Today Laverne Cox debuts her first single and music video, "Beat For The Gods," exclusively on Out and available on all major streaming platforms. No, no... she's not going to become the next actress-turned-pop-star, and there isn't an album on the way. Instead, the Emmy winner created the song as a passion project, enlisting the help of her friends and trusted colleagues to make a "celebration of queer culture and LGBTQ club culture;" an homage to "the kids who vogue, the kids who drag, the nightclub scene."
It's a campy, fun song intended to invoke liberal dancing and Kikis. It's playful and unpretentious and the clear result of a group of people coming together, having fun, and making something at the same time. But beyond that, it's an expression of liberated queerness and unadulterated pride.
Related | OUT 100: Laverne Cox
We sat down with Ms. Cox to get the story on just how "Beat For The Gods" evolved from an inside joke between her and her makeup artist to a fully-produced music video and single. While we chatted, we got to talking about the power of total creative freedom, who she'd play in a biopic, and just how much work there still is to be done celebrating trans representation.
Take a look at the video, and then read our interview below:
OUT: Had you always wanted to get into music? Is this a new chapter for you?
Laverne Cox: No. I don’t want to do an album, I don’t want to be a pop star. People have been asking me to do music for years, and I don’t want to do music. I grew up studying dance, and I did musicals through college. So I studied singing for years, but I basically decided years ago that I’m not a singer. I’m an actor. Which is cool, I’m happy being an actress.
So what prompted you to make this song?
‘Beat For The Gods’ happened because one day my makeup artist, Deja, who does all my makeup—she did my makeup for an event and I looked in the mirror and said, ‘Girl, I’m beat for the gods.’ I was living for myself. I was having a moment. You put your makeup on, and you feel flawless, better than you ever think you could have looked, and I was living. I was beat for the gods. And as a joke, I said, ‘Deja, that would be a cute song for the kids, ‘Beat For The Gods.’” It was a joke. And then she said I should write it, and I said, ‘Oh, whatever.’ But I wrote a little something, and ran it by her, and I was hanging with my friend Benjamin (K. Damptey), and he’s a recording artist, and I jokingly told him I had an idea for a song. And he said, ‘Love, we should record this. Let’s just do it.’ We went in the studio with his friend Johnny, and then I really wrote the song.
You wrote it in studio?
After the first session, things came out in the moment. Then I went back and wrote the song out, being thoughtful about what I wanted to put on paper. And we went back in the studio again a week later and refined it. And arranged it. So then I had this song, and I have my show about beauty coming up… so I thought ‘Maybe I should record a video.’ And then we did a video.
So it really was just a fun passion project.
My intention with this song—it’s obviously a dance song. I just wanted it to be a cute song for the kids to vogue to. It really is an homage to that community, the kids who vogue, the kids who drag, the nightclub scene. Specifically the 90s—I’ve been calling it a 90s throw black bitch track. It’s really about queer club culture, drag culture, all the colloquialisms that are in it. All that lingo and language that I just love. It’s an homage to that. We wanted to premiere it on Out because it’s for the LGBTQ community and that culture. It’s about makeup but it’s about living for yourself, whether you’re wearing makeup or not. I was on Alex Newell’s Instagram the other day, and Alex was like, ‘You know, I have a confession: I’m gorgeous.’ That’s what this song is about. Feeling gorgeous no matter what, and owning yourself, and having a Kiki.
It’s a fun gay queer little bop for putting on your makeup.
That’s what it’s about. So no, I’m not trying to be a pop star. Acting is my passion. It’s always my priority. But I’m also an artist, and I loved the process of writing a song, recording it, arranging it, and then shooting a video, and producing it, coming up with the concept with the director, hiring a choreographer and dancers… it’s fun to create something in a different way. As an actress I’m always doing other people’s projects, but this was me from start to finish. Hopefully I’ll be producing more scripted content as an actress and producer. It was fun to be in the driver’s seat creatively.
What about these characters in the video—there’s this Marie Antoinette character, and this sort of boxing character… did you think of these?
Of course I did. The Marie Antoinette moment came because there’s this operatic moment where I’m singing—and I sing opera for fun, so I had to have a little operatic moment in the track. And so we came up with that, and I thought, ‘Oh my god, it’s my fantasy to be sitting on a chaise lounge singing opera.’ And out of that came this whole Marie Antoinette look. And then with that theme, I wanted to do a sort of deconstructed Baroque look for the dancers. So I wanted people in their underwear, and the makeup to be this futuristic take on Baroque.
The boxing look—I’m obsessed with Grace Jones—is inspired by this Grace Jones moment, this Studio 54 moment, when she had this single cover for “Pull Up To The Bumper.” It’s her in this boxing outfit that’s so fucking hot. It’s major. It’s everything. I’m just so inspired by Grace Jones, and have been for a long time.
It’s so cool that you had full creative control of this. That’s so rare.
It is rare. But no one asked me to do a single. There’s no corporate sponsor. It’s just about me doing what I wanted to do. If people don’t like the song, I don’t really care. I mean I partly care, but it’s really just about me doing what I wanted. And the space for the song is with LGBTQ+ people, so I hope they feel it.
There was one look in the video where I wanted to have no makeup on at all. You can feel good about yourself and own who you are whether you wear makeup or not. It’s not always about that. So for me, sometimes it’s about taking off all the makeup and feeling just as beautiful without it as I do with it. And that is so much of my work on myself. That’s a process. It’s something I have to work to do. I go out without makeup sometimes, and I feel great. And I wanted to have that real, makeup-free moment in the video. The lighting was great, of course.
I’m thinking of doing a ‘Beat For The Gods’ challenge, where people can submit their own videos dancing to the song and being creative. I want people to just live, and have a Kiki, and take it as that. I want it to be a celebration of queer culture and LGBTQ club culture. This song is a reflection of my old club days in New York, and a sort of longing for that kind of situation.
If you had full creative control to do something else—a TV show, a movie, a play—are there other projects you have in your mind that you’d do if you had the resources?
I’ve had a show idea in my head for a long time that I’ve been talking to a writer friend about developing. It’s a slow process. I can’t say anything about it yet. When the time comes. But there’s a couple moving projects I’ll be involved in as a producer that I can talk about when the time comes. In the past decade I’ve produced unscripted stuff—like my new show Glam Masters is premiering next week—so I’ve been involved in the unscripted arena producing for a while. But my longterm goal is to produce more scripted stuff. And I’m getting closer to that.
What if you were to play someone in a biopic, or choose a dream role?
Well, I’ve always loved opera, and I think playing Leontyne Price—she’s an opera singer, she’s my idol—and there’s never been a film about her. She’s very private, very protective of her brand. And my brother is a huge fan of Leontyne as well, and has said ‘I don’t know if I’d want a biopic of Leontyne, because it’s all in her voice.’ It’s all in the voice. The story of her life is in the singing. But to play Leontyne would be unbelievable. But she’s so precious to people that I would want to make sure we got it right. That’s more of a fantasy—I don’t know if it will ever really happen. The other dream projects I’m working on I can’t talk about yet.
The Oscars are coming up—anyone you’re rooting for?
I saw A Fantastic Woman—Daniela Vega’s performance in that film is so incredible. I just found out she’s presenting an award, and I got to meet her at a screening at the film… she’s an incredible actress, and so passionate about the work. I would love to see that film win, because I’d love to see Daniela onstage at the Oscars beyond a presenting role. She’s the first trans woman to present an Oscar—and when I hear that, it reminds how far we still have to go. I was the first trans woman to cover Cosmo, and that was, like, this month. There’d never been a trans woman on the cover of Cosmo? We have a long way to go.