meet the viral star with a tyler, the creator seal of approval
Nat Puff is known to some as the Vine star and comedian behind near-perfect impressions of Tyler, the Creator and Frank Ocean. To others she's the musician looking to change the narrative around "trans heartbreak" music.
Photography Abdi Ibrahim
Nat Puff is more online than you. The 22-year-old comedian and musician -- who you’re more likely to recognise under her stage name Left at London -- has been at the nucleus of digital culture for the past five years.
First came her reign as a major Vine creator. From 2014 until the site’s untimely death, Puff racked up 13k followers and a reputation for razor-sharp wit, thanks to clips like the meta-relatable meme “Haha, I Do That”.
Puff's feed is a mix of quick-fire one-liners, signal boosting LGBTQ fundraisers and some extremely funny videos. She commands a combined digital audience of around 169,000 avid followers across Twitter and Instagram, platforms on which she shares, well... everything.
"When you start posting on the internet, there is a sense of privacy that leaves," the 22-year-old tells us from her Seattle home. "I was young [when I started] and didn't think of the repercussions. I don't regret doing any of it. I've always wanted to share my story as a trans person in all aspects."
Alongside the bite-sized comedy sketches that initially built her platform, Puff is a musician on the ascent in her own right. 2018 saw her release two EPs under the Left at London moniker, with an album You Are Not Alone Enough on its way this year. But the wider world was first introduced to her artistry via her ‘How To’ videos, pitch-perfect parodies of Frank Ocean and Tyler, the Creator’s musical process. The loving dissections were so accurate that the Tyler instalment even caught the attention of the Flower Boy himself, who retweeted the video, commenting: "THIS LOWKEY SPOT ON".
Your how-to videos parodying Frank Ocean and Tyler, The Creator went viral and even got the Tyler seal of approval. How did they come about?
The first how-to video I actually made was a few months before the Frank Ocean one -- it was how to make a Tay Keith beat. He’s the producer who made the beats for Sicko Mode and Look Alive. I kept hearing his beats on the radio and noticed they were really repetitive so I filmed this video, essentially clowning on him.
In contrast, the Frank Ocean how-to video came from a place of respect. I listened to his music so often that I picked up on the patterns. Plus, because Frank is such a reclusive artist, no one really wants to rag on him -- the market for making fun of Frank Ocean is extremely underserved. So I wanted to do that in a way that poked fun at his musical style but still showed my appreciation for it. I’m not as into Tyler as Frank, so it was a little harder for me to get his style down. To prep I did a marathon listen of all his albums except Flower Boy because I play that a lot anyway -- it’s gorgeous.
Your impressions are pitch perfect; what helps you nail them?
I’m autistic and one of the things about autism is you spend a lot of time observing in order to understand social cues. I’m used to mimicking others in order to seem neurotypical and I’ve gotten really adept at observing things like speech patterns which makes me good at things like impressions and spotting musical motifs. People often paint autism as this horrible thing to have. It it can be tough, but it’s also affected my life in good ways.
Tyler retweeted and commented on your video; what was that like?
I’d just woken up from a nap when I saw the notification so I was very groggy; I thought it was a parody account. Then I yelled for my roommate, who’s a huge Tyler fan and the reason there’s a Flower Boy poster in the hallway, who was like ‘Holy shit!’ A few days later he told me it ruined his image of Tyler as a celebrity because now he has to acknowledge he’s a real person who can interact with other real people.
Who's next on your parody list?
I really want to do one of Mitski... But I'm not sure how she would take it -- I don't want her to unfollow me! The main thing is I want to go about doing the how-to videos in the way I believe have so far: poking fun but not demeaning or degrading their ability to create great art. Except for Tay Keith because his beats are all boring.
Has your own music been given a boost from the exposure?
After the Frank video dropped, I got a DM from this huge celebrity -- I'm not going to name them -- who messaged me saying "I love your music, I found it because of the Frank video, you're super good at lyricism." That shocked me. And then Marco Collins, a Seattle DJ who's legendary in the area -- he basically put on Nirvana -- contacted me, saying he wanted to play my music on KEXP, a local radio station. If you make it onto KEXP you can consider yourself a local legend. So that was incredible.
My streaming numbers also shot up. Recently someone approached me and asked if I'd created the Tyler video. I said "Yeah, but have you listened to my actual music?" He followed me right there and then. Never say I don't hustle!
You're 22 and have been pretty big online since your late teens. What's it like to be so embedded in internet culture?
Sometimes I have manic-esque realisations that I'm popular which gives me a power hungry God complex. I'll leave my room and be like 'I'M A LIVING GOD' but then my roommate will say 'Do your goddamn dishes'. That humbles you. Plus, my girlfriend hasn’t actually watched any of my Vines… she says she’s saving them for a rainy day.
But it is surreal to know my life has affected other people. For example, one of my fans tweeted me recently to say that she got a tattoo of the Transgender Street Legend EP logo. I was just so stunned.
Is it odd to grow up with such a strong digital footprint?
It's odd to see people post videos of me pre-transition underneath videos of me post-transition. I feel so disconnected from who I was at that point. It was a completely different person, with a different face shape, a different life. I was in high school when I made most of those clips. I was thinking about this actually; I tried to remember my mindset when I made the 'Haha, I do that' video and it was like thinking of a past life, so surreal.
I'm always proving myself as a personality with many factors and facets. Social media has allowed me to show those personas. I think, as a trans person, it's often hard for us to see other trans people emanating joy; with my social media presence I want really want to show off my joy.
Are you trying to do a similar thing with your music? Last year's Transgender Street Legend marks your second EP.
With my music, I want to show myself just as a person, not as a trans one. I feel the narrative of trans heartbreak is very overdone. It's a necessary story to tell but too many people are telling that story and when that happens, the narrative becomes 'trans people are sad and lonely'. That's not what I want to convey. So I think it is important to come across as a multi-faceted person, like any other person represents themselves, because if I don't, a lot of trans people are being misrepresented with a one-sided, sorrowful sob story. Our lives are colourful and rich and full of every single thing that makes any person's life great.
What’s next on the agenda for 2019?
I’m working on my new album, which is a break-up album but one that sheds light on our unhealthy coping mechanisms. I’m trying to plan a West Coast tour too. I’m in a weird position because I’ve got a large digital audience nationally and internationally but that doesn’t necessarily translate to Seattle. So I want to tour more. I plan on making more how-to videos but I would really urge people who only know me for my comedy to listen to my music too. You’ll understand where my musical process comes from so much more.
Photography Abdi Ibrahim