When Rainbow Kitten Surprise’s Sam Melo crafted his deeply revealing song “Hide,” a single from the North Carolina act’s new album, How To: Friend, Love, Freefall (out April 6 through Elektra Records), he knew that it needed to be complimented with a special video.
After recruiting director Kyle Thrash, the result was a six-minute documentary/video that serves as an intensely personal look at the lives of four drag queens based in New Orleans. It culminates into an emotional gut punch.
“I had a cousin I haven’t talked to in years reach out to me after seeing the video today, saying she was proud of me and that she knew it couldn’t have been easy given our upbringing,” Melo explains. “That, along with the support on social media for this video and song, has been humbling.”
Billboard caught up with Thrash to explore the process behind the creation of the impactful video and why crafting the visuals for “Hide” was a special project that often left crew members in tears.
How did you get involved with the video?
I was approached by the label and they asked me to hop on the phone with Sam. I heard that the song was pretty special to him, and he mentioned that he’s gay. The band is from from North Carolina and he’s in an interracial relationship, so he talked about some of the hardships he’s had to go through growing up. But he had never really written too much from that perspective, so this was a big song for him. We spoke about what our approach to that could be and Sam had the idea of covering drag queens and referenced the film Paris is Burning. He wanted to use the a video for “Hide” as a platform to celebrate drag queens. From there, we started exploring and found a ton of amazing queens.
How did you find the drag queens featured in the video? Did you do a casting call?
No casting call. It was us approaching different queens through different circles. Some through word of mouth, some through social media. It got around that we were doing this project and the New Orleans drag community, where we shot it, is amazing; I can’t speak more highly of it. Everyone was incredibly welcoming and helpful. We were able to speak to over 50 different queens that were interested in being involved in the project and from there we decided on the characters we were going to focus on and the story we wanted to tell. It was kind of a mish mash of exploring and getting the word out there.
How did you settle on the people you chose? They all have very specific stories.
It was a couple different things, but it boiled down to the stories that resonated with us most coupled with the themes of the song. The first character we see, Kev, spoke about growing up in a rural area outside of New Orleans and the pressures of being gay in a small town and how it was difficult to come out at first, how he had to hide it from his dad. Then there’s Ryan, who’s seen next in the video. He lives in a tougher part of New Orleans and has to hide who he is when he’s in his neighborhood and surrounding areas. Then there’s Justin whose stepfather wasn’t as accepting him doing drag, so you get to see a family dynamic.
Then finally Ricky, she works really, really hard and talked about the fantasy element of what drag is. So those were the four different sides of things we wanted to explore. From there we just followed the story. We got really lucky with Justin’s stepfather… We had no idea he was suppose to come to the show that night. Then Kev was open was sharing the moment he had with his dad at the house. Above all, this video is about them. I just kind of gave them the platform. I’m extremely grateful that were able to share their magic with us.
One of the most dramatic moments of the video is when you’re waiting outside Kev’s house and he’s knocking on the door, about to reveal himself to his father. Were scenes like that tense to film?
Yeah, I mean we were all sitting in the car that night kind of a nervous wreck. We were nervous about what would happen and how his father would react. I had never done anything like that before. For each queen we featured, we had a moment where it turned into an experience for me too. The stepdad at Justin’s show, it’s not in the video, but Justin said, “All I want is my stepdad to accept me and to give me a hug tonight.” We were rolling and took a portrait with them, then he grabbed her and brought her in a hug and he whispered that he accepted and loves her and accepts what she was doing. My assistant camera guy who was pulling focus was crying during that moment, so the whole crew was definitely emotionally raw throughout the shoot.
What do you want people to take away from this video?
I hope what resonates is their bravery and their amazingly beautiful performances. I’m just really grateful they shared their stories. Hopefully people will see it on a number of different levels, especially on a human level. These are beautiful people on the inside and out who have these moments of struggle in the landscape of the south and being so brave to do what they do. Also to see that drag is an art and performing is an art and it should be celebrated and embraced. The video is a celebration of their stories and was all a pretty special experience.