q&a with siena chanel
we talk about introversion, creativity, sex ed, and more.
Hi you guys! Welcome to another edition of hey howie. This week, I’m sharing a lil’ convo between myself and the amazing Siena Chanel. ICYMI, Siena is a badass with many talents: She’s a singer, song-writer, artist, killer athlete, political activist, fashion-icon and, more recently, a TikTok star who’s known for creating viral Harry Styles-inspired outfits. In this interview we talk about allll the things, including Siena’s Harry Styles obsession, her song-writing process, introversion, and the challenge of ‘liking things’ in a patriarchal world.
I’m hoping to feature a conversation with at least one cool person like Siena each month, so let me know if you enjoy this one. Read below for our Q&A and, as always, thank you again for subscribing.
a q&a with siena chanel
Your passions are all very different from one another. You have your music, your social media, your Harry Styles fashion, you’re great on camera, you really do it all. Does your creative mindset change depending on which medium you’re working with?
I feel like I’m in a similar mindset for everything I do. Before TikTok, I always dressed kind of crazy anyway, and this was something my friends and family noticed. My fashion has always been an extension of myself. Fashion always felt like how I expressed my creativity to the world, because only the people who knew me listened to my music, saw my drawings, or whatever. I’ve just always felt like clothes were a way of expressing myself, and it turns out that was the thing on TikTok that people really wanted to see. My first viral TikTok was me recreating Harry Styles outfits, and if you knew me, you’d know that my closet for my whole life has been based on things that he wears.
I get the sense that you’re never bored. For example, I’m not creative in the same way that you are, but I have lots of ideas all the time. If I have downtime or I’ve finished my full-time work, there’s always a project that I want to work on for fun, like this newsletter, reading, all that good stuff. Do you get bored? And if you do, what’s your go-to activity?
I’m the same as you. You got it spot on, like I literally never get bored. I was thinking about this recently, because I’m a very introverted person. Not in an obvious way, but I really like my alone time. My roommate didn’t know this about me until we started living together. We’re both equally friendly and outgoing, but he’s the most extroverted person I’ve ever met in my life, always trying to talk to someone or be around people. It took a week for him to realize that I’m not like that, and that I’m not trying to be anti-social, I just need time to sit alone in my room. What’s really interesting to me is that last week he was wandering around the apartment saying, I’m so bored right now. I don’t know what to do! I was like, how do you not know what to do? I haven’t felt that way in so long. There’s always a million things that I want to do.
It’s so interesting that you talk about being introverted, because it’s true, I’ve never gotten the impression that you’re super loud or outgoing when we’ve talked IRL. I feel like that’s why I’ve always liked you, because I don’t like being the center of attention either, really. When I’m given my alone time, that’s when I create stuff and share it. That’s me showing my extroverted side, and I feel like you’re the same way. So that said, how does your online self differ from your in-person self?
I’m going to go on a tangent here. When I was in seventh or eighth grade, one of my teachers noticed that I was quiet and he gave me a book called Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. At the time, I was offended that he gave me this book. I was like, he’s telling me that I’m quiet? But after I read the book, I realized he actually knew me super well, and this book completely changed my perspective of myself. It basically talks about how the primary difference between introverts and extroverts is where you get your energy from. Do you need to recharge alone after you’ve hung out with a large group of people? Or do you feel more energized after you’re around a ton of people?
That’s where my roommate and I differ. When he’s alone, he acts more tired or sleepy or whatever. When I come back from hanging out with my friends, even though I love them, I need rest. The book also talks about how introverts, because they want to be alone a lot, box themselves into this idea of being shy. But once you see outside of that, you will see a lot of true introverts come across as very social or outgoing with other people. They just need to recharge while being alone. I think after reading that I started embracing those parts of me that are more outgoing and really bold, and it also explained why I’m always doing something. I think that’s why I find my most notable creations are made alone, and then I share them with people.
Let’s touch on something we’ve briefly discussed before: How our culture shames people for liking things that are popular predominantly among young women. Like, if an artist, movie, social media personality, etc., has a following of young girls, our culture automatically labels that “thing” as futile, stupid, or ignorant. I feel like you reclaim this narrative with your work. What are your thoughts on having cultural obsessions? What about the way our society treats — and I realize this is a super binary statement — “girl hobbies”?
I’m glad that people are starting to talk about this. I remember there was this TikTok circulating that was like: what is one thing a girl can like without being made fun of for it? Everyone was like, literally nothing! Being obsessed with a boy band is a very good example. I think part of why I was so unashamed for liking One Direction is because my family never talked down to me when I would talk about it. Especially because my dad was obsessed with The Beatles back in the day. He still listens to them all the time, and I know every single Beatles song because of him. It’s just interesting, because now, liking the Beatles is so normal, but back in the day their audience was largely girls.
I think their perception has been malleable with time because they played instruments, so people can look back on them as a rock band. I don’t know if One Direction will be granted that same future vision, since only Niall really plays an instrument. But to answer your question, I’ve always looked at it as the way that some guys are obsessed with pro sports is the same way that I’m obsessed with One Direction. They know details about their lives, their families, they pay attention to all the team drama, they interact with other fans on the internet. I’ve always found it funny that people don’t see the parallels between those two things.
I read this book Where the Girls are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media, and it talks about how another reason we associate girl-related interests with stupidity is because our culture is so fearful of non-male sexuality. Even with The Beatles, for example, girls would literally faint at their concerts from being, like, overwhelmed with emotions. (AKA being horny for them, hah.) And then there was this mass hysteria around female horniness, and the way to put women down for these expressions of sexuality was by categorizing the interests themselves as stupid.
All that said, tell me more about *your* obsession. What does your love Harry Styles look like? Are you looking at Pinterest boards? Watching interviews and performances on YouTube? How do you go from liking one of his outfits to making a TikTok about it?
I use Pinterest a lot, which is nice because every time a new photo of Harry surfaces, I can find it there. Obviously he’s not touring anymore. He used to wear a new suit every single time, so there’s a lot of content to draw from. The Harry Styles outfit videos first came to mind, because back in the day when One Direction was still together, Harry went from making pretty questionable fashion choices to slowly getting himself together. While he was doing that, I was doing the same things. I was a child, but I would still just model my fashion choices off of the ones he was making. Like, I remember he went through an all-black phase, so I also went through an all-black phase. That’s why I own so many clothes that are similar to his.
Is your ultimate aspiration a singing career? Your voice is amazing and I love your music. You’re a songwriter! How much of your time goes into getting music to be your main ~source of life~?
I’m always hesitant to say that’s my life goal, because I feel like it’s so unrealistic. Ideally, that is what I would love to do. It’s the thing I spend the most time on, but it’s what the world sees less of because I’m so afraid of putting stuff out there all the time. But I’m always writing music. I feel like it’s something that comes really naturally to me. Whenever I’m feeling some sort of way, which is all the time, I go to my guitar or piano and write a song about it. Over the past two and a half years, I have written 218 songs.
I really want to make an EP. I’m having an old high school friend who’s managing another artist manage me as well, just because I don’t think I can manage myself in this respect. There are so many songs out of the 200 that I’m emotionally attached to. I need someone to tell me which ones are good and that I need to record. Every time I try to make a list that’s more than 10 songs, I can’t choose. I need somebody else to do it for me, which is quite the job.
Tell me about your sex book (@the.sexbook)! Explain what it is, and what inspired you to create this resource in the first place.
So I went to two different high schools, and the first high school I went to in London had a pretty good sex ed program. Then when we moved to the U.S., and once my brother got to high school, I started to watch and read what they were giving to my brother in terms of sex ed. I was like, what is this? I thought, this cannot be what other people are seeing. I asked my other friends in America how their sex ed programs were, and they were like you’re right, this is not what other people are seeing. They’re seeing much worse!
I’ve always been interested in sex ed for some reason. I didn’t do anything about it, though, until quarantine. I contacted my old school, I set up meetings with them, I tried joining forces with a club at the school that I knew would be interested in making a change. The thing I realized from this, though, is that because public schools have to teach state-mandated programs, I’d have to take up this sex education issue with the actual state department of educations themselves. That seemed like a huge hurdle. I thought the best thing was to not even go through the schools, because that’s so taxing, but instead to just create something independently.
We set The Sexbook up like a textbook so that you can navigate through all of the topics with ease. The book’s information is supposed to be everything that you should’ve learned in your high school sex ed class. Our website is coming soon…
Other things on my mind this week.
Self Plug: I interviewed Keke Palmer! You can read the article here.
Ale and I watched Sound of Metal. It was bleak, but good. Would recommend watching if you’re in the mood for melancholy.
Thanks for the buzz on this tweet.
Loved this Byrdie article featuring some of my favs called “This Is Our Asian American Experience.” Please read read read.