Part 3: The Original Singers, the Original Songs, and the Future of YouTube Drag
In this 3-part series, A. Loudermilk writes about the drag queen YouTube videos that are as transgressive as they are outrageous.
The third part looks at the drag queens who sing their own original songs, as well as the future of the DIY YouTube video.
Just as it’s tempting to rank a drag performer using her own voice above the lip-syncers, so it is with serious remakes and original songs over parodies.
Watching music videos by Kevin Aviance and Jeffree Star, their talent and their uniqueness cannot be separated. Bald-headed and titless with a deep voice, Aviance brings drag ball realness to the video for 1996’s ‘Cunty (The Feeling)’. And ‘Din Daa Daa’ is a throw-down remake of the club classic with not a drop of parody. Looking in the video like a cross between Grace Jones and the Mad Hatter, Aviance poses on a giant drum while singing machinegun be-bop to the fervent beat.
Even when covering Britney Spears’s ‘Gimme More’, both the song and its video are concerned only with reinterpreting—not parodying. Aviance’s most political release, in 1999, is a cover of Nitzer Ebb’s angry ‘Join in the Chant’, its video dedicated to hate-crime victim Matthew Shepard and the activists who marched in response to his death.
Aviance was fortunate to have survived a gay-bashing several years later, attacked outside a Manhattan gay bar by seven men shouting “fag,” etc., and only four were tried and convicted.
Though twenty years younger and on the opposite coast, Jeffree Star is similar to Aviance in avant-garde androgyny, deep voice, and hard beats. Released in 2010, ‘Get Away with Murder’ and ‘Beauty Killer’ are ultra-slick videos reflecting the world of a very bad girlyboy in her “strawberry youth,” a world ruled by vanity and lite sadism.
For 2012’s ‘Prom Night’, the pink-schemed video is a mashup allusion to the stalker movie Prom Night and Julie Brown’s song ‘Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun’. The photography and fashions are wildly fresh, but the song’s processed vocals not so much. Star and Aviance, as with Drag Race fave Raja, are ones to watch not so much as pop stars but as re-definers of drag, proving that drag and female impersonation are not necessarily synonymous. Drag is always about fashions associated with women, sure, but it’s not always about tits.
Speaking of tits, though … The video for chanteuse Amanda Lepore’s signature song ‘Cotton Candy’ is just as hot pink as ‘Prom Night’, but its mode of camp is classic Hollywood pinup. Plastic looking, with lips full to bursting, Lepore is a fairly old-school M2F—singing her own songs but passive in her femininity. She says, in an interview clip available on YouTube, that she rarely gets to show her intelligence because her persona needs to be light-hearted to land continued work. “It gets me by so I guess I’m smart in the long run,” she says. Perhaps so, but this confession weakens the conviction of her 2011 banner ‘Doin’ It My Way’, a song easily out-styled by its own video.
So singing your own lyrics is not always a sign of superior talent. And as for lip-syncing, queens who do sing will still usually lip-sync to their recordings during shows and for videos. Anyway—the best of these videos tend to spoof the lowest common denominator through gross-out humor and absurdly extreme stereotypes. They nod, indirectly, at the reality of living in a commercial culture built on stereotyping. As for the versatility issue, it’s about working with what you got and not merely sticking with what you got.
And this brings us to the DIY drag queen who most embodies the ho-made music video: the indomitable Loco Mama, known in his male form as Zipster.
Zipster began making and posting videos in 2006, one year after YouTube began. Due to the number of posts and comments, he was by 2007 one of the very first to be partnered by YouTube, i.e. paid a salary to keep posting. He quit his unfulfilling job and devoted himself to producing a variety of clips for his trashy drag persona Loco Mama, including mock video diaries, twisted skits, Golden Girls and Hoarders parodies.
He also makes hilarious videos for original songs like ‘It’s A Candy Bra’, ‘Pickle in My Pancake’, ‘You Only Kiss Me When You’re Drunk’, as well as for parodies like ‘Condom Proof’ (from La Roux’s ‘Bulletproof’) and ‘Kn0cked uP’ (from Kesha’s ‘Tik-Tok’).
Loco Mama is a shabby old whore with a gold-plated heart. To get her feet into too-small pumps, she greases them with Spam. One might peg her as the long-lost daughter of Edith Massey, the Egg Lady in Pink Flamingos. Or perhaps she’s Mama to Muppet-like DeAundra Peek.
Mama’s eyebrows seem to be traced on with a compass and her elastic facial expressions are downright vaudevillian. Thin with a noticeable belly, she manages to appear pear-shaped in cheap sequins, yet skeletal in her candy bra. In her videos, music and otherwise, Mama is a gadabout member of her fictional community—played by members of Zipster’s real-life community. She often parties so hard she can’t remember how a pickle got in her pancake, or a condom in her shoe.
Zipster also posts videos of himself, thanking his fans and answering their most common questions. He shares anecdotes from his present and past, including memories of his partner of 15 years who died in the early 2000s. He even plays keyboard and sings ‘Hard-Hearted Hannah’ in his natural voice. YouTube changed his life, he claims: “It opened doors to the whole world that I never thought would be open”.
Sadly, on July 15, 2012, after six years, Zipster posted a retirement announcement titled ‘Not GOODBYE … Just SO LONG’. “If YouTube was my record label,” he begins, “they’d have dropped me like a year ago. And if YouTube was an actual television station, they would have canceled my series two years ago. Because let’s face it…my kind of video has become obsolete.”
He then says how you’ve got to be a big name now to get the hits, mentioning three names I must admit I’ve never heard. YouTube, for me, has never been about keeping up with the newest. Quite the opposite in fact.
All good things come to an end, it’s true, but it now seems equally true that all good things may live on forever via YouTube. So Zipster claims defeat unnecessarily. Well, to a degree he’s right. It’s easy to admire professionals like Jackie Beat and Willam, and to cheer on the mainstream success of RuPaul’s Drag Race, but without an influx of drag videos like those featuring Loco Mama, in which we see Zipster’s real-life home and neighborhood in the background, a slicker and less personal norm may well render the truly homemade ho-made video a thing of the past.
Read Part 1, ‘Divine Origins’, which looks at the Drag Queen videos & films made in the years preceding YouTube.
Read Part 2, ‘The Impact of the YouTube Parody’, which looks at the YouTube sensations who parody mainstream pop stars and play havoc with their notions of identity.