Few artists are more resistant to labels than Dorian Electra. Since finding mainstream success with a series of educational pop songs in 2016, which celebrated the clitoris and documented the history of drag, Electra has gone on to create electrifying, genre-bending music. Their lyrics celebrate queerness, non-conformity, and visual excess – most notably in the recently-released video for “Adam & Steve,” which teams pitch-shifted, operatic vocals with dubstep breakdowns and a theatrical homage to a fictional, Biblical gay couple.
It’s a textbook example of Electra’s tongue-in-cheek brilliance, which recently earned them a support slot for Charli XCX. “Genre is such a funny concept,” they muse over the phone as Charli sound-checks “Vroom Vroom” in the distant background. “If I’m working with a new producer and they ask what genre we’re going to go with, I’m like okay – this will take a little more communication. How about we decide which three genres we want to mash up today?”
This approach works for Electra, who speaks quickly and excitedly, punctuating almost every line with a joke and an infectious laugh. This sense of playful curiosity is written across Electra’s debut album Flamboyant, whose lyrics toy with masculine archetypes over production which fuses crunchy electronica with a handful of unexpected flourishes. “I was really trying to find my sound,” Electra says of creating the album. “My tastes are pretty diverse, so I tried to incorporate these ’80s, almost funk elements with the sleekness of 2000s pop.”
Although each song exists in its own sonic world, there are some connective threads: “Putting an arpeggiated MIDI harpsichord on almost every song is kind of a signature; there’s that ‘whip crack’ sound a lot; also medieval melody, Gregorian monk chants, Baroque elements… oh, and heavy metal! The idea was to combine hyper-pop and electronic dance with all of these elements, and then that became my album.”
This might sound like a chaotic mix, but in practice it works seamlessly – Electra embodies a postmodern approach to pop, which pulls from countless different arenas to create new configurations of sounds we already know. Or, in Electra’s words: “I love to hear unexpected things, which is why I love a dubstep breakdown followed by a harpsichord, followed by a saxophone. Why the fuck not?”
Naturally, when the conversation turns to icons, Electra’s list is eclectic and more than a little surprising. From Barney the Dinosaur to Austin Powers, here are the key figures that have shaped Electra’s audiovisual universe.
BARNEY THE DINOSAUR
OK, so I’m trying to dive deep here! When I was a kid, I loved Barney — even though he’s supposed to use he/him pronouns and everything, I always felt like it was more of a neutral thing. I liked creatures that felt kind of genderless, like those big, fluffy mascots. My stuffed animals were always he/him too, but I don’t know how much of that was because I identified more with masculine things. Wow… I don’t know where this came from!
I was obsessed with the Beatles when I was a little kid – their early stuff, like A Hard Day’s Night. My dad played music a lot and he really liked them, but also I liked that it was music from another era. They were real musicians, and I liked that you could choose a favorite. Mine was always Ringo!
I liked them in the way that kids at that time were obsessed with the Spice Girls – who I liked too, but more the world around them than their music. I remember getting into a fight with this girl at school; she had been super mean to me and was trying to be my friend again, so she was like: “oh fine, I don’t like the Spice Girls any more, I only like the Beatles! Please be my friend!”
Alice Cooper is someone that definitely still inspires me today. He was one of the biggest shock rockers, and he really set the tone for people like Marilyn Manson. Not that Alice was the first to do it – he was pulling from Screamin’ Jay Hawkins; that dark, gothic, rock n roll blues tradition. But Alice to me was the height of 1970s glam mixed with dirty punk, plus these theatrical, over-the-top, and spooky elements.
I’ve definitely been pulling more from him recently. He always had these crazy stage antics; he gets killed on-stage five different ways: guillotine, electric chair… he gets hanged, too. I can’t wait to have bigger budgets so I can do crazy, performative things. I love to entertain and please the crowd – oh, and he’s very camp, as well! In that sense, he’s a huge influence.
Definitely The Horrors – I love their fashion, makeup looks, energy, big hair, flamboyant dress. All of it! They actually just followed me on Twitter a few days ago, but I haven’t reached out because I was such a huge fan that I’m embarrassed. Maybe one day I’ll invite them to one of my shows – actually, maybe I should just do it!
It’s cool though, because now I’m starting to get people that will reach out to tell me they make music and they’re inspired by me. They’ll send me a track and I’m like ‘whoa, this is fucking good!’ and then I’ll want them to open for me. It’s the most satisfying thing, because I’ve been inspired by so many people. It’s special when people tell me I’ve inspired them… I know how much it can mean to a person, how much it can change their life.
My dad took me to see the movie when I was like six years old, and I really thought he was this regular, sexy male protagonist. I really didn’t get that a lot of the humor was tied to him being over-the-top and gross, and how it was funny that these beautiful women were attracted to him because he had these crazy teeth, chest hair, and a goofy-ass personality. I just thought that was what was hot!
He definitely influenced me and what I think is attractive – in others, and in myself. I love his outfits – it was this mixture of ’60s mod with velvet and these ruffled suits. I didn’t realize any of this until I dressed up as him for Halloween. I was like – wait, wow, I’ve never felt sexier!
I really got into pop music in college. My friends were positively pressuring me, like, “you actually really like this stuff, you’re not being ironic!” I was like, “yes, I love this Katy Perry song and this Nicki Minaj song!” Bonnie McKee’s “American Girl” was a big one for me, but I really liked Kesha. I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do, but to see someone that had this slightly alternative aesthetic and this major pop platform helped me see that I could be weird and unique, but I could also theoretically be a pop star. Charli [XCX] helped me with that, too. I used to think of writing pop songs as this magical, far-off, mysterious process, but to see someone my own age writing these major hits for other artists and also having their own really cool music career was inspirational. It gave me a newfound respect for pop music.
I’ve also learned to make the music that you like, rather than trying to please a theoretical fanbase. “Flamboyant” was one of the most experimental songs I had ever made at that time – I thought it was too off-the-cuff, that nobody would get it. I was booked onto a photoshoot, but I impulsively decided to just make a video for it. It ended up being my most popular video ever, which I really wasn’t expecting. You really can’t predict anything; ultimately, the best thing to do is just make what you love.