Television

The Drag Roast of Heklina Brings the Heat and the Laughs

The Revry original is juicy and worth binging on 

Photo: Revry

Photo: Revry

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Drag queen roasts are currently a hot topic in the queer news sector, and for good reason; they always make a splash. By their very nature, roasts bring out the ultimate shade, which stems from shared love. A queen can only adequately roast their sister — or their frenemy. It’s a fool’s errand to try and roast someone you don’t know. 

That’s why The Drag Roast of Heklina is so brilliant. The Cheyenne Picardo-directed Revry original is a riotous, one hour, 20 minute-long Castro Theatre production starring some of the biggest queens in the game. From RuPaul’s Drag Race winners Bob the Drag Queen, Jinkx Moonsoon and Alaska, to legends like Julie Brown, Jackie Beat, Sister Roma, and Peaches Christ, everyone is there for the one reason: to skewer Heklina, their friend and guest of honor. 

In our community of devout Drag Race fans, specials like The Roast of Heklina are important. There are queens on and off cable television that are worth our attention — and that’s just “the tea” for today.

Watch The Drag Roast of Heklina here

Trailer


What are your favorite moments from the roast? Tweet me! @DerekPlease

Review: Trinity Taylor's Love for the Art Tour in Minneapolis

The season 9 stunner and All Stars 4 frontrunner held the Flip Phone-presented competition at The Pourhouse

Photo: DerekPlease.com

Photo: DerekPlease.com

Trinity the Tuck emerged on The Pourhouse stage with an energetic lip-sync performance of the hypnotic, dark pop Kim Petras bop “Turn Off the Light (feat. Elvira).” Her tight lip sync, gorgeous ruffled outfit and energetic strutting got the night off to a fun start. 

She then threw herself into full-on MC mode, introducing the concept of her Love for the Art Tour, a nationwide series of drag competitions starring local queens. Minneapolis was the sixth tour stop so far, and as the night went on, she declared it the tightest competition yet. 

Photo: DerekPlease.com

Photo: DerekPlease.com

The talented Trinity MCed the competition with self-effacing humor, like telling the audience she would weigh 100 pounds if it weren’t for the “85 pounds of silicon” in her body. The first round was a look presentation, with each of the contestants showcasing a gag-worthy drag couture. The audience took the competition seriously, too, as I noticed a few people with paper and pen keeping track of their favorites.

  • Carińo came out in a blush-colored belted gown, and vamped along to a monologue about drag that transitioned into a Spanish-language pop song.

  • Allota Shots brought everyone back to the 90s wearing by their best Magic School Bus drag (literally, they stepped out of a bus they was wearing around their hips). From planets on their head, to makeup and hair inspired by Miss Frizzle, and a galaxy-pattern dress, the look was out of this world. Their look presentation was soundtracked to the show’s theme song, too. Trinity the Tuck said, “If drag doesn’t work out for you, you’ll be an arts and crafts genius, bitch!”

  • Giselle Ovarmé showcased an iridescent, crystallized costume with a silhouette reminiscent of The Fame Monster-era Lady Gaga. A haunting atmospheric track played in the background. Trinity thought Giselle looked like a mermaid.

  • Drag queen and king Meshika Shadows first appeared in a pink glitter gown with a long, flowing white train. The train was so big someone had to help them walk it down the stairs. They showcased the sparkling, flowing beauty of the piece while P!nk’s “What About Us” played.

  • The statuesque Laydee Swallowz donned a slim-fitting, glittery, star-covered dress with a matching headpiece. It was accentuated with dark aquamarine drapes hanging off their arms. Old Hollywood music hung in the background. They went above and beyond by getting on a microphone to describe their look as “glamour and Lisa Frank.”

  • Victoria Boom Boom Gotti rocked a stunning curled wig, which was perhaps the best hair of the night. Their black glittered dress caught the eye of many fans, and they received some of the most generous tips of the night. The chill R&B song “Queen” by Jessie J was a sensual backing track to their presentation.

  • Ty Torres wore a large feathered piece around their shoulders, and a matching feathered headpiece. The shoulder piece came off in two, as handheld fans they waved around for the audience. Trinity the Tuck was impressed, shouting, “Come on full production, let’s get sickening!” 

  • Local favorite Martina Marraccino of Queer Circus wore an ornate green dress with plants coming from it. It contrasted beautifully against their bright red gloves and stilettos. Their silver headpiece sparkled, and had plant life bursting out the top. Trinity joked about being “hypnotized” by this performer in the dressing room. “Don’t ‘dickmatize’ me, bitch!”

  • The gorgeous Moéh stood tall in a pink dress with a squiggle design, a black belt and black shoulder pads. Their blonde-with-dark-roots wig recalled Madonna’s Hard Candy era hair looks.

  • Rosie Bottoms wowed the crowd wearing a red wig, and a floral print dress with a large bird puppet coming out the front. The puppet was hand-operated, and created the illusion that they were riding on its back. This was achieved by Rosie wearing long stilts on their legs, covered with bird leg-patterned material.

  • Priscilla Yuicy did their best runway walk onto the stage, soundtracked to Rihanna’s “Phresh Off the Runway.” They rocked a large updo, a green felt jacket, and long silver boots. The coat came off to reveal a silver, chain mail-inspired dress. The music transitioned into an audio recording of Samirah Raheem’s epic anti-slut shaming conversation with Jesse Peterson, which has gone viral. 

Round two was the performance category, which included lip synced performances and even some live instrumentation. DJ Izzie P kept things moving with minimal downtime between performers’ tracks.

  • The bouncy Carińo broke it down to a Spanish-Language dance track. Their intricate arm choreography and death drop were so good, Trinity asked them to teach the audience how to pronounce their name so they wouldn’t mess it up.

  • Allota Shots came out dressed like Mary Poppins, umbrella and all. They performed along to a dubstep mega mix of songs from the classic Disney flick. Shots even spiced Poppins up by taking off their overcoat to reveal a slinky bodysuit underneath. The performance inspired Trinity the Tuck to troll the crowd, saying, “If you can spell ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,’ I’ll give you $500… and if you believe me, I’m lying!” 

  • Double entendre queen Giselle Ovarmé straddled a venue staircase as they entered wearing large, holographic angel wings and a shiny costume. The iridescent outfit played well in the stage lights, soundtracked to a lip-sync of “The Cold” by Exitmusic. During the final chorus, the angel wings were revealed to be rigged with dazzling LED lights.

  • Meshika Shadows slayed in a green, glittery kimono-shaped dress. They showed off their lip-sync skills to P!nk’s cover of “A Million Dreams” from the film The Greatest Showman, before a high energy transition into Katy Perry’s “Part of Me,” including several many cartwheels back and forth across the stage. Trinity was impressed by the full costume change Shadows did between the two songs. 

  • Laydee Swallowz donned a short, white 1920s flapper dress. Their lip-sync was to Miss Shirley Bassey’s legendary vocal recording of “History Repeating.” She had a classy updo with gems in it. They had several layers which came off, including a chest piece that revealed a pink triangle, and a back piece that revealed the word “RESIST.” They ended the performance with a fist of power. Trinity the Tuck complemented their Bob Fosse-inspired moves. 

  • Victoria Boom Boom Gotti came correct with a remix of Kesha’s “Woman." Gotti led the crowd in a clap-along as they yanked off a smock that revealed a black body suit underneath, complete with revealing cutouts. Their high energy choreo stunned the audience, as did their death drop into a rain of cash. Trinity was also shook, stating “I wouldn’t wanna lip sync against her.”

  • Ty Torres came back to deliver an amazing performance of “Devil Went Down to Georgia” by Charlie Daniels. Torres’ denim cowboy look with human and devil makeup on either side of their face perfectly fit the song’s lyrics. Torres did not have a fiddle like the song references, saxophone, which they played live. “That’s a talent,” Trinity declared. 

  • Martina Marraccino returned to the mic for an impressive live vocal performance of “A Million Reasons” by Lady Gaga. Their singing showed restraint, was on pitch, and sounded great alongside a live-sounding acoustic guitar recording. Their yellow and black cow-print smock was hilarious and went with the country sound of the track. Their vibrato was gorgeous, and a fellow audience member agreed with me. Trinity couldn’t resist referencing her All Stars 4 sister Monique Heart by saying, “Yes, yellow cow stunning!” 

  • Moéh lip-synced Florence and the Machine’s 2018 cover of the classic song “Stand by Me.” The stage lights accentuated Moéh’s gorgeous white wig and pink and silver gown. 

  • Rosie Bottoms came for blood with a high-energy performance of “Scheiße” by Lady Gaga. Wearing an aquamarine, see-through lace jumpsuit and white slouchy boots, Bottoms brought the house down with big choreography. This included a death drop which went into high-octane floor choreography. An astounded Trinity said, “I’m out of breath just watching her. I need to go to the emergency room!”

  • Priscilla Yuicy also brought the heat with the Ciara song “Got Me Good”; cool timing, because Ciara was a guest judge on that night’s episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 4. Their red glitter cape come off to reveal an orange dress with a black lace back. In a twist of events, that dress also came off, unveiling a jeweled red bodysuit. Like Bottoms before them, Juicy dropped to the floor to do intricate floorwork. Yuicy's dancing here was some of the fiercest of the night. 

After Bottoms and Yuicy almost literally brought The Pourhouse down with their savage, high-energy performances, Trinity the Tuck welcomed all the contestants back to the stage. She delivered a powerful speech about how much the night and the tour at large meant to her, before asking the crowd to vote for their favorite performers by cheering the loudest for their pick. 

Photo: DerekPlease.com

Photo: DerekPlease.com

Photo: DerekPlease.com

Photo: DerekPlease.com

One by one, contestants were lovingly eliminated and thanked for their work. Lots of standouts left the stage, before it was down to Rosie Bottoms and Priscilla Yuicy. Bottoms won by a small crowd noise margin, so Trinity declared Yuicy would also advance to the national round of the Love of the Art Tour competition. For their slayage, Bottoms won $500 and Yuicy snatched $100. Trinity thanked the Minneapolis crowd, which was audibly delighted to have two representatives going to Los Angeles. 

Photo: DerekPlease.com

Photo: DerekPlease.com


Who’s your favorite drag queen, local to you? Tag them in a tweet to me! @DerekPlease

Interview: Miz Cracker Talks Touring the World After RuPaul's Drag Race

The Season 10 stunner teases what’s to come

Photo from Miz Cracker

Photo from Miz Cracker

Season 10 of RuPaul’s Drag Race ended in June, but cast standout Miz Cracker has already performed in Minneapolis more times than queens from past seasons! After her third show here in a few months’ time, I got a chance to speak with her about what keeps her coming back for more. 

Derek: Hi, Miz Cracker! Thank you for taking the time to do an interview with me. I had the chance to speak with Monet for the last M&P tour, and she spoke highly of you. What has life been like for you since RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 10 ended?

Miz Cracker: It’s December now, and I’m realizing that this has been the most eventful year of my life. Since the show, I’ve visited almost a dozen countries, worked with some of my idols and hosted two national tours. Incredible.

D: Your Drag Race reaction series Review with a Jew is hilarious. Can we expect more during All Stars 4, and possibly even Season 11? 

MC: I don’t think I could show my face to the world if I didn’t continue Review with a Jew. Also, Katelyn my copilot in life would come break my legs. It’s our baby, our “art” and our biggest achievement. 

D: Is there a Miz Cracker album in the works?

MC: I mean, Cher covered ABBA. Is it time for me to cover Cher covering ABBA?

D: What are some of your goals for 2019?

MC: My goal for 2019 is to really put my philosophy to work—show the world that drag can do amazing things for queers and women in a real way. Stay tuned for more. I can’t tell too much.

D: You recently performed your one woman show “It’s Time!” and co-hosted Murray & Peter Present War On the Catwalk - The Queens of Season 10, both here in Minneapolis, before hosting this Christmas tour stop. What’s your favorite part of performing here?

MC: I’m not gassing you up when I say Katelyn and I love the Twin Cities. I’m not even sure what it is—the wild audiences? The good diners? The quirky event spaces? We’ve been all over the world and we CAN’T get enough of this place.
D: Give a tease of what audiences will experience on the Murray & Peter Present A Drag Queen Christmas - The Naughty Tour

MC: I’ve never had so much fun on a group tour honestly. Audiences should expect a group of wildly different queens poking fun at each other mercilessly and still celebrating their differences. Some penis jokes. And a lot of jokes about my recent weight gain. Honestly, I’m not always this cheery. I just happen to love this tour and this city.


What’s your favorite Miz Cracker moment? Tweet me! @DerekPlease

Interview: Sean Patrick Murray from Westside on Netflix

The new musical reality series shines light on nine potential megastars. 

Photo: Wes Sumner

Photo: Wes Sumner

Halsey has a radio hit with “Eastside,” but there’s a lot going on with Westside, the new musical reality series streaming on Netflix. One of the show’s co-creators and lead cast members, Sean Patrick Murray, has put his all into the new show, even marrying his now-husband in a memorable episode. I caught up with him to talk about the creative process, and what he hopes music lovers will take away from Westside season one.


Derek: Netflix is seen as the ideal platform to have your content on these days. Why do you think that is? 

Sean Patrick Murray: What I love most about Netflix is their willingness to take risks. Jenn Levy [Editor’s Note: Levy is director of unscripted originals and acquisitions at Netflix] and Brandon Riegg [vice president of unscripted originals and acquisitions] both saw and believed in this project from day one. They knew it was a swing, but high risk comes with high reward. When I think of Netflix, I think of opportunity. I think of possibility. I think of discovery. It's the new frontier. 

D: In addition to starring, you’re a co-creator on Westside. What was the behind-the-scenes creative process like?

S: Producing is something that I never planned on, but I fell into organically. I had created a seven-minute pilot while at NYU called Under the Arch that Michael Flutie, Executive Producer of Westside, discovered back in 2007. He took me in, harnessed my creativity and taught me everything I know. Our production company Madwood Studios partnered with the incredible Kevin Bartel at Love Productions and we co-produced the series together. We spent over a year developing the show, fine tuning ways to make sure a show like this would be original and different. It needed a hook. And that’s where the music videos came in. However, once we sold the show to Netflix — and I was officially cast in the show — I had to take a backseat to the physical, day-to-day documenting of any “reality," in order to preserve the integrity of the show, and there not be any conflict of interests.  

Photo: Netflix

Photo: Netflix

D: As a musician, what excited you most about telling your own story in such a visual way?

S: I come from the theatre world. So the old saying goes, "Speak to tell your story. When speaking doesn't do your emotion justice anymore, sing. And when singing isn't enough, dance!" What excited me the most was that my entire life I was auditioning for roles that weren't written for me. In this project, I had the opportunity to tell the most unique and personalized story — my own. 

D: What do you hope people take away from your music on Westside?

S: [Laughs] The answer is in the question: hope! While our show may have dark moments, the message is that no matter what life throws at you, you can overcome it. It doesn't matter if you're a doctor, a lawyer, a cashier or construction worker… everyone wants to be the best version of themselves possible. I hope this show ignites that fire in us that we felt when we were kids; that the world is our oyster, and anything is possible, if we just believe. 

D: Which artists are your biggest musical inspirations?

S: Wow. Okay. Here we go… The Beatles; No Doubt, Tragic Kingdom was my first album; Ed SheeranJustin TimberlakeJosh GrobanMichael BubléGavin DeGrawJason Mraz; Maroon 5. And last, but not least, Zac Efron. God, I love that guy. That guy can do it all!

D: Pia Toscano is a part of the cast. Her elimination from American Idol in 2011 was one of the most shocking in the show’s history; I remember watching it live. Westside seems to be offering her and other artists a rare second chance, which are hard to come by in the music industry. Do you have thoughts on this element of the show?

S: For some of us this is our first chance, for some like Pia, our second chance. For me, this seemed like my last chance. I had to take life by the horns and say, "If something is going to happen, it's not going to be by me just sitting at my house waiting for someone to knock on the door and discover me!" You have to be willing to take risks, and part of taking risks is acknowledging that you may fail. But it's in those failures that the most important lessons come to us. Pia Toscano — my “Sepia” — has become one of my closest friends. To be honest, I didn't watch her on American Idol. I saw her performing in a For The Record show with fellow cast-member James Byous. I remember thinking to myself, "I haven’t heard a voice like this since Whitney [Houston] or Céline [Dion]." Then I Googled her and saw all her Celine and Whitney cover songs and, naturally, fainted. [Laughs]

Photo: Netflix

Photo: Netflix

D: Your wedding is featured in episode three. How did you make the decision to share that day with the world?

S: Having my wedding featured on the show has proved to be the most rewarding part of my story. One of the biggest takeaways from this show has been acknowledging and managing "the ego.” This show wasn't about me. Having our wedding featured wasn't about “me.” It was about the impact and message it would send to the world. That LGBTQ+ relationships are just as loving, committed and supported as any heterosexual relationship. Also, being able to relive that moment for the rest of my life isn't too bad either [Smiles].

D: What surprised you the most while filming the series?

S: I was surprised how many demons I was hiding. I realized I'm still very insecure, and that it's ok to be vulnerable. I learned that when you share your vulnerability, you allow others to connect and relate to you, furthermore empowering them to share their own truths. I still care deeply what people think of me. It's a weakness I strive to strengthen. But it takes trust… not just in others, but myself. I think one of the reasons I had been struggling for so long was that I don't think I ever fully believed in myself. I was scared of my own greatness; of finding out what I was truly made of


What’s your favorite Netflix Original? DM me! Instagram.com/DerekPlease

Exclusive: Aja and Director Assaad Yacoub Talk New Music Video in On-Set Interview

A joint music video for “Bitch I’m Kawaii” and “Ayo Sis” brings the barrier-smashing performer close to completing their visual EP.

Photography by Dash Jones

Photography by Dash Jones

Rapper and RuPaul’s Drag Race & All Stars 3 alumni Aja filmed their new music video for the killer tracks “Bitch I’m Kawaii” and “Ayo Sis” in Downtown Los Angeles, CA on September 12, 2018. Yours truly had the honor of being on set — observing the action, and interviewing both Aja and the video’s director, Assaad Yacoub.

I spoke one-on-one with Aja between the filming of two key scenes. Our discussion was candid, revelatory, and fun. As we spoke, the crew moved their camera and lighting set up from a stuffed animal bureau set to a New York-style apartment bedroom scene.


Aja

Photography by Dash Jones

Photography by Dash Jones

Derek: I’m really excited to interview you again. So, why did you chose this double track as your new single?

Aja: Well, it was never supposed to actually be my single. “Art God” was going to be the next single. Then I just kind of thought, I have some time, I’m going to be in LA for a few days. I want to shoot a new music video. I couldn’t really decide between the two tracks, “Ayo Sis” and “Bitch I’m Kawaii.” So I said, you know what, why not Missy Elliot it. Who I actually rode with to LA, she was on my plane.

D: Oh! Really?

A: By the way, yeah, which is really random.

D: Wow, that’s awesome!

A: You know how Missy Elliot used to do like those combination videos, where it would be like two videos in one? I was like, why don’t I do that for the last two tracks on my EP, and I’ll be the first person to ever come off of Drag Race and have turned their entire EP into a visual collection of items.

I thought, if we’re going to do this, we should like make it into something very positive. I want to put it into a kind of project where I could promote something I was very interested in. So, we’re using “Bitch I’m Kawaii." The idea of the video is going to be that I’m sleeping with my trans girlfriend, as a male presenting person, and I go into this dream world where it’s kinda like taking a spin on the idea of having a wet dream and it’s kinda gone wrong. And the wet dream will be “Bitch I’m Kawaii,” so there’s like a bathtub and bubbles, and I’ll be in and out of drag in the scene. 

Photography by Dash Jones

Photography by Dash Jones

I kinda hated “Bitch I’m Kawaii.” I hate the track, so right before it hits the chorus, I wake up and I just had a nightmare. My girlfriend is supposed to be like, “Are you ok?” and I’m like, “No, I just had a nightmare.” Then it kinda starts going into “Ayo Sis.” Which, when I wrote it, it was a feminist anthem — or like an anthem for people who wanted to appreciate femininity. Something that happened recently to me was, I was told my gender nonbinary identity was invalid by these people that claimed to be “radical feminists,” and there are people that don’t believe in trans people at all. I actually got banned from Twitter for telling someone they were a senseless cow for being transphobic online.

D: Wow. 

A: I wanted to use “Ayo Sis” to push the narrative of appreciating femininity, but also very specifically, in the song, I name a lot of my own female icons. I wanted to use the video as a way of showing how normal like trans lives are. Trans people are normal people and there’s nothing wrong. Also, there’s a part where I’m in my female representation of my gender nonbinary identity. Which people get confused by, because you don’t adhere to any gender; you can present however you want. Which is what being queer is all about. So out of drag, I will be having a trans girlfriend, but in drag, or in that feminine character, I will have a very heteronormative looking boyfriend. To promote that straight men can have trans girlfriends, and straight men can have nonbinary girlfriends, and it’s okay. It doesn’t challenge society as much as people think it does. It is really not serious, and I think that there’s a lot said about the safety of trans women, especially trans women of color. People can just see for themselves, like if you watch this video, it’s just two people who are having fun, are in love and are celebrating.

Photography by Dash Jones

Photography by Dash Jones

D: Yeah, definitely. So, with your own gender identity, you have been living as and identifying as genderqueer for a while now. What are your preferred pronouns?

A: I usually just go by they/them, but I rarely like ever offended or slighted by like anything else, but I know there are some people who are. The best thing to do is just to ask. I actually just watched this video on YouTube. There’s this one dude, I think he’s a Republican or something, and he always does like the “convince me why this matters.” He was trying to find out why trans lives are normal, and people were teaching him about preferred pronouns and he was like, “Well if I want to call somebody this, I’m going to call somebody that.” So, like that I will never get around to. I’ll never understand why you can’t call somebody what they want to be called. It’s like, if you want to be called Tom, I’ll call you Tom. So, if somebody wants to be referred to as a he or she, or they or them, why can’t you do just that?

Photography by Dash Jones

Photography by Dash Jones

D: Yeah, that’s very valid. Actually in your first answers, you actually answered my second question, which was the inspiration behind the video, so we tackled that one (Laughs). So, this is your fourth music video with director Assaad Yacoub. Describe your collaboration process with him, and why are you a good fit together.

A: It works because I hate him. (Pause, laughs) I’m just kidding. You know what it is, me and Assaad are friends. We met on the set of “C.L.A.T..” It’s technically our fifth collaboration.

D: Oh, cool!

A: But, it’s my fourth solo with just him and me. Assaad is a very rambunctious person who has personality that’s similar to a dog with paranoia. He’s all over the place, and crazy, but he’s one of those people — 

Assaad, listening nearby, barks like a dog.

Aja: (Over their shoulder) Yeah, I’m talking about you! (Laughs) He knows how to bring to life a vision. The thing is, I’m a very hands on person like, I am like pretty much the stylist, visual director and creative director of all my music videos. Assaad will — (Over their shoulder) Assaad, I can see you listening to me, move over! — always put his input in. He will take everything that I tell him, and try to create the perfect shot for it. So, if I’m like, “Hey, this is the part where we’re casting a spell and I want mountains, and I want to wear a long robe, and I want to be doing this…” Assaad will be like, “Okay we need to capture from this angle, and we need to put it this way.” And, like whichever way will make it the most exciting. I think we work well together because he likes a challenge, and I’ll always give him a challenge.

Photography by Dash Jones

Photography by Dash Jones

D: Yeah, it seems like you guys — because I was observing during the “Bitch I’m Kawaii" set up over there — it seems like you have a great dynamic. The last time we spoke, in the interview, you spoke about using drag less as a means of a theatrical performance, and more as a queer expression in your daily life.

A: Yes.

D: Where are you on that journey?

A: Honestly, like at this point, I think that I’m just expressing myself, still doing me. Like the thing is, the big reason I don’t want to just use the term of “drag” is because I feel like people who take drag seriously — who are doing the art of drag — they take their gig seriously. Like, they are doing it for the art of drag. My passion is not in the art of drag, my passion is in music and in burlesque and in different art forms. For me it’s not about being the best drag queen, it’s about being the best burlesque artist and the best musician I can be. There’s people where drag is their art; it’s their passion. For me, drag is a medium, an art, and also a representation of my gender identity. When I get in drag, I realize lately that I want to tone it down and just be more me, because I don’t feel the need to hide behind a character. Also, I don’t want to offend anyone. A lot of people have gotten offended by me saying that — they’re like, “But you were on Drag Race” — and I’m like, yeah. I still do drag, but I just don’t do drag in the same way as other people. It doesn’t make me punk or different. Like, there’s other people who use drag as a medium. Bianca Del Rio doesn’t do anything that drag queens do.

D: Yeah.

A: Would I consider her a drag queen? Yes, but would I say she’s just a drag queen? No, she’s more of a comedian.

Photography by Dash Jones

Photography by Dash Jones

D: It shows in your work, too, because your work is very personal. You can tell when you are rapping your lyrics that they actually come from you, and they are not any sort of like industry clichés or anything. These are your real experiences, and it really does come through in your work.

A: Absolutely, for me everything I’ve done, I’ve written myself. I didn’t have help from anyone. I am just sharing my personal experience, and like people don’t understand. Especially I think it’s something Drag Race fans are not used to. They’re not used to someone doing something serious, like something very personal. I remember when season nine came out, and people were saying Sasha Velour takes herself “too seriously,” — what, because this is more than just, you know, a character for some people? For some people, this is life, like this is who they are. This is who they are. This is their real actual self-expression… who wants people to criticize their self-expression?

D: Yeah, exactly — instead of Aja being a “drag character,” Aja is you; you are Aja.

A: Exactly. So, you know, it took me a long time to realize that these people do not understand that. They think that Aja is like my drag is. Like I’m trying to do something. I’m not trying to do anything. I’m just trying to be me, and trying to express myself. When I went on Drag Race, it was never to like, “Oh my God, I want to be the best drag queen,” or to be held to the standard of anybody. I wanted a platform where I can be me, and people would, you know, love me for who I am. 

D: Yeah, because I’ve noticed that on Instagram, you’ll post photos in a more traditionally male drag and then more traditionally female drag, and then also a very genderqueer drag, all as Aja. So, it’s really revolutionizing the way that people think about the identity of different drag performers. I commend you on that.

A: Thank you. I think that people need to broaden their spectrum for once. I think anybody can do drag. I hate this idea that drag is only for men, or for like only certain genders on the spectrum. Anybody can do drag.

D: Yeah.

Photography by Dash Jones

Photography by Dash Jones

A: I feel like there’s a lot of ignorance and there’s a lot of misunderstanding. Which is ironic, because everybody just wants to be accepted. Everyone just wants peace, and wants to be equal. It’s funny the mean things that these people will say. I love people who support everyone. I love people who don’t judge based on race, and based on things that have nothing to do with a person.

D: Yeah, I have seen some of your Instagram lives and it seems like you definitely are one of the leaders in calling out the ignorance within the fanbase, and in some of the performers themselves.

A: Oh, absolutely! I feel like I would never like go up to someone in person and be like, “Oh my God, I hate you,” or whatever, because nobody goes up to you in person and says mean things. There’s something about the magic of anonymity online. I think like every fan base has that, first of all. Like, Drag Race fans are not the only ones who do that. Music industry fans do it, too. Everyone does it. Personally, at this point I have PR; I have good people who run my social media. What we do is, we’ll go on and delete all the bad comments. We’ll just be like, “Hey, these people are clearly assholes, we are just going to delete the comments.” When people compare my art, which is literally just me, to other people? Delete. When people say negative things about me or my family or my friends? Delete or block. I don’t have time to debate why someone is a terrible person or not. 

D: I want to end on a couple of light hearted questions. Who are some of your own favorite musical artists?

A: Oh, wow. I have a lot of favorite musical artists. I listen to a lot of rap and since I do rap music. My two favorite rappers are Nicki Minaj and Tyler the Creator. I think Tyler the Creator’s a genius, under-appreciated queer rapper, who literally scammed his way into the industry — got the respect of everyone — and then was like, “I’m gay”. People were like, “What?” 

Photography by Dash Jones

Photography by Dash Jones

Then, Nicki Minaj is just so intelligent. Everything she writes… you can tell it’s something she wrote, because it’s always on the same flow and it never changes — and it’s always referential. She’s just so smart, and it’s inspiring because she also comes from New York. She’s a perfect description of someone who can be colloquial, but then be very educated. Even in the recent events, like the fashion week stuff, I thought she handled it well. I think that she was smart in the way she played it out.

D: Last question: I love your tattoos, do you have a favorite?

A: My favorite tattoo would have to be my Clefable and Gengar tattoo. It’s a Pokémon tattoo. I have people spot that one anywhere. 

Photography by Dash Jones

Photography by Dash Jones

D: Oh, yes! I came up with that question looking through your Instagram today, and that was my favorite that I saw on your arm.

A: Everybody’s! It’s everybody’s favorite; it’s my favorite, too.

D: It’s awesome. Thank you so much for speaking with me again.


Photography by Dash Jones

Aja, now changed into their lingerie drag and a sexy, flowy wig, proceeded to film several sensual takes in bed with model Derek Richmond. Director Assaad Yacoub sat fully engaged behind his monitors, shouting words of encouragement to Aja to bring out the best in their on-screen performance. Once the scene was finished filming, the crew and cast of extras prepped for a rooftop night scene shoot, and Assaad and I had a chance to speak one-on-one.


Assaad Yacoub

Photography by Dash Jones

Photography by Dash Jones

Derek: So, it’s really awesome to interview you, because I love your work for the different top RuPaul’s Drag Race queens doing their music videos, and also your film Cherry Pop.

Assaad Yacoub: Oh yes, you watched Cherry Pop! I love that, thank you.

D: It was so funny and it had a good message.

A: Thank you so much.

D: So, what is your favorite part of collaborating with Aja?

A: Aja specifically is my favorite, is one of my favorite queens, to work with. I would say Aja, and Bob the Drag Queen are my top two queens I love working with, because they come with fully realized idea, and they put a lot of effort and money into their videos. They know the value of a music video. They are not just like, “Here is $5,000 and make magic.” They understand the value that goes into music videos, so I really enjoy working with them. That’s been the best experience, specifically Aja.

D: Definitely, because I know that this is actually like your fourth music video that you’ve done together, right?

A: This is the fifth one if you consider “Clack,” like the first time I’ve met Aja. “C.L.A.T.,” “Brujeria,” “Finish Her!,” “I Don’t Wanna Brag,” and now this one.

D: Wow, yeah.

A: Yeah, I can’t believe it. The first time I met Aja was on the set of “C.L.A.T..” I had not met them prior to that, and we just bonded right away.

Photography by Dash Jones

Photography by Dash Jones

D: They had mentioned that when I spoke to them. That’s cool.

A: That was a great experience.

D: So, for this video in particular, can you walk me through your concept for it?

A: Yes, so for this one, as we see, we are trying to do a pro-trans rights video, and non-binary video as well. So, it’s kinda of a looser concept. It starts with Aja waking up with a nightmare in bed. The nightmare is one of their songs “Bitch I’m Kawaii.” For some reason, Aja doesn’t like that song — and it’s their own song — so they made it a joke about it, and made it into a nightmare in the video. Then it goes into “Ayo Sis,” where we cut between Aja as a boy with a very famous trans model and activist, Cassandra James; she’s awesome, great actress, a lot of fun to work with. Then it cuts to Aja in drag with a guy (Derek Richmond), and kinda playing with gender. I really like that.

D: That’s really cool. What kinds of visual techniques did you use to evoke emotions and portray that concept?

A: One of the things we’re using visually is having a bunch of people come in at some point to form the lines of the trans flag and the nonbinary flag in the background with their shirts. That’s kind of a way that we want to show the message in the background of what’s happening in the foreground. Then we did Aja kissing Cassandra when Aja’s out of drag, and in drag kissing the guy, to show that you can love whoever you want at the same time. I like that message.

D: Cherry Pop was fantastic. Do you have any plans for more movies at all?

A: Actually, we are trying to do a TV show, but I haven’t had the time because of all of the music videos I’ve been doing. We finished writing — my writer and I, because I don’t write — so I work with writer and he wrote the pilot. It’s similar to Cherry Pop. We’re not calling it Cherry Pop, we’re calling it Friends of Dorothy. A nod to the olden days when gay guys could identify each other as “friends of Dorothy.” And so that’s happening now, and I don’t know, we have no further details. We are not moving forward with that because of these music videos. So, I hope to come up with something soon in that theme.

D: For fans who know you through these collaborations with the top talent from the Drag Race world and from Cherry Pop, could you give a bio of yourself for us to get to know you a little bit more?

A: I was born and raised in Dubai. I grew up there until I was 18 — and originally I’m from Lebanon though, I’m Lebanese — then, I moved to Lebanon when I was 18, for a couple of years. I pretty much moved to New York when I was 20. Never been to New York, and I was like, “I’m fucking going to New York.” That’s when I met Bob the Drag Queen actually, eight years before he was called Bob. His name was Kittin Withawhip. I was going to his shows illegally, with a fake ID, and it was a lot of fun. That’s my first experience with drag. I saw Bob and I was like, I need to put you in a movie. That’s how Cherry Pop came about, [originally] as a short film. Then we made it into a feature. So that’s kind of my little bio to America.

Photography by Dash Jones

Photography by Dash Jones

D: Do you live here in the Los Angeles area now?

A: Yes, I’ve been in LA for seven years now. I love it here.

D: Do you have any other music video collaborations coming up with anyone?

A: Yeah, I have a ton. I don’t know if I can talk about all of them, but I do have some I feel like I can talk about. Mayhem Miller, Trinity Taylor, and then I just booked a drag trio in New York called Stephanie’s Child. I literally just booked them now. They performed with Jessie J on The Voice and stuff like that. So, they are doing pretty well, too. So I don’t just work with Ru girls, I’m open to working with everyone, which is my goal. It’s not just work with girls who are on Drag Race. I just like to work with talented people.

D: Definitely.

A: Oh, and Kelly Clarkson. I booked Kelly Clarkson’s music video. I forgot about that one. (Gestures) I should slide that one in.

D: Oh my God! That is awesome.

A: That’s going to be fun.

D: Is that from her current album (Meaning of Life)?

A: Yes, it’s from her current album.

D: I appreciate hearing that, because I’m a huge Kelly Clarkson fan. This new album is such a cool direction for her.

A: Oh, yeah! It’s amazing. I love the song they gave me, so I’m very excited to do it.

Photography by Dash Jones

Photography by Dash Jones

D: Obviously, when the queens get off of Drag Race — and some are not even on it — they have to create their own narrative, so what’s that like for you as a visual artist; to be able to help someone who may not otherwise be able to, with the technical and visual stuff, create their own narrative?

A: Narrative in the sense of their storyline in the video?

D: Yeah.

A: That happens a lot. Tatianna for example, when I just did her video, she called me up and was like, “Here’s the song, come up with whatever you want”. So, I try to come up with different ways to portray that drag queen. Like even Eureka, that was something similar we did. I’m like, let’s try something new with you. Like with Alexis Michelle, people are used to seeing her a certain way, and I was like, do a comedic video where people can see the lighter side of you. At the end of the day, that’s how you’re going to be portrayed — by how you’re portrayed in your video. You want to show a different side of yourself, if the way you’re portrayed on Drag Race sometimes isn’t the best. There are other ways to show people, “This is actually who I am,” so I think that’s the beauty of doing these videos. That’s why I love collaborating with them. I set out to come up with kooky ideas that help show different sides of these girls.

D: It seems like it’s such a one-on-one collaboration process.

A: One hundred percent.

Photography by Dash Jones

Photography by Dash Jones

D: You are working on an individual basis in these videos that you turn out. They each seem so unique, to the point where when I was researching for the interview, I had not realized you’d directed all of Aja’s music videos. They are all so different.

A: That’s good. I’m happy that’s the case. I hope that my style goes through all of them, but the goal is that each video is its own little story — its own little narrative, and it keeps changing and evolving — which I hope’s the goal with each video I do.

D: Did you do the Bebe Zahara Benet “Jungle Kitty” video?

A: Yes!

D: That was sickening! That was so much fun.

A: That was fun, that was a lot of fun. Bebe is awesome to work with. I really, really enjoyed working with her.

D: She’s from where I’m from, in Minneapolis.

A: Oh, nice!

D: She’s our hometown hero.

“Bitch I’m Kawaii / Ayo Sis” Music Video


Follow Aja on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Stream their music on Apple Music and Spotify.

What’s your favorite Aja song? Tweet me! @DerekPlease