Listen to a handful of Karen O songs — whether on her own or with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs — and you’ll swear you seemingly know everything about her. Famous both for her flamboyant onstage persona and her penchant for baring her soul through intimate and uninhibited lyrics, she’s elevated herself from the dank clubs of Manhattan’s Lower East Side to become the epitome of a rock star in every sense.
But while she’s almost personifying a self-created character when she’s a flurry of flailing limbs with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Karen O — known in real life as 35 year-old Karen Orzolek — has also cultivated a solo career that’s seen her contribute a broader swath of material to soundtracks for 2009’s ‘Where the Wild Things Are,’ 2011’s ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ and last year’s ‘Her’ — which also brought her an unexpected Oscar nomination. With the release of her first solo album, ‘Crush Songs,’ which is made up entirely of lo-fi bedroom recordings she made when she was 27, the singer-songwriter makes it clear that she’s an open book — if you know the right places to look. Looking in the right places, we’ve found 17 Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About Karen O:
Born in South Korea to a Polish father and South Korean mother, Karen O and her family moved to the U.S. when she was 2 and settled in suburban New Jersey. Although she would later go onto be known for her outlandish costumes and unpredictable stage presence, she’s said she was “goofy” and that it’s “almost embarrassing” how well-behaved she was.
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She discovered her love of performing in the fifth grade when she led a lip-sync performance of ‘Wild Thing’ at school with her hair slicked back like a boy. “I got up and just went nuts. I went totally crazy. It really freaked out a lot of the teachers and the kids too.”
She took only four guitar lessons when she was 18 and said from that, she’s been able to write hundreds of songs. “You don’t need much,” she said.
She attended the liberal arts-focused Oberlin College & Conservatory in Ohio where she met Yeah Yeah Yeahs drummer Brian Chase. It’s the same school where ‘Girls’ showrunner Lena Dunham matriculated and ‘Girls’ (which O is a fan of) is set in the Brooklyn neighborhood where the Yeah Yeah Yeahs used to romp.
Ilya S. Savenok/Michael Buckner, Getty Images
When she transferred to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, her first job was as a clerk at the famous Kim’s Video & Music on LaGuardia Place.
She met Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner at the now closed Mars Bar in the East Village. They eventually shared a loft with members of Metric.
Her first collaboration with Zinner was a lo-fi acoustic duo called Unitard, which Zinner has called “very ‘Paris, Texas.’”
Matthew Simmons, Getty Images
After the Yeah Yeah Yeahs formed in 2000, their first show was opening for the White Stripes at the Mercury Lounge on the Lower East Side. They played the same venue a decade later (to the day) as a birthday celebration.
The hit single ‘Maps’ from 2003’s ‘Fever to Tell’ was written about her break-up with Liars frontman Angus Andrew and the tears she cries in the video are real. Andrew was supposed to be at the shoot but arrived three hours late. She said, “I didn’t think he was even going to come and this was a song written for him.”
That year, she was approached to be on the cover of Playboy, but turned down the offer. She did, however, later have a plaster cast made of her breasts by artist Cynthia Plaster Caster.
She leant her vocals from ‘Hello Tomorrow’ – a collaboration with producer Squeak E. Clean – to a 2005 Adidas shoe commercial directed by her then-boyfriend, Spike Jonze. They broke up later that year.
In 2006, a home-recorded album called ‘KO at Home’ that was a personal gift to Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio leaked on a BitTorrent site. Sitek lashed out at the fan who leaked the demos but eventually apologized. O said she was “grossed out” by the leak.
Two years later, Karen O and her boyfriend Barnaby Clay (who she would marry in 2011) directed Tiny Masters of Today’s video for ‘Hologram World.’ She also supplied guest vocals, choreographed and appeared in the video along with Zinner, Chase and Beastie Boy Mike D.
Although she and Spike Jonze broke up four years earlier, she says their eventual collaboration on the soundtrack for 2009’s ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ was integral to helping them become friends. “It helped bridge that awkward time in between splitting up and relating to each other on a different level.”
She cried the first time she watched Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’ video, but not because she didn’t like it. “I guess it’s part of some weird repressed Korean nationalism,” she said. “But a lot of my adult life I’ve been waiting for Seoul and Korea to be on the scene culturally, and when I saw that I just felt tickled.”
She recorded the Oscar-nominated ‘The Moon Song’ from Jonze’s 2013 movie, ‘Her,’ in her apartment with Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig. The sirens at the beginning of the song are real.
She says she’s been getting her hair cut by the same New York stylist for the past decade. “His name is Seiji and works at Ruby 6, if you want to take him for a spin,” she said.
Trixie Textor/ Michael Buckner, Getty Images
What obscure facts did we miss about Karen O?
Are you saying, “yeah, yeah, yeah?” Comment and tell us some more things about Karen that would make other fans say, “Oh?”.
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