RuPaul, one of whose many mottoes is More Is More, is more than just the author of a fine debut album, Supermodel of the World. He is also – without question – this nation’s preeminent drag-queen pop star. Plus he knows a thing or two about how to work those heels.
When you say you have one thing to say, sashay, shante, isn’t that really two things?
Yeah, you caught me. But in these days of the Nineties, everything’s permissible. People always say, “Should I call you a he, or should I call you a she,” when it’s like “It don’t matter, baby, just so long as you call me. You can call me he, you can call me she, or you can call me Regis and Kathie Lee.”
You’re very upbeat. Do you ever feel a conflict between wanting to reveal your true self and wanting to project positive energy?
Yes, but in my writing I do express those dark things. Maybe I’d write a song about the pain of being misunderstood by society and being frustrated, about saying, “Hey, why don’t the fuck you grow up and mature?” But I can’t tell the world to grow up. I believe that if I have a forum, I want to use it in just a positive way.
Oh. Well, I kinda wish you’d tell the world to grow up.
You do? Well, maybe once I get my pump in the door.
When it comes to heels, how high is too high?
Well, I haven’t found a heel that’s been too high for me yet. The highest I’ve found are eight inches. They’re in the video for “Back to My Roots.” I do some dancing in them when I’m wearing the baby doll, the sort of pink and yellow baby doll. Now if you have pumps that are closed, that can be painful. But if you have open-toed shoes, it’s no problem. Like mules, they’re fabulous. I got turned on to mules by my kindergarten teacher, Miss Garfield, and she drove a Cadillac and wore really sexy clothes. She reminded me of the Lucille Ball type of character – but very sexy – and she wore mules. From that day on, I knew I was destined to wear mules.
How do you feel your work relates to straight, white male drag performers like Milton Berle, Dame Edna Everage and Danny La Rue?
I think drag is universal, no matter who does it. I mean, yeah, I am homosexual, but I think everybody likes to toy with their image. I love those guys. I love Milton Berle and Flip Wilson and all those people. I love Barney and Big Bird; they’re totally drag queens, too.
Who are your vocal influences?
Luther Vandross, Diana Ross and Chaka Khan, but when you hear my album, I don’t sound like any of those people! Right now, I’m listening to Janet Jackson and to Luther Vandross. Jody Watley, Natalie Cole … I’m a pop victim, I love pop music, I love pop culture, I love Olivia Newton-John. I have pictures of Cher that I put on the hotel walls and stuff like that. I do a mean Cher, too. I naturally slip into Cher, and in the song “House of Love,” at one point, for a millisecond, I do a warble that’s just Cher. And I love Taylor Dayne. I wish I could sing like her.
Heavens. You are just too upbeat.
Well, I have pain, but why talk about that? And pain can be fun, too. I’ve cried my eyes out and wanted to end it all before. I hope everybody’s gone that far, because it makes life rich. You can imagine what it takes to get a monster like this propped up and ready to fight Goliath. It ain’t easy being green. I’Il tell ya.
Does it bother you that you’ve put out a fine dance-pop album and all anyone ever asks you about is the drag?
No, it’s the nature of the beast. And what better person to talk about being in drag than me? I’ll tell you the lowdown: Whatever you put on your ass when you get out of the shower is drag, and I’m not having any disputes on that. People need to get off their high horse and …
Up on their high heels.
And up on their high heels. Hello.
You know, I was supposed to interview Tina Turner for this magazine, but she decided she didn’t want to talk about Ike. Is there any comment you’dlike to make on Ike Turner?
I know Ike Turner, I’ve liked Ike Turner, and I know where he’s coming from. You have to understand the African American male in our society – where he’s coming from and how he had to get over using what he knew, the best he could. Ike Turner is my father, you know? And I forgive him, I understand where he’s coming from, even though it’s not where I’m coming from. We have to learn how to love him, and we have to learn how to teach him how to love himself, because he obviously doesn’t.
Were you beaten as a child?
No, but emotionally it was very traumatic. But now I’m very all that, and a side of fries. Everything I’m doing today, I want to continue to do and help other people to do it. It sounds like I’m some fucking nun or something, like, “Oh, I want to save the world,” but I dig it, I get off on it, I get props out of it, I get a lot of payback. I get to travel and meet people and wear gorgeous clothes. It’s really fun. The next step is to do the same in more mediums. I want to do an all-black version of Mame, with me as Auntie Mame, and I’m holding out for Disney: I want to do Sister Act 2. I’m the Schwarzenegger of the Nineties.
How do you do a crotch tuck?
We take a drag-queen oath not to reveal the secret of our breed.
Well, is it painful?
I’ll tell ya, so painful that I’d rather not talk about it. But I love getting ready; it’s like a meditation. I shave my whole body. If you can find a human hair on my body, I’ll give you a hundred bucks.
Who do you think your audience is?
I think it’s preteen kids who are just forming ideas about politics. And here I am, sashaying and prancing across the television screen, saying, “Hey, look at me, I’m beautiful,” and I am, and I’m sharing my discovery with the world.
You know, the right wing would call that recruitment.
Mmm. Well, hello. I speak in mottoes, but my main motto is Follow Your Heart and to Thine Own Self Be True.