Karen O

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Karen O
Karen O 2013.jpg
Orzolek performing with Yeah Yeah Yeahs in Detroit in June 2013
Background information
Birth nameKaren Lee Orzolek
Also known asMarshmellow
Born (1978-11-22) November 22, 1978 (age 42)
Busan, South Korea
  • Singer
  • songwriter
  • record producer
InstrumentsVocals, piano, keyboards, guitar
Years active2000–present
Associated acts
Website www.karenomusic.com
Karen O
Revised Romanization Kaereon O
McCune–Reischauer K'aerŏn O

Karen Lee Orzolek (born November 22, 1978), [1] known professionally as Karen O, is a South Korean-born American singer, songwriter, musician, and record producer. She is the lead vocalist for American rock band Yeah Yeah Yeahs.


Early life

She was born in Busan, South Korea, [2] the daughter of a Korean mother and a Polish father. [3] [4] [5] The family eventually moved to Englewood, New Jersey, where she grew up [6] and graduated from Dwight-Englewood School. [7] 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". [8] 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. [4] Their first ever gig was opening for The White Stripes. [9]

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. [10]

In 2007, O was placed at number three on Spinner.com's Women Who Rock Right Now. [11] She began working on a small side project called Native Korean Rock and the Fishnets with fellow NYC musicians in 2008. [12]

Karen O at All Tomorrow's Parties festival, December 2009 Karen O - ATP - 2009.JPG
Karen O at All Tomorrow's Parties festival, December 2009

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", [13] and has been described as "yelping" at times. [14] 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.

Karen O in the Los Angeles Times , 2009 [14]

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 "A Marshmallow World" sung by O. [15] 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. [16] 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". [17]

Soundtrack work

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. [18] 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. [19] 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. [20]

Work with Spike Jonze

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". [21] 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. [22]

O also contributed "The Moon Song" to Jonze's 2013 film Her . [23] O and Jonze were nominated in 2014 for an Academy Award for Best Original Song for "The Moon Song". [24]

Karen O at Bumbershoot 2009. Seminal director Spike Jonze (Her, Where The Wild Things Are) shot the video for Karen O & Danger Mouse's "Woman" live in one take as the duo performed on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" Karen O Bumbershoot.JPG
Karen O at Bumbershoot 2009. Seminal director Spike Jonze (Her, Where The Wild Things Are) shot the video for Karen O & Danger Mouse's “Woman” live in one take as the duo performed on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”

Video work

In 2004, O, using the moniker Marshmellow, directed the music video for "We Fenced Other Gardens with the Bones of Our Own" by Liars, fronted by her then-boyfriend Angus Andrew. [25] [26] The following year, she directed the "Blessed Evening" video for Foetus with her then-boyfriend Spike Jonze working as cinematographer. [27] In 2006, she directed the Yeah Yeah Yeahs video for "Cheated Hearts". [28] [29]

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. [30]

KO at Home demo leak

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. [31] [32] [33] Eventually, Sitek followed up his comments with an apology letter. [34] In response to the leak, O said that "shit happens", and although she was "a little grossed out", she offered commentary on which of the songs she liked the most. [35]

Solo career

O's debut solo album, Crush Songs , was released on September 9, 2014. [36] It was released on Cult Records via Kobalt Label Services. [37] 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. [38] [39] 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. [40]

Lux Prima

Lux Prima is the collaborative album from Karen O and musician-producer Danger Mouse, released 15 March 2019. The two originally met to discuss collaboration in 2007 as mutual admirers, but careers and lives got in the way. In 2016 they entered the studio with no sonic parameters and a handful of references to make the album

An Encounter with Lux Prima

“An Encounter with Lux Prima” was an immersive art piece and communal listening experience soundtracked by Karen O and Danger Mouse's collaborative album Lux Prima. The installation premiered at Los Angeles' Marciano Art Foundation in April 2019 where it played to sold-out audiences. The piece, consisting of groundbreaking audio-visual technology, saw the duo collaborate with an illustrious cast of fellow artists including creative director Barnaby Clay (David Bowie—“Life On Mars” Revisited, SHOT!), sound designer Ren Klyce (Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Fight Club), lighting designer Tobias Rylander (Robyn, The xx, FKA twigs), visual artist Davy Evans. Further collaborating with George Lucas’ Skywalker Sound and Meyer Sound on the audio design and build as well as MSG's Obscura Digital on projection mapping, the installation played across every sense and was the living nucleus of the duo's collaborative album.

Personal life

O has dated Spike Jonze and Liars lead singer Angus Andrew, the latter of whom was the subject of Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ song Maps . [41] In December 2011, she married director Barnaby Clay. [42] Their son Django [43] was born in August 2015. [44]


Studio albums

Live albums

Soundtrack albums


As lead artist

List of singles as lead artist, with selected chart positions, showing year released and album name
TitleYearPeak chart positionsAlbum



"All Is Love"
(Karen O and the Kids)
2009 [upper-alpha 1] 10 Where the Wild Things Are: Motion Picture Soundtrack
"Immigrant Song" [52]
(with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross)
2011 [upper-alpha 2] [upper-alpha 3] 4349 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
"The Moon Song"
(with Ezra Koenig)
20142719434Non-album single
"Rapt" [55] Crush Songs
"I Shall Rise" [56] 2015Non-album singles
"Yo! My Saint" [57]
(featuring Michael Kiwanuka)
"Anti-Lullaby" [58] 2019 Hanna: Season 1 (Music from the Amazon Original Series)
"Bullet With Butterfly Wings" [59]
"Woman" [60]
(with Danger Mouse)
Lux Prima
"Lux Prima" [61]
(with Danger Mouse)
"Turn The Light" [62]
(with Danger Mouse)
"Under Pressure" [63]
(with Willie Nelson)
2020Non-album single
List of singles as featured artist, with selected chart positions, showing year released and album name
TitleYearPeak chart positionsAlbum
"Hello Tomorrow" (Adidas version) [64]
(Squeak E. Clean featuring Karen O)
200585Non-album single
"Strange Enough" [65]
(N.A.S.A featuring Karen O, Ol' Dirty Bastard, and Fatlip)
2010 The Spirit of Apollo
"Pinky's Dream" [66]
(David Lynch featuring Karen O)
201237 Crazy Clown Time
"Let It Grow" [67]
(Maximum Balloon featuring Karen O and Tunde Adebimpe)
2015Non-album single

Other charted songs

TitleYearPeak chart positionsAlbum
"Strange Love"201241 Frankenweenie Unleashed!

Guest appearances

TitleYearOther artist(s)Album
"Cut Me Up"2004 Har Mar Superstar The Handler [68]
"The DNA Will Have Its Say"2005 Some Girls The DNA Will Have Its Say
"Hologram World"2007 Tiny Masters of Today Bang Bang Boom Cake [69]
"Highway 61 Revisited"The Million Dollar Bashers I'm Not There: Original Soundtrack [70]
"Strange Enough"2009 N.A.S.A., Ol' Dirty Bastard, Fatlip The Spirit of Apollo [71]
"Watching the Planets" The Flaming Lips Embryonic
"Communion"2010Maximum Balloon Maximum Balloon [72]
"If You're Gonna Be Dumb, You Gotta Be Tough"None Jackass 3D: Music from the Motion Picture [73]
"Go!"2012 Santigold Master of My Make-Believe [74]
"Song for a Warrior" Swans The Seer [75]
"Strange Love"None Frankenweenie Unleashed! [76]
"The Moon Song" (studio version duet)2014 Ezra Koenig "The Moon Song (Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture Her )" (single) [77]
"The Moon Song" (end title credit)None
"Rattlesnakes" Walter Martin, Nick Zinner We're All Young Together [78]
"Sing 2 Me"Walter Martin
"Living in a Trance"2017None Resistance Radio: The Man in the High Castle Album [79]
"Talisa" Daniele Luppi, Parquet Courts Milano [80]
"Pretty Prizes"
"The Golden Ones"
"Sorrow Is My Name"NoneVanity of Vanities: A Tribute to Connie Converse [81]


In 2006, O was nominated for the GAFFA-Prisen Award for Best Foreign Female Act. [82]


  1. "All Is Love" did not enter the Billboard Hot 100, but peaked at number 37 on the US Heatseekers Songs chart. [51]
  2. "Immigrant Song" did not enter the Billboard Hot 100, but peaked at number eight on the Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles chart. [53]
  3. "Immigrant Song" did not enter the Hot Rock & Alternative Songs chart, but peaked at number 14 on the Rock Digital Song Sales chart. [54]

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