Thanks to the meteoric success of the Emmy Award-winning RuPaul’s Drag Race, the drag industry is closer to the pop culture mainstream than ever, with its splashiest players popping up on Broadway, in A Star Is Born -- and of course, most recently, in a Taylor Swift video. That means retroactive attention for the TV show’s alumni, as well as more opportunities for them to explore careers in the pop sphere.
Enter Andre Morris, founder and CEO of Varran Media, a one-stop shop for drag performers seeking management, PR representation and overall career-strategy advice. Morris, 40, launched Varran in 2010 after 11 years at Sony Music, where he worked under PR powerhouse Yvette Noel-Schure. For a while, he continued to work with her Schure Media Group and with 50 Cent’s G-Unit. But in 2015 -- the same year DragCon, the biannual event RuPaul’s Drag Race launched, first took place in Los Angeles -- Morris made a drastic shift, working for a spell with season five runner-up (and eventual RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars season-two winner) Alaska, who released her debut album, Anus, that June.
At first, says Morris, promoting bawdy, camp-driven queer material to a straight audience was tricky. “My biggest challenge was basically getting the mainstream [song]writers to take the music seriously,” he recalls. “I had to focus on what it was. Knowing Alaska’s music was more comedic, I utilized that.” Since then, he has worked with drag stars including Tammie Brown, BenDeLaCreme, Latrice Royale, Vanessa Vanjie Mateo and Peppermint, plus frequent Drag Race judge and choreographer Todrick Hall.
Working with drag queens was quite a departure from the artists Morris was used to serving in his prior major-label role -- Beyoncé, John Legend -- but he approaches his current clients just as he would an industry veteran. “It doesn’t matter if they are a drag queen or not,” he explains. “The biggest stars in the world are able to do multiple things at once, and that’s how they can grow their business and allow different eyes to see them that wouldn’t have seen them before.”
Though his queens vary in experience, they are all, like Morris himself, entrepreneurs. “They know exactly what they want, so they come to me with that intention and goal,” he says. “It’s a lot easier for me because they’re willing to work as hard for me as I am for them.” Day to day, he provides the services that employees across multiple departments at a label ordinarily would. “I’m doing marketing, I’m doing A&R, I’m also advising them on what to do with their careers,” he says. “They come to me for basically everything.” Morris adds, "A lot of LGBTQ artists feel like their voices are not heard at major labels.'
In the meantime, watching his roster in action is its own reward. “Each day I get to see them be colorful, be activists, be entertainers and see them make a difference,” says Morris. “The greatest thing is to see the young kids who show up to the shows and have so much to say about how much the queens mean to them. It’s the greatest job in the world.”