“Michelle Visage is always holding my leg because I cringe every time I’m on the show.”
Last month, dancer, singer and choreographer Todrick Hall released his second sickening extended play, Haus Party, Pt. 1, an uptempo collection of dance-pop bangers and disco floor-fillers in celebration of Pride.
Dedicated to queer people and gay ball culture, Haus Party features a mix of empowering, autobiographical and political bops such as Nails, Hair, Hips, Heels, Amen and Chapstick, the latter of which features All Stars 3 champ Trixie Mattel.
It is intended to be the first of three volumes, all of which will eventually form Todrick’s fourth full-length studio album. “I had just never known of anybody to put out a specifically gay Pride album,” he admits over the phone.
In celebration of its release – and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising – we caught up with the performer and discussed the inspiration behind Haus Party, the importance of Pride, and his long-running stint on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Congratulations on your new album – what was the main inspiration behind it?
The main inspiration came from being on tour over the past two years. I’ve really learned the difference between a song that is very close to your heart and the type of songs that connect with everybody and make everybody have a great time. Last year, I had a whole bunch of issues with a boy I was dating and this year I was like, ‘No matter what, when I go on tour this year I want it to be such a fun celebration.’ I came up with the idea of Haus Party and I really wanted to do three different EPs, or three different albums that express the different types of music that I make, because I couldn’t just pick one style in particular. I had just never known of anybody to put out a specifically gay Pride album. I know there’s been compilation albums where they take a bunch of gay anthems and put them together, but I’ve never personally experienced an artist – although I’m sure it’s happened – specifically cater towards the gay community. And with this being the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, I took off the month of June – which for the past six years I’ve been touring every June – because I wanted to be available to do Pride. It breaks my heart every year when they ask and I’m not available to do them. I thought, ‘If I’m going to do Pride, I wanna make it a number one priority.’ So I wrote new material to perform at Pride, since I have so much fun writing and recording. It came so quickly to me and felt like the right time and the right style of music to do. The response has been the most overwhelmingly positive response I’ve gotten from any project I’ve done, so I’m definitely on cloud nine!
It feels like queer people need this album right now, especially because of what is happening in our current political climate. We need fun, queer bops right?
I feel the same way. I feel like we’re living in the year of ‘cancel culture’ and there’s a lot of negativity online, and there’s a lot of different things happening politically. I think that being online or listening to music, or being in entertainment in our country is sometimes a scary place to be. I wanted to have some music that lets you escape that and remember to have fun this Pride season. I also put a triangle on the front cover of my album because I was really inspired by the documentary How to Survive a Plague, which Billy Porter told me to watch, it’s about people in the New York gay community fighting for medications and to be seen and heard during the HIV/AIDS epidemic. I feel like a lot of us that have grown up in this generation have not lived in a world where death was a reality if you were infected by the virus. I thought the documentary was so beautifully shot and reminded us where we come from and where we could be again. You just never know what’s gonna happen and so I wanted to put out something to remember those people, because the triangle has always been a symbol and a safehaven for gay people, even in the Holocaust. While we’re having fun, I wanted to have that talking point to remind people and to educate them on things that I was only just recently educated on. I can’t believe I made it to this point in my life without realising the full dynamic of how horribly scary the HIV epidemic was. I felt like I knew, but when I watched that documentary, it really opened my eyes. I’ve watched it three or four times since then and got to have lunch with Peter Saley, one of the main heroes from that documentary. It’s been a really cool journey that I’ve gone on and I’m so excited to be headlining – I think – 14 Pride events this summer. It’s awesome for me to see little kids holding Pride flags because it wasn’t like that when I was growing up, and so it gives me promise in this scary time that we’re living in that we’re still heading in a positive direction.
Track five, Amen, has a really powerful message – what inspired the song?
Today, it’s my favourite. It was very difficult for me to put on the album because I grew up very religious, as people would’ve seen on my last two albums. In Forbidden and Straight From Oz, where I sing about gospel music and how much of an influence that has had on my life and my upbringing. But I really wanted to write a song that gives the middle finger to people who take religion and use it as a weapon. In some religions, they use the bible and they use God as a way to justify the way treated black people and the way they treated gay people… as not people. They were treating them as if they were animals. In some cases, they would treat their animals better. And so for me, I didn’t want the song to be sacrilegious but I definitely wanted it to be a celebration of people no matter what religion you subscribe to, no matter what walk of life you lead, no matter what your sexual orientation is. For some people at church or the gaybourhood they find themselves in, it’s their safehaven. It is their church, it is where they get their spiritual healing, whether it be from their drag mothers or whatever. I really wanted to write about that while not offending people like my family who are very religious. I’m really proud of the fact that I don’t feel uncomfortable about singing the song, I’m very excited to perform it. I do think in some ways, the song is very political as well, but it’s one of those things where you can choose to dive deeper into the lyrics if you want. If not, the beats are completely there to carry you away and make you have a great time. I’m just so so proud of this album and I can’t wait for people to hear part two and three of Haus Party.
What can we expect from the next two volumes?
I don’t necessarily want to say too much! I will tell you that they are two completely different genres – they’re not dance. Part two is a completely different vibe from the first one. Every time I play the songs for my close friends and family, who I think will be really honest with me, they feel the same way and they don’t know which songs are their favourites and they like them all! They’re all really strong and some of the favourite songs I’ve ever written. And who knows? I’m such a spontaneous person, like I’ve always been, this could end up being a six-part series. But as of right now, the plan is for there to only be three albums. I’m really happy with the music on all three albums and I’m so stoked for people to see them – and to see the songs live! It’s fun to listen to them but these are really going to pop on stage. I think this tour will be one of my most successful tours, a lot of the front seat tickets and VIP passes are selling out so quickly. My fans have been really supportive, I get teary-eyed and choked up when I think about the fact that we sold thousands of tickets for the shows before they even heard one song on this album. After the year I had last year, with relationships, life and losing loved ones, I just wanted 2019 to be a year of positivity, great music and creating. I’ve had a great year so far, I wake up every day ecstatic that I get to do what I love for a living.
Can you spill any T on what we can expect from the tour?
I think this might be the last tour I go on for a while because I have another show that I’m writing that I would love to create and bring to Broadway at some point. I’m going to start focusing on that but this’ll be the last tour for a while – I think. That’s the plan. I don’t want to leave out any aspects of my career, I want people to see music from Straight Outta Oz, Forbidden and the songs from all three Haus Party albums. I wanna make sure we celebrate some of the viral videos we’ve done and I just want the fashion to be out of control crazy. Every costume I have, I want it to be a look that you have to take photos of and post online. That’s one of my main goals. We’re going to spend a lot of time on the choreography because in the past few years, I’m singing so much that I wasn’t able to dance much. I had to preserve my energy to be able to make it through the show, but this year I want the dancing to be crazy. I’m looking for amazing, diverse dancers who can do all different types of choreography. I need to blow it out of the water and make people say, ‘Holy shit. Let us HAVE IT.’ I want it to be my version of Beychella!
You’ve been a frequent collaborator of Drag Race since around 2015 – what keeps bringing you back to the show?
Well I love working with RuPaul. I think that you can tell a lot about a person by how many people they have around them and how long those people have been there. All of the people who have been with RuPaul have been with him almost my entire life, 30 plus years. He’s an amazing person, he’s been an awesome mentor to me, he’s so real and a lot of people claim to be real in Hollywood but they aren’t. I know I’m never going to ask him to do something and he’ll feel pressured to do it, I know he’s always going to give me an honest opinion about anything. That is a rare quality to have, and he always does it in a kind and loving way and that’s someone you should keep around you. I also just feel like, throughout history, gay people and gay artists specifically have not gotten the credit that they deserve for hair, choreography, costumes, fashion. I think now Drag Race is putting these people, who would’ve never gotten an opportunity, to shine and be in the forefront. They are creating, not just gay culture, but RuPaul’s Drag Race is pop culture and it’s winning Emmy Awards and putting people on a platform. For me, to be a part of that, even a small cog in the machine is such an amazing opportunity. I feel like it’s so epic and iconic that I would do it for free. I would be there every single time they need me. I love being a part of this team because it really feels like a family and it’s not just me saying this. There’s a lot of shows that don’t feel like a family, it’s just work. We all do the show because we love being there and they’re extremely loyal to the people that work there. I always know they’re gonna call me back and if they didn’t call me it’s because our schedules didn’t align. There are some queens they would probably not let on the show again because they have crossed the show so poorly, but they don’t deny them the ability to come to a finale and to come be a part of the family, come to Drag Con, whatever. It’s still much-so a family-oriented group and production company, and I just love that. It feels like my home and I will keep doing it no matter how successful or unsuccessful my career is.
You were a regular judge on the show for All Stars 2 – would you ever return as a main judge on the panel?
I don’t think it’s something that I would do and not because I don’t want to, but I don’t think that’s my strong suit. Even though I get a lot of flack on the show for being mean or impatient to the queens, I think we should be pushing ourselves to be the best version we can be. I love the fact that I’m now in a place where I’m doing something in a specific field. I was never a comedian, I think Ross Matthews and Carson Kressley are so iconic and so ridiculously witty, and that’s not my strong suit. I really like helping these queens who have come from these small towns accomplish something that they never thought they would be able to do. Most of them have never stepped foot in a dance class, they don’t know their right from their left, and when I see them up there and they’re performing these dance routines that are really hard to do, I feel really accomplished. It helps them realise that they’re stars. Often at times as adults, we give up on trying anything new because we think, ‘This is not what I’m good at, this is the lane I’m in and this is where I’m going to stay.’ I just think that if we continue with that mentality, we’re going to have to question whether we’re actually living life, or if you’re just existing. I love the fact that we challenge them and to face their “inner saboteurs”, like RuPaul always says, and to be vulnerable on camera in front of millions of people. I love it, and so I don’t think I would wanna be a full-time judge again. I’m very happy coming on the show, coaching them through vocals and choreography. It’s a better fit for me! I’m not a very shy person at all, but I get so nervous. I love RuPaul so much, he’s such an idol of mine, that every single time he asks me to say something, I can never get it together. I’m always sweating in my pants – I wish you could see underneath the table because Michelle Visage is always holding my leg because I cringe every time I’m on the show. I’m so honoured to be there.
You received quite a lot of flack from British fans when you called Yvie Oddly ‘spastic’ during the Queens Everywhere rehearsal – what were your thoughts when you saw that?
I was really surprised at the backlash towards me and towards the show because I don’t think people realise that culturally, that word – I can’t speak for every American – is not a sensitive word. Obviously, the producers put it in the show because they didn’t know it was offensive. Yvie also went online and said she didn’t think it was offensive. Not only does it have a different meaning here, but in the dance world, it has another meaning. Sometimes we say the word ‘cunt’ in drag world, which means fierce! But if you say that somewhere else, some people would consider it the worst word you can say. In the dance world, if you say something is going to look ‘spastic’, that means it’s just not going to look sharp, and this number was supposed to be sharp. I was blown away by the amount of hate, and I think just in general, the amount of hate people have and the fact that people want companies and human beings and stars and creators to be robots. If you make one mistake – even if you have a squeaky clean career – people want to ‘cancel’ you. In the beginning, ‘cancel culture’ was finding something everyone would agree is problematic and try to get people who have the power to listen. Now, it’s morphed into something else, people find joy and pride in cancelling someone who has made a mistake. I get cancelled maybe 12 times a year, but the fact I was being cancelled for saying ‘spastic’ was really extreme to me considering that word doesn’t hold the same weight in the US. There were some people from your country who were defending me, which was great. I’m grateful that I know that now, because in the future I will use a different word.
It’s the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots this year – what does Pride mean to you in 2019?
I remember when I went to Pride for the first time and I was so scared that people were gonna see me there or that someone horrible was going to happen to us. I didn’t feel safe there, and now Pride in 2019 means a place of acceptance and inclusion and that people can come there and be who they wanna be, their truest selves. It’s a time for family, for allies, for gay people, trans people, non-binary people, everyone to come together and celebrate life and love. I absolutely love that and I’m so grateful to be a part of it this year. I can’t wait to share this music and have everybody all together, not just queer people, all people, dancing and singing and having a great time.
Todrick Hall’s Haus Party Tour will be coming to the UK in October – purchase tickets here.