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Interview: Rilan Wants to Bring Pop Music Back

Rilan has lofty goals. He wants to “save pop.” Bringing the joy back to a genre that’s caught up in moodiness will be difficult, to say the least. However, the Glee alumni and androgynously-voiced LGBT singer has a level of confidence that suggests he might just have the grit to do it. 

Photo: Edward Aninaru

Photo: Edward Aninaru

Derek: What did you take from starring as a Warbler on Glee that has helped you most in your career since?

Rilan: Do your job. That sounds obvious, but it’s forgotten by the majority of people in Hollywood. Working on the Paramount lot was incredible. There’s history and fame and glitz and glam all around you, but it’s a distraction from why you’re really there — to do your job. You have to focus, and you have to work. People really do forget that. When you don’t, you start to feel special, and then elitist, and then above criticism, and then you’re fired. I saw it happen. It’s a shame, but it happens all the time. I never partook in any on-set shenanigans. Honestly, the cast and choreographers nicknamed me “Quiet,” because I barely spoke unless I was spoken to. I’m a bit of a loner, but I’m not ashamed of it. It’s what makes me “me,” and I think a lot of people can relate. I think introversion is interesting. I’m more inspired by what goes on in my own head when I’m alone than sports cars and diamonds and LA bullshit. Art is what drives me, not fame or money or lifestyle. I’m an anti-socialite. 

D: Your new single “Love or Drugs” is super upbeat in a time where commercial pop is mostly mid-tempo and a little boring. What was your inspiration for the fun sound?

R: Thank you. That’s the biggest compliment to me. Music is boring right now. It’s all about “vibes” or whatever that means. I’ve never “vibed” before in my life, nor do I want to. Music should make you feel, not numb you. My goal as a writer is for my music to wake you up and move you, be that emotionally or physically or both. I grew up on ‘70s glam rock and ‘80s synth pop. The songs of yesteryear were exciting and dangerous and thought-provoking. That’s pop music, not “vibes.” I’m here to bring back pop, because it’s about damn time someone did. 

Photo: Edward Aninaru

Photo: Edward Aninaru

D: Your voice on “Love or Drugs” sounds androgynous in the best of ways. Was this a conscious stylistic choice?

R: I think my voice is naturally pretty androgynous. I have a bright tone and a higher range, probably a product of theatre. I always have. When I first moved to Los Angeles, every producer I worked with hated my voice. They said it was too theatrical and nasally and would always want to replace my background vocals with another singer’s to mask my voice. It made me insecure at first, but finally I just said, “Fuck it,” and found new colleagues who actually understood me. You see, most people in music are trend-followers. They want a hit, and they think that the quickest way to get one is to make a song that sounds like everything else. But that’s not what makes a hit. A great song makes a hit. An artist makes a hit, and an artist is someone who is unafraid to be different, go against the grain, and gives the world something they haven’t heard or seen before. That’s a hit — the new, not the trendy. I’ll never have a voice like the whisper singers of today who dominate the radio, and that’s okay. Like it or not, you will recognize my voice when you hear it. 

D: Who are some of your biggest musical inspirations, past and present?

R: I love artists who have their own perspective. I grew up on David Bowie, Prince, and Madonna. As I got older, I discovered darker artists like Soft Cell, Nine Inch Nails, and Marilyn Manson, and fell in love all over again. They were different, but not far from one another. My idols were all passionate performers. It’s passion that excites me. Whether it’s dance-pop or industrial rock, if it’s honest and palpable, I’m inspired. A point of view is what differentiates simply a performer from an artist. A performer imitates life. An artist creates their own world and invites you inside. Currently, that’s Marina and the Diamonds, Melanie Martinez, and Lady Gaga. Those are some artists I admire nowadays. They don’t live in this world, and I don’t think anyone should. I’m sure as hell never gonna. 

Photo: Edward Aninaru

Photo: Edward Aninaru

D: As a pop artist, are there any holy grail producers you hope to work with someday?

R: I will work with anyone who wants to work with me. To be honest, you never know what’s going to happen until you get in the studio with someone. It’s usually the people you never expect who surprise you the most. Still, there are always dream collaborators. I’d love to work with Max Martin. He’s the pop Jesus, only more reliable. Just the sheer amount of Britney Spears hits he’s done is a testament to what a fantastic writer and producer he is. It would be an honor. I’d also love to work with Bonnie McKee and Justin Tranter. Bonnie did almost all of Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream hits, as well as her own music. She’s ’80’s-inspired, high-energy pop perfection, and her sense of song structure makes my OCD brain so happy. Her work has certainly influenced my writing. Justin Tranter is famous for writing for Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez, but I’ve been a huge fan since I was in high school. He was the frontman of Semi Precious Weapons, an outlandish glam-grunge band from New York City who opened for Gaga through every leg of her Monster Ball. I saw them live ten years ago and fell in love. He’s ridiculous and perfect. I have a big list, so I’ll keep you updated. 

D: Is there an album in the works, and if so, do you have any tea to spill on it?

R: There’s always an album in the works. I feel like if there isn’t, why are you even releasing music? I think of writing songs as creating a new planet. Each project is an island in my fantasy world. Sometimes songs merge together to create a larger continent. Sometimes they stand alone in the sea of my ideas. Regardless, they’re all a part of my world. Right now, I’m on the “Island of Satire.” It’s Hollywood exposed. It’s everything people do here, but don’t want to talk about. I’m going to talk about it. It’s going to be weird and dark and artistic, but it’s going to be pop, and it’s going to be good. 

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D: What has been the response so far from people you’ve played “Love or Drugs” for?

R: It’s been good so far. People seem to move to the beat and start singing along before it ends. That’s honestly the best thing I can ask for. When my friends first heard it, they were like, “You’re antisocial and this is all about party culture. Why?” But if you listen again, you’ll get it. It’s satire. It’s about all the Hollywood parties I’m not invited to. This is the first stop on my “Island of Satire.” A lot more is coming and all of you are welcome here. 

Music Video


What was your favorite episode of Glee? Tweet me! @DerekPlease

Interview: Tina DeCara Reveals Her Inspirations and New Single "Solo"

The edgy-yet-bubbly new pop act reveals also her creative process.

Photo: Monica Spengler

Photo: Monica Spengler

The dark sweetness of Halsey meets the lyrical depth of SZA in Tina DeCara, an exciting new artist with her own spin on upbeat pop music. I caught up with the industry newcomer to talk about her first hit, new single and stars like Michael Jackson who inspire her.


Derek: “Illusion,” your collaboration with Thoreau, made a big splash. How was the experience of having a song blow up like that?

Tina DeCara: Yes! The experience of this song blowing up was incredible! I was so happy, because that song is different — and I was a little nervous — but the attention and feedback was so dope. I love Trap Nation and Thoreau, the song’s producer, is bad ass. 

D: The new single “Solo” is bubbly and catchy, with a good message. Describe the creation process?

TD: The creation process of this song happened real fast. The Drupes sent me this beat they had created, and I fell in love with the sound. I then drank a bottle of red wine in my room, alone one night, and wrote “Solo”! I am a pretty bubbly person usually, but I wasn’t that night. Writing the song helped me figure out that it’s actually okay to take time for myself and find my strength from within when I’m feeling sad.

You take New York City and Coney Island by storm in the video. Do you have any fun memories from the shoot?

TD: Heck yes I did! One funny memory was that it was like 0 degrees outside, and I was dancing around in a see-through shirt and sequin pants… so cold, but oh so fun.  Between takes, we all kept running back to the car to warm up! 

D: Who were some of your musical inspirations growing up?

TD: Michael Jackson, Ella Fitzgerald, and Amy Winehouse. I fell in love with jazz music at a very young age.

D: On the flip side, who are some modern day musical artists you enjoy?

TD: Post Malone, Ariana Grande, and SZA!

D: How would you describe your look, and where do you take style inspiration from?

TD: I am inspired by so much! I love thrift shops more than the mall... David Bowie is beyond inspirational, same with 90's grunge... One day it’s Doc Martens, next night it’s [Christian] Louboutins [Laughs]. One day my hair is a short pixie, next day it’s pink and curly!

D: What message do you hope to send with your music?

TD: One message is confidence for sure. It took some time for me to learn how to think for myself, due to assholes in high school. Any kid who may be reading this, please know it does get better.

D: What’s your next big goal?

TD: To get on a tour, and keep making music that will be on the radio.

“Solo” Music Video


Who’s your favorite new artist? DM me! Instagram.com/DerekPlease

Review: Erika Costell Reads Haters a Royal Decree on 'Queen'

The subtle, addictive single is a pulsating pop-R&B jam produced by two of the talents behind Sing

Erika Costell is a social media titan with several million fans across platforms like YouTube and Instagram. Social stars like Costell come with preconceived notions; the fact they do music often inspires eye rolls and utterances like, “of course.” Don’t discount Costell, though. Putting her in such a box is a mistake. 

Photo © Erika Costell

Photo © Erika Costell

Produced by movie musical genius Harvey Mason Jr. (Dreamgirls, Sparkle, Pitch Perfect, Sing) & Brittany Burton (Sing, Girls’ Generation), the new Erika Costell single “Queen” is a slinky, pop-R&B song with a subtle hook that won’t leave your head for days. The track pulses forward with a rhythmic sense of urgency; Mason Jr. also produced the Britney Spears Circus album cut “Mannequin,” which had a similarly striking beat, urgency and chilled vocal performance. 

The song’s brilliance is how it feels like it could be played anywhere, from a club, to the radio, to a movie trailer. This versatile song is imbued with the sense of casual confidence its vocal delivery and lyrics portray. Lines like, “They say that I don’t look right” bring to light the type of harsh critiques the singer faces on the daily. She brushes them off, though, singing on the chorus, “Don’t let shit get skin deep.”

At a svelte three minutes in length, “Queen” lends itself to repeat listens, which is essential in the streaming era. Addictive songs like this leave the audience wanting more, and flow seamlessly on “repeat” mode. Whether by intention or mistake, it’s a strength the song bolsters. 

Music Video

Directed by Shannon Curry and Costell herself, the “Queen” music video matches the song with moody visuals and a sense of wealth, without trying too hard. The jewelry her mostly-off-screen handlers adorn her with could be costume jewelry, but the audience would never know; Costell’s confident performance makes everything read like the real deal. Powerful moments like Costell destroying a full-length mirror in the desert convey metaphors of conquering self-doubt and body insecurities.


What’s your favorite song at the moment? Tweet me: @DerekPlease

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

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