After coming in second on Australian Idol and almost taking the crown home on RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2014, Courtney Act is ready to win. Today, the Brisbane-born drag queen is still honing in on pop star dreams: her Kaleidoscope EP, released in July, is light on shmaltz and heavy on electro-pop bops written with Jake Shears and Sam Sparro. “I just feel like, at any moment, a drag or a trans or a gender-diverse artist that doesn’t fit in a box is ready to break into the mainstream,” Act says. “I want to do my best to put myself in the best position to have that happen for me.”
How will drag help you succeed as a performer? Why now?
COURTNEY ACT: I just think with the current climate of pop culture, there’s never been a better time, with gender and sexuality and LGBT visibility increasing, obviously with the Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality, but also the transgender community and gender fluidity and nonbinary ideas of gender and sexuality emerging—Caitlyn Jenner, Laverne Cox, Chaz Bono, Janet Mock, all of these trans people who are so prominent right now. Over the years, it never happened how I wanted it to. Now, I get why that was. Right now is the precipice of this gender revolution that’s happening, which is really cool.
Gay male pop stars like Sam Smith or Steve Grand get flack for not including male pronouns in their songs. What are your thoughts on gendered language in lyrics?
The thing about gay male pop stars is: they aren’t supported by gay men. Gay men don’t really support them until they’ve gone beyond the gay community and had success in the mainstream, so it’s really challenging. Before, being gay detracted from your success, but I now think it is a really powerful asset to your success because people are consuming gender and sexuality right now in a way that they never have before. There were some frontrunners, and I did agree that some people were often scared to put same-sex pronouns because they didn’t want to turn the audience off. But it just has to be you. You have to be honest, upfront, and really celebrate that fact, not think of it as a weakness but really think of it as a strength.
In the video for “Body Parts,” you’re the centerpiece of a pyramid made of oily men and then you’re slurping up whipped cream. Do you ever worry about going too far?
As a drag performer, people have traditionally put us into the category of “pervert” or “deviant” or things like that. So I’ve always been really careful not to be vulgar or grotesque with sexuality. In “Body Parts,” even though it was sexual, I wanted it to be confronting, rather than vulgar. I wanted people—men and women—to feel something, and then ask themselves what that meant. When they’re watching “Body Parts,” straight men will be like, “Oh, she’s hot—oh hang on, wait!” And I get lots of emails from girls who are like, “I don’t know, I think I turned straight for Courtney or gay for Courtney, I don’t know, what does this mean?” And I guess my message is: it doesn’t matter what your body parts are, it should be about your feelings.