Trixie Mattel is broadening the horizons of drag performance
Drag superstar, performing musician, cosmetics innovator, YouTube sensation, comedian—Trixie Mattel seems to do it all. Winner of the third season of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, Mattel has already recorded three albums of original music, launched a successful cosmetics line, published a New York Times bestseller, released her own documentary and racked up over a million subscribers on her YouTube channel.
In the first part of our Pride digital cover story on altpress.com, Mattel talked about her unique career and subversive approach to country music. In part two, the drag icon discusses her commitment to good old-fashioned lip-syncing, her friendship with Alternative Press cover artist Orville Peck and her ambition to someday perform in the Super Bowl.
You’re part of a broader phenomenon of drag artists who are challenging assumptions about drag and also expanding what it means to have a career working as a drag star. Do you see yourself as alternative in that sense or maybe as someone who is helping to redefine the art form in any way?
I love a drag show. On my nights off in Los Angeles, I love to go with my gay friends to a bar with a sticky floor and a shoddy sound system and watch men in wigs get blackout drunk and twirl. It is just my favorite thing. I love it. I love drag in the conventional sense.
I would say that my career [is] likened more to a comedian than a drag queen nowadays, doing stand-up for a living and doing TV for a living and making music—real music. I don’t know other drag queens who play their own instruments or write their own music.
Related to this point, I think so much of drag culture is about lip-syncing. You obviously write a lot of original music. You also perform live music. Can you talk about that aspect of your career?
Well, don’t get me wrong: When I play the Super Bowl someday, I will be lip-syncing. I still enjoy lip-syncing. It doesn’t happen to me nowadays because I don’t really do nightclubs anymore. I do theaters and festivals and stuff. Once in a while, like when I go home to my bar I own in Wisconsin—the oldest gay bar in Wisconsin, This Is It!—I’ll still do a lip-sync or two. Lip-syncing is the bread and butter of the drag industry, partially because the drag industry has never had the funding or the audience or the sound system to support anything but a homosexual person pressing play on a jukebox.
For me, just because I like to write my own music and I like to tell my own jokes, live sound is a little more suited to my sense of humor. I’m a little more inspired by people like Sarah Silverman or Dolly Parton or Bo Burnham or Adam Sandler, where they weave stand-up into music and it becomes one gesture of storytelling and not either/or.
You’ve been very active on social media, using YouTube to engage fans, promote your cosmetics line and perform music. Can you talk about social media and why that platform is important to you?
It’s great for independent artists like me. I could turn on YouTube Live right now, grab a guitar and do a free show, or [I could] do a makeup video or cook with an Easy-Bake Oven. I get to be the judge, jury and executioner of all the content. Especially as a cross-dresser, I’m used to having six to eight elderly white straight men decide if and when I get to come on TV. And it’s usually only during the month of Pride, and it’s usually not paid very well.
So being able to have my own channels where I get to do whatever I want and cut out the middleman—so I get to film it, do the sound, put on a wig, edit it, upload it and have a completely authentic, intimate experience.There’s a reason why YouTube feels so intimate. The viewer can feel that there are not that many people involved in the process. It makes it very exciting. Social media, Twitter, everything; it’s just become a way for me to, 99 times out of 100, just post some disgusting joke that I think is hilarious.
But then once in a while, I have something to sell—like today, we’re launching three new products of my cosmetics company. I have a direct [line]. It’s so effective. It makes it possible for me to be an independent musician, to be an independent makeup company. It just makes it all possible. We couldn’t do it without that direct reach.
You’ve collaborated a lot with another AltPress cover artist, Orville Peck. What is your dynamic with him?
Oh, I think he’s just trying to put the wig on one day. But we’re good friends. We met on the internet—like all celebrities do. I went to his show with some friends. I’d say he’s one of my best friends. We love to go out together. I’m going to be honest: We like to go out to dinner and then get about six to 10 gin and tonics and then go to his house and listen to music. He’s just great. And I love his character. Behind the scenes, behind the wig, behind the music, he’s just one of the girls. He’s a total drag queen. When people are using costuming and smoke and mirrors, it’s all drag. Orville loves drag because I think he sees himself onstage that way.
This interview appeared in issue 396, available here.