Dorian Electra, pop’s norm-defying star, is ready for the spotlight

Dorian Electra, pop’s norm-defying star, is ready for the spotlight

Interviewed by Cry Club's Heather Riley, it’s clear that pop’s gender-defying new star isn’t here to stick within the boundaries.

Interview by Cry Club's Heather Riley, foreword by Hayden Davies. In-article images by Charlotte Rutherford.

The word ‘flamboyant’ is one that sits strangely with many queer people. It’s one that stings for most, weaponised as an insult to those who may unknowingly ‘limp’ their wrist, strut with an emphasised step in their walk, or just be a touch more creative than others - externally often, but internally too. Growing up as a young queer attempting to work out how to express themselves and their queerness in public, a pointed insult like ‘flamboyant’ can be enough to reverse months of building confidence. Then, there’s the too-common “I’m gay but not a flamboyant gay” comment; internalised homophobia rife amongst the more ‘straight-acting’ world of queerness.

For someone like Dorian Electra, however, the word ‘flamboyant’ - and flamboyancy in general - comes with a lot of power. On their single Flamboyant (the title track of their debut album of the same name), Electra takes a word traditionally policing queerness and twists it to a moment of power: “Flamboyant, every day / I'm flamboyant, I go all the way,” they sing amongst crashes of synth and smashing percussion that emphasises Dorian Electra’s constant embrace of defying norms - the “gender-defying, genre-defying popstar” isn’t a title you earn by following the rules.

Flamboyant as a full-length debut record doesn’t so much introduce Dorian Electra as it does introduce a new generation of pop musicians who thrive in pushing the limits. Sonically, it’s a record whose experimental twists on synth-backed pop music grows more potent as it continues, from the bubblegum-pop joy of Mr. To You to Emasculate, which grabs the sonic blueprint of mid-00s Britney-adjacent pop and warps it into a grotesque, metallic beast that’ll leave you in a state of whiplash as it comes to an end. Adam & Steve, an album highlight that encapsulates Dorian’s music, twists church hymns into a declaration of self-love: “God made me, and Adam and Steve / And he loves me, and he loves me.

Beyond the surface-level sonics that group Dorian Electra with other forward-thinkers of experimental pop - past collaborators Charli XCX and 100 gecs included - Flamboyant is a record that seethes with this sense of self-empowerment. Unapologetic queerness is often a difficult thing to embrace - let alone for someone in the public eye - and Flamboyant doesn’t just feel like Dorian Electra tackling this individually, but also as a representative of a changing cultural shift. In the last few years, for example, the presence of popular queer musicians have expanded across all genres, reflecting cultural growth that - for the most part - encourage visibility in sectors beyond just the artistic.

In every element of Flamboyant, this dissection of queerness is in its centre frame. Career Boy breaks down Wolf of Wall Street business culture - “I wanted to subvert and poke fun at this masculine ideal of the manly-businessman-hero and tear him apart and also make him very queer,” Dorian says - while Emasculate projects a graphic state of hyper-masculinity, singing “Cut the man right out of me, Emasculate me.

On Man To Man, meanwhile, Dorian Electra reflects on the power of vocalisation in conflict, and the way toxic masculinity creates this fictional, constant state of battle between men not wanting to share their power. “If masculinity is all about being courageous, brave, and strong, then the really courageous, brave, and strong thing to do is to be sensitive or open up about your emotions,” they told Apple Music. “It’s about redefining the values that masculinity traditionally holds into a new and healthier context.”

Flamboyant is a demonstration of the punkness Dorian Electra contributes to the larger cultural shift, not-so-much in the sense of their music - although the album does occasionally dip into the chaotic embrace characteristic of punk music - but in their ability to distance themselves from the norm. There are very little popstars that look and sound like Dorian Electra and what they contribute to the pop canon - from tiny, drawn-on moustaches to the big-budget, maximalist approach to their music videos that you often have to watch to begin ‘understand’ the project - and even as pop music grows more accepting of those venturing outside of the canonistic norms, it’s difficult to find musicians that venture as far out as Dorian Electra.

It’s something they share with Melbourne duo Cry Club. Since introduced as a queer-punk Wollongong duo with their explosive debut single Walk Away, the pairing have consistently stepped outside of the box even within their own music, contrasting tracks like the bite-y brat-pop Robert Smith with singles like Two Hearts, which intertwine their characteristic sneer with more pop-centric mannerisms. They’re melodramatic and theatrical, reclaiming power struggles - “I told you not to fucking touch me!” yells Heather Riley on the angry, ‘give me my personal space’ anthem DTFM - in a similar way to Dorian Electra, even if their music explores distinctly different spaces within the pop world.

Here, in the midst of Dorian Electra’s debut Australian tour, Cry Club’s Heather Riley interviews Dorian Electra on their live show, gender euphoria, stan culture and more:

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So first off, how has it been being in Australia? Have you been here before?

No, this is my first time ever! It’s been amazing, like everywhere we’ve been has been super beautiful, everyone has been super nice, the people coming out the shows have been so incredible - seeing all the looks and the makeup and everything that everyone’s doing has been so inspiring, it’s so cool to be so far away from home, but then also feel at home because of that you know?

For someone that missed it, how would you describe a Dorian Electra live show?

I like it to feel like a big pop show as much as possible. I have backup dancers, visuals and I like it to feel like a mix of Britney Spears but then also Marilyn Manson or like some dark vibes thrown in there like Alice Cooper. I like things to be pretty theatrical, but also kinda dark and moody; fun, inclusive and I just want every to have a fun time, you know?

Yeah, I really felt that. There’s this punk element too - as soon as it hits Musical Genius, everyone just goes OFF but it feels like a safe space for people to go off a bit, so know that there’s this really caring vibe as well.

Yeah, totally. I love that punk energy. I like the idea of a mosh pit, but personally I hate being in them because I’m pretty small, and a smaller sized person gets immediately shoved very easily.

Having a positive energy underlying that punk rowdiness is really cool, with people checking in on each other to make sure they’re okay. When I bring people up on stage for Femmebot at the end, I’m always seeing people, checking other people aren’t falling over and I really like that energy you know?

You put out the video for Guyliner not too long ago, and one thing when I’m showing people Dorian Electra is being like “Okay you HAVE to watch the videos to really GET it." The thesis statement of each video is so clear and everything feels super deliberate. Is making videos 

It definitely drives my choice of what my next single is gonna be and stuff like that, because I feel like I’m always thinking in terms of visual stuff too. Sometimes, it’s so much more than the song; there might be a song that I’ve made that I’m technically and musically thinking in terms of which one’s more catchy and which I think might be better, but this other song would lend itself way more to being a music video and a whole concept and aesthetic so sometimes I’ll go with that one, even if I don’t actually think it’s like necessarily the stronger song. I feel like at the end of the day. it’s the whole package you know?

For sure! Do you have a specific process for developing the video - are there things you do every time?

A lot of times I’ll have the music video idea before we even make the song, and then it’ll be like “I’ll do the music video like this” and then I’ll be like “Oh, this song title would be really good with that” and then it’s like “Oh, it can kinda have this sound to it, like a mashing up of these genres and this vibe” or whatever, and putting that together and making something that fits all of those categories [is what I always do]. It's reverse-engineered sometimes, usually music videos are more of an afterthought, but sometimes I start with them in mind. Not all of the time, but I lot of times I do.

You produced Mood Killer's video for Go Hard, which is off chops - the coolest thing I've ever seen. How was that process compared to working on your own stuff? 

So my partner Weston Allen co-directs all of my videos with me and he’s my creative partner in pretty much everything. He also directs music videos for a bunch of other artists and he edits music videos as well; he edits all my videos and does all of the graphic design and stuff too, and I feel like the three of us have been working together - me, Mood and Weston, for a really long time and we just have that like organic flow. If it’s Weston’s project; if it’s Mood’s project; if it’s my project; we all kind of work together and share resources and stuff to create all those things together.

It’s gorgeous, it definitely feels like there’s this big vibe of collaboration and working together - everything feels like a team effort even if you’re the captain of the ship - do you find that collaboration is super necessary as an artist?

Totally, especially because I’ve been doing these videos for so long in such a DIY context, and I would not have all have been able to produce the level of music video that we do without my whole team. Working with an amazing team on the rest of the production that are so dedicated and have been working on this for a long time is awesome, it's great to be building all of this together.

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I often find that with my favourite queer artists as well there’s that big sense of community. One thing I notice as well when I show people your videos - especially my other trans and queer friends, and it comes up in the comments a lot - is this idea of like “second-hand gender euphoria." People feel so uplifted and validated watching you, is that something you anticipated and thought about?

When I first put out Career Boy, I really had expectations that people would be like “Who’s this girl with a stupid moustache drawn on? Like ew, that’s not sexy and it looks bad” or like “This person is too theatrical, they’re trying too hard with this or that." I didn’t know how people were gonna take it, but I felt like I had to do it and put that out there and see what was gonna happen. When the response was just so overwhelmingly positive to that video, it just gave me so much more confidence in myself and in my art, and realising that I could express myself and feel confident and maybe help others feel the same was was just like so meaningful and I’m just so grateful that I’ve been able to have that platform and be able to see people’s feedback and response, messages and comments and them performing the songs at drag nights and all that stuff, it’s been amazing.

Yeah, you’re really connected to your fanbase too. Do you feel like that’s a part of it as well?

Definitely. It’s really important to me, because I feel like it’s all of these people who have really gotten me to where I am now in terms of supporting my work and my music as an independent artist, and it’s also people say amazing and funny and hilarious stuff and things that inspire me with the artwork that they make and makeup looks. I love that there’s a community around that which goes beyond just me; my fans have started making music and stuff together and collaborating together just through the internet, forming their own fan club and doing charity work.

I always wanted to feel like my fans would have something that was beyond just me. Maybe that’s the common thing at first, but then it builds into something that they can grow from and stuff. Some of them are younger, and I remember what it was like to really be obsessed with bands and through that like fan-online-community, so I feel like it’s just to cool to see that happening now.

There’s a kind of a stan culture - like you see around Gaga and Charli XCX - but around an artist that’s not hyper-feminine, but still pop.

Totally, and that was something too, where I was like "Is this gonna happen for me?" So much of the language connected to it - around stan culture - is very hyper-femme. I’m glad you bring that up actually, because not even 6 months ago I was not...  self-conscious about it, like I was never thinking “Oh I’ve gotta change something about myself” ..but I was thinking “how far can this really go?” because it’s not the norm in that way for, like, being a pop star in that sense. Seeing that people are really hungry for something different is really amazing and really cool, and something I never expected.

I think a lot of this classic “fan culture” too is a lot of gay, cis-males - obviously it’s way more diverse than that in actuality - but that’s the classic thing: gay, cis males stanning cis hyper-femme pop stars. It’s been really cool to see that being broken in many ways with all kinds of other queer artists and stuff now, but especially to see a lot of my fans are non-binary or trans men or other AFAB people and stuff, it’s really cool to see that because I really did not know what to expect and seeing that has been really amazing.

I feel like it’s time. You know, we’ve had so much hyper-femme pop stars, and I definitely feel like people are scared of butchness from AFAB people, or people playing on masculinity - people can get a bit weird and sensitive about it. Do you think people are becoming more open to that now?

Totally! And I’m excited to see more cis male glam-pop stars and stuff too, because I was inspired by all the like 70s glam rockers, and I think it goes in a wave from glam to grunge and glam to grunge, you know? I think that’s over-simplifying it, but there’s definitely something in that and I feel like you know... I just love everything over the top.

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You come across as super confident and brave with that, but was there anything about releasing the album and about putting everything out that you found more challenging or worried about a lot more?

Yeah, I feel like I was worried initially that because my music has so many themes to it - and I kind of over-intellectualize everything, but I like to do that because it’s just kinda how my mind works, you know? - that people would not take it seriously as music? But of course, I’ve put so much thought into the music itself - into individual instrument sounds and genres - that to me, is so much that I like to intellectualize the music part of it too!

I was a little bit worried about that, but then having things like The Needle Drop review, and other things that were really focused on the music that were positive was a huge boost for me. As much as they say that you shouldn’t care what people think - you gotta do you - I think having that feedback from other people does really help you and influences you. You wanna make sure that you’re being perceived by others in the way you’re trying to communicate; you wanna make sure the message of your project and everything is really coming across, and is not being totally misinterpreted. That was super validating, and a lot of the press around the album was really validating for me, and for the first time, I’m being treated like a serious musician both by me taking myself seriously and others taking me seriously, because I had a history of doing educational music videos before that, which definitely laid the groundwork for everything I’m doing now, but in terms of the music it was really satisfying to feel that validation.

And along with Dylan Brady, who produced some stuff for this album and the rise of 100 gecs alongside what you’re doing, it feels really good to have this weirdness fully legitimized, you know? Like it is really good music!

Totally! I mean, especially with 100 gecs, it’s been amazing to see that, and I feel like it’s just continuing to open the door for so many new kinds of artists who are really pushing the boundaries of pop music and electronic music, it’s a really exciting time to be in right now.

Speaking of exciting, what else do you have planned? You played some new songs which were a riot at your shows, I’m obsessed.

I’m working on plans for my next big single and music video, and working on what I’m planning to release throughout the rest of the year. I'm figuring it out - I just did two writing camps - so figuring out which songs I like the best from those and which songs kind of go together and all that. And then, I’m finishing my big North American tour and in May, I go on my UK and Europe tour, playing a lot of festivals and stuff over the summer, so yeah! Excited for all of that and really excited to get all this new music out soon as well.

It feels like you’re doing a million, million things at once - how do you switch off?

Well I used to watch Star Trek more last year, but then now I haven’t really done that… what do I do to switch off? Not really anything recently! I never really switch off honestly but sometimes I prefer that. I should try to find something I guess, but sometimes I find switching off makes me more anxious than getting all the work done I need to do, you know? I like to live in that state of flow.

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