Jinkx Monsoon Talks New Album, Coming Out as Gender Nonbinary & 'Steven Universe' Role
It’s been nearly four years since Jinkx Monsoon’s debut studio album, The Inevitable Album, and now they’re back with their latest studio album release, The Ginger Snapped. Inspired by ‘90s and 2000s alternative greats like Garbage and No Doubt, The Ginger Snapped also features cover songs (like their stunning, goosebump-inducing rendition of “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” originally written by Smokey Robinson) and Jinkx’s longtime musical collaborator Major Scales.
The two will be performing The Ginger Snapped as a cabaret show at dates upcoming in New York (sold out!) and Seattle. Billboard caught up with Jinkx to chat about the new album, their role on Steven Universe, and All Stars 3.
How did you decide you wanted The Ginger Snapped to be different from your last album, The Inevitable Album?
I really wanted to do music that was like something you’d play in your car driving to work and we wanted it to hearken back to the ‘90s garage band sound that both Major Scales and myself grew up on. I thought of this new album as a mixtape because the references and inspirations for each song are different even though they’re all cohesive together. You can really hear the influence of No Doubt on the songs “Cartoons and Vodka” and “Boys in the Band” and then on the song “Sugar Mama” it sounds like Portishead or Garbage. There’s Fiona Apple, Alanis Morissette, early Gwen Stefani influences throughout the whole album. I was born in ‘87, so all my music taste comes from the ‘90s and the early 2000s.
I notice there’s a few covers on the album. How did you decide what covers you wanted to do?
It’s silly, but “You Really Got a Hold on Me” has been a favorite song of mine for a long time. I became obsessed with the She & Him version. I absolutely love the music of She & Him and I listen to it all the time. I kind of think Major Scales and I are doing a She & Him cover band [Laughs], like we’re almost the drag version of She & Him. But it’s such a classic song and there’s so many different ways to interpret it, there’s so many ways to perform it, that I didn’t feel too much like we were ripping off She & Him. It’s moreso that I wanted to pay homage to a group that I really like. And then “I Just Wanna Make Love To You” was all Major Scales’s idea. He sent me a treatment for that song before we decided on anything for the album. It was probably the first song we had locked into place when we started working on the new album.
What were some new challenges you experienced with this album?
I’m not the hugest fan of pop music and electro music, which is why The Inevitable Album was entirely live instruments. But I definitely have music that uses synthesized instruments and electro sounds that I really enjoy, so I gave permission to our producer, Yair Evnine, a new producer we worked with for this album and was absolutely the perfect fit. I would tell him, here’s the way I would do this song and of course it would take on more of a 1920s ragtime feel, but then I’d hand the song over to him and I’d say take my instincts and filter it through something that’s a little more pop and a little more broad. That was a challenge, of creating the new content and then handing it over to someone and asking them to put their voice into it to so it can have a more modern sound.
How do you think you’ve grown as an artist with The Ginger Snapped?
I think the best way I’ve grown as an artist period, not just in relation to creating music, is having a lot more confidence in myself. Being a performer who entered into a competition like Drag Race and won, you convince yourself that you have to be a version of yourself that everyone wants you to be. It took a few years away from winning to settle back down into doing this for myself and doing this because this is what I love to do and not because this is what I think people want from me.
I think my artistic style has reflected that, not only in my music work but also in my comedy writing and the content I’m putting out in webshows and other things. It’s still very much for the fan base, but I’m doing what makes me happy. It gives you more freedom and I can go into my projects with more confidence because I know I’m bringing my own voice to the work rather than some synthesized voice.
The confidence that you talk about, is that related at all to coming out as nonbinary?
The way that that played into is that I realized I don’t have to be someone else’s idea of me to successful and have the career I’ve always wanted. Coming out as nonbinary was a response to a lot of criticism I got when it leaked that I’d be playing a nonbinary character on Steven Universe. I never really had the words like nonbinary or gender fluid or gender nonconforming until after Drag Race and that’s when I first started identifying publicly as nonbinary. I just recently reiterated it because people seemed to be having a debate online about whether male-bodied drag queens could appropriately voice a nonbinary character, disregarding the fact that I actually identify as nonbinary.
Mainly what I’m trying to do is help everyone see that just because you were born with certain genitalia doesn’t mean that anyone gets to tell you to live your life any way prescribed by the genitalia you were born with. Gender is a concept that we created as a society and it’s a concept we can recreate and revamp and reform as many times as we need to to be inclusive.
What was the process like of writing "I'm Just Me"? Why was it important to you to include?
That song was something Major and I talked about. We actually started doing that song around the time of the election and there was just so much debate at the time about trans rights in bathrooms. The biggest misconception I think everyone taking away from it was that a person is defined by their gender or the way that they present and that’s just one aspect of our personality. I sat down with Major and went through all the most poignant moments in my life that someone has made some kind of comment either positive or negative about my gender and my gender presentation. He wove it all together in the song with the main message being that at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter because I’m just me. We used a quote from one of our favorite teachers in college, who would say, “Everybody’s just people,” and became the song’s thesis statement.
How did you discover Steven Universe and ultimately get involved with the show?
I first discovered Steven Universe just sitting in my hotel room flipping through the channels. I really liked the animation style and I remember someone telling me the creator, Rebecca Sugar, used to work on Adventure Time. I loved that show so I gave Steven Universe a chance. The episode where Pearl and Amethyst first fuse to create Opal was when I realized this is something much bigger than what it appears to be. It was really interesting because I don’t think I’ve ever seen something in a cartoon, or on television period, where two characters combine to not be the two of them glued together but to be a third person entirely. It spoke volumes to the intricacies and nuances of relationships and interpersonal interactions and I think that’s the moment I got hooked. When my efforts of spamming Rebecca Sugar until she noticed me finally paid off and she came into contact with me, my friends and I all freaked out a little bit.
Who are you rooting for on All Stars 3?
That’s a very easy question to answer because BenDeLaCreme, who is not only one of my drag sisters but one of my best friends pre-Drag Race. She’s just been such a good friend to me and a mentor and a sister and a creative collaborator. Going to All Stars, now that we’ve gotten to know BenDeLaCreme, everyone’s seen inside of her brain and the wonderful way that her creative genius works. The best thing about all stars is that you already know these queens going into it, so you don’t have to do all the exposition work and you don’t have to do all the getting to know you housekeeping. You just get to start off the season with a bang and really go for it from episode one on. I just can’t wait to see how Ben tackles the competition because she’s really one of the smartest, most creative and also socially conscious drag queens that I know.