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With his hilarious "Supermodel" single in 1993, the flamboyant drag queen RuPaul crossed over from the underground gay scene to appeal to club audiences all over the world. Ru could easily have been a novelty act or a one-hit wonder, but after scoring two more Billboard 12" sales hits and a Gold-seller with the "Supermodel Of The World" album, this motor-mouthed extrovert went on to super stardom, at least in America, where today RuPaul is a media darling, a Pop culture icon and a household name. Ru's got many irons in the fire. Not only is he a recording artist, but an actor, the spokesperson for Mac Cosmetics (plus chairman of the company's AIDS fund), works as a deejay on New York's leading radio station WKTU and hosts his own TV-talk show on VH1. Ru is also the author of the critically-acclaimed autobiography "Lettin' It All Hang Out" and recently released his second album "Foxy Lady" on Rhino Records. Over here in Europe, however, Ru is basically seen as singer; a fun guy in drag who makes great Dance records. I fell in love with Ru's music, his tongue-in-cheek sense of humor and outrageous dressing style from the minute I saw the "Supermodel" video and have never missed a chance to catch him on Leno, Letterman or Conan O'Brien, which we Swedes can see via cable. (Unfortunately, that doesn't apply to VH1). Ru never fails to crack me up (did you see when he came out like a fat mama on O'Brien's show and farted?) and I've always wondered what he's like off-camera, how he looks at his music and his career. In December 1996, I had the opportunity to call Ru and talk one on one. And although it was "just" over the phone, RuPaul came across as a relaxed, warm, friendly and talkative person, who surprisingly enough knew quite a bit about Sweden, and what's more surprising, wanted to learn even more! What follows in a transcript of our conversation.
RuPaul: Hey, Maria! Are you calling from America?
Funkyflyy: No, actually I'm calling you from Stockholm, the capital of Sweden.
RuPaul: Oh Sweden! I've never been there, but I would love to come! I love Sweden. Now what's Sweden famous for? Swiss banks?
Funkyflyy: Ahh...Björn Borg, the tennis player, Volvo and Saab cars?
RuPaul: Is Abba from Sweden?
RuPaul: Well, that is the most important Swedish export right there.
Funkyflyy: (Laughs) Ace of Base are also from Sweden, have you heard of them?
RuPaul: Yeah, I love Ace of Base. Is Roxette Swedish?
Funkyflyy: They sure are! (laughs). I don't think I've ever talked with an American who knew this much about my country!
RuPaul: Well, Americans knows those groups and we know of Volvo, those are the most famous Swedish things and the Swiss Banks. Uh, Switzerland is not Sweden, though. I keep confusing them. We get the whole Netherlands thing mixed up. We always have. I don't know why!
Funkyflyy: (Laughs) Ru, I gotta tell you how glad I am to be talking with you. In fact, I didn't expect you to give interviews, as I was warned by some industry people over here that you're such a big diva and that you don't even talk to reporters any more, but you don't sound that way at all.
RuPaul: (Laughs) Aww, that's not true at all. I love talking and I love the music, we were talking about Abba, Roxette and all of that, the whole.. One of my most favorite things on this planet is music. I think most Americans love music, like everyone loves music.
Funkyflyy: You know, I read something very interesting about you on your Web Page, "RuPaul's House of Love". By the way, I have to say that it's one of the best Web Page I've ever seen. It's both informative and entertaining and the layout is great. There was only one slight problem. It had a "RuPaul FAQ" and as I read it, I realized that just about every single question I had come up with for this interview had already been answered right there! (laughs).
RuPaul: That's interesting! Oh, I get asked a lot of the same questions, you know? I interview people myself, so I know there are certain things you have to cover, just for people who may not know certain things, but a lot of times I try to ask people questions that they never get asked, that are just different. I like people in conversation, because I get more from that than just asking the stock questions.
Funkyflyy: Yeah, I try to do that as well. Anyway, what I read on your Web Page was that you liked to collect rare CD's. Now, I know about collecting old Vinyl LP's, but rare CD's?
RuPaul: Well, it's just one of those things, it's a communications thing, whatever I can get my hands on, so that I can hear it.. I collect records, although now... I was a convert much later than the fact. Like, I've gone over to CD's, really just about for years ago, so now my point is to sort of to collect all the CD's from the early eighties that were available that I wanted at the time, but didn't have the money to buy. Right now I'm looking for "View To A Kill" soundtrack to the movie and I'm also looking for "The Living Day Lights", that's another soundtrack to a James Bond movie. From time to time, that's why I wanna go to Sweden, sometimes you can find used CD's that are very rare, but no one knows it, except for someone who's like a music-phile, like myself. I love music. I love a lot of the old stuff that.. Just to have it!
Funkyflyy: I'm really into Funk, R&B, Disco, those types of styles..
Funkyflyy: But you're more of an musical omnivore than that, right?
RuPaul: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. I love so many things. I love country music too and I love soundtracks and actually I even like Enya and certain stuff like that to have playing, you know, just in the house when I'm working. I was born and bred on R&B, Soul, Disco and Pop music. I love my Olivia Newton-John, Cher and all that stuff. A lot of the music I like is emotional and vulnerable, soulful, that's the one common thread and those elements are found in country music, as well as in Soul and Disco and everything.
Funkyflyy: In the interviews I've seen with you, even on your Web Page, there's not been that much emphasis on the musical aspect of RuPaul. People seem to focus on if you're gay or not, why you dress in drag, but you're making some damn fine records and I've always wondered if your music career is number one and the rest is sort of secondary to you?
RuPaul: Really, the life experience is number one for me. I mean, I love music, I love the Pop culture, so I love being a Pop culture icon and everything, but I don't know if there is a number one. For me, the number one is following my heart and what I feel. Now, for the audience, usually they just see the image, so that's why the Web Page is more devoted to that than the music, I guess. I don't do the Web Page, someone else does it, and I've seen it a few times and I've heard that it's really good from people who visit a lot of different Web Pages. It'll take me a few years to get on the whole computer thing. It took me forever to get the CD's going! (laughs).
Funkyflyy: (Laughs) but, you have a talk-show, a radio program, calendars, a book, I mean, you have so many different projects and things you're working on, besides the records that you're making. What I'm trying to ask is: Of all your projects, is music the thing you enjoy doing the most?
RuPaul: Yes! Music is totally, totally number one, in my life. Because it gives me the opportunity to perform and be in front of a live audience and all that. But I love doing the radio and television too, it's just all part of my whole life experience. I believe in using all the colors in the crayon box and doing everything. It's all about us being on this planet and experiencing human experiences. And whether they're sad or happy or weird or jealousy.. That's what humans do. My point is if there is a number one, it's living life.
Funkyflyy: I heard this rumor quite some time ago that you had married K.D. Lang. What was that about?
RuPaul: Right, that was a joke because we both represent the MAC AIDS fund, which is part of MAC Cosmetics and the MAC AIDS fund gives money to people who need it. K.D Lang and I do lots of fund raisers all over the world to raise money for this fund.. Do you have MAC Cosmetics in Sweden?
Funkyflyy: No, I don't think so.
RuPaul: Oohh. I wanna go to Sweden! Today it's very cold in New York and I think of Sweden as being very cold all the time.
Funkyflyy: Well, it's not that bad, I promise (laughs). During winter, it's colder in the northern parts than it is here in the "mid-section" of the country, so to speak. But you know, I strongly recommend that you travel here during summer.
RuPaul: Do we have the same seasons in America as you do?
Funkyflyy: Yeah, I think so. Usually it starts getting nice and warm here in May..
RuPaul: Yes, yeah.
Funkyflyy: So aim for May to September, OK? (laughs).
RuPaul: OK, count me in, I'll be there! (laughs).
Funkyflyy: Ru, you're a megastar in the States. Over here, you have more like a cult following, I'd say. To them, you're that hilarious drag queen who makes great Dance music and that's understandable because we can't see your talk show, hear your radio program, the other talents you have..
RuPaul: But you know, that's just now changing in America. Most people here still think of me that way, but that's just now changing because of the radio, TV and my book. I think they're starting to see that I'm actually a human being who has a heart, a mind and a soul.
Funkyflyy: Oooh, I thought we Swedes were behind, that you had passed that "stage" in America..
RuPaul: Well, some people do, but it's still a struggle. I mean, because the image is so over the top, I think most people are afraid of any type of change or any difference. People like same-ness. But some people like it and it's changing. Yes, it is changing.
Funkyflyy: You know, the first time I saw you was on MTV, that was when "Supermodel" had just been released. You were scaring perfectly innocent people by running around in drag, in this mall somewhere in New Jersey (laughs). I thought the drag was just an gimmick and like you said, your image was so over-the-top that when I bought the "Supermodel Of The World" album, I was surprised to hear that you actually could sing! Do you know what I mean?
RuPaul: Yes, I do know what you mean. It's really funny that my voice almost doesn't really match the image, the voice is actually different, but it makes it unique though, makes the whole experience unique, don't you think?
Funkyflyy: Definitely so! And I also thought "finally someone like Sylvester". I love the late Sylvester and even though I don't think that you're copying his act or anything like that, I think I can draw some parallels between the two of you..
RuPaul: Yes, sure there are some parallels! Absolutely. I love Sylvester. He was obviously one of the first drag queens I had ever heard about. I think the first drag, or I should say trans-whatever I ever heard of was Christine Jorgensen. She went to Denmark to have a sex change, it was big news in America. I must have been ten years old. And then in '72 I heard of Sylvester, but I hadn't heard his music. I'd seen a poster, with him and the Cockettes, the group he used to perform with. And it's registered in my head. And the next thing I guess I heard of after that must be Gerald Dean on the Flip Wilson show, in terms of drag, and there were of course others after that.
Funkyflyy: In the early eighties, Sylvester tried to rid himself of that drag queen tag, throw away the tinsel and the diamond tiaras and tried to be accepted, making records in the R&B vein. It didn't work, he had to go back to making High-Energy Dance records. Do you ever feel that you would like to be taken more seriously as a singer and songwriter, that you're afraid of getting stuck in a mold?
RuPaul: You know, as a human being and as an artist, that does cross your mind from time to time, but then again, when I separate myself from my image, I have to remember that it's important to not get caught up in what other people think of you and just think of it as fun. As an artist you do want to expand, but then as a business man, I know what people want from me and I'll give them that. And most successful stars really just do that thing that they do, really! I mean, Meg Ryan really plays Meg Ryan in every movie and so does Demi Moore.. So, I'm gonna give them what they want. As an artist, yeah I'm always gonna wanna expand, and I do get to do different things within the context of my image. But no, I don't care if they take me seriously. I just wanna entertain people. I know what I am, I don't care what they think about me. Of course, that's a half truth. You know how you feel; where part of you is like "fuck 'em" and the other part is like "why can't they just like me?"(laughs).
Funkyflyy: (Laughs) I found your new album "Foxy Lady" to be quite different from "Supermodel Of The World". Well, the Eric Kupper tracks ("Snapshot", "Snatched For The Gods" and the wonderful Diana Ross cover "Work That Body") on the new CD sounds like a continuation from where the last album left off, but there are several tracks that have a kind of European "techno-house" sound to them.
RuPaul: Yeah! I wanted to more of that because I know that I have a big European audience and I wanted to do more stuff like that, plus I love that type of music and it's really like a throwback to sort of the Sylvester thing, the old disco thing. Euro disco sound is really now what Disco used to be here in America. I work at a station here that plays "Pop Rhythm" which is really Disco and Euro stuff, we play La Bouche and things like that. Everything from TLC to Vicki Sue Robinson, Donna Summer, Mariah Carey, No Mercy, Ace Of Base.. It's a great station. We're number one in New York and in the world, we're reached more people and listened to by more people than any other station.
Funkyflyy: In what other ways would you say "Foxy Lady" is different from "Supermodel Of The World"?
RuPaul: It's different because I had more control and I was able to say "you know what? I wanna do another take on that vocal". "Supermodel", I love that album, but I felt I had to compromise myself a little. Actually, more so than I did on this one, that's for sure. You always have to compromise as an artist, but "Foxy Lady" felt a lot better because I got more input and control. Obviously I wrote all the songs on the album, like I did on "Supermodel", except for the two covers, but I felt in more control. I got to be executive producer on this album too, which made it a lot more special. This album is more diverse than "Supermodel". It's got the bass track "Are You Nasty", it's got the mid-tempo ballad "Falling"...
Funkyflyy: "Falling", that's one of the songs you did with Nick Martinelli, right? How did you two meet?
RuPaul: Yes, uh huh. You know what? I've always loved his music, you know, Stephanie Mills, Loose Ends, Teddy Pendergrass, Regina Belle, and then when I was doing "Supermodel" we talked on the phone to try and hook up, but it never happened. So then, about three years ago, I met him and we started working together. He did "R.U. Nasty" and "Dolores", which is a really wonderful, different type of song for me.
Funkyflyy: I know you gotta go, so I wanna thank you for taking the time to talk with me.. One last question, what is RuPaul's message?
RuPaul: The message is you gotta learn how to love yourself and have fun with yourself and not take life so seriously as the way you think "oh, blacks go here, whites go here, gays do this, boys do this, straights is this". No, we're all human and we all want to be loved, we all wanna be respected. Let's have fun and learn how to love yourself, 'cause if you don't love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love anybody -or anything- else or appreciate life? That's what the message is and that's why I'm trying to say in the album and with everything that I do.
© Maria Granditsky