"I wrote the song 'My Vag' on GarageBand when I was 19, but I've been rapping since 13—it was always just something that I did. Hip-hop has always been a channel for me. It's for an angry teenager like me, who felt very othered in my life. It’s expressive and I think it gives you a bit more room to tell a story. I was working at a publishing house as a publicity assistant when a guy found my video and introduced me to Judy McGrath at Astronauts Wanted. I had this idea for a talk show, Tawk, where I interview up-and-coming internet people that are going to be running the industry and you can stream the show online. After that, I got on MTV's Girl Code, and then Neighbors 2, and then the upcoming Oceans 8. That was the most insane LSD trip ever. [Laughs] I still feel like someday someone is going to wake up, and I'll still be at CVS working the checkout counter.
The name 'Awkwafina' definitely [refers to] a person I repressed. She's the girl who's high on sleepover energy, running around and dunking ice cream cones in her eyes. College was like prison reform where I learned to be quiet and more passive—so when Awkwafina comes out on stage, she's that crazy high school kid that doesn’t really care about anything. It's an extra burst of confidence that Nora [Lum] doesn't have. Although, when I was starting to perform in front of mass amounts of people, I thought I looked like shit. I think someone was like, ‘Why you look like you just roll out of bed Awkwafina?’ and I was like, ‘Why you heckling me?’ It was very awkward. Funny story—for one of my first shows I had my DJ and my hypeman—who are both guys—come with me to CVS and put makeup on me. I used drugstore products and I actually looked crazy. Like an Atlantic City hooker. It was great.
I don’t mean to brag, but I’m a Sephora VIB now, so I’m a Very Important Bitch. My problem is dry skin. So, on Ocean’s 8 the makeup artist introduced me to Clarins. So, I use Clarins Multi-Active Day Cream and I use a Sisley Black Rose Precious Face Oil. It’s incredibly expensive, so I’ve been using the sample. But on set when my skin would get dry they would use that on me and it can sit on foundation. I like the Make Up For Ever Ultra HD Foundation, it’s lightweight. I use a sponge, too. Beautyblenders are so expensive, but then I walked into Forever 21 and they were selling them for two dollars each and I bought 50 of them. Now I can’t tell which is the fake one and which is the real one.
Everytime I wing my eyes, they look like fraternal twins. They each look great, but they’re different. Liquid eyeliner is horrifying—it’s just like Russian roulette, where it can be lit or just horrible and you need to start the whole thing over again. On set they taught me how to use the gel pots. They used Shu Uemura, but I use the Clinique ones. They’re the best. I apply it with a brush—but the thing is I don’t know how to clean brushes.
My boyfriend used to work at a barber shop called Persons of Interest and another barber told me about the no-poo wave. As a habit I just copied my boyfriend, who had a sulfate-free conditioner, but after a couple of months I just couldn't do it anymore. I needed shampoo. I remember when I was young I used Herbal Essences and I loved that smell, that brings me back. Now I use Bumble and bumble Hairdresser's Oil Shampoo, which is funny, because they’re totally against shampoo. I use the Texturizing Spray which does nothing to my hair but I love the way it smells. I love the brand even though it's way too expensive. So I put it everywhere, I put it in my mouth. I love Living Proof Perfect Hair Day Dry Shampoo, too. That stuff is so good! I normally just shower and then spray my hair with the living proof and go about my day. I recently learned how to blow dry my hair, too—I used to just stand there for an hour holding it. I bought a Babyliss which I thought was called a Baby Bliss. But now everyone is using the vacuum thing—the Dyson. I bought the wrong one. But, you know what’s another good technique, is just putting your hair up in a bun and leaving it like that for days. Then when it comes out it’s like, perm who?
When I did Neighbors 2 with Chloe Moretz I'd ask her what perfume she wore because she smelled so good, and she was like, ‘Le Labo.’ I thought it was 'Le Bonham' so I was Googling this product but couldn't find it. One day I chased her and was like, ‘What is it!?’ And she was like, ‘Santal,’ and I though she said sandal. I kept Googling until I found someone who had the candle and brought me to the store. Every goddamn store smells like that fucking thing. It’s like propaganda! It’s everywhere. It’s like a meme now, because everyone has it. Two years ago it was lit, but not anymore. I ran out. I recently got the Oribe fragrance but it comes on very strong. And I was on the subway the other day and a guy was like, ‘I gotta move.’ I was very sad. That was an awkward moment."
—as told to ITG