For decades, drag was an underground subculture that showed its beat face to the public only on occasions such as Lady Bunny’s storied festival, Wigstock. Now it’s everywhere; the art of gender bending has infiltrated popular culture, inspiring people of all ages to live the best version of themselves, much to the chagrin of homophobes who believe it to be a sign of a morally bankrupt society. The advent of TV shows such as RuPaul’s Drag Race, the Boulet Brothers' Dragula, and TLC's Dragnificent! has provided a catalyst for this sea change, which has made worldwide celebrities out of countless performers who otherwise would have been consigned to lip-syncing in bars for $1 tips.
As a winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, Trixie Mattel can attest to the power of widespread exposure. The Wisconsin-born queen has defied expectations for drag performers and musicians alike (especially those who are both). “Drag music” has gotten a bad rap as consisting of shallow bubblegum pop songs or thumping club tracks, but Trixie's brand of feel-good folk music has pushed previous releases Two Birds and One Stone to critical and commercial success.
With the release of her third album, Barbara, now under her bejeweled belt, Trixie is embarking on a nationwide tour, Grown Up, which will stop at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts on Tuesday, March 3.
“I really wanted to, in true drag-queen fashion, put a hat on a hat on a hat,” Trixie tells New Times in reference to the show. “This tour is more costumes, more wigs, a full band, more songs, more videos. This is the biggest, bestest show I’ve ever put on.”
The enhanced production value isn’t for the sake of putting on a big show; Trixie continues to outdo herself in an effort to impress every single one of her audience members, from the die-hard devotees who’ve gone to every tour in the past five years to the uninitiated spectator. “When I put my show together, I think of the people,” she says. “I think of, on one end of the spectrum, the superfans who’ve seen me do everything, who’ve seen my standup special, seen every episode of my show, and heard every record, and I think of the random straight guy who gets dragged to the show by his girlfriend.” For Trixie, it boils down to one simple question: “What kind of show will really gag both of them?”
To achieve that goal, she knew every aspect of the show needed to be perfect, with every number, every standup set, and every costume change working together to bring the Trixie Mattel fantasy to life. Her first stop to ensure her comedy was show-ready: the nearest open-mike night, where unsuspecting audience members were treated to an impromptu standup routine from a mysterious, unnamed drag queen. “The other night, I performed for eight people in the basement of a pizza restaurant,” she laughs. “I just go out, I try the new jokes, and I immediately leave because I don’t want people to hear it yet, but I really want to make sure it’s whip-crack perfect for tour.”
Because the release of Barbara coincides with the beginning of Grown Up, Trixie has structured the show to be much more album-centric than her previous tours. “Two Birds and One Stone were a little more of an exercise in my love for country and folk music, so they were a little more unplugged and acoustic,” she says of her days spent learning guitar by playing along to the “guitar-driven pop music” of Blink-182, Fountains of Wayne, Madonna, Avril Lavigne, and Michelle Branch. Because Trixie's character is “beach bimbo meets Twiggy meets Nancy Sinatra,” she struggled to find a middle ground for Barbara that incorporates everything about Trixie's world into a single cohesive set of songs.
The answer: Release an album with two sides, much like an eight-track tape. “I envision this album being in 1971,” she says. “The first half, Side A, is songs that would play on the AM radio in your dune buggy on the way to the beach in Malibu. You’re supertan because you don’t believe in cancer yet; your hair is bleached blond.” She describes these tracks — such as the aptly titled “Malibu” and the Jesse Eisenberg love song “Jesse Jesse” — as “handclappy and sugary and sweet” music reminiscent of groups like the Go-Go's and Veruca Salt.
By contrast, the album’s back half sounds “a little more like you’re at the beach at night around the campfire,” with more acoustic guitar and storytelling than pure pop fun. It’s more in line with the Trixie Mattel whom fans have come to know over the years and a way of tempering their reaction in case the other music proves too shocking to the system.
As if balancing a grandiose tour production and a new album weren't enough, she's also hard at work running her Trixie Cosmetics empire, which she admits provides an attractive desk-job option should she ever tire of performing. As a drag queen whose entire look is reliant upon three pounds’ worth of makeup, branching into the world of cosmetics was a natural next step. "For me, because I’m a drag queen, every makeup product has to have a story and a concept,” she says of the conceptualization process behind each campaign. "How much of the story can we tell with something like a lipstick? How can we really transport people?" The cartoonish, pink-heavy branding of her lipsticks, blushes, and glitters mimics much of the “life in plastic” aesthetic that Trixie has made her own.
For most working artists, balancing a popular web show on top of a concert tour and a makeup line would be too much to handle. For Trixie, though, the time she spends with Drag Race alum Katya Zamolodchikova on their popular YouTube series, UNHhhh, is more of a cathartic stress relief than anything else. “There’s something very low-stakes about it,” she says of the show, which recently entered its fifth season. “We definitely do it for the love of it, and I think when you watch it, you can tell.” Both queens can be equally irreverent, so most episodes are about “making each other laugh and trying to gross each other out or one-up each other on who’s had the lowest low in their life.” As a result, they’ve come to embrace their statuses as cautionary tales: “After 120 episodes, I’d say our MO is ‘Do as we say, not as we do.’”
That same thought process is what informed the creation of their new book, Trixie and Katya’s Guide to Modern Womanhood, which is due out in early May after Trixie wraps up the U.S. leg of Grown Up. The inspiration for the book came from Teen Guide to Homemaking, a home-economics textbook from the 1960s that Trixie's grandmother took home from the school where she worked. The book was designed to help young women at the time, and its pages abounded with sexist tips that would be hilarious if they weren’t so shocking (for example, build a diorama of what you’d like your rearranged living room to look like because women can’t move furniture).
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“It has this advice that is so backward but kind of is a lot like the type of advice Katya and I would give,” Trixie jokes. That inspired her to create “a home-economics textbook-slash-etiquette-book-slash-women’s-guide” that covers everything from makeup to drugs to drinking to breakups. “Katya even wrote some haikus about getting your period, so I think we’ve really covered every topic,” she chuckles.
When Grown Up touches down at the Broward Center, fans should be prepared for a spectacle unlike anything they've ever seen from any drag performer. Many queens' shows involve either standup comedy or live music; Trixie Mattel, ever the workhorse, is prepared to deliver all of that and so much more.
"If you love Trixie, this is the best Trixie," she says proudly. "I just try to make everything as gay as I can. That's sort of my mantra."