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Interview: Jinkx Monsoon

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Catapulted into mainstream culture following their win on RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2013, in the four years following Jinkx Monsoon has fully established and cemented themselves as a drag-artist-actor-singer-songwriter.

Moving genre to genre, whilst continually staying true to their old-Hollywood cabaret influences, the character of Jinkx has developed and honed into one of the most iconic queens to ever grace the show. We caught up with them to talk about their rise to fame and new UK tour. 

You’re back in the UK with your tour of ‘The Vaudevillians’, which is running from November till December. You have performed this since November 2013, so it has been going for a strong four years – how do you feel that the show has developed over this time?

We always like to incorporate the new things that we discover in each new city - like we customise certain parts of the show to the different cities that we’re in. So we discovered new bits and new comic moments specifically performing in the UK. So it’s got little UK specific moments that I think that we never would have discovered if we hadn’t brought it to London a year ago.

 Whilst we’re on this tour we’re hoping to find all kinds of new things to do with it. But I think mostly the way its developed over 4 years is that all the fat has been trimmed from it! We used to do the show and it was about an hour and forty minutes, and nowadays it’s just about an hour and fifteen and we think it’s much better this way because it’s just the streamlined, most effective moments and most satisfying moments presented in a very, very clean and tight way.

 Going off what you said about each show adapting for its city, what do you think is the difference in the way that British audiences respond to your drag specifically, and drag as an art form?

 I think the UK audiences are just really willing to go there with us, you know? It’s kind of a convoluted concept, it’s a bit of a ridiculous conceit, and I think our UK audiences are just really willing to go there with us without questioning it at all. They’re really receptive to the idea of that we’re going to come do this really stupid, kind of ridiculous show and they don’t ever just spend a moment questioning it. They’re just really receptive to our dry and ridiculous humour.

 You’ve also got an album, ‘The Ginger Snapped’, coming out mid next year. You’ve said that it’s going to be a like a 90’s garage band sound, so that’s quite a departure from your current sound. Do you see your drag evolving alongside that sound in the same direction?

 I think what it is that we have always kind of wanted to do this, my drag has always been very much inspired by old Hollywood, and cabaret, and musical showtunes and stuff. But I’ve also, me the artist, has always grown up with garage band and true rock influences. So even though it’s never found its way into my drag; well it has here and there you know, like I’ve done a lot of covers of songs from like No Doubt and Amanda Palmer and you know some classic rock influences and stuff, though this is our first chance to really like do original music like this. And even though you know it hasn’t found its way into my drag very often, it’s always kind of been there and the influence has always… I’ve always had that influence on my work I’ve just never really reincorporated it into anything until now.

 But I think it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but I’ve had to do my other fantasies first. Our first album was very much inspired by Bette Midler and her bathhouse era, and I felt like I kind of needed to do that album and get that out of the way and have that dream discovered before doing this album that is a departure from what’s known for us, but also very much in line what who we are and our influences. And you’ll hear on the album that even though it’s very much rock and 90’s grunge inspired, it still has some strong cabaret influences and still has a sound that you would expect from Major Scales and myself.

 In your documentary, ‘Drag Becomes Him’, you talked about how you honed the character of Jinkx when you were in Seattle. Do you feel that this album is now a convergence of Jinkx the character and your more personal influences, to form the next step of your career?

 Yeah I absolutely think that. With my last album, it was a passion project and it was a fantasy of mine to do an album exactly the way that we did the first album. But it was also very much a niche market, because drag music is already in a niche category and then to do like cabaret, showtune inspired drag music - that’s like a niche within a niche. So we decided with this album we wanted to take something, take our specific sound and our specific musical writing style and performance style and put in a category that was a little bit more broad and a little bit more accessible to a wider audience. So this album is filtering our style into a musical genre that I think will be more effective and more familiar to a wider audience of drag fans.

 With music, as you said drag music lives within its own niche, do you feel the want to create an album that is outside of that niche so that people won’t look at it as drag music, it will just be an album that won’t necessarily have these associations?

 Yeah I think that we don’t shy away from being a drag queen singing the music. But what we have always wanted, with all our music that we have produced, is for it to be good music first and foremost and then have a nod to the fact that it’s a drag queen singing it within the music. What we have always wanted for our music to just sound like good music, whether or not you know it’s a drag queen singing it. With our first album I think we really played up comedic value and layered in a lot of drag comedy moments into the music. With this next album it’s less of that but it’s still very much... like when you know who Jinkx is, all this music makes perfect sense for her. If you don’t know who Jinkx is, hopefully you’ll just think it’s really great music and you’re going to want to learn about who Jinkx is after having listened to it.

 Looking at the drag landscape that we are in at the moment, what do you feel in your opinion is not being represented that you wish was highlighted more for mainstream drag audiences?

 I just think what drag is at its core is defying gender norms, and to be a drag artist is to cast off the idea of the social construct of gender, and I feel like we just need to keep going forward with that fact. I think that drag, even though we don’t talk about it this way, is telling our society that no longer are we going to let other people dictate to us how to express our gender and how we should identify ourselves based on our genitalia. Or the society that we grew up in telling us that if you’re born male or if you’re born female, that this is how you have to act.

 Drag tells us that we are in charge of our own gender expression and we are in control of our own destinies when it comes to expressing ourselves and in the way that we identify, and in the way that we present ourselves in our world. It should always be up to us, but for a long time our society has told us that there is a way to act based on the genitalia that you have. And I think people in general are much more happy when they are allowed to express themselves however they see fit without the concern of what is considered ‘normal’.

 On the topic of gender, as we are entering a time where people are beginning to understand gender is performative, and as we head closer towards a genderless society, where do you feel drag sits within that? Would its purpose change, and do you think that we would we see a movement of drag culture from bars to a more conventional theatre context?

 I think drag inherently defies gender norms and societal constructs that are put on us since birth. The fact that a drag queen is a person deciding to don the persona of a hyper feminine presentation, in spite of the genitalia they were born with, tells our society that we are taking control of our own gender identities. There is no "normal" or "natural" gender. There is only the gender your society forces on you, and the gender presentation you define for yourself. I want to enforce the idea that gender should be decided upon and defined by the individual and not forced upon us by our society, and I think drag is a very tangible and direct way of saying just that.

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