Recovering from her brutal high school breakup, she channeled energy into composing her 2019 debut album Trauma Portfolio, motivating herself to write more original music by vowing to no longer perform covers.

Throughout her university experience, Ferrell continued to find new artistic avenues to express herself. During her studies abroad at the University of Sussex in England, Ferrell joined a comedy society and prepared for her first open mic. “If it goes badly, I can just leave the country,” Ferrell remembered thinking.

Despite her first-ever case of stage fright, her seven-minute set went well and she found herself falling in love with comedy — now, comedy and music go hand in hand for Ferrell.

“They definitely support one another,” she said. “I do put a lot of jokes in my songs, I’ve talked about being a musician in my comedy sets, so they’re very complementary.”

One of the songs Ferrell wrote during her England studying abroad experience was “Church,” which smartly examines intersections among love, faith and fate by reflecting on a road trip and a night spent in a church. With “Church” released March 26 as her last 2021 release, Ferrell is turning to focus on her job as a barista (“Humanities!” she quipped) and earning her paralegal certificate through UC Berkeley Extension. In the future, she hopes that she can one day move to a big city to pursue music more seriously.

Ferrell feels that, especially following her recent graduation, she’s in a “weird state of flux” where she’s still figuring out who she wants to be.

“I guess it really weirdly takes a lot of bravery to be yourself, and I hope I continue to have that bravery and have that commitment to living honestly,” she said. “That’s kind of the biggest hope that I have for myself — that I don’t lose sight of who I am.”

Taila Lee covers music. Contact her at [email protected].