Breaking down what they call “the false dichotomy of separating pop from experimental,” Dorian Electra is the gender fluid artist on the scene making a digital artistic world that plays with ideas from masculinity to economic theory. They were part of Lady Gaga’s selection of remix artists on Dawn of Chromatica, and today they revel in creating outlandish caricatures that sometimes show the fragility of – and easiness to change out of – violent hegemonic masculine identities.
Interview tak­en from METAL Magazine issue 45. Adapted for the online version. Order your copy here
You might recognise Dorian Electra from Man to Man, a song that makes the happy existence of gay desire between masculine men visible and audible. For that video, Dorian dressed in a Michael-Jackson- in-Thriller-style costume of a shiny red jacket and also strapped into a boxing kit and armour. For this interview’s editorial, Dorian stretches through a broader spectrum of jokified, bimbofied characters. We talk about memes, economics and the new deluxe version of My Agenda, out this November, ahead of their world tour.

What I personally love about Dorian is their important position as a descendant of the drag artists that inspired gender theorist Judith Butler, whose book on the performative nature of gender (Gender Trouble, 1990) remains an important part of understanding queer theory. This philosophy implies we can only be truly seen through other people’s eyes. Everyone looks through their lens of culture, language and learning to map what we do, how we look and how we sound into an idea of what gender or identity is – like putting together a puzzle. Dorian directs that interpretative power making smart symbolic choices that tease the viewer: what gender am I? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter! Each costume is fun – and what’s comfortable depends on the day. Today’s incarnation of Dorian Electra develops on their past sharing informative pop videos about gender and politics.

In their 2020 album My Agenda, Dorian did the inconceivable: putting together the Russian punks Pussy Riot, Rebecca Black – known for “Friday” – and The Village People. It’s a whirlwind running kick circle pit of masculinity that has transformed into a meaty 22-track tearjerker. The debut album has 12 more songs added to the existing record. Situated as an exploration into the culture surrounding the men’s rights movements and related political subcultures from a leftist perspective, Dorian’s album joins the tradition of pop stars rallying for political action.

My Agenda investigates incel culture and the perspectives of men who feel like feminism is preventing their own sexual prowess. In summary, Dorian says: let’s listen to those hurting and have an open discussion. We can respond to right-wing beliefs by reminding people of the oppression experienced by people who aren’t cis men: it is economic as well as social. The exploitation of the so-called caring class (care workers, shop workers, cleaners) has been brought into stark relief during Covid. We discuss the Internet, the future, and neoliberalism – defined as a set of political and economic policies that promote free market capitalism, dismantle the social safety net, and ultimately protect the interests of economic elites at the expense of all others.
You are an artist who has seen great success in this digital era thanks to your playful hyperpop and immersive music video worlds. How has the Internet influenced the birth and life of Dorian Electra?
I started making music videos online in high school and uploading them to YouTube. It was really on MySpace that I first felt I could make music videos, have an audience and online community. Having that audience and connection to people through the Internet gave me a sense of purpose. Otherwise, it was just making a video on my dad’s camera with some friends when I was in middle school or earlier.
Audience and purpose play a large part in the work that I do and in feeling like it’s connected to a community. The Internet absolutely has been a huge part of that. As an independent artist too, the Internet has been so powerful to get my work out there totally independently, to distribute it, have it reach people, and for them to share it.
Awesome. Watching your videos, I felt like you expressed a political activist side from when you were very young. I guess you are tired of talking about the “I’m in love with Friedrich Hayek” video that launched your career. But I can see your opinions have changed a lot since then, and I’d love to hear you talk about that.
 I don’t believe in a lot of the same politics that I used to believe in. I used to identify as libertarian and I was brainwashed by a teacher in high school into that ideology. Since then, I went to college, read Karl Marx and a whole bunch of books that opened my mind. Now I identify as a leftist, and the educational aspect is still something that’s core to my work as an artist. That’s something that’s always interested me: how to take complex ideas and put them into a catchy, accessible format that is potentially accessible to anybody. My work about the history of the clitoris, sexuality, gender – all of those videos were also early work that I think of as ‘before,’ but it was influential for me. I still think about my music in a lot of the same ways even though it’s not as explicitly educational.
That’s cool. So, your new deluxe version of the album My Agenda made me think of this linguistic slip, a mistake, that cisgender people make when they’re talking about trans and non-binary people’s gender by saying agenda rather than gender, which I find really funny. I don’t know if that was something that you’re referencing, but I want to move our conversation towards talking about whether this album is potentially a response to anti-trans discourses, despite the fact your music and art go far beyond gender identity. I want to know more about this activist side of you that comes out in the new album.
Definitely, this album is about a lot of things, but it is also about gender, sexuality, and particularly masculinity, like my previous album, Flamboyant. It also extends beyond that and goes more political. It explores the manosphere that includes men’s rights, incels, men going their own way – those kinds of online communities that reject modern feminism and want to see a return to traditional gender roles and traditional masculinity, who feel like their identities are somehow under attack. That often gets coupled with other forms of reactionary politics. These things are present in our culture but are often swept under the rug, misunderstood or written off rather than analysed. Yet, those strange political strains helped allow Donald Trump to be elected.
These cis white heterosexual men feel disenfranchised, disempowered, and like the world is against them. The solution is to stop and think why those people feel that way, what is causing them to take on hateful ideas like anti-immigration or racism, or other forms of right-wing populism. The left could be better at this. We need to look at the causes of those ideologies in order to be able to combat them. It has to start from a place of empathy and understanding in order to be able to reach out and ultimately hope to heal, or convert people. I think that it’s actually very important to face head-on the things we don’t agree with rather than staying in echo chambers. Right now we’re seeing increasing political polarisation and social atomisation, where we all feel separate and fractured as a culture.
So, I think that that’s my political calling – to look at things critically but also with empathy, even towards something that is hateful and you don’t agree with. We have to understand the causes to be able to combat it.
That’s so important. Thank you so much for going into detail about that. I’m going to try and intersperse slightly more light-hearted questions as we also cover the more political side of your work. So, do you think that humour is a good way to introduce change?
Absolutely, I think humour is one of the most powerful political tools. It can be used for good and for bad. And it’s very important to be aware of how we’re wielding that irony. It can be used as a political tool on a personal level to talk about gender identity, sort of poking fun at things that have been viewed as sacred, and sort of showing the historical social contingency of some of these things that are thought to be natural or permanent, like gender identity and so forth. I think humour is a healthy way to challenge people with the same ideas and introduce them to new ones.
It makes me think of the line of thinking that Judith Butler takes in her book Gender Trouble inspired by drag kings, drag queens, and everyone creating performances Butler ultimately exposes some really nuanced arguments about constructive natures of gender identity. Is that something you are interested in, in terms of your research, or something that you associate with to a certain extent?
You know, I’ve never read Judith Butler. I found it very difficult to understand, to be honest with you. I do tend to like things that are a little bit more accessible because I feel like gender is something that everybody experiences, and I don’t think it needs to be a particularly academic, obfuscated kind of thing. I’m definitely, I’d say, influenced by her work and her cultural impact. Absolutely. I’m a descendant of that in a lot of ways, but I haven’t read her work directly.
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I think that’s normal for quite a lot of people. I’m just a nerd. So, the next question that I have for you is, if you had to describe yourself with one meme, what would it be?
It would be the one where there’s a person standing at a fork in the road. The two paths signposted are jokerfication or bimbofication. The jokerfication path leads to an evil mansion at the end of the road, at top of the hill. But bimbofication also leads to a bright castle. For my version of the meme, both paths lead to just one house: both jokerfication and bimbofication merge into one (laughs).
Incredible, I love that image. You engage quite a lot with the trans youth that follows your music, and I bet you have a lot of uplifting stories that come your way. Would you be able to share any of those with us?
There are so many amazing stories people reach out to me with. But I think one that stands out to me is my own. I remember when my music video for Flamboyant came out, it got picked up by the YouTube algorithm as a recommended video. And it was getting a ton of comments following this formula of people saying, “I saw this clip and I was like, what is this? Is this a man or a woman? I can’t tell, but then it turned me on, and now I’m confused.” And it just made me so happy. Even though you could read some of them as almost a negative comment – “ew, is this thing a man or woman or whatever’”–, to me, I think that’s amazing because I like to challenge people. It means, this person defies categorisation visually. It made people question something about themselves. “I thought I was gay, but now I’m not sure”, and then, “I thought I was straight, but now I’m not sure if I feel like I go both ways.” I like to troll people in that way. I think it’s healthy. People in the comments are confused by the gender thing, or angered, but also simultaneously aroused. I feel like that’s something very powerful.
Yes, I feel like you have experienced the digital world as a very positive space. It makes me think back to a really old interview that I saw of yours where you were asked how you felt about the lack of opportunity for young people, and you said words to the effect of “the Internet will save us”. How do you feel now, eight years on? Does that still ring true?
There are a lot of opportunities that have been provided by the Internet, but I have abandoned that tech optimism that I had back then. Just having seen how things have played out – and continue to play out – for young people, and the job market at large, where our economy is heading, and everything, especially after the pandemic. I feel like we’re going to need to make some radical changes to be able to support people in what’s going to become an increasingly challenging economic landscape.
I think we need to do a lot more to use the state to take care of people’s basic needs and basic survival, whether that’s with universal basic income, extending healthcare or housing opportunities. At Uber and in the gig economy, so many people are freelance without any benefits. I see companies moving increasingly in that direction. I’m not particularly optimistic. I think we should push for organised labour and push for policies that will support people rather than our faith in tech in tech to solve these issues. Because ultimately, tech is still subject to those same market forces that are unfortunately not good enough for meeting everybody’s needs. That’s how my views have changed.
Your family is artistic and supportive of you as a person and musician. Do your mum and dad come to your live shows? What is it like for them?
Yeah, they do come to my gigs, and I think it’s really fun for them, especially being able to see me perform. My mum used to do musical theatre and my dad was in a cover band just for fun. It is something that they really enjoy.
They must be proud.
I feel very grateful to have their support and encouragement.
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There are some genres that I hear in your music that potentially include influences like drill and screamo. These are usually associated with outsider identities. Is there a reason that you’ve been drawn to these kinds of songs, particularly in the new album, which goes further into a very experimental sound?
In My Agenda, I wanted to go into the deep end of the most extreme forms of music that I enjoy. They just express this extreme emotion of the record. Hardstyle can be absolutely huge and euphoric, and metal can be really intense or channel a lot of anger. Dubstep too has this extreme-ness. I view these as [examples of] great masculine music that has the intensity or violence that I wanted to channel, and it was a natural fit for the team. I didn’t decide to make this my more experimental project. I don’t have to hold back. I don’t try to make pop music – it’s a personal state of mind. In the songwriting process I am able to feel very free.
The album is really cool, it is very intense, but the thing that I most missed during lockdown was being in a mosh pit. So I’m really happy to be able to go back to that now. This is definitely going to be some mosh pit inducing music.
I know! I can’t wait to perform this live next year. My tour starts January 20th in Seattle and [for] Europe in April and May, which I am so excited about.
There is a lot of ambiguity around the similarities and differences between you as a person and the characters you perform. Talking about your song Career Boy, you admitted you can overwork yourself to some extent. Did the pandemic aggravate that?
Yes, I think that my relationship with work has changed a lot in the past year and a half. When you’re forced to slow down and your work is reduced to what’s on the computer screen in front of you, it makes you look at it in a different way. Particularly when your work includes running around, travelling, doing errands, etc. – all of those were cut out of everyday life. I’m still feeling the effects of it and readjusting whilst also trying to find ways that I can relax and do things that are good for me that I didn’t do before the pandemic. But I was extremely busy for the majority of 2020, I didn’t take any time off. I was working on getting my album out and doing music videos. So, I definitely still relate to the stuff I said about Career Boy. But I’m trying to change that and challenge myself to look at things in a healthier way.
What are the things that you’re finding useful to unplug and relax at the moment?
I started listening to audiobooks, which is funny – I never did that before. I’ve joined a reading group but I keep questioning what I did with my time before.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m reading The People’s Republic of Walmart by a socialist author. It claims some of the nation’s biggest corporations are actually laying the foundations for socialism and economic planning. Since these corporations in the free market have centralised top- down economic planning, it’s like what we think of in economic planning by the state. Planning is possible and it’s already being done. So, we should reconsider using planning to manage the economy and take care of people.
Also, I’m enjoying the audiobook of A Brief History of Neoliberalism by David Harvey, who’s one of the top Marx scholars. It focuses on its history from the late 1970s to now – Reagan, Thatcher, Pinochet, China, and what neoliberalism means. That word gets thrown around a lot but the definition is often unclear. It’s a mix of free market ideology, supporting big businesses, globalisation, and things that go beyond the scope of the free market that use the power of the state to enforce and push that in a way that has bad consequences for the rest of society.
I’m also reading Listen Liberal, which is about how the left got to where we are now, how it has kind of abandoned its working-class base and started to be seen as a party of the elite. It explains today’s rise of right-wing populism as a result. I’m interested in what the next steps are for the left because there’s a lull. People are relieved that Biden won, but we need to rebuild the left so that another right-wing populist candidate even worse than Trump doesn’t swoop in.
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Žižek is a Marxist scholar we reference this edition; in his book Pandemic (2020) he set out this idea of a new communism as the only future that can save us. Can you define Neoliberalism for us?
I’d say Neoliberalism is defined as a set of political and economic policies that promote free market capitalism – deregulation, privatisation, globalisation –, dismantle the social safety net, and ultimately protect the interests of economic elites at the expense of all others. These ideas are going to become more relevant due to the global economic hardship, and it’s a good time for everyone to try to get educated about it because as they enter the discourse publicly it will be good to have a theoretical understanding of it beforehand. Since finishing the album, reading has been my way to get in touch with the world again.
Is the reading group you’re part of the one you posted about on Instagram with Cat Boy Deleuze?
The main one I’m in is with my friend Joshua Citarella. He also has a Twitch stream and podcast that I’ve been a guest on. He’s an artist and he researches online political subcultures, especially among Gen Z kids and Politigram (a political meme Instagram account). He interviews these kids and I’ve learnt so much from him. Young people care deeply about politics, and it’s become another form of identity. They call themselves a radical anarchist communist or anarchomonarchist – these made- up crazy terms of three different prefixes on an ideology to feel unique.
It’s similar to the desensitization that happens with online pornography, where people go to increasingly extreme videos desensitized to the regular, or normal people can go towards increasingly extreme ideologies. It means kids fall into becoming neonazis because of what they’re reading online. Joshua’s work focuses on how people fall into that and how they become de-radicalized or re-radicalized in the opposite direction (laughs). I find all that fascinating.
We have podcasts out on the Federal Reserve, conspiracy theories and the chemicals in the water making frogs gay that Alex Jones spoke about. It’s true, actually. We watched a video about the scientist who was silenced who did research on frogs. This chemical called Atrazine, which functions as an endocrine disruptor, hormonally changes the sex of the frog. We analyse why people might be drawn to believing conspiracy theories or what parts are potentially true. In our current political landscape, it’s more acceptable to block something you don’t like, to delete it, shut it down. That’s not very helpful for political discourse. I’m trying to push for more openness and dialogue. Joshua’s work does the same. It’s an unlikely pairing of a pop star and an artist doing political research, but pop music can further these goals.
I agree we need more conversations. I joined the Cat Boy Deleuze reading group on Discord – it’s the first-ever iscord I’ve been on. I’m more used to attending a traditional lecture and I found it really hard to understand the line between humour and learning on it. It was a reading of Foucault’s The Birth of Bio-Politics.
You came to that?
Yes, I attended it until about midnight, because I’m in the UK.
Amazing. That was my first time going to that particular reading group too. I read some Foucault in school but I’d never read that and I did find it hard to follow. What I liked about that is it took young kids that post political memes online, who might have never read any theory and attempt to read this and realise that these texts are pretty dense and tricky. I like that there are people committed to trying – there were over eighty people in there, and it’s pretty impressive that Cat Boy Deleuze got everyone to stay. I recommend starting with YouTube videos that have more accessible explanations rather than starting with a reading group.
I tend to approach things, especially an academic text, quite critically. I was worried that there could be some disinformation happening – not just on this forum, but others. If someone says, let’s read this together, then they are positioning themselves as an authority on that text. When I spoke to Cat Boy they disagreed, which is fine. Do you think there are problematic sides to the dissemination of these quite extreme political views on these types of websites?
I agree there is a danger. But, on the other hand, it’s hard to escape that anywhere. A teacher at a university might say they are the authority, or people on YouTube, or multiple authors on Wikipedia – it’s tricky to find a way around it. It’s interesting at the school I went to, Shimer College, we didn’t read any secondary sources. We read the authors themselves, which was cool. The classes were dialogue-based, with a maximum of twelve people in a class – together we would come to mutual understanding. We would go line by line and break it down, and we would have a base of understanding from the other books we read. So, it was different to that reading group. I thought it was a fun thing to jump in on, but my main reading group is with Joshua.
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What did you study there?
There aren’t any majors there, but I have a degree in Liberal Arts with Natural Sciences. I took a lot of electives on the philosophy of science, consciousness, computer science and maths.
Your work on trans, non-binary and cyborg identities makes me wonder if you read Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto.
I am aware of that book, but I haven’t read it. The feminism electives were the most popular, but at the time I wanted to do something different. I read in another reading group Xenofeminism by Helen Hester, which was an update on the Haraway stuff published in 2018, and these things are being constantly updated to be more inclusive and more technologically expansive. I am interested, but my favourite subjects in the social sciences are history, sociology and economics.
Are you atheist or spiritual?
I don’t identify with any of those labels. I used to identify as a hard-core atheist in 2007. It was very fedora tipping atheist. That becomes an identity in itself. My mum and I, when I was 14, joined these atheist meet-up groups and it wasn’t a very satisfying identity to have in the end. I don’t like to use that word.
If you were reborn, or choosing an online animal avatar, what would it be?
A cat-boy or a furry bunny.
So not a gay frog?
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On the topic of creating your self, you’re a fan of SOPHIE and her song Faceshopping. Did you ever meet or have the opportunity to meet her?
Yes, I did, [after performing] at Charli XCX’s Pop 2 show in 2018 in London – it was one of those times. Yes, she was amazing and it’s such a loss.
I know, such a great artist. The ideas that are expressed in Faceshopping make me think of how we relate to our identity online and use face filters. How do you feel about that? Do you find it euphoric or dysphoric? Do you think they can create any problems, and what are the good things?
I am addicted to them. Sometimes I don’t want to see my face without them or some form of editing. I have big issues with my skin. I also like being able to use it because I like to present a fantasy version or cartoon version of myself because that more closely approximates what I would like to look like. You could just as easily say that’s the way we have been socialised due to beauty standards, but I would say it’s unavoidable. I would rather have full autonomy within those constraints to look however I want. I would love to be able to do more advanced face filters on my videos. When I look in the mirror my face isn’t how I want it to look.
I read recently that young people, my age, in their early twenties, are starting to get botox because of the way it is talked about on TikTok. It made me think of the conflation of youth, rebellion and the future – these contemporary ideas make it appear so normal. Where do you stand?
It’s a hard one to say. I think people should have the freedom to do whatever they want with their bodies. But also, the mounting pressure can be unhealthy. I’ve thought about the same things. To me, trans people undergoing feminisation surgery put it in perspective. You should have the power to use technology to shape your body but do it with an awareness of the social pressures. Josh just wrote an amazing article. He’s been doing an experiment on himself that’s very 4Chan, to boost testosterone levels. He chews this gum and does exercises to define his jaw called mewing. It’s like he’s transitioning, but he’s transitioning to be more masculine as a cis male. He’s mansitioning.
I wholeheartedly support all of my trans friends who make use of those services. I am lucky I can disconnect from those social pressures, particularly because my face is not on my work. My final question is: I love the artistic trajectory of the film director Jean-Luc Godard, who started by renewing the art form and then went incredibly experimental aged 80. Is this what we can expect from you?
I hope that I am always changing and evolving as an artist and pushing myself forward. I want to try my hand at more pop before delving into the more experimental, although to me that is a false dichotomy. Personally, I find [myself in] that happy medium. Pop is catchy or memorable – it can be experimental production-wise, but it’s more of an ethos than a sound. I want to break down the dichotomy.
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