With eccentric looks and a subversive social media presence, Brooke Candy's drag queen fandom should come as no surprise. Earlier this year, she recruited Gia Gunn and Laganja Estranja to perform with her at the GayVN awards. “Their confidence and sense of humor inspires me the most,” she says, listing Estranja, Gunn, Latrice Royale, Violet Chachki, Aquaria, Trixie Mattel and Katya as some of her favorite queeens from RuPaul's Drag Race. “Their talent and artistic flair is incomparable," she tells Billboard. "How many people do you know that can beat their face, attach a lace front, sew their own outfit, dance and perform, have a level of charisma and still do it stunningly? That is beyond."
So imagine Candy’s excitement when Mercedes Iman Diamond, a contestant on the eleventh season of Drag Race, uttered the meme-able phrase, “Opulence, you own everything!” The exclamation was derived from the 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning, and it closely resembles a lyric from Brooke Candy’s high-octane 2014 single, “Opulence." The exposure made downloads soar and Candy received thousands of new Instagram followers. “It was really nice!” she recalls. “I really want the world -- every gender, person, human and alien -- to take notice of the craft I have and create daily.”
Another source of inspiration for the 29-year-old siren: sex. In a recent performance, Candy, who once worked as a stripper, incorporated shibari, a form of Japanese rope bondage. The artform is also featured in the first single “Happy” from her debut album, Sexorcism (due out this summer). “It was my first time working with bondage and I ended up falling in love,” she says. “I like to not only allow my fans to hear and bop to my music, but they need to feel, enhance and be a part of every single element from start to finish. Putting on an incredible experience for the audience, who take the time to come and see me, is all that matters.”
Appropriately, Candy's music makes you want to strip down to your skivvies and grip a pole. Her father worked as the CFO of Hustler and exposure to that hedonistic environment shaped the singer’s image. “I was around Larry Flynt and a lot of very sexy and beautiful women all the time -- they were total icons,” she says. “I’ve always idolized women like Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Traci Lords and Lil Kim; women who wore their sexuality and feminine mystique on their shoulders with no shame and total grace.”
Considering her father’s place of work -- she’d find “boxes of dildos” around the office as a little girl -- it's perhaps a surprise that her household was rather closed-minded. When Candy came out to her family, her mother kicked her out of the house. For a long time, Candy was homeless, her car acting her only reliable shelter. “That relationship has never really mended," she says. "It was just so traumatizing. I’m sure in the future I'll be able to re-approach it, but as of right now it still hurts my feelings and it hurts my heart to know that that’s how she felt.”
Candy’s father was more accepting, but in a see-no-evil way. “My dad’s side is Orthodox Jewish, so being pan is against their religion," she says. "It’s something they don’t want to talk about. They brush it under the rug and pretend it’s not real. It’s on them, and I don’t hold it against them. It’s ignorance and they don’t know that they’re hurting me. They just have a different perception of things. And I accept them for that. I try to take the high road.”
Despite that personal turmoil, Candy is currently in a healthy romantic relationship. “I’ve had sex with every gender and had relationships with every gender but right now I’m in love with a boy,” she says, smiling. She lists intelligence, compassion and kindness as a partner’s most important qualities. “They have to be good in bed and want sex more than once a day. A girl has needs!”
Candy met her man through tattooing; he was her artist. “He changed the way that I viewed relationships and monogamy," she says, "which I was never a proponent of. I didn’t feel like it was a natural thing for a human being. But now that I’m experiencing this feeling that I’ve never felt before, it seems the most natural. I think sex -- as long as it is consensual and safe -- with many people is amazing and I’ve lived that life too, but right now I’m in love and monogamous. I don’t think either way is wrong. It’s just a matter of where you are in your life and who you’re with and how they make you feel.”
Outside of her personal life, Candy is clear-headed about what she wants to achieve. “Fame isn’t the goal, nor should it be,” she says. “For me, making art is the goal and making money from the art you create is the goal. Everything else is temporary and fleeting. Fame is never permanent.”
Her dedication to her art is the reason she decided to go independent after signing with Sony. “There were too many people around controlling me," she explains. "I was in a vehicle that was being driven by someone else. It felt like I was being groomed to be some sort of machine and it didn’t make me happy. No amount of money mattered. I just wanted to make art that made me happy.”
Sia played a major role in Candy’s career. “I was taking drugs and suffered from psychosis; Sia put me into rehab and helped me. I think she always had a plan to get me better,” Candy says. And that’s exactly what she did.
Along with getting Candy the help she needed, Sia also showed her the ropes of the industry. From booking her studio time with producers to letting her watch the songwriting process, Sia left Candy with the tools she needed to forge a career. "Sia saw a lot of potential in me,” Candy says. "She wanted to help alleviate the darkness and help propel me to a platform on a much grander scale."
This clarity gave Candy the ability to feel empathy, a concept she couldn’t comprehend before Sia. “She was just like this beam of light, this angel that came out of nowhere,” Candy says. “She had a troubled past as well with a lot of trauma. I think she saw herself in me and I think she knew what to do to make sure I continued to make art from a place of sanity and some semblance of happiness.”
Since embarking on a career as an independent artist, Candy feels that her music can touch people on a deeper, more honest level. “I believed in my vision and my vision wasn’t believed in by a lot of older men, who I don’t believe had their finger on the pulse,” she says. “They don’t know what’s relevant, they just kind of catch onto things once they’ve become popular.”
The decision to leave her label opened a floodgate of creativity; her album was recorded in four days. “We made 12 songs and all of them are so good,” she says. “Normally, we would probably trash half. At Sony, I must’ve recorded 60 songs and they eventually trashed all of them.”
In our conversation, Candy is delightfully casual, her modesty glaringly evident. “For Sexorcism, I had these features in mind with people I never thought would say yes because I never thought of myself as a good musician,” she says. “Every artist I sent my songs to to possibly feature immediately said yes,” she says, teasing Charli XCX and Maliibu Miitch as some of her upcoming collaborations.“It is all female features. It’s all women of different nationalities and backgrounds. It’s pretty much what I’ve always dreamed of.”
Candy hopes her album will help those who are repressed. It’s the reason sex is such a strong presence in her music and performances. “I’m all about sexual liberation and some semblance of a sexual revolution,” she says. “That’s my dream. I’m a proponent for sex workers. I think they’re mistreated. Legalizing sex work would allow female sex workers to feel empowered and driven. It gives them motivation to tackle the world. It would eliminate disease and the stigma of sex."
She continues, “I want to speak to anyone who feels like an outcast or anyone who feels deprived of their rights or are otherwise disenfranchised. I want to create music that can be played in every gay club all over the world because those are my people.”
Judging by her own description of Sexorcism -- “It’s full of songs for strippers. It’s next level crazy. It’s what I’ve always wanted to make!” -- there’s no doubt the gays (and our bars) will eat Candy up.