Challenging Gender Norms W/ Dorian Electra
written & photographed by Sarah C. Shi
Dorian Electra radically defies and challenges gender norms and conceptions of sexuality as a rising queer pop star. In the past year, Electra has released numerous singles including “Career Boy,” which subverts the ideal of the masculine businessman, “VIP,” which satirizes the artificial luxury of night life, and most recently, “Man to Man.” Electra’s latest single and music video, “Man to Man,” plays with understandings of traditional masculinity – with regard to intimacy and physicality – and works to destabilize the expectations of relationships between men.
“Man to Man” ethereally and seamlessly melds 80s funk and 00s pop with buoyant synths and staccato percussion. Electra distinctly shifts the texture and quality of their voice to functionally shift conceptions of gender and character; the more masculine vocals brusquely dares, with “So you want to play rough in the parking lot / See you acting tough, but I know you're not,” while the more feminine falsetto questions, with “Are you man enough to soften up? / Are you tough enough to open up?” Electra simultaneously rejects toxic masculinity and shifts the paradigm to challenge men to accept greater vulnerability and openness.
I spoke to Dorian Electra about their latest single, Man to Man, the inextricable bond between their visual and sonic universe, and the complexity of gender in the current political atmosphere.
Who are some of your biggest influences? Could you name a few artists who were formative in your early releases?
Alice Cooper for his on-stage theatrics, fashion, and the weird ways he uses his voice. Pop stars and boybands of the late 90s and 2000s. My mom and dad who have both always encouraged me to make music and to be myself at every step of the process, while still pushing to make something accessible, fun, and uplifting. :)
Your music videos often depict traditionally masculine characters that slowly fall out of this portrayal – particularly in your past three singles. What are you trying to say about masculinity?
It’s hard to say, because it’s sort of a mix of conscious political messages and then subconscious expressions of my own feelings and attitudes, of what I like or think is funny or sexy or interesting. With Man to Man, I’m trying to say that masculinity needs to embrace intimacy, sensitivity, and downplay physical aggression. With VIP, it’s quite funny to mock the idea of somebody who thinks that they’re “very important” because they paid to have something more ostentatious than everybody else. But sometimes it’s just like hey, I like wearing suits.
What do you think qualifies one as a VIP? Are you one?
I think in order to be a VIP in my book – or should I say "on my list” – you have to be a decent, nice person (and not just nice to people who you want something from or who you think can help you)! But nice and respectful to everybody :) I hope I’m a VIP! At least I strive to be everyday!
Your work seems to be very visually oriented – how do you think visuals help create the Dorian Electra universe?
Whenever I’m writing a song, in order to really come up with the lyrics, I usually have to be able to visualize a music video for that song – what I would be wearing, how I would be moving, sometimes even a color palette for the video that matches the vibe and tone of the song. Both of those (the music and the visuals) mutually influence one another. I would say that my songs and visuals are inextricably bound in my creative process!
Does the current political sphere impact the music you make?
Definitely. I think it’s more important than ever for artists to be themselves and to push the boundaries of what can be considered acceptable in mainstream music as well as promoting positive messages!
Could you speak to your ongoing collaboration with Charli XCX?
I love working with Charli (which started before Femmebot, when producer, A. G. Cook referred me to Charli to cast some extras for her performance of her song, Boys, on Jimmy Fallon last year). I love her super collaborative, fun, and inclusive vibe and I’ve organized and curated over a dozen parties and shows with her this past year; it has been really cool to get to include awesome queer local acts (pop music, rap, and drag performers).
What music are you excited by right now?
All the new music my friends are making! Rina Sawayama, Mood Killer, Chester Lockhart, Dylan Brady, Umru, Bronze Avery, Zolita, too many to list!
Favorite drag queen (if you can choose)?
So many amazing folks of course, but I love Lucy Stoole from Chicago <3
What can we expect from you down the road?
An album in 2019 and a headlining tour! And a LOT more music videos!