Drag queens are popping up in runway shows, in pop stars’ music videos and on the biggest TV networks and streaming services. But when it comes to the music industry, major labels have been hesitant to embrace drag stars despite their loyal fanbases (and myriad musical talents).
At Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter’s inaugural Pride Summit, some of the biggest names in drag offered their take on why.
“Most of us can’t sing,” joked Manila Luzon.
“How is that any different from the music industry at large?” Peppermint quipped back.
The two entertainers joined fellow RuPaul’s Drag Race alumnae Alaska Thunderfuck, Blair St. Clair and Trixie Mattel as well Ryan Aceto, head of A&R at Producer Entertainment Group Records, for a conversation about how to make more space for drag entertainers in the record business that was moderated by Billboard Pride staff writer Stephen Daw.
Part of the problem, Alaska explained, is the lack of diversity among top decision-makers at record labels and major music companies. “There’s always been extreme misogyny in the music industry,” Alaska said. “We get a huge brunt of that…. If it comes down to the person sitting in the office on the top floor, if they don’t get it, if they don’t get why the fuck this is, then they don’t get and they don’t promote it.”
“Certain industries don’t want to take risks if they don’t have to,” Peppermint added. “Now we have a landscape where people can put out their own music.”
Trixie Mattel also suggested that when it comes to music, queer fans — even fans of drag — more often throw their support behind straight artists instead of artists from their own communities. “If you don’t clap for Todrick Hall, guess what Mary, you’re a homophobe,” Mattel said. “If a white blonde woman was doing what Todrick Hill did, gays would fall the fuck out. If you don’t support shit, it goes away or it never happens.”
But there are signs of progress: Producer Entertainment Group, which manages the careers of many drag stars, recently announced a deal with Warner Music’s Alternative Distribution Alliance to distribute their entire catalog. “We have such an incredible roster of talent that deserves to be heard,” Aceto said. And St. Clair hopes the partnership will dispel any misconceptions about who music by drag entertainers is “for.”
“We as individuals we make music,” said St. Clair. “So many people label that and say it’s ‘gay music’ … Music doesn’t have a gender or sexual orientation. What I do isn’t strange or weird or obscure.”
As drag becomes more visible in the mainstream, consumers also become more aware of the work that goes into drag — which Mattel says only helps new fans appreciate what drag queens bring to the industry.
“When I was working with Iggy Azalea, mama, we were both sitting there putting on a wig — we are both drag queens!” joked Mattel, referencing her appearance in Azalea’s “Started” video. “What woman in L.A. doesn’t take 90 minutes to get ready? it’s the same thing.”
Said Peppermint: “We’re busting our ass to make sure [our music is] something you can be proud of.”