Experimental drag queen and fine artist Yvie Oddly, aka Jovan Bridges, releases her sickening debut hip hop album Drag Trap on Friday October 23rd. Her unconventional, unpredictable and endlessly creative approach to drag, along with that signature deliciously dirty cackle, and gag-worthy physical contortions, saw her crowned the winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 11 and earned her a place on the Las Vegas strip in this year’s RuPaul’s Drag Race Live! The backstage drama of the live show was documented in the recent spin-off TV series featuring Oddly, RuPaul’s Drag Race: Vegas Revue. With the live show temporarily closed due to the pandemic, Yvie has spent the last month on a Halloween themed drive-in performance tour, Drive ‘N Drag, which will stop in Yvie’s hometown of Denver October 23rd to 25th, before heading on to New York.
Ahead of the release of Drag Trap, The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann spoke exclusively with Yvie Oddly about her earliest experiences with drag, what she thought of RuPaul’s Drag Race: Vegas Revue taking the time to address the Black Lives Matter protests in the final episode and her own family’s history of social justice activism, the powerful message of her song addressing racism, Karen, why hip hop can be a tough sell to the queer community, collaborating with Vanessa Vanjie Mateo on Hype, writing a song about hookup apps that uses the Grindr alert sound, what she learnt from being around RuPaul, and why But I’m a Cheerleader is her favourite movie.
James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: Before we get onto your album, could I take you right back to your first time in drag. How did it come about and how do you feel things have evolved since your first experimentation?
Yvie Oddly: “I mean, if we’re gonna get technical with it, I remember playing dress up in my sisters’ tutus and using their makeup on myself in secret and then my parents catching me and telling me not to leave the house like that, but that it was okay at home. So there’s that really early drag and then there’s me actually being introduced to it as an idea—not just as a spooky Halloween costume or an inner cry to be who I really want—but drag itself. That was when I was 18 for Valentine’s Day. So I’m halfway a Halloween queen and halfway a Valentine’s Day queen! There was a show on my school’s campus and I was like, Okay, this is the time to try it, no more just doing it in your bedroom, go out and show the world how automatically really good at this you’re going to be!” [followed by signature Yvie Oddly cackle!]
So I guess at that time you wouldn’t have had a drag mother, but have you had one over the years?
“I have had influential drag figures in my life, but I’ve always been a very independent person, and especially when getting into drag. I love drag because I wanted to take control of my artistic career, no more being cast as somebody in a play, no more begging to get into a gallery show. I’m the director, I’m the star, I’m everything. So I never really had a mother, but that’s because I never wanted one.”
And are there any baby Oddlys out there, any drag daughters?
“Not on purpose! But yeah, I have a few. They’re running amok! I do have a few people who would love to be as well. So I guess the whole world is is your kid!”
Now that there’s been an entire season of RuPaul’s Drag Race since you won, as well as multiple Drag Race spin-off series, how do you reflect on your time on season 11 now that you have a bit of distance from it? Is there anything you would have done differently?
“I would have been meaner! No, honestly I wouldn’t have done anything differently. I don’t think there’s anything I would have changed at all. Even in the whole plethora of Drag Race that’s come out since that time period I don’t think that there’s been a whole lot like what people got to see of my experience on season 11 and the other girls as well. So nope, there isn’t anything I would change.”
I’ve spent quite a bit time catching up on seasons of Drag Race I’d missed during these self-quarantine and lockdown times.
“Well, I’m glad that you caught up on the scripture!”
Exactly! Along with All Stars 5, Vegas Revue, and Secret Celebrity Drag Race, it’s been great to have so many new shows and it’s been something that’s helped get me through this year.
“Yes, there have definitely been a lot, and then with Canada’s Drag Race and Drag Race Holland too, but I personally approve because I think drag is healing in a time where a lot of people are hurting and need some escape from the terrifying world we live in. Drag Race has at least provided me an hour a week to be like, “Phew, okay.'”
I love that line of yours that they played quite a few times in the Vegas Revue series about drag queens being the new rock stars.
“Yeah! I mean it’s how I feel anyways, and the state of my hotel room right now can vouch for me!”
With RuPaul’s Drag Race: Vegas Revue, I wondered how actively you were trying to stay out of the backstage drama?
“As people who saw my initial season of Drag Race have come to know I’m not above being inserted into drama, and I’m not above being a catalyst! But the thing is, I don’t insert myself into what I deem to be petty or unnecessary, or more specifically, things I can’t change. So I wasn’t actively trying to avoid drama, but what am I going to do? Tell grown people how to live out in the free world? I just didn’t want to get involved, especially because I have too much going on myself to focus on, and the show could only capture so much of that.”
Obviously Drag Race Live! the Vegas show itself had to close due to the pandemic, so the final episode of Vegas Revue the TV series included a Zoom call reuniting all of you performers. Something that was surprising and very powerful about that was when you all started talking about the Black Lives Matter protests. What did you make of the way that the series took the time to address that?
“I got really emotional because I was not expecting such depth from what doesn’t need to be a deep show, and could easily not have said anything about it. But I think it’s so intrinsic to how a lot of us are functioning out in the world and what is going on in our societies. But I was just mind blown that we spoke on it and that it was included in a TV show that half of the time was just about Derrick Barry’s boyfriend starting shit! So I think it was really good and it just speaks to how important it is that there is some change in our society and in the world.”
And for people that haven’t seen it yet, you mentioned on that final episode that your family has a history of social justice activism. Could you give us an insight into that?
“Yes, I come from a family of activists. My grandfather, Lauren Watson, was the leader of the Black Panther Party in Denver, and he spent the first half of my childhood in prison for some be racist BS. So I’ve never been a stranger to the idea that Black life is not treated the same. It’s just been about kind of pulling the curtain back and seeing the little wizard behind it. I think being stuck at home has given a lot of people time to catch up with those of us who are living that reality, or who have had the activists in our blood and in our ears constantly trying to show you that the world needs a little more balance. I don’t think racism is ever going to be 100% gone, but we need to actively be fighting it instead of sweeping all of our issues under the rug.”
And there have been some important conversations happening in the mainstream, like the distinction between not being racist and being actively anti-racist.
“The thing is, I think racism has gotten these weird connotations attached to it, in that people view racism as the Ku Klux Klan and nothing else, and really racism is this large institution that has already been set up, so that we’re all a part of it. Like RuPaul says, ‘You’re born racist, and the rest is drag!’ So it’s about dismantling that institution and learning to actually treat people equally. Like I said, I don’t think it’s ever going to be 100% achieved, but we can at least work to be better.”
Congratulations on your debut album, Drag Trap. It took me on quite a journey; it’s really punchy, and smart and fun, but then one track had me in tears which we’ll get on to. Firstly, why did you decide to do a rap hip hop record?
“It felt like it was the most natural step into the musical world. I’ve always been a singer and I’ve always written raps and stuff, but just getting in touch with hip hop felt right. Specifically because of how it’s always played an important role to my identity, and how being so queenie and so out there and liking some of the music that I do is like living a double life. So I wanted to carve out a space for queer people in hip hop, who need to feel their oats and feel like there’s something out there for them.”
It’s interesting, the preconceptions we might have about who listens to what kind of music. I interviewed Coree Woltering recently who is a professional trail runner. He’s a Black gay man and I asked him what was on his running playlist and it was all heavy metal. And why shouldn’t it be? But I just hadn’t expected that.
“Something that I love, and that has always been really important to me, is that the music that I’m into is so all over the place. But the one world where I feel like I’ve had the hardest sell, is selling hip hop to queers, and selling queers to hip hop, specifically because of the homophobia in the Black community and the racism in the queer community. So it’s always been really weird, and like I said, I felt like I was living a double life listening to my Tyler, the Creator albums, who’s calling me a faggot every other word on the side, and then I’m bopping to Britney Spears with the other group of people. So I wanted something to meet in the middle.”
Actually, in terms of homophobia and transphobia in hip hop, I was talking to Leiomy Maldonado who was one of the judges on Legendary, and she was saying how important she felt it was to have Megan Thee Stallion on that judging panel with her.
“Oh, yeah, it did so much! The thing is I don’t think everyone in the world thinks the same way. So I don’t think everyone in the hip hop community is homophobic or transphobic, and I don’t think everyone in the queer community is actively prejudiced against Black people, but the more representation we can see breaking these boundaries down, the easier it’s going to be for us to actually do that.”
So you released the title track, Drag Trap as a single. Tell me a bit about what inspired it and the kind of sound you wanted to create?
“Well, the reason I wanted to name this whole album Drag Trap is because that song was written about all of the experiences I had in the home I was living in within the queer community that helped get me to where I was at. RuPaul has said before, that getting on Drag Race you have to die and be reborn. And so it was weird to leave this whole world behind and be reborn into something. For me writing Drag Trap about this space and about these experiences with my friends and with the people who helped me get here is a good way to acknowledge the transition from just being our dirty, chaotic, messy, queer selves, partying all the time to whatever sort of adult I am now, out here trying to make high drag!”
It was great to hear Miss Vanjie on Hype. What was it like collaborating with her on that track?
“Yeah, Vanjie! I have to say Vanjie is probably one of my bigger inspirations for even having jumped off and tried to make an album in the first place. When we did the music challenge in the top four of season 11, I just really loved Vanjie’s verse and so I kept bugging her about working together, and Silky too. I kept being like, ‘We’ve got to write a track together!’ And with our lives being as busy as they were we never really had time to come together and do anything until we were in Vegas. I just wanted to write about going out to the clubs with Vanjie because those were always the best times we had.”
Who else did you collaborate with on the album and what was your decision making process in terms of approaching people to work with on it?
“This is my first album, so I feel with zero expectations in place, I got to play around and work with a lot of friends. My friend Howl from high school, my best friend/drag daughter Neurotica Killz, my almost daughter Willow Pill, along with some amazing producers like DJ A who just delivered me one of my favourite tracks to play on, Watermelon Bubblegum. It’s been a whole process and I’m so thankful to all of these artists and collaborators who helped me work this out. I hope they’re happy, because I am.”
Let’s talk about Grind Me another track that I love on the alum which, as people might expect from the title, is about hookup app culture. I love that you incorporated the Grindr notification alert sound! It’s quite sexually explicit and reflects the language that’s used by folks messaging each other on hookup and dating apps doesn’t it?
“Yeah, the language they use on hookup apps and just in general, you know, with their grandmothers, these kids are nasty these days!” (cackles)
How fun was that track to put together and does it reflect your own experience of using hookup apps?
“It came from the fact that I wanted to hear a song using the Grindr beat, because this was written back in the days when we had clubs, remember those? Nightclubs?! But I wanted there to be a song where I knew people would whip out their phones if it was playing because they’re like, ‘Oh, is that me?’ So I just wrote about authentic experiences I’d had on Grindr, and pieced together little stories. I didn’t put any names in, so no one sue me! I just wanted it to be a song for all of the weird random torsos I’ve met throughout all of my years!”(cackles)
I love the idea of people listening to it and thinking that it’s their phones making the Grindr alert sound! Let’s move on to a very different song on the album, Karen. After the more lighthearted songs it took me by surprise because it’s a lot more serious, it just hit me like a sucker punch, I found it so powerful and moving. I was in tears listening to it. Obviously we’ve all seen far too many hideous Karen videos, one of the most famous Karens being Amy Cooper earlier this this year in that deeply disturbing interaction with Christian Cooper in Central Park. What did you want to say with Karen?
“It was one of the last tracks I wrote for the album, and it was just a culmination of the times. We were all stuck at home and then in a time where nobody should even have the fucking space to go outside and spew hatred in the first place we see some really dramatic, really publicised violent crimes against Black Americans and we see the justice system continue to fail a lot of us in the ways that it always has, because it was set up, honestly, initially, to keep us enslaved. But that’s that’s a whole ‘nother TED Talk! So, here we are at home and I was just pissed that I was watching all this happen. I was talking to one of my roommates who I’ve lived with forever, and he was like, ‘I’m sorry, I wish I could understand. You know what you should do? You should write a song to help people be better allies.’ And I was so fucking furious about that that I wrote this song instead, because I’m over being a good subject for allyship, I need people to do the hard work themselves and realise the places where culture has been failing and realise the ways we have been holding up an institution. So you talk about a sucker punch and it really was just a random outburst of like, I’m sick of all these people who really do have good intentions, but aren’t doing the work it takes to dismantle the system that is still actively oppressing so many to this day.”
And the track includes protest audio, and there’s a section of the song where you say the names of Black people who have been killed, which is very emotional to hear, what was that like to deliver?
“Yeah, the track includes protest audio from the protests in Chicago, and has some excerpts from Lucy Stoole and Joe Lewis’ speeches at those protests. I just really wanted this to take hold of people and not be something that you can just skip through. I feel like if you’re forced to sit there and hear all of the names and hear all of the people it helps you picture exactly what it feels like to be walking down the street in somebody else’s skin just knowing that you could be another name added to that list, that your life means nothing, and that if you are added to that list it’s just this ever growing thing of injustice. I wanted it to sound chaotic, I wanted it to sound overwhelming, because being Black in America is overwhelming and waking up to a different viral clip every day of a different Black body on the street is overwhelming. So as much as this was a dis track too in the first half, I also wanted it to be a chance for somebody to sit down and empathise with what other people are going through.”
Sick Bitch is another track I’d like to highlight because on your season of RuPaul’s Drag Race and on Vegas Revue you were very open about your health issues and I wondered whether that was something that your fans get in touch with you about, to say that they find you inspiring because you don’t let it stop you from performing, and what you do is pretty amazing.
“Most of this album was written just because I wanted to write some music, but I’d say Sick Bitch was the closest thing to my little give back, my little piece of ‘I wrote this for you.’ So much of the love I receive and so many of my fans are people who are fighting invisible illness or chronic disease who feel like they’ve never been able to see themselves in a strong light, or in a beautiful light, or in a capable light, or in any light at all. So this was my little piece for you. It’s halfway a dope song because being a sick bitch is being dope, being cool in slang, but it’s also a lot of our realities. If you’re a sick bitch you’re a sick bitch!” (cackles)
You’ve mentioned RuPaul a few times while we’ve been chatting, obviously he is an influential figure in your life, and in all of our lives really! Are you able to single out the best piece of advice that he’s given you, either directly, or something that you’ve gleaned from seeing him close up?
“Well, my makeup got better! I mean, honestly, there is so much you can take away from somebody like RuPaul that it’s kind of hard to be like, ‘Oh, yeah, there’s this one piece of advice.’ For me, it’s just looking at what RuPaul has been able to accomplish and looking at their outlook, looking at their mindset, and how much that’s helped them in life. Just having that person even willing to share some of their time and energy on me was the best piece of advice I ever got from RuPaul. That, and don’t read the comments. But it’s never gonna happen. I’m always going to read the comments!” (cackles)
Talking of comments, Canada’s Drag Race seemed to spark even more social media comments than usual. I guess because people are at home and they’ve got more time on their hands. Did you watch Canada’s Drag Race yourself?
“Oh, yeah I loved it! Those girls were absolutely killer. They were amazingly talented, and I was so happy that – spoiler alert – Priyanka won. I was rooting for her. That was my bitch. I’ve seen her in person a few times. And she’s amazing. And so getting to see her really shine on that platform was also amazing. So yeah, go Canada! Go Priyanka! Go Brooklyn, I’m proud of you!”
It was a great series I thought. Priyanka is amazing and I was happy for her too. I do think it was hard for the judges with it being a North American RuPaul series without RuPaul on it, so I feel like there was an expectation for them to be surrogate RuPauls in a way.
“Yeah, it was very much that, because we’re both speaking the almost exact same dialects of English, with slight tweaks here and there, so it was easy for people to be like, ‘Oh, well, you weren’t RuPaul enough,’ or, ‘You were too RuPaul.’ The children are just never gonna be 100% satisfied. I think people need to take their TV a little less seriously, or just keep your thoughts to yourself.”
One final question, do you have a favourite LGBTQ+ either film, TV series, book, play, musical, opera, artwork, piece of music, or a person? Someone or something that’s had an impact on you and resonated with you over the years?
“I remember hearing George Michael as a little kid and being like, ‘Oh, my God, is that a man or a woman? I can’t tell.’ And that being the biggest deal to me. But I’m a Cheerleader is my favourite movie of all time, just because of its outright camp. When I watched that for the first time I was already starting to come to terms with my queerness in some ways, so seeing a blatant joke on people who would try and stomp that out made it a little bit easier for me to come out.”
By James Kleinmann
Yvie Oddly’s debut album Drag Trap is released Friday October 23rd. Head to Yvie Oddly’s official website OddlyYvie.com for more details and follow her on Instagram @OddlyYvie, Twitter @OddlyYvie, and Facebook. To see Yvie in Denver or New York in Drag ‘N Drive Halloween Edition head to the official Voss Events website.