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A synth’s sinister arpeggio sculpts an eerie background for Dorian Electra’s breathy, autotuned vocals as they sing of (both literally and figuratively) f*cking the world on their My Agenda album opener “F The World.” Jarring and adrenaline-inducing, the song is written from the perspective of an incel and offers a brief introduction into the eccentric world carefully constructed by Electra on their sophomore album.
Not everyone can effectively pen a concept album inspired by the alt-right and incel communities that is simultaneously endearing, hilarious, and thought-provoking. But then again, there’s no artist quite like Electra, who dons a penciled-on mustache as their signature look. And it’s this commitment to pushing boundaries leads them to masterfully explore the darkest corners of the internet through a queer lens on My Agenda.
The album has been described as both futurist and hyperpop, two genre labels which have recently been popularized by Charli XCX and the rise of 100 Gecs in the mainstream. Electra has collaborated with both artists, even accrediting Charli to helping jumpstart their career after joining the singer for her 2018 Pop 2 tour. “The biggest takeaway from being in close situations with Charli is that it’s important to really love the people that you work with on a daily basis — those people should be your friends,” Electra told me over the phone in the days following My Agenda’s release.
Collaborating with their musician friends and staying true to their artistic vision opened the door for other exciting opportunities. The cult following Electra has garnered since their debut LP Flamboyant earned them a chance to participate in Red Bull Radio’s Fireside Chat series (which you can check out below) and secured them album features by some of the biggest queer icons in left-of-center pop.
Unpacking their aesthetic influences and inspiration on My Agenda, Electra talks researching the incel community, subverting harmful internet culture, and collaborating with the likes of the Village People, Pussy Riot, and Rebecca Black.
It seems like a lot of your driving force as a musician is taking norms in pop music and subverting them — whether it’s the heteronormative aspect of pop or the bubble-gummy, accessible sound. In your opinion, what’s one trend in pop music right now that you wish to see changed?
I think it’d be interesting to hear more unique and diverse perspectives in terms of the narrative and story told in pop music. Usually, it’s something really basic like a hetero love story. Even artists that I know who have more diverse experiences than that tend to do the stuff they think will be the most relatable or most universal. But I think it can end up just perpetuating the same old, tired tropes. And I think that some of my favorite artists are the people that I’m seeing talk about really unique and interesting things that are very specific but that also end up being very relatable — they can find a balance of both.
Speaking about your aesthetic and about Dorian Electra as a persona, where do you draw some of your stylistic and aesthetic influences from?
I love the history of fashion — 1600s, 1700, 1800s-era fashion with some punk mixed in. Also, TikTok e-girl and e-boy vibes. I used to love mod and goth fashion. A lot of different things — neckbeard fashion, like the dragon shirts trench coats, that stuff, and nerd culture and rave culture, too.
It’s sort of like an amalgamation of all these different influences. Speaking of neckbeard culture, throughout your record My Agenda you deal a lot with and incels and that whole community online. But rather than overtly condemning it, which is really easy to do nowadays, it seems you’re seeking to understand it. Can you speak about that a little bit?
I feel like we have a very interesting situation on our hands culturally right now, where we have a lot of people that are millennial, or younger or older, white, hetero cis men that feel for some reason very alienated. They feel out of place in society, feel like they can’t have a financial, romantic, or sexual life, and that somehow they feel disenfranchised. It’s causing a new surge in misogyny. In the more extreme realms of that, you see racism and xenophobia. That always happens when people are feeling economically not taken care of. And the scapegoat happens on other groups like, ‘Oh, immigrants take jobs.’ You can look throughout history and just see the trend that there’s always a correspondence between those things.
From a sociological perspective, we really need to look at what is the root cause of this new version of the right and the alt-right. Why has this come about and how do we combat this and how do we try to communicate to these people that there are more positive solutions to their problems than some of the ideology that is found on these corners of the internet? I’m a very pragmatic person, so when I find solutions, I want to look for things that work and ask how we heal the cultural divide that we have going right now — the growing division between the left and the right and culture wars that we’re in the middle of experiencing right now. To me, it starts with just learning, researching, and understanding. The best way to communicate with someone on “the other side” is to first understand them and know where they’re coming from to be able to better communicate with them as opposed to just shutting them out, shutting them down, preventing communication, preventing basically any possibility for change, learning, growth, or development on their part. I think that we need a renewed sense of openness and duty to have civil discourse because online it can just get so [complex] so quickly.
It definitely sounds like you did a lot of research. Is there anything that you learned throughout this research that surprised you?
One thing that I learned that was surprising to me was reading some people’s individual experiences being queer or trans and having found a sense of community in the incel community before they were out. I found a lot of overlap in certain ways between people that were feeling outcast by the rest of the world — feeling like they were never going to find a romantic or sexual partner — and feeling a big sense of self-loathing. There was a sense of being angry with the world.
But the more I started thinking about it, it really made sense to me why that there would be an overlap [between incels and queer people who are closeted]. When people are not happy with themselves, they turn to these online communities that can be both supportive but also destructive and self-destructive to your psyche. […] I can maybe reach some of the people that are in those darker corners of the internet and those communities because they feel out of place, gender nonconforming, or that their sexual orientation is different. And if somehow they come across my stuff and it could reach them, that would be amazing and beautiful. So I think that surprised me the most, but also energized me because some people are reachable and teachable.
That is really interesting. It’s definitely all about creating that underground community and seeking to have other people who understand you be a part of your world. But let’s go into specific tracks more. When you released your title track “My Agenda,” you talked about getting the Village People on the song and how you were inspired by them as queer people because they dominate very heteronormative spaces like sports games. Can you talk about how they as a group, and Pussy Riot as well, fit into your sound?
With the track “My Agenda,” before we even considered having those people on it, it was always this military-sounding song. I always imagined it as a military boy band vibes. I thought it was kind of like ‘NSYNC with the orchestra hits and the lyrics. We have actual marching sounds in the song and it’s a parody of how the conservatives can sometimes portray the “gay agenda” like it’s a gay militia or something. I run with that in a self-aware, sort of self-mocking but also critical way. Yes, we are the “gay agenda.”
But then to have Pussy Riot on the track was so meaningful. I think we kind of take it for granted in the US, but in Russia they have these laws called gay propaganda laws that make it illegal to promote or teach about anything that goes against traditional family heterosexual values. Access to information about sex education is limited, counseling and therapy is limited. It’s really, really detrimental to LGBT youth and just the culture and society as a whole. It’s censorship and it’s still going on. It’s illegal to fly a pride flag. In the US I think we take our freedom of speech for granted a lot of times. And so to have Nadezha [Tolokonnikova, the lead singer of Pussy Riot] be able to sing about that. And for Putin’s birthday, they were putting all these pride flags up around important government buildings in Russia. One of the members was arrested and is in jail for 30 days.
On the other hand, Village People, their songs like “Macho Man” and “YMCA” are simultaneously being played at Trump rallies over the past month. I think that’s amazing in the sense that they’re able to exist in this super mainstream context. Imagine people going on Spotify after the Trump rally, getting all fired up like, “I’m going to listen to some Village People to keep the patriotism going.” And then the next song that comes on is “My Agenda” and they’re encountering that. Just the fact that there could be this crossover or this accidental discovery is remarkable. That’s part of the process. You have the people that are radically upfront about their queer agenda and politics like Pussy Riot, but then you have [a group] that is more covert with a message of love and acceptance that is appealing to the mainstream. To have those two together, to me, it’s just a perfect marriage and I’m just so happy with how that track turned out.
Talking about another collab on the album, your song with Rebecca Black “Edgelord,” you said wanted her on the track because she was also the subject of the “dark side” of the internet. She’s basically the poster child for cyberbullying. It seems to me that a lot of your music on this album is sort of a study in semiotics as well because you take the word edgelord, which obviously has this meaning that comes out of the incel community, but you also break it down to have a lot of different meanings. You talk about an edgelord literally meaning somebody standing on the edge or pushing you to the edge. But talking about the collaboration, can you tell me how it came about and what it was like working with her?
I totally agree with everything that you just said about it. I always find the most inspiration in words to become titles of songs that have three or more meanings. But working with Rebecca was so amazing because I had been learning that she was a fan of my music and 100 Gecs and Charli. It was really cool because she’s somebody who’s totally reclaimed her own narrative and her own story and has reshaped her own career when people probably thought she would never make music professionally. She proved everybody wrong. Also, she’s come out as queer recently, too. We’ve just become friends since working together and it’s been amazing to learn about her and her story. She’s a really inspiring, kind, and compassionate person.
I like that you guys are friends now, that’s really wholesome. Talking about some of the different sounds you have on this record, it seems like you are mixing a lot of these sonic influences — sort of like your style as well. You have some screamo metal influences on “F The World” and then that Halo Gregorian chant on “Monk Mode.” Can you talk about how you come up with some of these sounds?
I figure out what would be the most unexpected combo or the most dramatic, jarring combo. I’m very desensitized to a lot of that. So I have to figure out how to switch it up even more for my next step, but I always love something unexpected. I love things that reclaim sounds that have been considered uncool. Also, things that reclaim genres of music that have become super masculine, like dubstep becoming “brostep” or being associated with frat bros and becoming uncool. But it’s actually a really cool sound of music. Then something like black metal, which is a really amazing and cool genre of music, that’s unfortunately been co-opted by a lot of people on the far right that are white nationalists and white supremacists. Seeing a black metal artist like Gaylord taking that back and make queer and anti-fascist black metal is so powerful to me. So I think that’s what a lot of it is, taking all these genres and reclaiming them.
The last thing that I will ask you is, especially with the uncertainty of the live music industry right now, can you tell me what’s next for Dorian Electra?
I’m definitely going to be working on a lot more new music because that is what people are sitting at home and consuming. I want to be able to provide that for people. And also more videos, I just love doing videos. It’s just so easy for me. And I love to bring these concepts to life. I also want to do something that is beyond just an album or an EP. I want to figure out something that is a different form that I can experiment with too. And more collaborations, I’m very excited to do more collaborations.
My Agenda is out now via Dorian Electra. Get it here.
Charli XCX is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.