Drag is mainstream. Hollywood has begun to take the artform seriously, with Drag Race alum popping up everywhere from animated cartoon series on Netflix (Ginger Minj and Trixie Mattel in Super Drags) to Oscar-nominated films (Shangela and Willam in A Star Is Born).
The fashion world, too, has embraced drag, with stars like Milk, Aquaria and Sasha Velour sitting front row, walking runways and even curating shows at various New York Fashion Week events. So what’s taking the music industry so long to embrace these entertainers?
It’s become a rite of passage for the competitors of RuPaul’s Drag Race to release songs and music videos coinciding with their time on the show. All four of the All Stars 4 finalists have released at least one song and music video in the past couple months. And these clips have an audience: since its mid-December release, Naomi Smalls’ music video for “Pose” has racked up more than 1.1 million views. Still, while several Drag Race queens have notched No. 1s on various Billboard charts, none have made an imprint on the Hot 100 and the Billboard 200. It’s past time that the music industry invite drag artists to the table — and Monét X Change, one of Drag Race’s newly-crowned winners, is ready to claim her seat.
“It is 2019. In the ’90s, when RuPaul came out with Supermodel of the World, I don’t think the world was ‘ready’ for it, but his music was just so good and so iconic, they had no other option but to respect it,” X Change tells Billboard. “If you watched Sylvester’s ‘Mighty Real’ video, you look at him like, ‘Oh my God, that was out in the ’80s?’ He was in full-on drag doing a video. Again, I won’t say the world was ready for it, but it was fierce and you had to respect it.”
Monét hopes her new visual EP, Unapologetically, will receive the same sort of reverence. The project was executive-produced by ASCAP winner and Grammy-nominated writer Eritza Laues (Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Nicky Jam). She brought in a team that includes former Atlantic Records A&R exec Walter Randall (Justin Bieber, Solange), who helped administrate the EP, as well as writer/producers Soundwavve (Lil Kim, J. Cole) and Christopher “Cannon” Mapp (Jahiem, Cassie). X Change, who is managed by Producer Entertainment Group, co-wrote the four tracks.
“I think that they need to stop looking at us as just drag performers,” X Change says. “Just look at us as artists. Do you like this music? If the answer is yes, then support us!”
The queen lists a mélange of influences for her new EP, but there are four she keeps returning to: SZA, H.E.R., Sylvester and the Queen B herself. In fact, the third song on the album is titled “Beyoncé,” which she describes as a “club banger.”
“Every gay man feels like they are Beyoncé. That’s what that song leans into,” she says, laughing. “When you are in the mirror getting ready to meet with your girlfriends at Mickey’s on a Friday night, you’re like, ‘Bitch, I’m mothafuckin’ Beyoncé.”
The EP’s other upbeat track, “There For You,” has a throwback hue to it: “I’m channeling Sylvester up in that club in the ’80s, girl, and that disco wig and the all white. Yes, the house down boots, Sylvester realness.”
Unapologetically isn’t strictly for the clubs, though. The intro track features X Change’s baritone, classically-trained opera chops singing “Ave Maria” underneath a spoken word that speaks to her inner struggle with religion.
“I would go to church and I would go to choir rehearsal in full drag and the church was so loving and accepting of my drag career,” she explains. “But religion has always been something that I questioned a lot in my life. I was like, how does this fit into being a gay man? I think now, I’ve come to a place where I’ve accepted that and love that part of myself.”
The album’s closer, “Gently,” which she describes as “a soft, romantic, sexy song” is a nod to X Change’s enchantment with R&B. Growing up, she’d stay up late with her aunt for Midnight Love on BET, watching music videos from artists like Tamia, Jaheem and Toni Braxton play on loop. But despite her love for the genre, X Change initially felt insecure experimenting with it because of her naturally deep voice.
“I am a true baritone, so I never thought there was a career in frickin’ R&B for me. No one wants to hear that,” she explains. “I think the older I’ve gotten, the more I’m seeing that it’s not about your range. It’s about the sincerity of your tone and speaking to their heart with your lyrics.”
Time will tell if Unapologetically earns Monét much-deserved credibility as a musician, but she is ready for some respect.
“You have performers like Pabllo Vittar in Brazil — he is recognized as an artist and a beautiful musician. That’s how I want people to look at me here in America,” she says. “I think I have the chops and the talent to do so. Get me to the Grammys, girl.”
Watch the Unapologetically visual album below. The album is also available for pre-order.