Queen of dreams
Yayah blends new wave darkness with drag
Sweat-drenched and spilling out of a tent on Capitol Mall, the crowd is lulled into submission by moody Americana and a lip-synching drag queen onstage. Channeling Lana Del Rey’s tune “Ride,” she’s got a war on her mind, so what does she do? She just rides.
The beat switches gears. She strips her black overcoat to reveal a zebra-striped leotard and mouths: “Let’s ride!”—the first words to Charli XCX’s mechanical turbo-pop hit “Vroom Vroom.” She cranks an invisible steering wheel. The crowd loses it. Suddenly, the mix transitions into vehicle-themed Vines.
It’s the true American dream. Pop music, internet culture, cars. We Stan a queen who can drive home a concept. The queen in question? Yayah.
Drawing upon what she calls a “cesspool” of influences, the Sacramento artist is grunge, camp, avant-garde and mostly plain fun. Drag isn’t her only passion; music came first. Her new album Dreamland—the first under her drag persona—releases Friday, and it’s a little more intimate than her “ridemix.mp3.”
Having pursued music for nine years and drag for two, Yayah has a pretty good grasp on who she is as a performer. But the road to Dreamland wasn’t easy. Upon graduating high school and moving to San Francisco, she went through a dark, distressing period. It’s part of a journey that’s mirrored in her album.
“I was really upset and depressed, and San Francisco already has that kind of vibe,” she says. “A lot of what’s in the album happened when I was there. Then, I came back [to Sacramento], and I met my boyfriend, and I found drag and I came out of the closet to my family, and all that self-discovery really is in the album as well.”
Yayah recently released two singles: “Cruel World” and “Dancing,” both lyrically introspective synth-wave bops reminiscent of Depeche Mode and New Order.
When she first started drag, she harbored doubts about merging it with her music, until she received some sage advice.
“I have a friend named Emily [Kavanaugh] in a band called Night Club in L.A., and she told me a while ago: Just be stupid. And if they don’t like it … still be stupid. And she told me: Just be fearless and do music in drag or whatever.”
Once she got her bearings as Yayah, she felt ready to introduce her own music. She first performed “Cruel World” at this year’s Rainbow Festival in Sac, and has received overwhelming support from the drag community.
“It took a while for Yayah the drag queen and Yayah the musician to find each other,” she says, “but I think it’s there now.”
Looking ahead, Yayah has more ambitious aspirations. Identifying music venues and drag venues as separate worlds, she hopes to close the gap.
“I would love for there to be a way where I can tour music venues in drag,” she says. “And then somehow have other drag artists be a part of that. Or queer artists. I think it would be super cool to do a tour in music venues, with maybe even a band.”
She’ll continue performing until then. Most importantly, she’ll continue dancing, for others and for herself. It’s something she often does in front of a mirror in the privacy of her own room, to channel her creativity.
“That’s a really specific theme in the album, looking at my reflection in the mirror as I’m dancing,” she says. “I say that on ’Cruel World’ and I talk about that in ’Dancing,’ just being in a room by yourself, and that’s your freedom.”