If you ask Trixie Mattel — the winner of RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars in 2018 — her success as a drag queen isn't worth as much as you might think. "Being one of the most famous drag queens in the world is still only about as much fame as going home first in The Voice in like, 2010," she jokes.
Still, she's got her fingers — with those long press-on nails — in a lot of different pies. There's a Netflix show called I Like To Watch with her Drag Race co-star, Katya, and a popular YouTube series, called "UNHhhh." She's also got a book, a makeup line, a live comedy tour, a documentary and a successful career as an earnest country singer. Her third album, Barbara, is out this Friday, and it combines her earlier folk and country work with some pop and rock influences.
Mattel sat down with NPR's Ari Shapiro to talk about changing up her style and the influence of Barbie dolls on her album and life story. Read below for highlights from the interview and listen to the full conversation, including a live in-studio performance of "I Can't Shake the Stranger Out of You," in the player above.
On adding pop rock songs to her country-heavy catalog
I mean for a cross-dresser selling folk music — that's got to be the hardest thing to sell, right? So I was like, if I can sell that, plugging the guitars in isn't going to be that far-fetched. I mean some of the tracks even have like a B-52s vibe on the record. I knew I was going to do a lot more mod, a lot more Austin Powers-beach-party and '60s — but therefore kind of '90s at the same time. Think about "Walkin' On The Sun" by Smash Mouth. That sounds like '60s music.
I think the key here is — yes there's a genre shift, yes I've stepped a little to the left — it still has my fingerprints all over it. I started playing guitar around the time of Avril Lavigne, Michelle Branch, Blink-182, so I've always loved rock music that has really sugary, sweet harmonies and lyrics.
On the meaning behind the title of the album, Barbara
It's the name of America's favorite 11-and-a-half-inch fashion doll. It was sort of her name before she moved to California and became Barbie. She's from a fictional city in Wisconsin called Willows, Wis., and I'm from a real city in Wisconsin, so it's sort of based on that. And also the etymology of the world: I believe it's Greek and it means "strange woman." What's more of a strange woman than a drag queen?
On covering "I Can't Shake The Stranger Out Of You," originally recorded in 1971 by gay country pioneers Patrick Haggerty and Lavender Country.
In 1971, Patrick and his band of kind of misfits — there's a queer woman in the band, there's Patrick, who's gay as the day is long — he puts the record out, he puts it for sale in the back of a magazine that's like a gay rag, where you can send in five bucks and get a vinyl mailed to you. They pressed 1,000 of them, the 1,000 went like, overnight. People loved it, but get this: The critical response from the masses was so anti-gay, it basically got him blacklisted from music and even from finding a day job for like eight years.
I feel very privileged. [Patrick and I are] sitting there and I'm like "I'm worried about selling my record. It's my third record and I hope people like it! I hope they buy it!" And he reality checked me so hard. He was like "Really? Cause I had friends be murdered by police for being gay and no one said anything." It was a very enriching experience, because Patrick kind of reminded me that there's more of a mission to this than getting likes and making money. Now don't tell anybody that I had a feeling and I had a sincere moment.
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