The relatively unknown singer Joy Villa is getting something out of being associated with President Donald Trump that inauguration performer Jackie Evancho didn’t — a possible top 10 album in the Billboard 200. (The new chart is scheduled to be announced in the afternoon of Feb. 19.)
The woman who was the talk of the Grammy Awards red carpet for wearing a gown emblazoned with the words “Trump” and “Make America Great Again” sold 15,000 copies of a three-year-old EP, I Make the Static, over two days immediately following her startling appearance in the fashion parade, according to Nielsen Music. And those sales came in the absence of Trump tweeting out any appreciation for the shout-out, right-leaning outlets like Fox & Friends and Breitbart helped steer conservatives to the project.
“This is beyond my wildest dreams right now,” Villa tells Billboard. “The spooky thing is that two weeks before the Grammys, I wrote down my goals and one of them was: ‘To be on the top of the Billboard charts with a song I wrote and performed.’ … It’s completely unheard of. I’m an indie, self-published performer who’s mostly toured overseas and is completely self-funded, with a three-year-old album charting. I’ve always wanted to achieve this success; I just didn’t expect it so sudden and so soon.”
And if a lot of her new fans are spending $5 on her EP as a blind buy, because of shared political values, that’s okay by her. “People like to support those who support their beliefs,” Villa says, “and I believe the overwhelming support, love and record sales I’ve experienced are proof of that.”
The 25-year-old singer maintains there are plenty of other Trump supporters in the entertainment community who have been afraid to speak up because of the backlash they’d face, including some “in my personal circle, which is pretty large and contains a lot of counter-culture characters. My friend singer Kaya Jones of the Pussycat Dolls told me she could finally come out of the closet and wear her Trump 2016 campaign shirt,” Villa says. “Other performers like Ricky Rebel, who came out as gay after being in the boy band No Authority, told me he has always supported Trump but has been afraid to say so. There are many other stories like this — people from all walks of life, all colors, all creeds, and even other countries who support Trump but felt they couldn’t speak up for fear of losing business. My biggest concern was backlash from the public or other artists who I admire in the industry. But I’ve never hidden myself for fear of professional punishment and I wasn’t about to start now.”
Controversial Breitbart blogger Milo Yiannopoulos wrote that Villa’s “surge to fame after shocking the Grammys with a pro-Trump dress has proven me right again” in his belief that “being right-wing is the new counterculture, the new punk, an act of rebellion in an era of political correctness, safe spaces, multiculturalism and globalism… She could have played it safe, following the example of Meryl Streep, J.K Rowling and other anti-Trump celebrities, and remain unnoticed. What she did instead was remain true to her values, and as a result commanded the attention of the world last Sunday. Like the punk rockers, she dared to do what no one else would, and reaped the benefits… (I)t’s only a matter of time before the left start calling her a Nazi.”
While that prediction may have been premature, Villa has faced skepticism that her coming out for Trump was less about standing up against leftist political tyranny than trolling. The T-word was employed by the Daily Beast, among others, in their headline: “Joy Villa, Pro-Trump Grammys Troll, Is a Hardcore Scientologist Who Backed Bernie.”
Her previous provocations have been apolitical and mostly related to fashion choices. In 2016, she wore a barely-there outfit to the Grammys’ red carpet that got her on E! News’ worst-dressed list, which noted even then that Villa is “known for her wild outfits.” And up through the election, the occasional political posts in Villa’s social media feed suggested she was leaning the other way, if anything. A year ago she re-tweeted an advertisement for a “Feel the Bern!” T-shirt and added, “I need one!” On election day, she tweeted, “If you don’t like the two crazy candidates running, write in or vote for the OTHER 3 on the ballot!”
But in response to the articles pointing that out, Villa tells Billboard that she did cast her ballot for Trump, even if she wasn’t proclaiming it at the time. “I was overseas on tour and all I saw were these over-the-top, bad-news headlines,” she says. “So I was skeptical at first (about Trump), like many Americans were and still continue to be. What really changed for me was when I spent some time researching before going to the polls. And I made the decision I thought was best, personally, as an American. I voted for Trump and I’m glad I did.”
Prior to the Grammys, Villa’s outspokenness was mainly in a couple of areas where her values may not entirely overlap with those of the Trump nation: veganism, animal cruelty issues and Scientology. In November she posted footage of a ceremony for achieving “clear” status. On Christmas day she wed Danish photographer Thorsten von Overgaard, who, like her, has been profiled on the church’s websites.
The vegan of 12 years is starting a health-oriented website that will include fitness videos and recipes. “I also compete in bikini bodybuilding and have won awards,” she says. “I love showing a strong, feminine figure built on plants.” As a Scientologist of six years, she says, “Having a solid church community and spiritual practice is very important to me. I was raised with a strong belief in God and it helps me stay focused on what’s important. I’m blessed to live in a country where freedom of religion is a beautiful reality.” (Being a Trump supporter might put her within the political mainstream of her religion, if a recent Los Angeles Times story suggesting that residents around Scientology’s Hollywood headquarters voted disproportionately for Trump is accurate.)
Villa’s famous dress’ designer is Andre Soriano, who, as a gay immigrant, might also not seem the stereotypical Trump supporter. “This year Andre called me, sobbing and shocked,” Villa says, “seeing the hate and statements of flat-out violence at the women’s march against the president and the White House. We both voted for and quietly and secretly supported Trump. And we both felt that enough was enough… I knew it would be rough” dealing with the aftermath, she says. “But we weighed the pros and cons and I made the statement to show love, respect, promote tolerance, and hopefully in some small way turn the narrative from hate to ‘Let’s give the guy a chance. He is our president after all.’”
Although she hasn’t heard from the Trump team, she says, “I know from the outpouring of love and support from others that I’ve helped in some small way to support him and spread some respect.”
Trump famously claimed that Jackie Evancho’s sales “skyrocketed” after she took some heat for agreeing to perform at his inauguration, but the most copies her Someday at Christmas album ever sold in a single week after the news stir was 11,000, with a peak position on the Billboard 200 of No. 60. While Evancho expressed political neutrality, even without a nod from the President the lesser-known Villa had much bigger results from her Trump tie-in by going all-in as a fan of the President.
Next up for Villa: a rush-release of a Static Remixes album, along with a live cover of Queen’s “We Are the Champions.” “I want to bring the best to these people who have supported me in such an outrageous, kind and phenomenal way,” she says. “Tours, performances, and possibly recording contracts are all in the works… There have been been so many industry people reaching out, it’s honestly overwhelming.”