Dorian Electra’s Purposeful Pop
June 26, 2017
We chatted with eccentric pop performance artist Dorian Electra about the positive power of music, using the medium to shine a light on the underrepresented, and fluidly shape-shifting into different personas (like Gordon Gekko). Photographed by Kristiina Wilson. Text by Taylore Scarabelli.
“The clitoris—it’s my anatomeeeee” performance artist and musician Dorian Electra croons in Clitopia, one of her recent video collaborations with Refinery29. Drenched in feminist references and over-the-top looks (at one point she dons a hairy vaginal costume), Electra’s bubble gum sound is a queer alternative to woke top 40 music, or what Katy Perry refers to as ‘purposeful pop’.
Quirky and high energy, Electra’s educational pop videos are reminiscent of the awkward white kid in your junior high science class who made a rap video to go along with his term project; The music is cheesy and it’s a little bit hard to watch, but you can’t help but be entertained.
“Pop music is crazy,” Electra tells me over email. “It’s so powerful and pervasive and gets stuck in your head and seeps into your mind. When we’re singing along to the lyrics we end up repeating mantras that subconsciously enforce our ideas about ourselves, our sexuality, how love works, and how we view others.”
Akin to a Disney sing-a-long, Electra’s educational music videos feature on-screen lyrics along with a bouncing syllable marker, an effective indoctrination method hyperbolically out of date for her millennial audience. Unlike the former however, Electra’s music playfully deconstructs social justice issues. “We have to undo the history of censorship, shame, and misunderstanding of sexuality that has been perpetuated by religion, science, and culture in order to work towards a future that embraces all bodies and identities,” she tells me. “I believe that by studying the history of the oppression of marginalized groups, we will be better equipped to fight back against it today.”
“Right now, it’s important to me to use the platform of pop music and music videos to share stories and perspectives that are often underrepresented in the mainstream…”
Like any artist, Electra’s interests have changed over the years. Once a pusher of lyrical libertarian economics (a remnant of a since-revoked high school indoctrination), and later, music videos about consciousness and the philosophy of mind, the lady drag queen has spent the last year-and-a-half making high energy pop songs about taboo subjects. “I’ve found a medium that I can continue to use even as my interests change,” she says. “Right now, it’s important to me to use the platform of pop music and music videos to share stories and perspectives that are often underrepresented in the mainstream—especially histories about about the oppression of femininity, LGBTQ identities, and gender nonconforming people.”
For Electra, music and performance not only provides an opportunity to educate youth about gender and sexuality, but it also offers a space for her to explore her own identity. In 2000 Years of Drag, a Refinery29 collaboration with Imp Queen, Lucy Stoole, Eva Young, The Vixen, and London Jade, Electra delivers a heartfelt chorus commending gender bending as a means for constructing individualized identities. “Being able to embrace the term ‘drag’ for myself was super freeing and empowering because it reinforced the idea that putting on these hyper-feminine looks was my conscious choice as an artist and a performer rather than a social expectation I was fulfilling based on the genitalia I was born with,” she tells me. “I play a lot of characters in my videos: female, male, neither, both, and all of them represent different parts of myself. I identify as a drag king, as well as gender-fluid; I’m loosy-goosey, baby!”
Electra’s videos incorporate a variety of LGBT perspectives. In addition to her regular band (Weston Getto Allen, Michael Zarowny, and producer Andy Milan), Electra works with several collaborators across the US. “We’ve shot videos in LA, Miami, Chicago, and NYC and have worked with so many amazing queer artists in every city,” she tells me. “Different people always bring different perspectives to the projects and to the atmosphere on set, and I’m always learning from the people we work with.”
To her fans, Electra embodies the ideal queer icon, but like other socially conscious talents, she can be an easy target of critique. Electra’s femme-oriented music videos like The History of Vibrators, and The Dark History of High Heels, take a somewhat whitewashed liberal feminist approach to what at first glance are simply ‘women’s issues’. Nevertheless, Electra’s work offers a valuable form of activism that is both accessible and easily digestible to, for example, the roughly 13 million unique visitors (most of whom are young women) that view Refinery29’s website each month.
Unsurprisingly then, Electra approaches purposeful pop with caution. “Socially conscious pop is a great idea and something I want to work towards, but I also predict that in the next 5-10 years we’ll probably see a wave of trendy ‘wokeness’ in music that won’t be lasting,” she tells me. “The cynic in me says that people will always seek escapism in pop music, but I’m committed to trying to create real, meaningful, educational work…regardless of passing trends.”
For now, Electra plans to keep on producing music. In the works is another video collaboration with Refinery29 (a history of reproductive justice from an intersectional feminist perspective), as well as a new EP that will be a departure from some of her more educational work. “It’s an exploration of some different characters and personas,” she tells me. “I won’t say too much, because it’s evolving every day, but some of the themes that i’m interested in are masculinity, the dark twisted magic of Las Vegas, and the evils of big business, money, and the corruption that comes along with it.”
By Taylore Scarabelli