Photo: Rick Kern/Getty Images
9 "RuPaul's Drag Race" Queens With Musical Second Acts: From Shea Couleé To Trixie Mattel & Willam
RuPaul broke down a barrier with her hit 1993 single "Supermodel," and these queens have stomped right through.
When RuPaul first hit the mainstream in 1993 with the hit single "Supermodel (You Better Work)," it was the culmination of about a decade of work in music — from her time fronting the new wave band Wee Wee Pole to her years working the New York City nightlife scene as a club kid and dancer. "Supermodel" pushed RuPaul into the mainstream, giving her the opportunity not only to land cosmetics contracts and present VMAs, but also to get her brand out there.
A talk show and some hosting gigs followed, and in 2009, Logo launched "RuPaul’s Drag Race," a then mostly unheralded reality competition show hosted by the queen herself. Since then, the show has aired more than 200 episodes featuring more than 270 queens. (That’s not even including the girls from the international "Drag Race" spin-offs, of which there are many.) RuPaul has also continued her musical career, to date releasing a staggering 15 LPs, six compilation albums, 68 singles, and 42 music videos. In short, RuPaul’s musical cred is bonafide.
That musical legacy has trickled down to Ru’s TV family, too. Now in its 15th season, "RuPaul’s Drag Race" has introduced the world to a generation of incredible drag performers, including more than a few who have made their mark on the musical world. Today, most queens who make it to the end of their "Drag Race" season end up releasing a collaborative single as part of the show, like season 13’s "Lucky" or "All-Stars" season two’s "Read U Wrote U."
Some queens have gone beyond that, dropping solo LPs, fronting bands, and even touring arenas with their music. Here are nine "Drag Race" alums whose music has helped launch their second act.
A stellar queen from Chicago, Shea Couleé first showed up on "Drag Race" in season nine, where she came in second behind Sasha Velour. She came back for "Drag Race All-Stars" season 5, which she won, and then took another stab at the crown for "All-Stars" season 7.
That season, she was able to showcase her musical talent with a stellar performance of "Your Name." That song, along with a whole slate of other bangers inspired by Luther Vandross, Janet Jackson, and Chaka Khan are on her latest record, 8, which she’s touring now. Couleé also will join five other "Drag Race" alum on a recently announced U.S. tour.
Bob The Drag Queen
A true multi-hyphenate, Bob The Drag Queen is not only "Drag Race" season eight winner; he’s also a comedian, podcaster, actor, host and musician. Best known for tracks like "Purse First," which he dropped the same day he won "Drag Race," Bob's latest effort is a great listen, too. The six-song EP Gay Barz is filled with stellar club bangers that mix camp and hip-hop, showcasing Bob's true musical sensibility.
You can’t talk about musically successful "Drag Race" queens without talking about Trixie Mattel. While the "All-Stars" 3 winner makes a good portion of her income doing everything from refurbishing a hotel to curating and creating her successful cosmetics line, she still devotes time to her music.
She’s released four records — all of which are folksier and Fountains Of Wayne-inspired than anything else that’s come out of "Drag Race" — touring extensively around each, as well as a number of music videos. Some of her songs, like "Mama Don’t Make Me Put On The Dress Again," can seem a little tongue in cheek, but Mattel backs it all up with legit musical skills, playing both the guitar and the autoharp quite well.
Fans loved Adore Delano on "Drag Race" season seven and that ardor only continued after the show. The performer’s musical career really started to take off with 2014’s Till Death Do Us Party, which reached No. 59 on the Billboard 200 chart. Subsequent punky dance records like 2016’s After Party, 2017’s Whatever, and 2021’s Dirty Laundry EP have helped Delano sell out venues around the world.
Delano’s music bops all over the pop landscape, with tracks like "Hello, I Love You" merging Katy Perry styling with coyly bubblebum lyrics while the electro-tinged "I Adore U" would fit perfectly on a packed nightclub dancefloor.
Another "Drag Race" winner with a brazenly brash attitude and a heaping helping of musical talent, Alaska has released four albums, all with fairly spicy names. First came 2015’s Anus, followed by 2016’s Poundcake, 2019’s Vagina, and then 2022’s Red 4 Filth.
Alaska’s singles have always been earworms, too, and she’s brought her "Drag Race" sisters along whenever she can. Kandy Muse features on "Sitting Alone In The VIP," while "Girlz Night," which found Rose and Jan dropping in with their girl group Stephanie’s Child. Alaska has even brought her talent to the theater, crafting "Drag: The Musical," which sold out its entire debut run in 2022.
Willam might be one of the most controversial "Drag Race" contestants of all time, earning an early dismissal from season four after RuPaul accused her of breaking the rules behind the scenes. (Willam has since explained that she was getting illicit hotel visits from her husband during taping.)
Still, she had a successful Hollywood career before "Drag Race," with guest spots on numerous television procedurals. She’s only become more notable since, even snagging a speaking part in Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born. Her musical output has always been as sassy and tongue in cheek as she is. Her parody tracks like "Aileen" and "Derrick" skillfully tread the thin line between musical triumph and well-executed gag. She’s also been a part of two drag supergroups: DWV with Detox and Vicky Vox, and the AAA Girls with Courtney Act and Alaska.
Courtney Act came to "Drag Race" fame after making the season six finale, where she’d ultimately lose to Bianca Del Rio. She’s been singing pretty much her entire career — she actually broke into entertainment by appearing on "Australian Idol" in 2003 — but much of her output has come since her "Drag Race" debut.
Like her Australian sister Kylie Minogue, Act loves a soaring, inspirational club banger, as evidenced by singles like "Kaleidoscope" and "Fight For Love." She released "To Russia With Love" in an effort to help shine a light on anti-gay purges in Chechnya.
Since her "Drag Race" loss, Courtney Act has appeared on a variety of reality shows in both the UK and Australia, including "Dancing With The Stars" and "Celebrity Big Brother UK," the latter of which she won.
Known for her oddball humor, out-there drag, and frequent collaborations with Trixie Mattel, Katya came to "Drag Race" prominence on season seven before she returned to compete in "All-Stars" two. Her drag is half performance piece, half wacked out fashion show, and her drag persona is a sort of cold Russian uber-bitch.
Katya's music follows suit, with much of her 2020 EP Vampire Fitness featuring songs in multiple languages as Katya channeled her favorite Russian nightclub singers. That’s not to say that the tracks don’t rip, though: "Ding Dong" is a certified earworm, Russian lyrics and all, while the breathy goth dance cut "Come To Brazil" (guest starring Alaska) has racked up over a million views on YouTube.
The season one winner of "Drag Race Canada," Priyanka charmed fans worldwide with her charming earnestness and musical prowess. After snagging the crown, she released her debut EP, Taste Test, as well as a slate of five music videos in support of the record. The clips combine into a story of super villain-infused murder mystery that culminates in a battle royale between Priyanka and "Drag Race UK" contestant Cheryl Hole. The whole thing is as goofy as it is danceable.
Fun fact: "Come Through," which is a great and catchy song as its own, also features a guest verse from Priyanka’s "Drag Race Canada" sister Lemon. The song has become so beloved among fans that a one-hour mix of just that snippet of the song has almost 750,000 views on YouTube.
Lizzo performs at the 2020 BRIT Awards
Photo: Samir Hussein/WireImage
Virgin Fest 2020 Lineup: Lizzo, A$AP Rocky, Anderson .Paak, Ellie Goulding & More Announced
The inaugural festival boasts an all-inclusive lineup, composed of 60 percent female artists, and an eco-conscious approach
Virgin Fest, a brand-new multi-genre festival debuting later this year, has announced its inaugural lineup. The two-day event, taking place June 6-7 across multiple stages throughout Banc Of California Stadium and Exposition Park in South Los Angeles, has confirmed recent GRAMMY newcomer Lizzo and rap giant A$AP Rocky as the headliners. The lineup also includes Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals, Diplo's Major Lazer outfit, recent Best New Artist nominees Tank And The Bangas and many more.
Virgin Fest, which is promoting an all-inclusive environment—its tagline boasts "All Are Welcome"—features a diverse artist roster. As Rolling Stone points out, the 2020 lineup is composed of 60 percent female artists, which include acts like Ellie Goulding, Kali Uchis, Jorja Smith, Banks, Japanese Breakfast, Empress Of and others.
The festival is also celebrating the LGBTQ+ fan and artist community. In addition to booking LGBTQ+ artists and allies, including Clairo, Trixie Mattel, singer-songwriter and former Fifth Harmony member Lauren Jauregui and others, Virgin Fest is offering gender-neutral restrooms and is screening all vendors to ensure they align with the festival's values of inclusivity and positivity, with a focus on the LGBTQ+ community and an "emphasis on correct pronoun usage," according to PRIDE.
In an interview with PRIDE, Virgin Fest CEO and founder Jason Felts discussed the festival's LGBTQ+-focused lineup and its approach to creating an inclusive environment.
"Being a gay man who loves music and loves people and loves diversity and loves humanity on the whole, I thought, 'Why don't we have a festival that celebrates all of that?'" he said.
Virgin Fest is also taking an eco-conscious approach focusing on sustainability. The festival is "handpicking vendors who share its values and have policies that comply with their commitment to sustainability"; it will also be the "first festival in California to employ a reusable cup deposit system instead of single-use plastic cups," according to a post shared on the Virgin Group's, the festival's parent company, website. According to the event's website, the festival is also banning all single-use plastics onsite and will feature a "robust renewable energy and solar program," among other green initiatives.
To purchase tickets and to view the full lineup for the inaugural Virgin Fest, visit the festival's official website.
Photo: Photo: Santiago Felipe/FilmMagic via Getty Images
Watch: Shea Coulee's Most Touching Video To Date For "Rewind"
Directed by Sam Bailey, the black-and-white visual takes viewers through Couleé's memory as they relive both tender and volatile moments with their lover
Shea Couleé delivers a stirring dramatic performance in the video for one of their most vulnerable songs to date, "Rewind."
Directed by Sam Bailey, the black-and-white visual takes viewers through Couleé's memory as they relive both tender and volatile moments with their lover.
"It has a very cinematic quality to match the cinematic quality of the song," Couleé exclusively told Billboard. "And it's kind of a glimpse into my life and my past .. the concept of rewinding, as if our lives were films that we have the ability to go back and re-do."
They add that the video touches on how minds can alter memories to be less painful: "We try to get the best edit that we can so it doesn't hurt as much."
Putting their usual lively, fierce side on pause, Couleé let their guard down about a past relationship in the song with producer and songwriter GESS.
"The fans had only seen this high-energy, dance-y, confident music [from me] and this was my opportunity to show a little bit of vulnerability," Couleé said. "The only relationship I ever had, other than the one I'm in now, he suffered from bipolar disorder and he wound up taking his life. It's really, really hard. It's such a weird heartbreak because there's so many unanswered questions."
Music has allowed the former RuPaul's Drag Race cast member to show different sides of themselves. "I enjoy being able to surprise people and reveal my different sides to them – sometimes people only see a certain side, and music allows yourself to express yourself a bit more," they said.
Photo: Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
Inside Resonance: Celebrating 50 Years Of Hip-Hop At The GRAMMY Museum
"Nothing resonates more in our everyday lives than hip-hop," Jimmy Jam said during the celebratory event Resonance, which honored the legacy of hip-hop at the GRAMMY Museum.
The Recording Academy is continuing to honor the legacy of hip-hop, to one of the most popular genres of music in America. Held on Dec. 4 at the GRAMMY Museum in downtown Los Angeles, Resonance: Celebrating 50 Years of Hip-Hop was presented by the Academy's Black Music Collective and sponsored by City National Bank.
The Resonance event took over the Museum's fourth floor, which is home to the recently unveiled "Hip Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit." There, members and leadership from the Academy and BMC, along with musicians and industry professionals, celebrated 50 years of music that has transcended boundaries, inspired advocacy and fostered impactful social change.
Guests were welcomed into the space by an unparalleled collection of artifacts — an ode to the genre through memorabilia and interactive displays showcasing the evolution of hip-hop music and culture. Tupac’s all-white suit — worn in the last video he made — is displayed next to Notorious B.I.G.'s red leather pea jacket worn in the music video for Junior M.A.F.I.A.’s "Players Anthem." The impact of the museum’s intentionally curated collection evokes the extended struggle of the Black experience in America, while celebrating its culture, creativity, and endurance against all odds.
The power of connection and representation was emphasized by five-time GRAMMY winner Jimmy Jam, an R&B songwriter, music producer, and illustrious GRAMMY Museum Board Member. "The idea of 'resonance' struck a chord in me because the mission is unification, amplification and to celebrate Black music. Nothing resonates more in our everyday lives than hip-hop."
"I'm proud to have known my partner Terry Lewis for 50 years. We were raised on hip-hop," he told the crowd. "Hip-hop inspires, it embodies transcendence. Hip-hop advocates and fosters social change, and the cultural significance is astounding."
Jimmy Jam highlighted the integral role of partnerships between the Black Music Collective and sponsor/supporters such as City National Bank and Amazon Music. Such relationships have enabled the third year of the Amazon Music-sponsored Your Future Is Now, a scholarship program.
"We have the opportunity to pour knowledge, resources and many opportunities into the young talent and the young creatives of the future. And that's what we're here to do," he continued.
GRAMMY Museum Board Member and Executive Vice President of City National Bank, Linda Duncombe, who was introduced by Jimmy Jam as "music’s best friend" spoke to the critical work of support.
"We protect and celebrate those who have shared their gift as well as ensure their artistic contributions are accessible for people of all walks of life around the world and for future generations," she said, adding that as a Museum board member, "educating the next generation of artists and teachers is always top of mind. The 'Mixtape Exhibit' really will inspire students to pursue hip hop and the music industry."
Host Lady London, a rapper and songwriter from The Bronx summed up the power of hip-hop and its ability to transcend music. A hyped crowd enthusiastically received her words.
"It's beautiful to see what we have been able to cultivate in such a short amount of time. We are the culture, we have the power to shift the culture and we continue to move mountains," she said. "We are influences in fashion and design and the Black family education, economic empowerment, the arts. We're limitless.
"We have balanced everything and there is nothing that is quite parallel to that," Lady London continued. "I'm so proud to be a part of the culture."
As guests mingled among the exhibits many displays and highlights like original lyric sketches, mixtapes, and an interactive "sonic playground" where guests could interact with recording devices, make 808 beats and record tracks. Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. reflected on the culmination of a year celebrating the 50th anniversary of hip-hop.
"Hip hop has been a defining force in our culture and it is so important to be able to honor it in this way" he said. "This is the end of a year that started with us celebrating at our GRAMMY Awards show last season."
Los Angeles' DJ Jadaboo — who has performed for Tommy Hilfiger at New York Fashion Week and a slew of celebrity parties and high profile events — set the vibe all night. Her mix spanned all five decades of the genre and beyond, from R&B to hip hop classics by Jay-Z and Drake, stacking much-sampled songs like Curtis Mayfield’s "Pusher Man" into the set.
As the event carried on, Jimmy Jam’s earlier remarks echoed between the museum’s walls. "Look at what's been done in the last 50 years. You see it all around here," he said. "Now take a look at each other and know all that is happening right now… is because we are the people that are gonna continue to carry this on for another 50 years."
The GRAMMY Museum’s "Hip Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit" runs through Sept. 4, 2024. "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" will air Sunday, Dec. 10, from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. ET and 8 to 10 p.m. PT on the CBS Television Network, and stream live and on demand on Paramount+.
Photo: Ashley Osborn
20 Years Later, Hoobastank Come To Terms With "The Reason"
The title track of their second album, "The Reason" became both a blessing and a curse for Hoobastank. For the LP's 20th anniversary, singer Doug Robb and guitarist Dan Estrin give an honest account of how the GRAMMY-nominated song impacted their career.
This past August, Hoobastank's "The Reason" reached the billion-view mark on YouTube. While joining the Billion Views Club is an impressive feat for any artist, it's particularly remarkable for Hoobastank — not only is "The Reason" 20 years old, but it racked up 300 million views this year alone.
The title track to the band's second album, "The Reason" is still crashing through our consciousness courtesy of a comedic (and very memeable) scene from the hit Netflix series "Beef," as well as a viral trend on TikTok. For Hoobastank, the massive resurgence is both perfect timing — The Reason turns 20 on Dec. 9 — and a reminder of the good and the bad that came with their ubiquitous hit.
Ironically, they didn't see the ballad as a single at all, nor did they want it released when their then-label, Island Def Jam, wanted. But it undoubtedly launched Hoobastank into another dimension — even if it created some challenges for the band later on.
When frontman Doug Robb and guitarist Dan Estrin — two of three founding members still remaining alongside drummer Chris Hesse — sat down to speak with GRAMMY.com to discuss the anniversary of The Reason, they seemed very happy and comfortable with where they are today. It's obvious that they've come to terms with the overwhelming success that seemed daunting to follow up at the time, but which gave them their career. Hoobastank's second studio album remains their sales watermark, but the group has gone on to record four more albums, continued to tour, and is even working on new music for 2024.
The band's history actually extends back to 1994, when it was formed originally as a mixture of rock, metal, ska, and funk influences (with saxophones!). The group's quirky, long-lost 1998 debut under the name Hoobustank, They Sure Don't Make Basketball Shorts Like They Used To — which is only available on YouTube — was very influenced by the likes of Fishbone and early Mr. Bungle. But after signing with Island Def Jam in 2000, the band focused on the bristling hard rock that immediately made a splash with their eponymous 2001 debut album, which included the popular anthem "Crawling In The Dark." Plenty of airplay and international touring ensued, and the album was certified platinum within a year.
But it was their sophomore album The Reason that broke Hoobastank big. With high-octane tracks like "Out Of Control" and "Same Direction" and the ballads "Disappear" and the mega-hit title track, the album was certified double platinum in 2004 and nominated for Best Rock Album at the 2005 GRAMMYs. "The Reason" hit No. 2 on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 singles chart (where it resided for 38 weeks), No. 1 on the Adult Pop Airplay and Alternative Airplay charts in 2004, earning Hoobastank another 2005 GRAMMY nod for Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal.
Their mainstream crossover may have pegged Hoobastank as a one-hit wonder to many, but their catalog is richer than that. A potent hard rock album, The Reason hit No. 3 on Billboard's Top 200 albums chart, where it endured for more than a year. (It should also be noted that their platinum-selling debut album broke the Top 20.)
Before Netflix brought "The Reason" back, Hoobastank was name-checked on the debut episode of Hulu's satirical "M.O.D.O.K." series in 2021, when the titular character told his son that Hoobastank were "the Beatles of the late '90s." While the quoted time period was slightly off, the line itself was jokey — and not the first time that the band got a shout out.
"We've been named checked enough," Robb says matter-of-factly. "More often than not, I feel like it was kind of a punchline. I think years ago it might have stung a little bit, but I think some of it's pretty funny, man. I get it.
"In our old age and wisdom, we pride ourselves of being a band that's really self-aware of who we are and how we approach things," he continues with a smirk. "I think we're in a place where you can say whatever you want, and it's just water off a duck's back, so I get a good laugh out of it."
The overwhelming popularity of "The Reason" inevitably meant that the public would become largely weary of the song and the band. But like anything revived by nostalgia, people who claimed to dislike something later embrace it. "I mean, when you're ready to hear it, it's there," Robb quips. "I think there's definitely a subset of people who were like, 'We're too cool for Hoobastank.' Now X amount of years later, whatever they thought they were too cool for, they realized they were probably just being dumb."
The universality of the song's themes has resonated with fans over the years. Robb has admitted that his lyrics for "The Reason" were stitched together from unused verses and other ideas, while fans have offered their own interpretations. "People are saying that it was a breakup and makeup song, or a song that they proposed to their significant other or something at their wedding," the singer says. "It's a lot of that kind of stuff more than anything else."
Though the video for "The Reason" has no direct connection to the lyrics, its billion-view status certainly proves it made an impact in its own right. Starring the band in a gem heist, they use a fake car accident with a female "victim" to divert the pawn shop owner's attention. The crooks get away with it — or so they think.
Incidentally, the sequel to that story arrived in the next video for the high-energy song "Same Direction," where we learn there's a police mole in the group. It features hammy cameos from Linkin Park's late frontman Chester Bennington, Good Charlotte's Joel Madden, and Kanye West — a testament to the group's popularity with their peers at the time. That sequel clip has close to 10 million views, which means many people today have not seen how the story turns out.
Estrin explains that the idea initially was to have a trilogy of videos and that "Disappear" was supposed to be the third installment, but it was whittled down to a two-parter. Robb says the label kept barraging them with clichéd boy meets girl, boy hurts girl storylines. The band fought back, proposing an ultraviolent, Matrix-type action video with a doomed bank robbery in which they all die.
After the label objected to that route, all of the initial ideas were scrapped. As Robb puts it, "we ended up with this weird story that has absolutely nothing to do with the song at all."
According to Estrin, the narrative's randomness apparently resonated. "I have to say that over the years there's been a couple of videos that have been made outside the United States that have completely 100% ripped off the video," he suggests. "I laugh when I see it. I'm flattered, but at the same time I'm annoyed."
After "The Reason" blew up, Robb recalls how he later tried to dissect "The Reason" to understand how it got so big. But the singer came to understand that it was largely factors beyond his control — and ultimately, the band did not try to replicate the song's success.
Even so, the song and album's popularity also created immense pressure for their next LP, 2006's gold-certified Every Man For Himself — especially as its ubiquity meant some people were tired of Hoobastank altogether.
"I remember anytime anything [we were writing] started in the key of E and was mid-tempo, I would be like, 'No, no, no, that's too close,'" Robb recalls. "We were very sensitive about it, and in hindsight we probably shouldn't have been, but we were experiencing a little bit of the backlash. We rode the highs with the popularity, and now the other side of that double-edged sword was being felt. People were just tired of it. It was overplayed, which I understand, so we were trying to fight that a little bit."
Back in 2006, when I interviewed Robb for Metal Edge magazine about Every Man For Himself, he admitted he was not a big fan of The Reason because he felt the process was rushed and the album was rather assembly-line in its creation.
"I think maybe if it felt that way last we spoke, it was because I like long albums [and] songs that are 8 minutes long. I have the attention span for that," he suggests now. "I never get bored listening to a 9-minute Tool song, so pumping out three-and-a-half minute songs felt a little formulaic. There's definitely a kind of Mad Libs structure to songs like that. While it's cool, it wasn't my style in general … and I still feel that way."
Since The Reason, Hoobastank has explored several genre influences, from pop and funk to alt-rock and EDM, at one point earning the fan-dubbed label of "romantic metal." Many of their subsequent releases — particularly their most recent effort, 2018's Push Pull — are not as intently frenetic as The Reason; in turn, they never reached the same commercial heights. But that never fazed the group, as they've retained a consistent fan base.
And 20 years after their breakthrough, Hoobastank is far from done. Robb reveals that new music is in the works for 2024, and they're set to perform at festivals alongside bands like Yellowcard and Sum 41; they're also toying with the idea of a nostalgic tour package of their own.
Their diversity has presented a conundrum in a music business often predicated on genre. Estrin notes that while the band played the nu-metal oriented Sick New World Festival this past May, they could also feel at home at the emo-flavored When We Were Young festival. "We don't really fit in here, or in here," he acknowledges. "So when these [bands] are all thinking about who to take out or who to package up with, they might not be thinking of these dudes right here. We're going, 'hey, we can fit on both sides."
Hoobastank undoubtedly appreciate what "The Reason" did for them, highlighting both its one-billion YouTube threshold and 900-million stream Spotify tally on social media; they'll also and are performing the album in its entirety at The Echo in L.A. on Dec. 11. Above all, Robb and Estrin are happy that, even after making music together for three decades, they can still create new music at their own pace and on their own terms.
"My personal goal was never to be a rock star, whatever that stereotype is," Robb declares. "In some ways, the attention and the pressure that comes with that spotlight has been one of the negative things about what I do, ironically. But I enjoy creating music and rehearsing and traveling with these guys, and that to me is the success. The fact that we can still do this, and this is still our 'job' 20-plus years later, that's pretty remarkable."