Who knew the LGBT movement would advance so far that there’d one day be dozens of drag queens topping the music charts? Oh, I’m fully aware that these stars technically have women’s parts, but believe me, they’re totally drag queens, and the public likes them that way, which is a big leap from the old days when women had to act like they weren’t really gay men.
Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, Miley Cyrus, Kesha, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, purple-lipped Lorde, and nutty Iggy Azalea (a combination of Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj) are among the wave-making gals who achieve the Victor/Victoria-like feat of coming off like women dressed like men dressed like women. The result requires extra work from the stars—not to mention on the part of their fans, who valiantly try to decipher the mixed gender messages being sent—but it’s worth it, since the layers of inspiration served are as textured and involved as the hair and makeup required to pull it off.
And it’s a big, fat kiss of validation to us gays, who respond with cheering and fashion tips. But why so many female drag queens, and why now? Well, all of these stars were born in the 1980s and ‘90s and were impressionable during the club kid era, when waves of gender-bending clubbies appeared on every daytime talk show in creation to flaunt their fashion choices and sexuality. Obviously, it made a big, sick impression on these future icons, especially since that all happened to coincide with cinema tucking classics like Mrs. Doubtfire, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and The Birdcage. Adding to the gay allure, LGBT culture is more prevalent than ever right now, so it’s more common to liberally borrow from it and even pretend you’re a contestant on Drag Race, vagina notwithstanding.
The original female drag queen, Madonna, certainly did it with 1990’s “Vogue,” which paid homage to the ballroom antics of the hand- and hip-swivelers of the Paris is Burning era. (Tellingly, that song has been covered in one form or another by Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Rihanna, and Kylie Minogue, among others.) And since Lady Gaga is a spiritual descendant of Madonna, it makes sense that she’s taken that even further, openly embracing the universes of club kids, RuPaul, and young gays looking for a light out of the tunnel. She does so with elaborate outfits topped by wittily placed objets that seem made for a drag queen—or at least made by a drag queen. And even if the current album has been a commercial letdown, Gaga is still a big, old drag force kept aloft by the strength of her sequined feathers and flapping wrists.
In turn, Katy Perry seemed influenced by Lady Gaga when, a few years ago, she suddenly started wearing kookier outfits and accessories to spice her act out of the realm of the mundane. In her getups, complete with anthems of self empowerment and drunken same-sex smooching, Katy comes off like one of the flashier entertainers at New York’s Escuelita club. So does Pink, who—it’s no surprise—is reportedly being talked about as a possible replacement for Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway. A woman playing a trans woman with a vestigial penis. That’s rich!
The inspirational effects of the drag and trans communities are nothing new, of course. In 2010, TRANSform Me was a VH1 show with Laverne Cox and other transsexuals giving biologically born women makeovers while teaching them how to look and behave. Well, those subjects (and their audience) obviously learned well, some of them apparently riding their knowhow to music careers, their most interesting transition of all!
Among today’s pop provocateurs, Miley Cyrus is a pint-sized drag queen trapped in a female body, especially with her innate sense of the outrageous and her continual joy in shocking the bourgeoisie. Miley dressed as Lil’ Kim last Halloween—she sported a purple wig, pastie, and other glitzy appliques--which involved so many levels of drag it was mind boggling (and a little bit confusing, too, to the perplexed delight of many). Meanwhile, Nicki Minaj has inherited Lil’ Kim’s scepter of being the empress of drag-queen-like aesthetics involving two-toned hair, vinyl caps, wild makeup, and serious cleavage. She even wore a rainbow-studded wig once!
And then there’s Britney, who has long been the twinks’ favorite diva because she revels in vampy sexuality, raunchy innuendo, and an innovative use of underwear as outerwear. All too perfectly, she’s taken up residence in Las Vegas as, basically, the new Siegfried and Roy. And her “Work, Bitch” song came off like a riff on Ru’s old phrase “You better work, bitch,” whether Britney knew it or not.
Besides, what could be more of a drag queen trait than good lipsynching? Britney can synch even better than Courtney Act! In fact, as all the above ladies gamely mouth along to their campy hits while wearing hilarious ensembles, you would think they’re way better suited to the old drag fest Wigstock than to Lilith Fair. So here’s to the female drag queens. Next up, maybe Justin Bieber can become a male drag king and learn to be a man?
DINA, IT’S ONLY THE BEGINNING
Real drag queens—you know, the kind that have to tuck—are already permeating Fire Island, like Logan Hardcore, the punky, spunky queen of the Ice Palace in Cherry Grove. Last Saturday afternoon, Logan did a two-and-a-half hour set by the pool without a break (“Liquor helps,” as he later told me), performing an amazing array of numbers, some involving torpedoing into the water and twirling out again. Triumphantly, Logan ended up in just underwear and kneeguards.
“I hate all drag queens,” Logan barked at the crowd at one point, “but Dina Martina entertains this place down.” And sure enough, the Seattle-based drag oddity played the Ice Palace’s inside room that night as part of Daniel Nardicio’s Icons series, delivering with overripe lips, protruding cameltoe, and wads of back hair. The former model for the Braille edition of Vogue, Dina looked amazing, even though, as she explained, “The stage adds 80 to 90 pounds.” She proceeded to dabble in autobiographical material (“My dad died in childbirth”), sing karaoke anthems in a high-pitched soprano compete with phlegmy sounds (“No matter what they take from me, I’m glad they took away my dignity”), and eat lukewarm pasta while demanding some “hot Sprite” from the bar. One could just picture Michelle Visage sitting back and saying, “Why?” Uh…because it’s inspired????
Playing an uneasy transsexual, Neil Patrick Harris has won kudos for diving into Broadway’s Hedwig revival with the vigor of a pool performer at Fire Island. At a New Dramatists lunch in honor of Tony-winning choreographer/director Susan Stroman (The Producers, Bullets Over Broadway), I asked Harris if Hedwig might be a sort of nouveau Sally Bowles, meaning the woozy chantoozy in the also-currently-revived Cabaret. “That’s interesting!” he responded, lighting up. “After I get spit on by Yitzhak, and I sing ‘Hedwig’s Lament,’ there’s a green light that hits me, and I’m in a cocktail dress and a cropped wig. I feel a little Sally Bowles in that moment. I have to pull myself out of it!” he laughed.
I also got to tell Neil that he’s funny in Seth MacFarlane’s new movie, A Million Ways To Die In The West. (He plays a creep with a moustache and a bad case of diarrhea.) “Am I?” he wondered. “I was chastised for not being funny. I won’t tell you by whom.” And suddenly, I had to assure a world-class star that he’s amusing in his new project. He seemed so vulnerable—sort of like Sally Bowles! I hope Pink can be as sympathetic.
And finally, The Enquirer picked up my interview with Drag Race’s Courtney Act about her budding friendship with Chaz Bono and claimed Chaz wants to marry Courtney, to mama Cher’s chagrin. This may be the most complicated gender story of the year so far, but I’m not buying it. Chaz likes women, not Australians!