Karen Lee Orzolek
November 22, 1978
Busan, South Korea
New York University
She was born in Busan, South Korea, the daughter of a Korean mother and a Polish father. The family eventually moved to Englewood, New Jersey, where she grew up and graduated from Dwight-Englewood School. About her childhood, she stated that "it's almost embarrassing how well-behaved I was, which is probably why I do things like spit water on myself on stage as an adult". She attended Oberlin College before transferring to New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.
O is best known as the lead vocalist for the band Yeah Yeah Yeahs. She has also been noted for her sense of fashion, wearing ostentatious outfits made by her friend, fashion designer Christian Joy. In the early days of the band, she became well known for her outrageous antics during live shows. Their first ever gig was opening for The White Stripes.
During a tour for the 2003 Livid Festival in Australia, at a sideshow at The Metro in Sydney, O accidentally danced off the stage and was reluctantly taken to a hospital. A few days later, at the Sydney leg of the Livid Festival, she appeared in a wheelchair pushed onstage by Angus Andrew.
In 2007, O was placed at number three on Spinner.com's Women Who Rock Right Now. She began working on a small side project called Native Korean Rock and the Fishnets with fellow NYC musicians in 2008.
In 2009, she contributed backing vocals, screaming animal sounds, and noises to the songs "Gemini Syringes", "I Can Be A Frog", and "Watching the Planets" on The Flaming Lips album Embryonic. In 2011, she contributed vocals on the song "Pinky's Dream" on the David Lynch debut album Crazy Clown Time. In 2012, she collaborated with experimental rock group Swans on the song "Song for a Warrior" on their album The Seer. She also lends vocals to the song "GO!" on Santigold's 2012 album Master of My Make-Believe.
On the collaboration project with N.A.S.A. on The Spirit of Apollo, she appears on the track "Strange Enough", together with Ol' Dirty Bastard and Fatlip. O's vocal approach has been described as "ethereal", and has been described as "yelping" at times. She described her approach:
We still have to grab people by the collar ... We put out a record every three years now; we could easily be forgotten. If you look at a lot of our peers that we came up with, a lot of them have disappeared.
O has also collaborated with James Iha on his second solo LP Look to the Sky in 2012. In 2014, Target used a version of the song Marshmallow World sung by O. On May 5, 2015, a song by Karen O in tribute to Nellie Bly was used as part of a Google doodle commemorating Bly's 151st birthday. The same year, Microsoft approached O to pen a theme song for Square Enix's game Rise of the Tomb Raider, which resulted in the song "I Shall Rise".
O was featured in the track "Cut Me Up" by Har Mar Superstar for the soundtrack to the 2005 horror film House of Wax. For the movie Jackass 2, O collaborated with electronic artist Peaches and Johnny Knoxville to record a track entitled "Backass"; for Jackass 3D, she covered the Roger Alan Wade's "If You're Gonna Be Dumb" under the alternative title of "If You're Gonna Be Dumb, You Gotta Be Tough". In 2007, she also contributed vocals to a version of Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited" for the I'm Not There film soundtrack. At the end of episode 409, "Brothers Cinco", of the Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! she performed a short song. She also has a song titled "Strange Love" on the album "Frankenweenie Unleashed!"
O collaborated with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross on a cover version of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" for the soundtrack to the 2011 film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, for which Reznor and Ross composed the score. In December 2011, it was announced that the song would open the soundtrack album, be released as the opening single, and be available free to all who pre-ordered before the official release date of December 9.
O and Spike Jonze collaborated on a 2005 Adidas commercial, Hello Tomorrow, after Jonze had directed the video for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' 2004 single "Y Control". O composed all songs on the soundtrack of Jonze's film Where the Wild Things Are (with the exception of a cover of the Daniel Johnston song "Worried Shoes") in collaboration with Carter Burwell. She is listed on the soundtrack as "Karen O and the Kids". The song "All Is Love", written by O and Nick Zinner and included in this soundtrack, was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media, a songwriter's award, at the 2010 Grammy Awards.
In 2004, O, using the moniker Marshmellow, directed the music video for "We Fenced Other Gardens with the Bones of Our Own" by the Liars, fronted by her then-boyfriend Angus Andrew. The following year, she directed the "Blessed Evening" video for Foetus with her then-boyfriend Spike Jonze working as cinematographer. In 2006, she directed the Yeah Yeah Yeahs video for "Cheated Hearts".
Under the moniker Kids with Canes, O and her now-husband Barnaby Clay directed the music video for the Tiny Masters of Today song "Hologram World", released in 2008. O also contributed vocals to the song and served as choreographer of the video, in which she appears with Yeah Yeah Yeahs bandmates Nick Zinner and Brian Chase, as well as Mike D from the Beastie Boys, Gibby Haynes from the Butthole Surfers, Russell Simins from the Blues Explosion, and Sam James from The Mooney Suzuki.
On December 10, 2006, a home-recorded album titled KO at Home was leaked via an invite-only BitTorrent tracking site. The album, originally a personal gift to Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio, was discovered inside a suitcase that Sitek had left behind in a New York City apartment. The disc's 14 tracks and scan of the cover (a photograph of O with a poem written by Oscar Wilde on the back side of the photo) quickly spread. News sites broke the story of the leak when Sitek lashed out at the fan who leaked the demos. Eventually, Sitek followed up his comments with an apology letter. In response to the leak, O said that "shit happens", and although she was "a little grossed out", she offered advice on which of the songs she liked the most.
O's debut solo album, Crush Songs, was released on September 9, 2014. It was released on Cult Records via Kobalt Label Services. On February 17, 2015, O released a live album titled Live from Crush Palace, recorded during three shows at Hollywood Forever Cemetery's Masonic Lodge in Los Angeles in September 2014. The album features live renditions of songs from Crush Songs, as well as "Hideaway" from Where the Wild Things Are and "The Moon Song" from Her. On January 11, 2018, O released the song "Yo! My Saint", featuring guest vocals from Michael Kiwanuka, in support of Kenzo's Spring Summer 2018 collection.
|"Hello Tomorrow" (Adidas version)
(with Squeak E. Clean)
|"All Is Love"
(Karen O and the Kids)
|2009||Where the Wild Things Are:|
Motion Picture Soundtrack
(with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross)
|2011||The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo|
(David Lynch featuring Karen O)
|2012||Crazy Clown Time|
|"Let It Grow"
(Maximum Balloon featuring Karen O and Tunde Adebimpe)
|"I Shall Rise" (from Rise of the Tomb Raider)|
|"Yo! My Saint"
(featuring Michael Kiwanuka)
|"Cut Me Up"||2004||Har Mar Superstar||The Handler|
|"Hologram World"||2007||Tiny Masters of Today||Bang Bang Boom Cake|
|"Highway 61 Revisited"||The Million Dollar Bashers||I'm Not There: Original Soundtrack|
|"Strange Enough"||2009||N.A.S.A., Ol' Dirty Bastard, Fatlip||The Spirit of Apollo|
|"Communion"||2010||Maximum Balloon||Maximum Balloon|
|"If You're Gonna Be Dumb, You Gotta Be Tough"||None||Jackass 3D: Music from the Motion Picture|
|"Go!"||2012||Santigold||Master of My Make-Believe|
|"Song for a Warrior"||Swans||The Seer|
|"Strange Love"||None||Frankenweenie Unleashed!|
|"The Moon Song" (studio version duet)||2014||Ezra Koenig||"The Moon Song (Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture Her)" (single)|
|"The Moon Song" (end title credit)||None|
|"Rattlesnakes"||Walter Martin, Nick Zinner||We're All Young Together|
|"Sing 2 Me"||Walter Martin|
|"Living in a Trance"||2017||None||Resistance Radio: The Man in the High Castle Album|
|"Talisa"||Daniele Luppi, Parquet Courts||Milano|
|"The Golden Ones"|
|"Sorrow Is My Name"||None||Vanity of Vanities: A Tribute to Connie Converse|
|2006||GAFFA-Prisen Award for Best Foreign Female Act||Karen O||Nominated|||
|2010||Critics' Choice Movie Award for Best Song||"All Is Love" from Where the Wild Things Are||Nominated|
|2014||Academy Award for Best Original Song||"The Moon Song" from Her||Nominated|
|2015||Grammy Award for Best Song Written for Visual Media||"The Moon Song" from Her||Nominated|
On a wintry evening in late November , Karen O celebrated her 30th birthday by ...
... ethereal vocals over charmingly ramshackle folk-pop arrangements ...
... singer Karen O yelps her mandate over slabs of marbled synths ...