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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

#Madonna60 - A Countdown of My 60 Favorite Madonna Songs

From controversial choices to obvious picks, this is a look inside my lifelong Madonna fandom.

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August 16, 2018 marks the 60th birthday of Madonna, an artist who changed my life and shaped my upbringing as a gay man. The difference she's made in the LGBTQIA+ community cannot be quantified. From spreading awareness and reducing stigma around HIV/AIDS, to creating the Raising Malawi organization to benefit the African country of Malawi, her impact goes far beyond pop music.

Still, the Queen of Pop has an vast and vivacious catalog of hits and album tracks, and these are my sixty favorites. From songs that defined her legacy, to forgotten gems, I hope you'll enjoy this celebration of her music.


60. "Gang Bang"
Less a song than a visceral ride through Madonna’s psyche after her divorce from Guy Ritchie. It's so explicit that it couldn't even be edited to appear on the "clean" edition of the MDNA album.

59. "Over and Over"
Easily written off as a frothy filler track, the song’s lyrics explore Madonna’s can-do spirit, which cannot be broken. 

58. "Hey You"
An inspiring climate change anthem released for Live Earth. Simple and uplifting, this sweet-hearted song was wrongfully panned by critics. 

57. "American Life"

“Madonna attempts rapping” was the headline from this banger, but the real headline should have been her brilliant, scathing take on fame and George W. Bush’s post-9/11 America. Its banned and retracted original music video is one of Madonna's most profound artistic statements ever.

56. "Burning Up"
The quintessential "young Madonna" song. It's entirely fueled by the personality that made her the biggest star in the world, and led to her being dubbed "the female Michael Jackson" from the start of her career.

55. "Where’s The Party"
Just a fun song. You can't help but groove along.

54. "Don’t Stop"
This is such a low-key song... but when you're in its grasp, it's inescapable. I had this on repeat a couple summers ago.

53. "Spanish Lesson"
This pick will make a lot of serious Madonna fans roll their eyes - but to me, this is one of her most fun '00s tracks. A flirty, bubblegum pop moment with clever verse lyrics and a big chorus. 

52. "Take A Bow"
Madonna produced this with legendary R&B singer-songwriter Babyface, who later went on to collaborate with Barbra Streisand on her 2014 Partners album. Fittingly, Apple Music compares "Take A Bow" to a big Streisand ballad. 

51. "Deeper and Deeper"
One of the most unexpected and exciting moments of experiencing the Rebel Heart Tour live was hearing Madonna take on this '90s jam in a style faithful to the studio version. 

50. "Gambler"
Never released on a studio album or greatest hits collection, this forgotten Madonna hit remains beloved by woke fans.

49. "Secret"

48. "Die Another Day"
In my world, this is the best James Bond movie song of all time. 

47. "I’m Addicted"
The sputtering, trippy song that inspired the title of Madonna's MDNA album. The production on this one is insane. I'd love to have been a fly on the wall while Madonna and co. produced this. Or any song, really.

46. "Lucky Star"
The premiere bubblegum pop song, "Lucky Star" remains fresh and fun.

45. "Give It 2 Me"
While it was absolutely the wrong choice to follow-up "4 Minutes" as the second single from Hard Candy, "Give It 2 Me" stuns with its Pharrell-assisted beat and occasionally silly lyrics. Madonna fans were quick to call out P for reusing the drums in the 2013 song of the summer "Blurred Lines (feat. T.I. & Pharrell)" by Robin Thicke

44. "Amazing"
One of the best deep cuts that makes Music the wonderful album it is.

43. "Some Girls"
Another glittering moment from the misunderstood MDNA, this William Orbit collaboration is the sonic equivalent to a sputtering laser light show. Lyrically, Madonna presents a sassier take on her Millennial pop star competition with this one. 

42. "4 Minutes (feat. Justin Timberlake & Timbaland)"

A giant dance song with over 100 audio tracks used in its composition, “4 Minutes (feat. Justin Timberlake & Timbaland)” reminds me of listening to Hard Candy in a car full of high school friends.

41. "Fighting Spirit"
A Confessions On A Dance Floor box set bonus track that feels like it should have made the standard edition of the album. It's just that good. Listen if you haven't.

40. "Justify My Love"

39. "It’s So Cool"
This sarcastic bop is a look at Madonna’s cynical side, and a deluxe bonus track from her 2009 greatest hits album Celebration

38. "Nobody Knows Me"
The Re-Invention Tour performance of this is so brilliant:

37. "Celebration"

36. "Future Lovers"
One of the first songs that helped me accept myself as a gay man. 

35. "Unapologetic Bitch"
Another hit that got away.

34. "Papa Don’t Preach"
I remember first hearing this as a kid, and finding the subject matter scandalous.

33. "Live To Tell"

32. "Spanish Eyes"
I remember listening to the full Like A Prayer album for the first time on vinyl, and falling in love with this song.

31. "Human Nature"
As a huge Britney Spears fan, my first experience with this song was watching the Sticky & Sweet Tour performance of it where Britney appears in the video backdrops. 

30. Bitch I’m Madonna (feat. Nicki Minaj)
A crazy sendoff to ageist haters, this mammoth dance track also features one of Nicki Minaj's best rap verses ever. My favorite memory of this song is watching Madonna's insane performance of it on The Tonight Show.

29. "Revolver (feat. Lil Wayne)"
If marketed properly, this could have been a major US hit. Lil Wayne was at the top of his game at the time, and this song is a slice of pop perfection.

28. "Voices"
Part of what makes Hard Candy such an underrated album.

27. "Joan of Arc"
Madonna at her most vulnerable.

26. "I Love New York"
This first appeared as a rock & roll bonus track on the I'm Going to Tell You A Secret CD, before being rerecorded as a dance song for the Confessions On A Dancefloor album. 

25. "Girl Gone Wild"

24. "Love Song"
A lot of people don't know that Madonna collaborated with Prince on her 1989 album Like A Prayer. This is because his guitar work on "Like A Prayer," "Keep It Together" and "Act of Contrition," and vocals on "Love Song" are uncredited. Michigan native Madonna spoke about the chilly Minnesota winter experience recording "Love Song" at Paisley Park:

We were friends and talked about working together, so I went to Minneapolis to write some stuff with him, but the only thing I really dug was ‘Love Song.’ We ended up writing it long-distance, because I had to be in LA and he couldn’t leave Minneapolis, and quite frankly I couldn’t stand Minneapolis. When I went there, it was like 20 degrees below zero, and it was really desolate. I was miserable and I couldn’t write or work under those circumstances.
— Madonna

23. "Candy Shop"
Maybe it’s the bubbly drums, maybe it’s the fact she’s performed this non-single on her last three world tours. Who knows? It’s a major grower. Thanks, Pharrell!

22. "Rebel Heart"
A confessional, upbeat song that maps the journey Madonna had to take to become the Queen of Pop she is today. Inspired me to get my first tattoo, which was the Rebel Heart album logo. The demo version of this song has a catchy vocal hook in the background that repeats throughout. 

21. "Me Against the Music" - Britney Spears (feat. Madonna)
Madonna does the unthinkable: guest stars on a song. This track was complete when Britney played it for her, Madonna offered to make it a duet. The result is a wild meeting of the minds of two of pop music’s all-time greatest stars. I remember watching the MTV “Making the Video” special on MTV, and freaking out when I realized the VCR didn't record it properly.

20. "Material Girl"
This was the first '80s Madonna song I fell in love with.

19. "Love Profusion"
Featuring profound lyrics and experimental production, this song captures what it must feel like to be in the honeymoon phase of a relationship with Madonna.

18. "Open Your Heart"
Catchy, catchy, catchy. 

17. "Express Yourself"

 "Look it up" - Madonna

"Look it up" - Madonna

16. "Like A Virgin"
I can't help but think of this iconic moment:

 Photo: Billboard

Photo: Billboard

15. "Isaac"
This song has a raw power which cannot be denied.

14. "Sorry"
A dance floor stomper that beautifully picks up where "Hung Up" left off; it's no wonder its music video does the same.

13. "Love Spent"
On an album filled with references to her divorce from Guy Ritchie, this multi-faceted song stands out as her definitive statement on the subject. The abrupt transition midway through makes way for an almost entirely new song, and feels like an epiphany. 

12. "Holy Water"
A percolating pop banger that feels dangerous and lyrically provides an updated, distilled version of her career-long focus on Catholicism. The Rebel Heart Tour performance of this is worth the cost of the Blu-ray set alone. 

11. "Beautiful Stranger"
Described by Apple Music as “one of her brighter, deeper singles ever,” and I couldn’t agree more. This was the first Madonna song I was obsessed with in real time when it came out.

10. "The Power of Good-Bye"
It took me a while to mature to the point where I could fully appreciate this song. It's a gorgeous, supremely well-written song.

9. "Ray of Light"
Over 5 minutes of pure, enlightened pop bliss.

8. "Like A Prayer"
Controversial and powerful, this iconic pop power ballad reigns supreme as #1 on the majority of mainstream writers’ top Madonna songs lists, and I can see why. 

7. "Oh Father"

Madonna has explored her mother’s death throughout the years, but no other work is more candid or haunting than this largely overlooked ballad. Sia has a wonderful cover of this, too.

6. "Hung Up"

Hung_Up.jpg

You’d think the prominent ABBA sample would define the song, but Madonna’s superpowers ensure the track would be solid without it. 

5. "Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You"

The type of maturity and depth critics claim they want to hear in modern Madonna music, but seemingly ignore.

4. "Don’t Tell Me"

R-11694817-1520790149-4288.png.jpg

Uses country music elements to speak to her biggest detractors, middle America, in a send off that is both powerful and universal. 

3. "Frozen"

 A still from the haunting music video.

A still from the haunting music video.

No other cut on “Ray of Light” showed more artistic growth than “Frozen,” an extremely atmospheric song that analyzes depression. 

2. "Vogue"

 Madonna with beloved backup singer  Niki Harris .

Madonna with beloved backup singer Niki Harris.

A historic track that sounds fresh today, “Vogue” effortlessly changed the world by starting conversations and offering the general public a glimpse into queer culture. 

1. "Music"

The Queen of Pop defines music itself in the ultimate ode to the dance floor experience. I had full-body chills during her Super Bowl performance of this.


What's your favorite Madonna song? Tweet me! @DerekPlease on Twitter.

Watch: Madonna Releases Met Gala 2018 Performance Recording

As a special gift to fans on her 60th birthday, the Queen of Pop dropped the professional recording of her May 7, 2018 performance. 

 Source: YouTube

Source: YouTube

Every Madonna fan can relate to the phrase "playing the long game," as official video releases from today's birthday girl often take months or years to come to fruition. In fact, some of her most tantalizing tapes from decades past exist only on VHS, or are locked away in Hollywood vaults. Three months, then, wasn't so long to wait for this gorgeously edited official version of Madonna's May 7, 2018 Met Gala performance.

The theme of Anna Wintour's 2018 Met Gala was Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination. Since Madonna has explored her Catholic upbringing and the Church's aesthetic across almost her entire career, she was the obvious and rightful performer choice. 

The 13-minute video clip was produced by NCR Films, the production company of Nathan Rissman. Rissman is a frequent Madonna collaborator; he directed her Rebel Heart Tour and Sticky & Sweet Tour films, "Give It 2 Me" and "Miles Away" music videos, and 2008 documentary I Am Because We Are, written by Madonna about the AIDS pandemic in the African country of Malawi.

"Madonna - Met Gala 2018" is edited in a style reminiscent of her recent MDNA Tour and Rebel Heart Tour video releases. This fast-paced, multilayered video editing style tends to divide fans, but I enjoy how it so conveys the excitement of physically attending a Madonna show. The editor in question, Danny Tull, has edited nearly every Madonna video release since her 2006 The Confessions Tour film.

Her performance consists of three songs; the choir-assisted "Like A Prayer," the brand new song "Beautiful Game," and a striking cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," in the style popularized by Jeff Buckley. Madonna's voice is strong, clear and dynamic throughout. It might be one of her best live audio recordings to date. 

She also published a statement on Instagram explaining the surprise video release:

In celebration of my birthday🎂🎉💕 , and as a “thank you” for all your donations on my Birthday Fundraiser, I wanted to share a very special performance from this year’s Met Gala 🎉🎂💕🙏🏻🇲🇼 🎼
Check out on my YouTube page and enjoy entire performance! #celebrate #raisingmalawi #homeofhope #metgala #likeaprayer #blessed 🙏🏼 @ncrfilms @dannytull
— @Madonna on Instagram

You can donate to Madonna's birthday fundraiser here. Every dollar raised will go directly to meals, schools, uniforms and healthcare for children in Malawi. Ripple will match every dollar donated to this campaign!

Whatever you think of Madonna or her video editing style, please take a moment to reflect on her art and legacy so far, as we celebrate her 60th birthday today. "Where's the Party"? Everywhere!


Tell me how you are celebrating #Madonna60
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Watch: "Drag and The Simpsons" Panel from RuPaul's DragCon

The special panel was moderated by Raja and featured Simpsons writer Carolyn Omine and actors Tress MacNeille & Yeardley Smith.

 Photo: DerekPlease.com

Photo: DerekPlease.com

Did you hear? RuPaul will guest star on The Simpsons this fall! The episode, tentatively scheduled to air November 2018, will feature Ru helping Marge Simpson unleash her inner drag queen. 

Simpsons royalty Yeardley Smith, Tress MacNeille and Caroline Omine sat down with literal Drag Race Season 3 royalty Raja to discuss the episode. They also talked about The Simpsons' history embracing drag and LGBT culture.

Watch the full 31-minute panel below. I was in the front row of the audience, so read on for my top 10 favorite moments from the experience!

  1. Yeardley Smith performed her iconic Lisa Simpson voice live.
  2. Tress MacNeille voiced Crazy Cat Lady from The Simpsons and Mom from Futurama live.
  3. The RuPaul character unveiling! The audience was gagged.
  4. The panelists talked about what separates The Simpsons from fellow FOX animated sitcoms like Family Guy.
  5. They played a video reel of drag moments from The Simpsons series, which ended with a hilarious Miss Vanjie crossover meme. 
  6. Hardcore fans brought merchandise, including DVDs and Lisa Simpson plush toys, for the panelists to sign after the session.
  7. Carolyn Omine gave Simpsons merch to audience members who asked questions.
  8. Plenty tea was spilled on next season - Season 30. Yes, three-zero!
  9. Moderator Raja professed her love for the show since the beginning, and dressed up as Patty Bouvier for the occasion. 
  10. The audience was so excited, more people raised their hands to ask questions than time could allow. This is the true sign of a hot panel! 

Special thank you to RuPaul's DragCon and World of Wonder for giving us the opportunity to cover their Los Angeles 2018 convention. Buy tickets to RuPaul's DragCon NYC 2018 here.


What's your favorite episode of The Simpsons? Let me know! @DerekPlease across all platforms.

Troye Sivan's "Bloom" is the "Love, Simon" Moment Pop Music Was Waiting For

Exactly like "Love, Simon," "Bloom" is a watershed moment in mainstream pop culture - even if that historical significance doesn't immediately dawn upon its target audience. 

 "Bloom" is the new single from Troye Sivan's upcoming sophomore album with Capitol Records. It follows the lead single "My My My!" and buzz track "The Good Side."

"Bloom" is the new single from Troye Sivan's upcoming sophomore album with Capitol Records. It follows the lead single "My My My!" and buzz track "The Good Side."

  Adam Lambert ’s 2009 debut single “ For Your Entertainment ” was an icy synth-pop breakthrough that alluded to bottoming. Albeit with no lyrics as overt as in “Bloom.”

Adam Lambert’s 2009 debut single “For Your Entertainment” was an icy synth-pop breakthrough that alluded to bottoming. Albeit with no lyrics as overt as in “Bloom.”

Metaphorical lyrics describing the experience of receptive sex have been commonplace in female pop music for decades. Radio still plays such songs for all to hear - some were even hits. Artists like Britney Spears ("Over To You Now"), Rihanna ("Shut Up and Drive"), Christina Aguilera ("Woo Hoo (feat. Nicki Minaj)") and Katy Perry ("Bon Appetit (feat. Migos)") aren’t alone anymore, though. 

Tons of unsigned LGBTQIA+ artists are entering "the sacred garden," with lyrics describing their own receptive sexual experiences. Although none are doing it in the mainstream like 22-year-old South African pop star Troye Sivan, with his new single “Bloom." Produced by Oscar Holter, the subtly groundbreaking release begs the question: will radio play this?

Hopefully. Possibly. Despite the album's lead single "My My My!" peaking at #80 on the Billboard Hot 100, Troye Sivan's label Capitol Records has done a great job getting LGBTQIA+ artists like Sam Smith and Halsey substantial radio traction.

The dream-pop "Bloom" debuted on YouTube with gorgeous Lyric Video animated by 3D artist & visual designer Jason Ebeyer. It's so good, it's hard to imagine why it's not the actual music video:

14 years after Britney Spears “Over to You Now" - a clever electro-pop banger with lyrics comparing anal intercourse to visiting a trendy underground club in the city - Troye takes a more direct route in "Bloom." With lyrics like...

Promise me you'll
Hold my hand if I get scared now
Might tell you to
Take a second, baby, slow it down

...there's no question what Sivan is singing about. If there was any doubt left, he confirmed the song was about bottoming via hashtag:

 Troye Sivan tweeted this shortly after "Bloom" dropped, but later deleted it.

Troye Sivan tweeted this shortly after "Bloom" dropped, but later deleted it.

It was a bold tweet that shouldn't have been deleted. Bottom shaming is omnipresent in the gay community - oddly so - despite the fact that gay sex requires one partner to take that role. Therefore it is refreshing to see a mainstream gay artist like Troye Sivan express his sexual preference proudly. 

Sivan also spoke to the song's sexual subject matter in an interview with Popjustice in late February, and his hopes for its success outside his usual fanbase:

Lyrically it’s a bit more cheeky. It’s just a really fun song. I wrote it with Leland and we were dying laughing and just having the best time writing it. Lyrically I think it’s the most subversively queer song on the album. That’s kind of what makes me like it so much — it’s almost like a little inside joke. It’s [sonically] very consumable pop music so I can imagine the masses understanding it a little bit more, and that’s funny to me. I don’t even think it’s necessarily the big single or anything like that, but I really hope the song ends up spreading its wings way further than the people who wouldn’t normally listen to my music.
 Marina and the Diamonds is an avant garde pop artist in the same vein as Sivan; they both have mainstream label backing but enjoy the artistic freedom of an indie act.

Marina and the Diamonds is an avant garde pop artist in the same vein as Sivan; they both have mainstream label backing but enjoy the artistic freedom of an indie act.

Even without Sivan's confirmations, any flower metaphors in the lyrics are petal-thin; "Bloom" plays like a step-by-step guide through the lows and highs of the bottoming experience. 

Another interesting lyrical moment is the song's refrain: 

And it's true, baby
I've been saving this for you, baby

This refrain seems directly inspired by the hook of "Froot" Marina and the Diamonds:

Yeah, you know that it's true
I've been saving all my summers for you

Like "Bloom," Marina's song takes place in a lush garden and has themes of youth and receptive sex. It shows that while a song like "Bloom" is unique to a gay artist, it's not lyrically unique to pop in general; just like how critics celebrated "Love, Simon" as essentially a standard high school rom com, with the gay twist being the groundbreaking part.

 "Love, Simon" was a success for 20th Century Fox, earning $54 million against a $17 million budget.

"Love, Simon" was a success for 20th Century Fox, earning $54 million against a $17 million budget.

Millennials simply expect content like this to exist with mainstream backing, and therefore aren't surprised when it comes to fruition. It's a weird time to live in where the historical significance of milestones of inclusion like "Love, Simon" and "Bloom" doesn't immediately dawn upon everyone. 

Critics of "Love, Simon" saw it as groundbreaking for the sake of groundbreaking - but it was unprecedented nontheless. The same is true with Troye Sivan's "Bloom." 

Both works are overt, sweet by nature, and commercial as hell. They are the generic representation gay men are just now getting to enjoy. "Simon" and "Bloom" stand in contrast to the less glossy mainstream representation of the past, which largely equated the gay experience to death.

Final Thoughts

I'll admit, I didn't understand or like "Bloom" at first listen. It first felt like an intentional grab for controversy, a lot like early Lady Gaga works. However, once I had time to think about the full weight of Sivan's history-making lyrics, I was hooked. 

There's no doubt a song like "Bloom" will come across as shocking and radical to conservative audiences in Trump's America and the world beyond. It will be interesting to hear reactions to morning show or late night TV performances of this song. 

Like "Love, Simon," Troye Sivan's "Bloom" is garnering nearly universal critical acclaim; hopefully it can enjoy similar commercial success, too. 

Blogger's Note: At the time of publishing, #BLOOM was the #1 Trending Topic worldwide on Twitter.


More TROYE SIVAN

 Photo provided by The Karpel Group

Photo provided by The Karpel Group

Details regarding Sivan's new album and upcoming headlining tour will be announced soon.

The official Troye Sivan app is now available on the App Store and Google Play. Fans who download the app will have access to exclusive content, merchandise, pre-sales and more.

Links
Website: www.troyesivan.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/troyesivan
Twitter: www.twitter.com/troyesivan
Instagram: www.instagram.com/troyesivan
"My My My!" Official Music Video
"The Good Side" Audio


Thoughts about "Bloom"? Feedback on this article? I can take it! Tweet me: @DerekPlease