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Baby Love, Harajuku, Serena Tea Crystal Mesh by Nick DeLieto
Baby LovePhotography Nick DeLieto

These upcoming queens are lighting up the Brooklyn drag scene

Baby Love, Crystal Mesh, Harajuku, and Serena Tea talk their journeys, their drag. and what being a part of the New York neighbourhood’s vibrant queer community means to them

“These queens, for me, represent the power of the young, queer scene in New York. Of course, there are beautiful and powerful queens all over the city, and they’re all making incredible art. But this group that exists in such a small sphere in Brooklyn has cultivated such a unique feeling of closeness. These are the girls that deserve to be celebrated for their work and dedication to drag.” 

Nick DeLieto is explaining the rationale behind his latest photo series, which spotlights Baby Love, Harajuku, Crystal Mesh, and Serena Tea – three upcoming drag queens at the centre of the NY neighbourhood’s close-knit creative family. Having first crossed paths with them while tentatively exploring his own queerness, the photographer and the queens forged friendships under the dim lights of The Rosemont bar: a safe, celebratory space that has become a place of healing for the LGBTQ+ community that call the area their home. 

According to DeLieto, it was the upcoming Pride celebrations that cemented his idea to bring the girls together and shoot them in their own terms. Spending time with each of them throughout the month of June, the photographer slowly got to know them and their stories better, as they explored their own journeys together. The timing itself had an even deeper poignancy, given that 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. Where New York’s queens are afforded a certain freedom, particularly with institutions like The Rosemont on their doorsteps, there are others around the world that face prejudice around the world. As well as shining a spotlight on three rising talents, the project also serves as a reminder as to just how sacred these kind of spaces have always been and likely always will be. 

Shot in the days leading up to NYC’s Pride parade, the resulting series is, in a word, joyous – capturing each queen’s individual essence and power; there’s also a quiet sense of intimacy to them. “Working with Baby, Crystal, and Harajuku on the series felt truly meaningful. Crystal and I were on her roof at sunset and Baby and I sat and talked for hours. Hearing them speak so lovingly and deeply about their drag has made me feel such an enormous appreciation for it and the power it holds,” DeLieto concludes. 

Here, Baby Love, Harajuku, and Crystal Mesh explain their journeys, their drag, and what being a part of Brooklyn’s thriving queer community means to them – all in their own words. Get to know them better below.  

BABY LOVE 

“My first experience with drag was as a freshman in college, when I got the role of Dr. Frank-N-Furter in a school show. I ended up doing it four years in a row, which sort of meant the doors had been busted wide open! It made me feel fucking awesome – not only was the cast super-queer and supportive, but the shows were huge, made up of hundreds of people every night. Singing for that type of crowd in basically nothing night after night prepared me for a lot. 

There was a time in my life when I didn’t see a bright future for myself. I felt alienated from my family and friends, I didn’t have a positive self-image. That was when I started drawing what is now Baby Love: this super-beautiful demon with blacked-out eyes, horns, hips, lips... I realised I needed to lean back in to things that brought me joy that the Rocky Horror did, which led me to stalking basically all the queens in Brooklyn. Finding this community is really what helped pull me out of the darkest place of my life, and it means everything to me. The opportunity to create and have people embrace creation makes me so happy. 

For me, living in New York is honestly super easy and exciting. A mentor of mine once told me ‘You can live 100 completely different lives here’, and it’s true. I see the city as a place where I can reinvent my life over and over, and it has a huge influence on my drag: you can’t really stop it from influencing you, because there are so many references and visuals and sounds that consciously and subconsciously slip into your mind. My drag literally and metaphorically pisses on the city and into the mouths of those who live in it. 

The drag community is competitive, challenging, and supportive. I think queer performers are underpaid, under appreciated, and unnecessarily pitted against each other, which creates this frenzy around being ‘booked and blessed’ as a moniker of self-worth. At the same time, though, the ‘gorls’ will always have your back if you need them. From bringing nail glue to the gig to crying on FaceTime about an issue you’re working through, the support of a sister is everything. 

When it comes to inspiration, I need to feel relaxed. My ideas usually come to me when I have time off, when I’m resting somewhere in nature. The girls included in this shoot are so inspiring, too. They’re bringing a level of artistry that’s so refreshing. And Charlene Incarnate, who for me is the future of drag. She brings a much-needed perspective to drag that’s just a big fuck you to everything, including the construct of drag right now. 

What message do I have for people experimenting with drag? Have fun! Drag inherently peels back the layers of your psyche to reveal the best and worst in you. Embrace that with a light heart and the world is yours, honey.”  

HARAJUKU

“I was born and raised in Jamaica, Queens, and I’m a first generation Salvadorian. My first ever experience with drag was when I went to a party in the hood by my house and I didn’t get clocked! My first ever look was during the year American Horror Story: Coven came out, and everyone thought they were witches. Obviously, I went for all black. 

Now, I do drag full-time, and I work mostly in Brooklyn, where a lot of us feed into each other’s drag and support each other’s journeys. I have a love-hate relationship with the city – she’s fierce! – so that unity with the people around me is something I cherish. 

I get to work with my closest friends all the time: West Dakota, Magenta, Dynasty, Baby Love, Panthera… the list goes on. We don’t live in a catty state, we’re all just hanging out and holding on to our coin. Any time one of us does well, we make sure to applaud, because a win for one is a win for all. 

If I were to go back in time, I’d tell myself just to go for it… and to keep better track of your fake ID.”

CRYSTAL MESH

“Like many queens my first time in drag was for Halloween. I was a busted-ass Anna Nicole Smith, and I felt powerful, invincible – like a force to be reckoned with. My first look as Crystal was terrible and basic af. I wore a little pink t-shirt dress and black suede booties, and I had a beard! In the time since, my style has really evolved: I’m hot now!  

I’m from a small, conservative town in North Carolina and moved to New York 13 years ago. The energy and freedom of the city was exhilarating, but the city can also be abusive. It takes all your money, kicks you when you’re down, and you have to fight for everything. But when it’s good, it’s so good that you could never leave. Because New York can make you feel broke and broken, Crystal is extremely wealthy and but also welcoming: I’m everyone’s rich and sexy drunk aunt. I draw a lot of inspiration from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Paris Hilton, and early 00s pop culture.  

Our community in Brooklyn is extremely supportive and nurturing, and I’m friends with everyone until I’m given a reason not to be. We don’t tear each other down, because it’s not a competition  We’re all creating something and we all deserve space. 

Drag is everywhere now. It’s recognised as a proper art form and you can create whatever you want within it. It’s normalised. It’s commodified. People like to say it isn’t punk any more, but wasn’t the goal of those before us to effect change? The fight against hate and fear and toxic masculinity is ongoing, only our army is massive now and we’re fighting on a global scale.” 

SERENA TEA

“I was born and raised in the Bronx – my mom is Irish and my father is Dominican, so it was quite an interesting experience growing up between two completely different cultural backgrounds. 

My first experience of drag was seeing a show in the bar I now work at. I was so gagged by the girls that were performing, but I told myself I could do that too and was there the next week in drag myself. The girls were shook! I now work as a model and drag artist full time, and I feel so relieved to be able to reveal this part of me that has always been there. I had no idea I could express hidden parts of myself through drag before then. 

My drag style is very mod meets sex siren: think Lady Miss Kier meets Angelina Jolie. My first ever look was made with the help of my friend Juku who taught me how to sew. It was a black vinyl jumpsuit with chains attached to it and I felt incredible. It’s an amazing feeling to walk out in something you’ve created and feel so confident. 

Drag for me is so personal, but when I show it to the world it really means a community coming together and sharing our art – uplifting each other and holding space for the people we surround ourselves with.”