Somehow, the drag star managed to find time to release a new comedy album, titled Now That’s What I Call Drag Music, Vol. 1. The nine-track album features parodies of classics by Britney Spears, Dolly Parton and Rihanna, among others, and is her solo follow-up to 2015’s Shartistry in Motion, which topped Billboard's Comedy Albums chart.
Billboard caught up with Willam to talk about her new album, her adoration for Lady Gaga and her obsession with famed serial killer Aileen Wuornos: “I've done all the things that she's done, except kill people. I've hooked. I've bleached my hair. I've walked down I-95. Done all of it.”
There’s been a shift in recent years where Drag Race queens like Adore Delano, Trixie Mattel, Aja and Shea Coulee have been pushing to make music that people take seriously. You, on the other hand, have stayed in your wheelhouse of parodies. Do you have any desire to create music that isn’t comedic?
I’m a comedian. I’ve never really considered myself a musician. I know what I know how to do and I stick to it pretty much. Who doesn't like to laugh? It's safe for me, it's easy. People are always saying, "Oh, you should do more legit stuff," and I'm like, "I like what I do and I think it is legit, and I'm happy." So I just kind of keep doing that.
Adore is amazing. I could listen to her sing forever. And I really like listening to Shea's stuff. Aja and I shared a dressing room last night on a tour, and we were talking about videos and stuff. She's produced everything she's done independently, and it's not a cheap thing to do. It's a labor of love, because music videos don't exactly make you money back. They're kind of just an expensive calling card to get you booked. Like how strippers do porn and then the porn gets them the featured dancer gigs -- that's how they make the money, you know?
I love the title and concept of this album, Now That’s What I Call Drag Music, Vol. 1. You pointed out that drag queens have told you that they're able to make money from performing your parodies. Did that influence this album at all?
I wanna do songs that drag queens all over could do -- like there's a poop song on there, there's a blow job song, there's a dance song, there's a country song, there's a jazzy song, there's an EDM song. There's two originals, which I really like. I didn't want to do all parodies. And I just wanted a little bit of everything.
The bar that I saw the drag queens perform at doing my numbers was in Key West. It's a tourist-trap drag show, where every night they get a different crowd off the boat and it's a lot of straight people. They told me that “straight people love your stuff,” and who doesn't wanna laugh? That felt kinda good.
I’m excited that you have a video for “Aileen.” I think it’s my favorite on this album. I know that Trixie is featured on the track, but you co-wrote it with Jackie Beat. How did you two land on a serial killer as the topic of a song?
I've always been kind of obsessed with Aileen Wuornos because one of my aunts was a truck stop hooker too. Somebody once said that my look was like if Aileen Wuornos got acquitted and got a book deal. And I was like, "That's wrong, but it's really funny." And I've always thought that she was kind of like a gold mine for parody because there's all these things that went wrong in her life. So I just wanted to present all the things that went wrong and put it out there, everything that she did. But not really judging, because who am I to judge? I've done all the things that she's done, except kill people. I've hooked. I've bleached my hair. I've walked down I-95. Done all of it.
I noticed that Trixie was not in drag in the music video. I'm sure she was thrilled about that.
I don't know. She wasn't in drag when she recorded it, so I didn't expect her to be in drag when she showed up for the video. And I know that you don't really play guitar with nails on, so it's kind of a hindrance. And if you're not wearing nails, you're not doing drag, as a wise man once said.
Right. I feel like some people don't appreciate how long it takes to get into drag. It’s work!
I mean to each their own. I can do it in 35 minutes. And then other people -- like Jinkx Monsoon takes two hours to end up all one color, you know? So I don't know.
Ha! Well on the other hand, you had Gigi Gorgeous looking real rough. I have never seen her having fun like that. How did you convince her to do that?
Gigi's amazing. She has such a sense of humor about herself. I keep trying to get her to do stand-up -- she's like the next Chelsea Handler in my book. Who wouldn't want to talk to her? I can't wait to read her new book. It's out next year.
When she was going about her process for her book, I know that she looked at mine and she's like, "My book can't suck. Your book is really good. Tell me about it." And I'm happy to help and pay it forward. [Our] community is really small, so when you find friends, you stick with them and they become kind of your family and you want to help lift everybody up, you know? Her book being a giant success, which it will be, is not gonna hurt my book at all. So why not help the ho out?
Speaking of family, I'd say my other favorite track is "Derrick," especially because it references Billboard’s Spillin’ the Tea roundtable from last year. I love that she even tweeted about the track. She's been such a good sport about this whole Stonewall snafu. Are you two close?
Funny story: When I left to do Drag Race, I knew that I had to do a musical called The Jersey Shoresical. I was like, "OK, well I need to be in New York this day." And Drag Race had two more weeks of filming that I was supposed to be around for. So I knew going in to Drag Race that I wasn't gonna be able to stay for the whole time, so I just went in, fucked around, and tried to make my mark -- which I did.
Danny Franzese was involved with the musical and he was on the set at the wet T-shirt contest episode [of Drag Race] that I won. I remember seeing him in the front row, and we had a little talk. He was like, "You should stay." And I was like, "No, I'll be there, don't worry. I'll see you in New York. I'm leaving soon."
So once I got to New York, Derrick was there, and he's like, "Oh, Danny said that he thought you were gonna stay." And I was like, "No, girl, I'm not missing the Fringe Festival." Because I thought it was gonna transfer to Broadway. Or at least off-Broadway. It ended up winning the audience award at the Fringe Festival.
But long story short, Derrick and I have been friends for years. And he has a sense of humor about himself. If you look at my latest episode of Beatdown where he was drunk at the Hater's Roast, it's hilarious. I texted him, I was like, "Girl, were you blacked out?" And he's like, "The funny thing was, I couldn't read my notes. I have 20/20 vision. So, yeah, I was blacked out." He's one of those kids that's willing to roll with it. I think that a lot of people suffer when they aren't willing to laugh at themselves. And he totally is. And he's in on the joke. And we're just men in wigs.
This album obviously is not the only big project you've had this fall. You were the scene stealer in A Star Is Born. It's my understanding you got to do a lot of ad-libbing?
Yeah, Bradley [Cooper] was really cool because he kind of just let Shangela and I just act like we would in a dressing room. I just thought, "How would I act around a rock star that I loved?" Based on that first day, they wrote the second scene for me and Shangela with the guitar. And that was just amazing being on set with Bradley and Gaga all day.
Gaga was on set the whole time. She wasn't in her trailer, she was just hanging out with me and Shangie. At one point someone was rubbing my shoulders and I turned around and it's her and I was like, "Girl, watch my wig." But just kiki-ing -- the kind of shoulder rub where someone puts their hands on you and they give a couple squeezes and stuff. She's just everything I wish RuPaul was. She's kind, giving with her time. She treats everybody the same. She knows everybody's name. She could be that celebrity who's like, "Don't look at me. And I'll be in my dressing room."
This isn't the first time you worked alongside Gaga. You were in the “Applause” lyric video. What would you say you've learned from watching and working with her?
You know what's crazy? I was literally just going to Mickey's to pick up a wig for Morgan. And she was walking up the front stairs. And I was like, "God, she looks like Gaga. That's a good Gaga impersonator." We went into the same room and I was like, "That is Gaga." And then she's just sitting there, no one else in the room -- just Morgan and me chillin’.
Every time since then that I've been with her, she's been gracious and giving. At the wrap party for A Star Is Born, I brought my best friend Rhea [Litré] and we were just hanging out. And all of a sudden, the crowd parted and Gaga comes right over to Rhea and I, and she was like, "I saw your hair" -- my hair was huge. We were just dancing and kiki-ing for five minutes and then I was like, "This is my friend Rhea. She actually has a tattoo of you." And she looked straight into Rhea's eyes, pointed at her, and said "TigerHeat" -- which is the club that Rhea showed her the tattoo and Gaga remembered it because it was the first Little Monster tattoo she had ever seen in like 2008. She remembered the club nine years later. And it's crazy, 'cause I remember being the door bitch at Here Lounge and having to get the strippers off the stage because this girl was gonna perform, and it was Gaga. I just remember thinking, "Wow, this girl's amazing." And look at her now.
I don't have enough good things to say about her. My life is gonna be forever changed because of this movie. And the fact that her and Bradley saw something special in me and the drag community to put it in there -- because usually drag is the punch line. And in this, they didn't make a farce out of it. They respected it.
I get so excited that this drag zeitgeist is happening and I get to be a part of it. And not a small part of it right now, 'cause I'm on two different Netflix shows, I got that Super Drags show. I'm filming the last season of EastSiders starting next week. I'm gonna be on HGTV, which is nuts. I filmed House Hunters last month in drag. It's cool that drag is being seen and being talked about now I think.
I totally forgot to ask about Super Drags.
Yea! I’m the villain. The villain gets all the good lines.
I remember texting Shangela a picture of her character and she went, "uhh." Because her character is, I wouldn't say, the prettiest one. But neither is mine. But it's so cool to get to be a part of it. It's nice that my nieces and nephews are gonna be able to watch a cartoon and hear my voice on it. It's a great time to be a drag queen, I think.
I guess my last question for you: Are there any tracks that you wanted to parody that didn't make it this time around? Like maybe "Shallow" or "Hair Body Face"?
I will never parody a Gaga song after this. The line is too fine to risk ever irking her in the least. I would never wanna do that or disrespect her music. Every artist that I've parodied has been cool with it so far. I know one hasn't loved a version of it, but she didn't sue me over it or make me take it down. They've all been pretty cool.
I want to keep A Star Is Born with the greatest reverence ever. I don't wanna fuck with it and make fun of it in any way. Someone said I should do a parody called “Swallow" and I was like, "No, I already have a blow job song on this album called 'Oral.'"
Check out Now That's What I Call Drag Music, Vol. 1 below.