“I want to make sure that my fans get the 100 percent real me, instead of a produced version of me that was made for TV."
Jiggly Caliente isn’t interested in the post-reality-show narrative. The drag star from season 4 of RuPaul’s Drag Race has been focused on doing things differently since appearing on the show.
While several Drag Race queens drop singles and albums to coincide with their time on the hit reality show, Jiggly worked for six years to put together the kind of music she wanted to make. The result is THOT Process, Jiggly’s sexy, candid hip-hop album coming out March 9.
THOT Process marks a distinct departure among the music of other Drag Race alumni, as Jiggly pointed out. “You know, I could have easily done the super Auto-Tuned, typical drag tracks. Talking about your hair, your drag, your nails and all of that,” Caliente said. “But I wanted to make sure that I was true to myself. If I was going to put out an album, I needed it to be me.”
Jiggly talked to Billboard about Filipino representation in media, coming out as trans and ditching her television persona: “I want to make sure that my fans get the 100 percent real me, instead a produced version of me that was made for TV." She also talked about her new video for “Fck Boi," premiering below.
I really love the quote that you put at the top of the video from Memoirs of a Geisha. Why did you want that to be front and center for the video?
Drag is, for the most part in the trans community, ultra-fem, ultra glamorous — it is basically femininity transcended. Because it's like, the hair is high, it's often about gorgeousness. So a lot of the time, I feel that among the trans community who are entertainers, a lot of men view us as sexual objects. I feel that they misconstrue the situation. Like, this is a job. I am here to entertain you through music, dance and visuals. That's it. This is not that situation. If he wanted a prostitute, he could go get one. So a lot of the time, the lines are kind of blurred for some men, because I feel that trans women are just so sexualized. And that's especially for trans women who are entertainers.
There are so many times — countless times — where I tell a man or a guy that I'm an entertainer, and the first thing they go to is, "Are you in porn?" I'm like, "Are you f---ing with me here?" Or sometimes I'll say, "Oh, I'm an actress," and as soon as you say "actress," they assume that you're in porn. It's like, "No!" You know, drag queens are very similar to geishas. We're selling art and beauty and dance and song, not our bodies. So that's why I was like, "Ugh, I need to put that in here." I needed that at the beginning of the video. And I also wanted an all-Asian cast.
Yeah I noticed that it was a predominantly Asian cast. Why was that important for you?
Because a lot of the time in Western culture, Asian men are seen as unattractive, especially when compared to white men or black men or even Latino men. So, I was like, "No, I am not going to be a part of this." I want my fans and everyone else to see how beautiful Asian men are. So I managed to get three choices in the video — you've got a Korean, you have Thai and you had Filipino-Hawaiian. I was like, "Take your pick, your choice is right there." [laughs] And even for the girls, the girls in the video are predominantly all-Asian, and all-Filipina.
Congrats on the album, I've gotten a chance to listen to that a few times, and this is, to my knowledge, the first straight-up hip-hop album from a Drag Race girl. Why is that the style that you wanted to do this in?
I wanted to stick to hip-hop because I am a New York girl through and through. I may have been born in the Philippines, but there's something about hip-hop culture that just spoke to me. I love the music, I love the style of hip-hop, and it just is more me. It just felt natural for me to go that route. You know, I could have easily done the super Auto-Tuned, typical drag tracks. Talking about your hair, your drag, your nails and all of that. But I wanted to make sure that I was true to myself. If I was going to put out an album, I needed it to be me. I needed people to see another side of me, or more accurately, the side of me that they didn't get to see on Drag Race. This was my way to do that.
It took some time, don't get me wrong [laughs]. It's been six years since my season, but I felt like it was time. I really wanted to make sure that I was doing something that was authentic, because that has been my new motto in life and the thing that I pride myself on. I'm want to make sure that my fans get the 100 percent real me, instead of a produced version of me that was made for TV. No, this is Jiggly.
Not to throw any shade at any of the other queens, but a lot of them just pump out those singles and albums as soon as they're off the show.
Yeah, definitely. And for me, my manager has been saying over and over, "You should do music." Ever since my season, they wanted me to do an album. I was really cautious of it, because I didn't want to be the typical Ru girl that comes out with all these songs, whose video is just naked guys or like half-naked men. That's another thing — I did not want men in their underwear in my music videos! You know, yes, a lot of my fans are gay, but do we really have to pander that way to get their attention? For me it's like, you have to believe in your art. That's how I felt about it. You don't see Beyoncé and Janet Jackson having boys in their underwear shake their asses for the camera. They believe in their artistry. You don't need to dumb things down for your audience.
There's a song on your album where you rap in Tagalog. As someone who is proudly Filipina, was it important to represent your culture in this way?
My culture is very very important to me. I was living here in America when my mom told me to remember who I was. She really wanted me to remember where I come from. She would say "Just because you're in America, this isn't your culture. You're Filipino." A line that I say in that song [in Tagalog] is "This is not your culture." Like, "You were born in the Philippines, so you are Filipino first." You know? I became a US citizen, I come from an immigrant family, so it is so important to let the world know how beautiful my culture is. And yes, there's a whole lot of beautiful Filipinos out there, but I wanted to show them that the language is also cute, and I love it! It was just so important to me.
I give shoutouts in the song to people who are proudly Filipino, who are out there in the industry. Like, Lea Salonga has been killing the Broadway world ever since she started. She's my number one, my first idol growing up was Lea Salonga, because I saw her, I knew she was from the Phillipines, and she made it in the mainstream here in the U.S. So she was my ultimate idol growing up. And then you've got somebody like Bruno Mars in the music game, slaying it, and he's half Filipino. He's amazing. You've got Alec Mapa, who's an amazing Filipino actor. And then there’s Vice Ganda, who in the Phillipines, is basically RuPaul. You know? It's hard to beat, as far as the Filipino community goes. I mean, he is a superstar. Every time he comes out with a movie, it is a blockbuster hit, without a doubt. And then, of course, there's Pia Wurtzbach, who I feel like is the best Miss Universe they have ever had, because of the platform she used for HIV prevention, and just in the way that she carried herself through her reign. Like, I had to write the line "Just like Queen Pia, we're reigning supreme."
You publicly came out as a transgender back in 2016. There have been many other Ru girls, before and after you, who have come out as trans. Do you think the stigma surrounding transgender people performing as drag queens is starting to break down at all?
The thing for me is that there have been, and there are, plenty of trans women that have careers in drag. This is has been going on for years, way, way before Drag Race. So it's just now becoming a little more mainstream because there's a trans movement going on. I'm glad and I'm super proud that there is a movement that is showcasing trans women where ... we're not seen as sex workers, you know? Because it was so taboo or whatever, and I'm glad that we're being showcased in all forms of art — may it be theater, may it be movies, books, television, and music! I'm know I'm not the first trans hip-hop artist out there, and people have to research! There's trans women out there doing it.
I wanted to make sure that if I was going to come out as a trans woman, I wanted to do it right, and I didn't want it to be about Drag Race. I wanted to come out because I was ready to come out. I have been living as a trans woman for so long, but I just never told the audience and the fans that. I was actually transitioning while I was on the show, I just never talked about it. I didn't want it to be my storyline, because being a trans woman is not what defines me, and I didn't want me being a trans woman have anything to do with the show. I always wanted to keep my personal life and my work life separate.
The fans would always be like "Why is Jiggly always in drag?" Like I remember I was at Phi Phi's place for Thanksgiving one time, and we did a livestream, and all of the fans were like, "Why is she in drag?" over and over again. And I'm just like "... can't a girl live? Like really? You care this much? You can't just put two and two together?" It was just like ... if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, then bitch it's a duck! Phi Phi was just looking at me that whole time, and she was just like, "Girl, just say it already." And I was like "Bitch, no!" [laughs].
How did you know when you were comfortable enough to open up about being trans?
Well I finally came out because there were so many letters that I would get from fans that were saying, "I am struggling as a drag queen, but I also feel like I'm a girl," or "I'm a drag king and I feel like I should be a man." And I was finally like, "Oh my god. I should really just say it." And I wanted to let them know that you're not the only person that feels like your lines are being blurred because of what your life is. So I first came out on Grizzly Kiki, on their podcast. And they interviewed me, and the way the interview went was so respectful. Even when I did "Hey Qween!" with Jonny McGovern, and he talked about my transition, I just felt like it was done and handled so respectfully, that I felt like, "There is hope in this situation," where like, I can be myself, and my fans know the true Jiggly without it getting ... shuffled around and made into something else. Or made a joke, or a gimmick. It's not a gimmick, it's my life.
You collaborated with a lot of other Drag Race girls on this album. Is there a queen that you haven't gotten the chance to work with that you'd really like to get in the studio?
Ugh. There's actually four of them that I really wish could have been in my album. But my producers were like, "Look, you only have 11 songs girl, and you cannot have an album that is all collaborations." This was not the remix album. But I really wanted to work with — not in any particular order — Willam, Shea Couleé, Tatianna and Adore Delano. Those are the four that I was basically crying over not getting to work with them [laughs]. But like, they've got lives and careers, too. Like, Tatianna and Adore have things going on, major tours, they're super busy. And Shea was crazy busy because she had just gotten off season 9, and I just didn't have any time to get any of them in the studio. And Willam was just screaming "I'm busy!" I was like, "I hate you." [laughs]
I mean, we're gonna make those work out eventually. I think Tatianna has been talking about it lately, so if Tatianna wants to do a remix of one of my songs, I think I'm gonna do a remix of "Fck Boi" and I'm dying to get her on it. She told me she loves the song, and there's no other Ru girl perfect enough for that song but Tatianna.
That would be so good, and I love me some "Same Parts"
Ok, right though?! I've known Tatianna as this slaying queen for so long. Her being on All Stars 2 let the world know, like, "I have been a bad bitch, and I will stay a bad bitch." Hell yes, baby. She was amazing, and I remember watching season 2, and I was like, "She's got a loud mouth, and I love this bitch." The girls who are all of my friends are all the ones with reckless mouths! Phi Phi, Willam, Roxxxy, Ginger, Tatianna, Sharon, like those are my hoes! That's my group, the problematic mouths! The shit we say is not okay. [laughs]
Well speaking of All Stars, All Stars 3 is happening right now. Is there anybody on the show who you're really rooting for?
[sigh] Ok. So here's the thing. [laughs] Because I've known her for so long, and because I know she slays everything she does, I really want Shangela to win. I am so team Shangie. And don't get me wrong, I've known Ben for a long time, too, because of the show. He is also slaying. If they don't make it to top 2, it's like ... no, that would be unfair to the world. They have won the most challenges, they have won so much!
Well girl, there's the big twist coming up, and you never know what could happen.
Oh girl, I know the twist. I know it, and when I heard it, I was like, "Oh, Jesus."
Ok wait, any hints?
Nope, I'm not trying to get sued [laughs].
But I will say this though — Aja, for me, truly won All Stars. Because she came back, and it was like, first of all, the makeup game was everything. A lot of people tend to forget that we film Drag Race basically a year before it comes out. Like, months and months before it's released. So people don't realize that Aja must have been working her ass off. If your makeup game isn't as good as it should be, and then you come back the way that Aja did? Girl, bye. I was gagged. The moment she walked in and said "Ay yo sis," in that outfit, like everything was so on point. That girl did her damn homework and she turned that shit out. I would've hated to walk in that room, I would've been like, "Goddamn, I thought I looked cute. But this bitch, ugh."
The other big news is that the season 10 cast was announced! Who are you looking forward to from that group of queens?
So I have worked with basically every New York queen that is on this season. And there's like five of them! They basically stormed Drag Race! So, I'm rooting for all of the New York girls. However, I have known Asia O'Hara for a long time, I met her a long time ago when she won Miss Gay USofA. Aquaria was in my music video for "Ratchet Christmas." Phi Phi and Sharon were basically like, "Girl, you need to put her in your video." I was like, "Ok, cool." I love her, she was a baby back then. Then, Yuhua and I worked together for years. We worked together at an Asian club here in the city called "The Web" and we used to share a Saturday night where we would alternate hosting duties, or we would host together, she’s amazing. Oh god, and Mayhem Miller. About. F---ing. Time. I love Mayhem Miller, and girl, you know how Adore kind of made the word "party" a thing on Drag Race? Mayhem is the queen of the f---ing party.
Jesus, so to answer your question, I don’t really know who I’m rooting for [laughs]. Lord, I am so excited for this season.