You can’t miss Fannius — she’s the fuzzy-haired presence dispensing hugs outside the Viper Room on a cold Tuesday night in lime-green Adidas high-tops, red-framed glasses, wallet chain and black-leather jacket. The buckle on the rainbow belt around her blue jeans is taped together, rainbow-colored bracelets adorn her wrists, and a red-plaid scarf is wrapped around her neck. On this night, the rapper/singer, who turned 21 last month, is supposed to perform a half-dozen songs at the Sunset Strip club, but the show is running late and Fannius — Fan to her friends — feels bad that her entourage is out here in the chilly air. If they are impatient, though, they don’t show it.
“Rock it, girl!” shouts a young woman who walks up to Fan with a big smile. Fan, whose full rapper moniker is Fannius III, smiles back and takes a drag from her Camel Light.
“It started as Fan 3,” says the native Angeleno, who now lives in West Hollywood. “I got the opportunity to be on the first Lizzie McGuire soundtrack when I was 14, and they asked me what I wanted to be billed as. So I said Fan 3 because I was a huge TLC fan. Then someone started calling me Fannius, and I liked that, so I stayed with it.”
Fannius has “FAN 3” tattooed on four fingers on her left hand (much to her mother’s dismay) and naturally owns an anti-authority streak that was enhanced by her dealings with the entertainment industry, which tried to stage her look.
“If it was up to me,” Fan says, “I’d be wearing sweat pants and slippers. But Jack, my keyboard player, said my ‘plain’ was showing and that I needed to dress up for the show.”
By Fan’s senior year at Calabasas High School, she was signed by Geffen Records, finished her schooling with a private tutor, and went on the road for Disney’s “Jingle Jam” tour. Disney and Geffen Records saw her as a rapping Hilary Duff, but Fan wasn’t entirely happy with her role as a clean-cut Top 40 rap star.
“It was so much not my thing,” Fan says. “I was always very arty and I had tattoos and piercings and they told me I had to clean myself up.”
In what may have been a blessing in disguise, a mother of one of the teenage members of the “Jingle Jam” tour saw Fan smoking pot one night. She reported the incident to Disney honchos, who severed all ties with Fan once the tour was over. Without the Disney image, Geffen Records decided to drop her too.
“Geffen didn’t really know what to do with me,” Fan says. “Most major labels don’t know what to do with talent.”
Soon after, Fan, who now only smokes cigarettes and drinks lots of sugar-free Red Bull, started a new band called Shut Up Stella, signed by Epic Records. But before Fan could release an album, Epic dropped her as well. She’s not looking for a big record-company contract any time soon.
“I’m definitely not into signing a major-label deal,” says Fan. “In a perfect world, I would sign with a really cool indie label and sell 100,000 records myself.”
But the mishaps with the major labels brought Fan a certain kind of freedom. Six months ago, she came out as bisexual, which is something the show-business world still frowns upon. She also started releasing her own music, including the power-pop single “Girlfriend,” on the Internet at myspace.com/fan3, instead of waiting for a major label to pull the trigger. And now the Viper Room has taken a liking to Fan, giving her regular gigs to help her break out.
At 10:25 p.m., Fannius III finally stands on the small stage inside the tiny club with a microphone in hand and a full band behind her. A guitarist starts a riff, the drummer takes off and Fan kicks into a song about a bad lover. She jumps and raps and the audience claps and sings along. Backstage mothers, squeaky-clean images and major-label demands are forgotten. Fan is now enjoying herself.