Leo Bellamy

The Intersection of Music & Modeling: The Natalie Nootenboom Story

From Teen Vogue to Vogue and Selena Gomez to Guns N’ Roses, this is the reality of a dream chaser, lover of serendipitous moments, and family-centric artist.

Trailblazing model Natalie Nootenboom is expanding her career. Nootenboom, a role model for the LGBTQ+ community, broke barriers as the first plus size (or curve) model to walk for Anna Sui. Now, she is embracing her life-long love of rock music. This past Friday, Nootenboom dropped a sultry music video featuring her powerful vocals for the Guns N’ Roses song, “Rocket Queen.” 

The video, like the song, exudes sexuality and, like Nootenboom, genuine self-expression and freedom. The Bergen County native is all about the power of being real to your true self, an encouraging message to the LGBTQ+ community. Nootenboom, who identifies as queer, is a beacon of hope, showing that there are no limits to achieving dreams. 

Nootenboom has always loved rock and metal, but also comes from an artistic lineage. Her uncle, Steve Aoki, is a prominent DJ and record producer who has imparted valuable knowledge and advice. Nootenboom’s sister, Yumi Nu, is also an LGBTQ+ model who made history by becoming the first plus-size Asian American model in Sports Illustrated.

Natalie Nootenboom’s undeniable skills on the mic are tantalizing. She promises to release more music soon, as she shared in the following discussion, and we cannot wait.

You dropped the “Rocket Queen” video on February 10. However, you initially had second thoughts about releasing it?

There were times when I almost didn’t release “Rocket Queen” because I thought, “This isn’t me, this is a persona.” Then I realized there’s nothing wrong with having a persona because my personas are a part of me. Music is one of the ways we can try on different energies and perspectives in a fun, non-serious manner. I originally recorded a dirty version of this song with my friends. We parked in an area in my neighborhood and jokingly started moaning into my phone. Listening back to it, I couldn’t take it seriously. It was satire. The moans in the studio thing worked for Guns N’ Roses because they were recording a moment that authentically represented their lifestyle. It was real as it could be. It wasn’t reflective of mine. It reminded me of when I was recording the vocals and I originally tried emulating Axl’s voice. Then I realized that, one, this was my cover and it had to come from my perspective, and ,two, there’s no copying Axl Rose. I think making covers teaches you how to be more original. I realized with this project that this is what I’ve been doing. I wanted to cover “Rocket Queen” because it’s a song that completely sets you on fire. It’s an invigorating track that screams, “Here I am,” a declaration of one’s confidence.

Looking to your musical career, will that be hard to balance with modeling?

I honestly think that they feed into each other in a weird way. When I’m not home and I have really nothing to do, I can get some good music done and be productive. Whenever a lot is going on in terms of modeling, I get so fueled by it and inspired by interacting with life and with people that it actually feeds more into my music than if I had all the time in the world to do it. 

What inspired you to move into music?

I have always wanted to do it. It’s something that [started] when I was younger – maybe 12 – when my mom walked in on me and saw that I was staring at a wall, like a white wall, with my headphones in. I was listening to music. I was pretending that I was onstage and I just like… I have always been doing that. I’ve had songs come into my head. It’s always been like that for me. One of the biggest pieces of advice I’ve gotten in the past few years is do something that you just do naturally – just do you. I had really thought, “What is that for me?” And for me that was music before modeling, and before anything really. The biggest roadblock for me was deciding what genre I [wanted] to do. I want to do every genre, but you have to be focused and you want to build an audience, so you have to choose a sound. I chose rock. I really came to that conclusion this year because there’s nothing in the world that motivates me more than the sound of an electric guitar. That’s kind of what made me take it more seriously.  

You released an EP of covers featuring Type O Negative on the down low. What drew you to that band?  

I silently released it on SoundCloud under a different [name] just because it sounds so different than the stuff I’m going to be releasing. It was really fun to do and I wanted to release it around Halloween time because it’s very gothic. I released that under the name Monsterah. That was fun, but kind of more of a side project.

In addition to “Rocket Queen,” will you be recording other new music this year?

Definitely. 2023, for me, is the year of music. The thing with my uncle is if I could sum up all the advice he’s given me over the years, especially with music, he’s always pressing to just keep releasing music; don’t look back at the music you’ve released. I’m still navigating my sound, but I’m definitely planning on releasing a lot this year. 

You are a New Jersey native and have spent some time in Englewood. What do you remember about growing up?

I didn’t spend too much time in New Jersey, but I remember distinctly that I was born in Englewood and my parents spent a lot of time in like Tenafly and Cresskill. I fell in love with the woods and that kind of earthiness from living in New Jersey. It’s my first memory: going into the forest or a park or just getting outside and seeing green. Right now I live in Las Vegas, so I don’t have that, but I love New Jersey. I love visiting it. It’s a beautiful place.

Music is a very cut throat industry. Has modeling prepared you for that?

Yes, definitely. With modeling, I’ve learned how to play with it. The thing is, if you take any job too seriously, you’re going to drown. It’s going to suck the life out of you. I’ve learned how to be professional and also play with it – bring my creativity into it. I’m aware that music is cutthroat, but for me music is so much about playing. I think the more you play, the more the audience loves that. I’m enjoying this time, just playing. I’m seeing what I like, what my audience likes. 

You’re very much about self-expression and empowerment. I imagine that has been an evolving process?

I’m very inspired by magazines. I used to be a collage artist growing up. I was fascinated with my magazines. I love magazines. Recently I got back into magazines. I take a lot of inspiration from reading about artists and their process, their perspectives. I think a lot of art is perspective. I’m really inspired by Lady Gaga and Grimes and people like that, because they love to dress up and be weird. I love weird people because they’re out of the box. I’ve always loved to play with wigs being different characters, trying to write songs from those perspectives. It’s very liberating because you can just be yourself and not have anyone to please or answer to. I want to express myself and I’d like to think that our bodies are our first canvas of the day. Why don’t you express your own body and your own image? Because that’s also fun and that bleeds into the music. I like to dress up while I’m recording or writing – that helps a lot, as well.

Your sister is also a model. How do the two of you get along? Is there a lot of competition between you? 

It’s been really, really cool. Me and my sister have gotten closer over the years. When I work with my sister I don’t feel like I’m working at all; I have a little piece of home with me. In the beginning, people would compare us a lot because we were some of the only Asian plus models in the industry. I did not like that. We were kind of competitive for a second. When I did Anna Sui, she was bummed about it, like, “When is it my turn?” Then she got Vogue and I was like, “Oh, when is my turn?” And then suddenly it was our turn together. That’s such a great feeling. I think  Gigi and Bella Hadid are really good inspirations for us because they’re so supportive of each other. They’re team Hadid and we’re team Nootenboom. We’re happy to represent and work together and show people that beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, and forms.

You have a long career ahead of you. What are your goals and aspirations?

I want to grow into my craft of modeling and I want to grow into my craft of music. I want to see how far I can take that. I also was in a movie back in 2020. It’s a thriller. Spoiler alert! I almost make it to the end. It was really fun. I’d love to try acting in the future, but now, definitely, music and modeling are at the forefront of my mind  

You’re definitely a role model. What points do you try to get across to your fans?

I really just want my fans to be unafraid of sexuality, unafraid of expressing their true selves and living authentically. I think a lot of artists share that message. For me it comes out more specifically with queerness. The next few songs are probably going to play off of that and I’m going to go into some other themes – more therapeutic talk about dealing with emotions like anguish or emptiness. I really just want people to feel like they can connect to what I’m saying, to feel like they are seen and understood and loved for who they are, and that it’s ok to be who they are