Chappell Roan talks drag culture, pop music and her forthcoming debut album

Interview Chappell Roan: “There’s nothing more exciting than a drag show”

The rising US act dedicated to supporting local drag artists, making gigs financially accessible and dropping sugary, hyperbolic pop hits.

“I care about what every drag queen cares about: putting on the best show,” says Chappell Roan - aka Kayleigh Rose Amstutz - amid snowballing reputation and a fast-earned promotion to queer icon. “Drag queens open for me at each show. The celebratory aspect of queerness is something I [hadn’t] found anywhere else.”

For Chappell, raised Christian in the American Midwest, this metamorphosis into a sparkly, loud, queer pop star surrounded by cabaret and drag, was unexpected but overdue. “There was a period where I thought, ‘Fuck pop music’,” she says. But Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Lana Del Rey, Lorde and Rihanna -her pop maximalism forebears - forced Chappell to reckon with a long-repressed side of herself. “Pop was shining a light on a part of myself that I was trying to dim. But it was always deep down inside. I was just scared to be that version of myself - it seemed too big and loud.”

Her alter-ego, Chappell Roan - “the drag version” of Kayleigh - is overtly queer, amalgamating the rebellion of drag with preppy, melodramatic, fruity pop. Highlights include blow-up coming-out track ‘Pink Pony Club’, the puppy love of ‘Naked In Manhattan’ and the untethered ‘My Kink is Karma’. Each release acts as a contained piece of storytelling (“None of this ever happened,” she confesses), yet rings with unabashed honesty and a celebration of her community.

“What’s the point in making a pop project, where your main audience is queer, if you’re not giving back?”

“There’s nothing more exciting than a drag show - I want to recreate that and create a safe space for queer people,” she says. “But that also means donating [percentages of ticket sales] to trans charities [such as For The Gworls], making sure my ticket and merch prices are as low as I can put them, making it accessible. What’s the point in making a pop project where your main audience is queer if you’re not giving back? The whole point is to have a party - but queer people need to pay their fucking rent too, right?”

Each performance spotlights drag queens, gaudy dress codes for fans “who can be the most extra,” and songs with hot-under-the-collar descriptions of cunnilingus that she says, with a laugh, she felt obligated to cut from her set when opening for Olivia Rodrigo’s SOUR tour last year. That tour also acted as an underscoring of how ready the singer is to step up to the plate. “I got offstage and was like, ‘I don’t feel any different than I did before’. So to me, that was a sign that I was already prepared mentally and emotionally for that,” she nods. “It was more like, ‘OK, I actually can do this. I’m ready for this’.”

It’s early days for Chappell, however as she readies her debut album for release in autumn, things are finally boiling over. “It takes fucking years. You can’t solidify an identity after only a year without looking inauthentic,” she says. “The project is based on two things: Does it give me butterflies? And is it a 100% yes? If it’s not a yes, it’s a no. You can’t fucking compromise.” The result is a big, confetti-smeared pop project, designed for gay bars and listless teens. Chappell’s is a debut that’s set to be wonderfully large, a little unhinged, and entirely contradictory; a recipe for devotion, if ever we heard one.

Tags: Chappell Roan, Features, Interviews

As featured in the July 2023 issue of DIY, out now.

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