Adore Delano is growing up and going hard.
As Danny Noriega, the young performer first came to our attention in 2008 as a sassy semi-finalist on season 7 of American Idol. But it was during the sixth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race that America fell head over high heels for his alter ego, Adore, a promising queen with a big personality that far outshone any perceived lack of polish.
Not long after placing in the top 3 on the drag competition show, Adore released her debut studio album, Till Death Do Us Party, in 2014. Debuting at No. 3 on the Billboard Dance/Electronic Albums chart and at No. 59 on the Billboard 200, it became the highest charting album by a Drag Race contestant.
Whatever (which dropped Aug. 18), Adore’s guitar-fueled follow-up to 2016’s After Party, shows off an edgier, angrier side to the androgynous party princess. But like a true punk diva, she doesn’t really care if you like it or not.
To celebrate the album's release, we can exclusively premiere Adore's video for "Whole 9 Yards." We spoke to the singer about her risky new sound, her character-blurring gender identity, and the best musical advice Mama Ru ever gave her.
What sets Whatever apart from your first two albums?
I wanted to give more of the vibe of the s--t I liked as a kid, so I tapped into all the bands I listened to when I was younger, like L7 and Babes in Toyland. I’m super into chick bands.
You made headlines earlier this year when you filed a lawsuit against your management company for alleged mishandling of funds. Are you working with a new record label?
No, this is my first independent project. I flew out to Arizona and teamed up with my friend Nathan [Morrow], who produced the album, and we just rocked out with his band.
Did you feel like you couldn’t be your true self on your other albums?
I think I was in different headspace. It’s the same book, different chapter. In a year’s time, traveling the world and having so many experiences, I feel like I’ve grown five years. I’m like Catwoman -- I’ve died, like, four times.
Your young fans have really responded to your electro-pop anthems. Do you worry whether or not they’ll get on board with your harder punk sound?
That’s the gamble, man. You never know what the kids are going to react to, but a lot of my fans like the same bands that I like, and they know my vibe. I created this music to go with my performance style, so I think they’ll be receptive. If not, they still have my old s--t. Whatever.
Hence the album title?
Exactly. People will take it or leave it. Yeah, it’s a different sound that won’t be easy for everybody to swallow, but that’s OK. RuPaul once told me, “They’re either going to like it or they’re not. That’s life. Get over it.”
Many Drag Race alums release parody and novelty songs. Does that make it harder to get people to take you seriously as an artist?
Yeah, and it also makes it harder for me to sell some of the hardcore Drag Race fans on my music. As I evolve as an artist, I get more serious about my craft, because I’m smoking more weed. [Laughs] No, but I do feel like I’m evolving as a serious writer, and I’m tapping into cool s--t that the kids need to hear right now. So, yeah, it’s hard when my competition goes the parody route, but, you know, there are a lot of colors in the rainbow.
Punk and drag make sense together. I’m surprised we don’t hear more of that sound from the queens.
I know, right? I’m completely baffled, because the idea of drag itself is punk rock, total rebellion, going against the grain. We need to bring that back.
What do you want listeners to take away from Whatever?
Just me rebelling against the drag pop genre will hopefully show them that they don’t have to take themselves or life so seriously. Be the product of what happens if you don’t do what you’re supposed to do.
A lot of anger comes through on the album. What personal issues influenced your songwriting?
This entire year has been a rollercoaster, from the political climate down to my legal battles that I shouldn’t talk about. There’s a lot going on that’s helping me grow up really quickly and see life from a completely different perspective. I’ve been reading, learning about what’s going on, and it makes me angry, man. I had to get some aggression out. But there’s some heartbreak and sex on the album too.
You also recently moved to Seattle. Has that influenced your sound?
I’ve always been inspired by Nirvana and that whole vibe, but yeah, just living here, walking down the street in the frickin’ rain, has been a big influence -- especially for my song “27 Club.”
Yeah, I had to tap into that dark s--t. I had gotten in a weird place with drugs, and I had to make a decision -- like, am I going to keep doing this? -- because I knew it could get really bad. The record was originally going to be called 27 Club, actually, because that was the first song I wrote for it.
Why did you pick “Negative Nancy” as your first single from Whatever?
I like it because it’s so raw. It doesn’t sound overly mastered or produced -- it’s just me having fun in the studio. I wanted to shock people a bit, because “Negative Nancy” is probably the wildest track on the album.
And what about "Whole 9 Yards," which we're premiering?
There’s a sexual double meaning there, like, I’ll take your whole nine yards and I’ll take you for everything that you are. We wanted a young, summer thing for the “Negative Nancy” video, but the “Whole 9 Yards” video is completely different -- sexier, more grownup, more makeup.
The “Negative Nancy” video put you on a high school softball field. Are you sporty in real life?
Well, I’ve been working out lately. All you’re going to get out of me are push-ups and sit-ups.
You opened up this year about identifying as nonbinary. What has the response been like from your fans?
They’ve been really receptive and loving. We’re in this weird, cool sexual and gender revolution with people broadening their horizons and trying to figure out where they’re at. It’s a ’70s vibe right now that I’m in love with. I’ve been picking my mom’s brain, like, “How were the ’70s? Were the ’70s like this?” She’s like, “No, b---h.”
How has embracing your gender identity influenced your music?
I remember growing up with Mechanical Animals by Marilyn Manson, seeing that imagery and being like, “What the hell? He’s literally on MTV with tits!” That really influenced me, so I want to explore that whole idea that gender isn’t a real thing -- that it’s just something they came up with to categorize and control people.
Do you see yourself ever releasing more music as Danny Noriega?
Yeah. I don’t even know where it starts and ends anymore -- Adore is turning into Danny, Danny’s turning into Adore, and pretty soon I won’t know the difference. There’s some Pete Burns s--t about to happen next year.
You expressed some regrets last year after quitting RuPaul’s Drag Race: All-Stars 2. Would you consider returning for another All-Stars?
Like the next one? Hell no! In the future? Sure, probably, yeah. But I’ll give you the PC answer and say, “Right now I just want to focus on my music.”