A list of fundraisers you can support right now.

Dorian Electra just wants to make you squirm

With their new project My Agenda, the provocateur collides pop with the Extremely Online.

October 16, 2020
Dorian Electra just wants to make you squirm Dorian Electra by Lance Williams, hair by Greg Lennon Jr.  

Dorian Electra can’t imagine waiting years to release new music. In the weeks leading up to their debut album Flamboyant, the songwriter and vocalist was already gearing up for the next one, unveiling its first single a full month before the earlier album ever made its way onto streaming services. “For me, I’ve always felt the urgency,” they say on a Zoom call from their home in Los Angeles. “After my collab with Charli XCX, I knew that I needed to get an album out the following year.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Electra is alluding to their guest feature on “Femmebot,” the A.G. Cook-produced standout from Charli’s 2017 mixtape Pop 2. An essential part of an otherwise star-studded release, the track felt like a fitting introduction to Electra’s music, with bright production that reinforced the song’s high-concept focus on gender in the age of robotics. The track was just the beginning for the vocalist, who is gender-fluid and uses they/them pronouns. Solo singles “Man To Man,” “Career Boy,” and “Daddy Like” recast Electra as a swollen-eyed boxer, a coffee-guzzling workaholic, and a greasy-haired pimp — a drag king committed to playing up some of the most toxic qualities associated with masculinity. The album presented a singular message of empowerment amid the sheer variety of voices and characters it depicted, all while affirming Electra’s place in the pantheon of post-PC Music superstars as committed to cerebral production as they are to writing moving pop songs.

Never one to sit still, Electra has maintained a steady release schedule since Flamboyant, dropping five singles in the buildup to My Agenda. Not quite a full-fledged album, the tight 26-minute release comes packed with numerous co-writers and guest vocalists, which include past collaborators like Count Baldor, umru, and 100 gecsDylan Brady as well a few unlikely newcomers, namely Rebecca Black, Village People, and Pussy Riot. “Every single person on the project is very specific to the song,” they tell me.

ADVERTISEMENT

With so many people confined to states of relative isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, collaborators were able to be more intentional about their contributions to the project, following Electra into some pretty unorthodox places that might not have been possible under normal conditions. The album’s title track explores the stereotypes that conservatives often project onto the LGBTQIA+ community, using guest contributions from Village People and Pussy Riot as counterpoints to anchor Electra’s adventurous spirit. “It's really crazy because to me, [Village People] represent the most amazing mainstreaming of gay culture,” Electra says. “But then on the other side of the spectrum, we have Pussy Riot, who are like one of the most well-known activist groups in the world. Those two together on a song about conspiracy theories, I just can't believe it all came together.”

This interest in right-wing conspiracies takes the project into boldly new territory, exploring a deeper fascination with reactionary politics through the contemporary image of the incel. Songs like “F The World, “Monk Mode,” and “Ram It Down” consider the perspectives of various confused young men drawn to violence when they can’t get laid, while others like “Gentleman” and “Edgelord” emphasize the grotesque aesthetics of chan culture by way of cargo shorts, Mountain Dew, and fedoras. “With this project, I wanted to dig deeper and deeper into the misogyny of internet culture and explore musical themes that are more intense and hardcore,” they say. “To make music that’s more angry and emotional than before.”

Packed with the racing breakbeats, throbbing guitars, and colossal dubstep drops, it’s a deeply disorienting listen, one that walks the knife’s-edge between sincere appreciation and campy gender deconstruction in ways even Electra seems at a loss to explain. “I am a troll in that way — I am the ‘Edgelord’ — but I like to do it with progressive causes in mind,” they say, referencing the previously-released single. “Making people squirm and feel uncomfortable or aroused, but confused.” Whatever the imagined outcome, the project is fearless in its dedication to Electra’s vision, even when it means selling your own bathwater, creating your own TikTok dances, or becoming the Joker. Sometimes all it takes is a commitment to the bit.

ADVERTISEMENT

The FADER: It's been a little over a year since your first record came out, but you've released a lot of music in the interim. Does it feel natural to keep working at such a rapid pace and be constantly putting out new music, or is there an urgency to constantly be posting new music?

ADVERTISEMENT

Dorian Electra: For me, I’ve always felt the urgency. I've always felt like timing is so important. After my collab with Charli XCX, I knew that I needed to get an album out the following year. Now, the idea of making music and holding onto it for an entire year or two feels totally absurd. All the songs on this project were made in 2020. Things move so fast and I like to be responsive to what's going on.

I'm also calling it a project rather than an album, so that I don't put as much pressure on myself to create the followup album. I could be more experimental and have a bunch of features.

What has the actual collaboration process been like in quarantine? Is it difficult to collaborate at this moment in time?

I was really lucky in that I had two writing camps at the beginning of this year. One was in Las Vegas with Dylan Brady, Count Baldor, umru, Clarence Clarity, and a few other people. The other was at this castle in the U.K. with me, Sega Bodega, Will Vaughan, and Count Baldor. I was planning to do more sessions in L.A. when I came back after my tour, but then that didn't happen, so I guess this is the project.

For me, I have to be with the producer. I haven't really done any Zoom sessions other than recording vocals, but that's easy. With vocals, you can just record it, send over the stems, and give notes about the production.

I feel like I’m both the neckbeard and the fantasy creature, and just find the sexuality of all of that really fascinating.
Dorian Electra just wants to make you squirm Dorian Electra by Lance Williams, hair by Greg Lennon Jr.  
Dorian Electra just wants to make you squirm Dorian Electra by Lance Williams, hair by Greg Lennon Jr.  

A lot of your songs are really concept-driven. Do you come into writing sessions with ideas that you want to explore? How do you write songs?

I keep a list of potential song names. Most of them are things that are double- or triple-entendres, which is just how my brain works. For me, it's so concept-driven that sometimes if I have a song with a good beat or melody, it won’t make it onto the project because I think it’s boring. That's probably my biggest challenge as an artist. I want to expand my abilities, but I'm just so driven by what interests me. Whenever I enter the studio, I'll have the concept and usually a musical idea in mind. For example with "M'Lady," I wanted to do a song with some kind of medieval-y intro with dark guitars. We recorded one version in Vegas that we weren't really into, and then I did another one at the other writing camp and that we ended up releasing.

This project really seems oriented around the theme of the nerd, the gamer, the incel. When did that come to you as an idea? It's very different from Flamboyant.

It grew out of my interest in the history of masculinity and its toxic parts culturally. I started doing a lot more research on the overlaps between incels and the alt-right. Across the past five to ten years, places like 4chan have been a central to the new right, which is totally new. A lot of people on the left — myself included — have just been ignoring this. We're seeing this really intense, radical reaction to the left.

Especially because a lot of my music has to do with gender politics and identity. I'm interested in how the left and the right have been pushing and pulling in opposite directions and in ways that toxically reinforce one another. If we're going to be real about making political progress on the left, we have to be aware of what's going on in the full political spectrum and learn how to better communicate to people that don't already agree with us.

Do you encounter this kind of reactionary behavior in the music industry, or in the spaces where you're performing? What is the role of your music in all of this?

I think that my fans are very political. They are — like I am — very interested in social justice. But with the echo chamber of social media, your perception of reality can get really tiny, and you think that everybody around you supports Black Lives Matter because you’re seeing that all the time. All it really takes is just flipping to Fox News to see an entirely different picture of reality. We have to be aware of how people on the other side feel and learn how to better communicate with them.

Also, I wanted to explore the darker side of my music. My first album was all about empowerment and reclaiming aspects of masculinity to create this pop star identity. I wanted to push the boundaries of what a pop star can look like. With this project, I wanted to dig deeper and deeper into the misogyny of internet culture and explore musical themes that are more intense and hardcore. To make music that’s more angry and emotional than before.

There's a fascinating aesthetic side to [your work] that I think really shines through. The fedora in the context of "Gentleman" and "M'Lady," or the Joker with "Edgelord." How does that relate to the broader political ambitions of the project?

One of the things that really drew me to the incel, neckbeard aesthetic is the medieval and fantasy side of it. All the swords and dragons and stuff. This emphasis on chivalry and returning to traditional gender roles that feminism has supposedly corrupted.

I just love to trace the history of these ideas about masculinity and gender roles. You can see them displayed so literally in the fashion and aesthetics. Like the big titty fantasy elf in "M'Lady." I love these animated extremes of femininity, these ideals that are almost more isolating to become obsessed with or attached to. I feel like I’m both the neckbeard and the fantasy creature, and just find the sexuality of all of that really fascinating.

I feel like there's a slight risk when you're doubling down on the incel gamer thing of potentially alienating your fan base. Is that something you've found in your work — are people willing to follow you into these crazy, far-off places and ideas?

Yeah, I think people are. Some people saw me on this path to becoming a bigger pop star. And I’m definitely excited to bring everything that I've done with this project back to that. But I haven't experienced any alienation. The more negative reactions are from people who don’t get the deeper side of it and think it’s all just based on some old meme. But I feel like the majority of people have really taken to it.

This neckbeard aesthetic is about ten years old and it’s due time for a comeback. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Balenciaga do a whole collection with socks, sandals, and fedoras. I swear it's gonna happen, and I just hope that I get to be the face of the campaign [laughs].

You've been doing a lot of pandemic performances like the Club Cringe one in Second Life. How have those been going? Has it been hard adjusting to performing via webcam and in other forms like Second Life?

In the beginning of quarantine it was so much fun, I loved it so much. I felt really connected to fans in a way that I hadn't before. But I think that the novelty of it has worn off for a lot of people, myself included, which is unfortunate. But it's also up to people to keep inventing new ways to perform. We just have to get more and more creative with it. The Second Life one was fun.

I'm doing a pre-recorded live performance for the first time [on October 24] where I'm performing the whole project. That will be the first time I've done something like that, so I'm excited to share something like that that's more than just like me DJing on Zoom.

There was the Playboy shoot that ran in March. Playboy's such an institution, how did it feel to be photographed for that and subvert the men's magazine form in that way?

Totally. It was a goal of mine to be in that publication for so long and it was amazing to be in the last print edition. To be in front of a mainstream audience where people just have to confront me, my body, and my voice is exactly what I want to do.

You can imagine guys reading Playboy that are confused about whether they’re allowed to be aroused by this or not. I call it the confused boner. That was just huge for me. And everybody at Playboy is so amazing.

So this is more of a project [than] an album. Can you say anything about what your next album might look like, or what you have in the works for the future?

I haven't started anything at all because I'm still doing all the visuals and everything for this. But I'm excited to go back to focusing on making really good pop music. For this, I was really indulging in the concepts and aesthetics that I wanted to explore, which didn’t necessarily make for the best sounding songs. I'm interested in challenging myself to keep growing and to expand my limits as an artist for my next project.

What has it been like collaborating with higher-profile artists like Charli XCX, Dylan Brady, and A.G. Cook? Are you interested in being more of a pop star in that trajectory or tradition?

Charli has been a huge inspiration to me and so many other artists in the scene as someone that can take things from experimental electronic music and infuse that into her sound. She really paved the way for me, as well as her collaborations with A.G. Cook and PC Music, which definitely paved the way for 100 Gecs. Dylan [Brady] worked a lot on my first album and it was really cool to watch 100 Gecs totally explode. I'm good friends with both of them and have loved collaborating with Laura Les on stuff.

Once they got really big, it started to feel like there was a collaborative community here. I never thought that I would be a part of a scene. But it’s exciting to feel like you’re part of a musical community.

Dorian Electra just wants to make you squirm