The Latvian singer with a prosthetic limb is the new face of Channel 4’s Born Risky disability initiative.
Disability looks good on Viktoria Modesta. The Latvian singer and model worried her career would be decimated by the leg amputation she underwent at age 20 after more than a dozen surgeries failed to fix damage the limb suffered at birth. Quite the opposite, Modesta’s performance in the new music video Prototype showcases a physicality that is not only inspirational, but aspirational. Modesta is a badass, sexy, futuristic icon; an empowered woman who lives by her own rules and inspires others to do so, too.
Prototype has gotten over 1 million views on YouTube since it was posted December 12. In addition to reshaping how viewers think about disability, the video also channels the modern American zeitgeist of tech as hope, tech as inspiration, tech as boundlessness, tech as the future—concepts whose implications we discuss in depth in our newly released State of the Consumer Report (available to U.S. Yankelovich MONITOR subscribers).
Viktoria Modesta has made a splash as the world’s first “bionic” pop star by hijacking The X Factor final. Channel 4 paid £200,000 to debut a clip from “Prototype”, Viktoria’s iconic new video, in an ad spot aimed at the ITV show’s peak audience of nearly 10 million viewers.
The Latvian songwriter, model and artist, who wears an elaborate range of Alt. Limb Company-designed prosthetic limbs, is an antidote to “homogenised pop” and its “painfully dull and manufactured” stars, according to a Channel 4 statement.
Speaking to Dazed, the 26-year-old artist said:
“I’ve chosen my own fucking way to do things, unapologetically, and I’m hoping people will react the same way. You don’t have to constantly run on this treadmill. You can think outside the box, move country, marry a person you never thought you would, change jobs. Do something your gut is telling you to do. The closer you can live your life to a movie script the more exciting it is.”
The video, part of Channel 4’s Born Risky initiative, smashes the stigma surrounding power and sexuality in people with disabilities. In the striking opening scene, clad in Vivienne Westwood clothing, Viktoria struts elegantly while wearing a knee-high black metal spike. Later in the video an inspired girl watching Viktoria’s superhero cartoon rips off her doll’s leg, before fast-cut scenes of revolution depict a Viktoria Modesta-ruled future.
The powerful clip was directed by music video mastermind Saam Farahmand. “I wanted to create a language for people who think like Viktoria to exist in popular culture,” he explains. “It was very important to create a deliberate collision between (the physical realities of amputation) and the fantasies of sexualisation in pop culture.”
The online reception momentarily shut down X Factor gossip, as Viktoria’s #Modestars (including Lisa Maffia, no less) flooded Twitter with praise.
“It’s absolutely incredible how global the response has been to the video,” Viktoria said. “I’m an independent artist, a one woman show, and to see how much impact the video seems to have is really rewarding as these ideas have been forming for such a long time.”
Although she won’t outright dismiss X Factor, Viktoria – who has turned down multiple audition invites to the programme – is sceptical of the talent show model. “There’s a very big difference between pursuing your dreams from the ground up and just coming to a show and getting into a ready-made record deal,” she says. “I’m sure some people might even argue my collaboration with Channel 4 is somehow like that. They’ll think, ‘Hey, they’re just giving you the same platform’. But the difference is I’ve been doing this for five years.”
Viktoria’s goal has been to integrate marginal voices into the mainstream conversation without courting sympathy or victimisation. It’s something Dazed championed in our 1998 “Fashion-able” cover shoot, in which Alexander McQueen, together with photographer Nick Knight and stylist Katy England, challenged absurd notions of perfection by taking stunning shots of models with different body abilities.
Born in Latvia, which was then part of the USSR, Viktoria had an accident at birth that affected her left leg’s growth. By the time her family moved to England, the 12-year-old had spent years stuck in hospital. “I was like a wild animal from a little town in Latvia,” she says, laughing. “I was so curious. I went through every scene there is to go through. I was a cyberpunk, a goth, a burlesque girl – I did it all. I wanted to understand how fashion, movement and music connect.”
Aged 20, after years working alternative London club nights like Lady Luck and Jodie Harsh’s Circus, she faced up to health and mobility issues and volunteered to take a lower-leg amputation. Since the operation, she says, her struggle to break the music industry has been “a roller-coaster. I’ve met a lot of cowardly attitudes, where people are so scared to put their neck on the line and be like, ‘Oh my God, this is really hot, really sexy, really cool’.”
Her luck should have changed at the London Paralympics, where Viktoria performed as the ‘Snow Queen’ to a billion worldwide viewers during the closing ceremony.
But, she admits, “I got there and just felt like an absolute outsider. I was walking around in this amazing bejewelled outfit, heels, crystal leg, and people are just looking at me like, ‘How are you happy? How are you acting as if you’re sexy?’”
She continues: “When people say, ‘How is she different from some other female artist out there with hardly any clothes on’… Well yeah, that’s exactly the point. I’m human, I’m just like everybody else.”