“I need to give you some salacious gossip! ‘RuPaul fisted me and I loved it,'” jokes Ginny Lemon. We’re speaking with the Worcester drag queen and singer-songwriter just a few weeks after the Drag Race UK season two finale, which saw Lawrence Chaney conquer over Bimini Bon Boulash and Tayce as the UK’s Next Drag Superstar. While the season was undeniably one of the franchise’s greatest (see our ranking of all seasons here, yes, this is shameless plug) and boasted a plethora of gag-worthy moments like no other, none can possibly compare to Ginny’s infamous exit. During her first (and only) time in the bottom two, the star denied RuPaul the chance to utter her dreaded “sashay away” exit line as she departed the stage mere seconds into the song. It was a Drag Race first.
GOOD NEWS ALERT: Ginny is continuing to exhibit the aforementioned icon behaviour in the outside world as a musician with her distinctive vocals and experimental slash psychedelic sound, which was first showcased during her memorable guest spot on The X Factor. A string of releases, including I’m So Offended and I Am Over My Overdraft, will be included on her brand new project, Ginny Lemon’s Tonic. “For this particular album, I love working with my voice as an instrument. I quite like harmonies that are a bit off and keys that are a bit sharp,” Ginny tells GAY TIMES over Zoom. “That’s my instrument and I have control over it, so I want to be honest with my voice. So, if some of it sounds jarring or it’s a bit off, that’s all intentional.”
Ginny’s material is far from what’s breaking through in the mainstream right now, let alone what you’d come to expect from a contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race, but she’s determined to make music that “challenges” the norm. Is there anyone out there like Ginny Lemon? The answer is – in the word(s) of Michelle Visage – “no!” Read ahead for our full interview with Ginny, in which she spills the T about life post-Drag Race, her music career and how she’s adapting to her newfound success. She also provides us with a track-by-track commentary of some of her best anthems (so far), including her infectious tribute to Cilla Black and her ode to Burnt Pizza & Strange Penises. Enjoy!
Update me, Ginny Lemon! What’s life been like since making herstory as the first ever contestant to exit a lip-sync on RuPaul’s Drag Race?
The past couple of weeks have been, for me as an artist, really interesting. For me as an individual, very tough. We were promised the world; that all these amazing things would happen, and they haven’t. What do you do with all that energy? Where do you go with all that? I wanna go out and meet people – do shows! We can’t, because of this situation, which is fair enough. But, how do I process that? How does that work? What do I do now? Do I get another job? Do I wait for another couple of weeks until I can work? So, it’s been very confusing, but also amazing at the same time. Obviously, I’ve gone from zero to hero, so I’m really happy with the public response and how I came across. I set myself a couple of goals and I achieved them. I just think it’s so sad that I haven’t been able to get out there, meet people and perform, do what I do best, really. We’ve all been cooped up for so long and for me, Drag Race and corona will always be intertwined. I don’t know if Ru is the visual embodiment of the coronavirus in my head, I’m not sure. I felt like, ‘Ooh, Drag Race is over, maybe lockdown would be over?’ but that didn’t quite happen. I’ll never be able to separate them.
Thanks to Drag Race, you’ve been catapulted to international fame and your iconic moments have been plastered all over social media – how are you dealing with that, personally?
I feel like I should’ve thought it through a bit more! I didn’t quite understand. Because Drag Race isn’t at the forefront of… It’s not my go-to watch. I know it exists and I’ve enjoyed it as a format in the past, and it’s obviously a great platform, but I didn’t really think about the effects of what it would actually be like. It’s absolutely fucking mad. Your phone pops off. You tweet something and then it’s a news article the next day. It’s like I’ve downloaded a new app. People are also talking to me, people I admire. It’s so strange, but at the same time I’m like, ‘How am I gonna pay my rent?’ I’d love to reply to all of you, but I’ve got to pay the rent. It’s pretty high up there! The best example for me is, the only time I leave the house is to go to the supermarket or for a walk and I get people running up to me. It’s something that I did such a long time ago. The fact that everyone has seen it now, and we’re still in the same lockdown situation, I can’t get my head around it. I was expecting to do my thing and carry on as normal, now nothing is normal! What have I done?
That’s what happens when you’re at the forefront of one of the most iconic and controversial moments on reality television…
They wanted an icon, and an icon they got! Whether they can handle an icon is a different story! Imagine if I put the effort in?
You are universally beloved by the fandom. Is there a person out there who dislikes Ginny Lemon?
It’s illegal! It’s a new proclamation that I’ll be putting in. I think people are very entitled to dislike me. It’s been amazing to have such a positive reaction, because it’s just not something that I was expecting. After The X Factor, I was seen as a bit of a joke, a scary joke. I just expected the public to be very dismissive and cruel, but they weren’t. That, for me, was the biggest shock. I was not expecting such an overwhelming sense of love. I still feel it now. I was expecting hate, but love was much more of a shock. I do not condone any online bullying, I think it’s absolutely disgusting. But at the same time, people are entitled to their own opinion. I remember watching the BenDeLaCreme series when she was first on it, and I remember getting absolutely riled! I took to the internet and ranted like an absolute nana because I was so passionate about the show. That’s what is great about the show, fans love it and they’re so passionate. But, I just wish there was a bit more consideration for the individual behind the character that you supposedly adore. Yeah, I can go on Twitter and make ridiculous tweets, but there is a person behind that. You have to accept that a lot of it is drag and make-believe, and some of it is mixed in. One of the hardest things that I’ve had to handle is revealing the mask. People didn’t know Ginny. I would show up and leave in the face. So, people recognising me out of drag, I was not prepared for that. That’s the bit I didn’t think about the most.
I wanted to talk to you about all of this new music, because you have been pumping out song after song since you voluntarily sashayed away…
I’m very dozy today, aren’t I? Not giving you many soundbites. I need to give you some salacious gossip! ‘RuPaul fisted me and I loved it.’
We have our headline!
Good, hopefully we’ll scrape something together and get a few views. You’ve done your job, I’ve done mine – perfect!
You’ve released some incredible bops over the past couple of months, and you’re set to release the new project, Ginny Lemon’s Tonic. Can you tell me a bit about that?
Ginny Lemon’s Tonic is with the Arts Council funding, I was very lucky to get that after years of applying. Originally, it was going to be a live project. Because of lockdown, I had to change it, which is why I’ve created this album – a sonic tonic! Bam! It’s basically my lockdown anthem album. There’s a lot of songs I wrote after leaving Drag Race that I wanted to relate to how I was feeling everyday. That’s why it’s ‘Ginny Lemon’s Tonic’. It was originally a show, then it became an album. Things have changed, and I’m going with the flow. I’m rolling with the balls!
Will this project include recent tracks such as I Am Over My Overdraft?
Yes! Those are little teasers from the album, unofficial singles, because the album is yet to be completed. I need to find money and musicians from somewhere and do a bit more fiddling and finishing. Hopefully, we’ll be releasing it on limited edition yellow vinyl with an A-Side and B-Side. The A-Side will be the gin, the dance part of the album. The B-Side will be the tonic, the chill side of the album. It’s very much like Whitney Houston’s greatest hits, throwdown and chilldown.
I’ve been listening to and loving Greatest Pips. I think casual viewers would assume, from watching you on the show, that your music would lean heavily into comedy. While that component is definitely there, I personally think it’s one of the most ambitious releases I’ve heard in a while due to its mixture of psychedelic beats and in your words, a “chilldown” vibe. How did this collection come together?
Originally, it was three separate albums that I released, and I didn’t really know what I was doing. What I decided to do was step away as I realised that it’s not my best material, but it is a collection of the stuff that I was doing under my old name, Lewis Spelt Backwards. I wanted to pick out the greatest of those songs and put them on the Greatest Pips, so it’s the first time they’ve all been together on an album and released. I would say it’s my first official release, but there are loads of hidden demos that go along with those!
Although it’s an assortment of the songs that you aren’t Ginny Lemon at her best, as you say, it’s such a cohesive collection that could absolutely pass as an official debut album.
Especially when it comes to my songwriting, and as a drag queen, Ginny has been the way that I’ve been able to perform those songs. What did somebody say to me? ‘A whiny gay man. Nobody wants to hear a whiny gay man!’ Someone described me as that a very long time ago. Ginny was a portal to release that music, but it is Lewis behind it. I choose Ginny to be that vessel to transport the songs, to make them a bit more approachable. The songs are silly little ditties and bizarre pop songs, but down to it, it’s got more of a grass-rooted area in alternative and experimental pop, as well as folk music.
I was trying to label your music, but it’s impossible. It’s genreless.
I tried this for a couple of years, and I don’t think there is a genre of music for me yet, so I just create my own, which is what everyone should be trying to do. The first time I met my collaborator and best friend, Meating People Is Easy, they said to me, ‘I love that Bjork song you covered.’ I said, ‘I didn’t do any Bjork song.’ It’s that edge that drew them in. For this particular album, I love working with my voice as an instrument. With these things, I quite like harmonies that are a bit off and keys that are a bit sharp. I’m not there to soothe and sing, I’m there to challenge the way that the voice is represented. That’s my instrument and I have control over it, so I want to be honest with my voice. So, if some of it sounds jarring or it’s a bit off, that’s all intentional.
There’s a blessing and a curse, almost, with appearing on reality television. Arguably, there’s no other show out there that can provide you with such a passionate following in such a short amount of time, but then you’ll forever be associated with what you did on the show. Is this something you’ve given much thought to?
I think there’s always going to be association with that show now. I’m very glad of what I achieved on Drag Race – the very short but sweet time I was there! I definitely had that in mind, so I didn’t do anything that I wouldn’t be proud of, or do anything that I wouldn’t see as amusing. It adds to the legacy of Ginny. It definitely doesn’t define it, but a bizarre, reality television reject definitely adds to my brand! They will never get a queen like Ginny Lemon, before or after, that I can guarantee. It’s the biggest platform I’ve ever been given, so I’m not gonna shirk away from that. If they wanted me back for All Stars, then maybe! I’ll see what my diary is looking like this time! I’m more than happy to be associated with Drag Race, but they should be very happy that they are associated with me. The sword cuts both ways!
Fancy another slice? Read ahead as Ginny reveals the stories behind some of her most bonkers (and personal) tracks to date.
At uni, I became really obsessed over Cilla Black’s back catalogue and was just listening to all of her music. I then envisioned that, if I got to the dizzy heights of success, I could be dancing with Cilla and Paul O’Grady on the dance floor in some divey West End place. I wrote the song as a tribute to Cilla, but unfortunately she passed away, so I sing it as my tribute to a national treasure.
Hands Off My Man
Well, it has come from an autobiographical place. It’s my Jolene, I think. When somebody’s sniffing around your plate of meat and you’re like, ‘Baby, this is my buffet. You need to go to your own!’ That was written and performed as a warning, and it works. In fact, there’s a sound in the back. I don’t know whether you can hear it and it goes [makes beat noises]. That’s actually backwards, a reverbed hateful message to somebody. So, there is a hateful message hidden in there!
I knew a young boy called Jojo, who used to come and see me when I performed as Lewis Spelt Backwards. His beautiful little face would look up and be so enthralled to this craziness that was going on. He would chat to me after the show. They lived around the corner from me in Worcester at the time, and I saw him at the bus stop. I could just see the sadness in his face because he was being bullied. Obvious to me, Jojo was bullied because he’s slightly different and wonderful and grew up to be an amazing queer man that I know them to be today. This is my song of my hope for young queer people growing up.
I Am Over My Overdraft
This started out as a little ditty. When I got back from Drag Race, seeing that I’d spent life savings on frivolous crap in a flight of fancy, I realised I needed to claw back out of my overdraft. It’s really about how lockdown has affected all of us and fucked us up, and that daring to dream as a working class kid that I could be out of debt. It’s one of my lockdown anthems, and one of my tonics, really. I think, at some point during this lockdown, we’ve been skint, right?
I Am So Offended
It came out of Brexit and my discontent with the Tory government. Compounded with lockdown, it felt very dystopian, not being able to leave the country and being stuck with this government that I did not vote for. It was a lament about leaving the EU and the time where we leave them is when we’re feeling most isolated. We are stuck, effectively on an island. It was so delightful to release that song straight after my exit, because there were people going online and they were so offended, so the irony was not lost on me for days!
Burnt Pizza & Strange Penises
Well, it’s a story about my life. I had a circumcision when I was 15 or 16, and it’s an autobiographical story of how one day I tried to make a pizza and burnt it. I burnt it trying to have a wank, and the wank was too painful because I hadn’t healed. I didn’t have a successful wank, hurt my dick and burnt the pizza.