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Pop star Dorian Electra flips gender stereotypes using ‘gross’ make-up

TextJake Hall

Ahead on their sell-out London show, the queer pop star talks us through the importance of dandies and drag in their evolving approach to beauty and creating biblical gay fan fiction

“How do I make this monk outfit kind of sexy?” was the unique conundrum pop star Dorian Electra faced when styling their recently-released video for “Adam & Steve”. Laughing down the phone from a Swedish hotel room, Electra explains the song’s genesis: “I’ve always been fascinated and amused by anti-gay slogans – ‘it was Adam & Eve, not Adam & Steve!’ But that’s such a catchy phrase if you flip it. I’m interested in Adam & Steve!” The result is a blend of thunderous electronica and choral elements, which casts the titular characters as defiant gay lovers. “I call it biblical gay fan fiction,” Electra jokes. “There’s so much homoeroticism in Christian art anyway – you’re literally eating the body of Christ – so I reimagined the story the way I wanted it to be told.”

The video continues this narrative, featuring characters such as the aforementioned monk and notorious witch-hunter Matthew Hopkins, reimagined as a buck-toothed villain draped in chains. “He would condemn women to be burned at the stake, but he had a snatched waist! His fashion was on point,” Electra jokes, hinting at the self-awareness and camp humour that underpins their success.

These subversive historical retellings have become Electra’s signature. They rose to fame with educational music videos tracing the origins of everything from high heels to vibrators. Now, they sport drawn-on facial hair and make genius, gender-bending tracks like “Career Boy” and “Daddy Like”, which twist male archetypes (office bros and sugar daddies respectively) with a knowing wink and a sprinkle of shimmer. 

Electra’s aesthetic has similarly morphed over the years. Gone is their long, brown hair, replaced instead by a shorter, slicked-back look – and from indigo blue to mint green, no dye is off-limits. As for makeup, more is more: technicolour blush often creeps across their face and eyes, offset by a slick of eyeliner and a sprinkling of tattoo stamps. 

This signature look is always topped off with a drawn-on moustache and, more recently, a dab of nail polish to create a gap-tooth look. It’s a look they’re trying out on tour with Charli XCX, but ahead of their upcoming London headline show, we caught up with Electra about asserting their beauty identity on and off stage, and being part of a new wave of queer artists.

Your art is hugely inspired by flamboyant men and dandies, where did that stem from?

Dorian Electra: Even before high school, I was obsessed with Oscar Wilde, dandies and mods – guys wearing make-up, frilly things and velvet. I think the modern version is the ‘metrosexual’: straight guys that primp themselves and care about their appearance like gay guys would. I remember thinking it was such a BS term, but also feeling empowered by it. 

I was obsessed with The Horrors when I was maybe 14, they were making 60s garage band psychedelia but their style was goth Victorian mod. They had crazy hair, skinny jeans and pointed shoes. I stanned, brought them gifts, waited in line, everything. It was an awakening for me because they were flamboyant, masculine people. I look back at all of those bands now and stan for just how much they did to broaden the narrow confines of masculinity.

“I was always drawn to make-up but I felt alienated. I didn’t feel feminine, so something didn’t sit right when I thought of how I was presenting with all this make-up on. I felt uncomfortable until I found drag and realised that cis women could be drag queens, cis men could be drag kings, trans women could be kings, queens, or even drag creatures” – Dorian Electra

Do you deliberately flip gendered stereotypes with your work?

Dorian Electra: It’s just what I’m personally drawn to – I love finding things that we think are so heteronormative, and then finding the history that has been covered up. I studied philosophy and history of science so that played a huge role, especially in my video about the clitoris. You don’t need an education to hopefully gain something that’s meaningful.

You’re presenting masculine and interested in make-up – how has that relationship developed?

Dorian Electra: My song “Guylineris all about that – I want to make a music video, and there may even be a product in the works. My mom was into make-up and she would do crazy stuff, I did musical theatre as a kid which is how I learned to do make-up. I wore tonnes of bright pink blush and way over-the-top eyeliner. To this day, I never do it inside the waterline.

I even played some drag characters and I would have big, over-the-top lipstick, crazy eyeshadow, and draw on a fake moustache. Then I got into genderless clown make-up. Instagram is so cool in that sense, it’s more acceptable to wear extreme make-up as an artist or even just in public. Honestly, I’ve always loved looking a little gross. When I saw the smudged lipstick trend, I was like, ‘Oh, this is perfect for me.’ When I perform, I have my mouth all over the microphone. If it’s already smudged, nobody can say anything.

Drag and gender fluidity are obviously completely different, but has drag been a tool for you to explore identity?

Dorian Electra: Absolutely. I was always drawn to make-up but I felt alienated. I didn’t feel feminine, so something didn’t sit right when I thought of how I was presenting with all this make-up on. I felt uncomfortable until I found drag and realised that cis women could be drag queens, cis men could be drag kings, trans women could be kings, queens, or even drag creatures. These ideas were being exploded in my mind, so I felt comfortable saying: ‘I’m this masculine person and I’m wearing a little make-up. Who cares?! I’m putting on my guyliner. My wife doesn’t mind – she loves it!’

You’re on tour right now – what are your make-up staples?

Dorian Electra: I can only bring one palette for tour, because I can’t carry too much crap. The Claropsyche palette is incredible: it has a black for eyeliner and the perfect bright red – not too orange, pink, or brown. My tour look is the pink eyeshadow, which I use as blush that I take up into my eye and above my eyebrows, and then a bright red under the eye and on the crease. I’m always looking for waterproof liquid eyeliner that doesn’t get messed up with sweat, I’m using MAC to draw on the moustache, freckles and other accents. I love the Milk tattoo stamps, NYX eyebrow pencil, and whatever waterproof mascara I have lying around. Oh, and black nail polish – I use it to create a gap tooth.

Finally, how does that feel to be one of a few queer pop-stars pushing conversations around gender and sexuality in music?

Dorian Electra: It’s interesting – for a few years I didn’t think of artists I admired as queer musicians. Before I knew SOPHIE was trans, I just knew she was making really cool music. Now, looking back, I can see these artists were coming from a queer perspective. In the last two years, so much has changed in a great way for queer representation in music, there’s more opportunity than ever, it’s like we’re showing that queer artists can be viable. It’s hard to step back and see myself in it but to see artists like King Princess and Kim Petras in that queer pop sphere is inspiring, we’re all being lifted up.

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