During a strict lockdown immediately following the loss of several queer venues, Boston queens went to the front lines of digital drag with some of the most popular and elaborate virtual shows to emerge from the genre. This musical queen was one of those trailblazers, and will likely be a force to be reckoned with when lockdown ends: Majenta with a J!
Thotyssey: Hello Majenta! So you’ve certainly been one of digital drag’s most visible performers and producers during this lockdown. Have you gotten any chances to do live shows at all this past year?
Majenta with a J: I have been all-digital since April 2020. Boston, as far as I can tell, has been the most locked-down major city in the US this whole time… and it seems like only in the past few weeks that there have been any notable live drag opportunities. I’ve started getting a couple inquiries though, so I imagine it’ll be pretty soon that I do something live again–which is both exciting and a bit nerve-wracking, it’s been so long!
I bet! There’s a lot of excitement and anxiety happening here as well. It looks like Bostonians have largely been behaving, though!
I’m curious to see how our scene acclimates back to in-person events. We have lost multiple queer venues during Covid that have left us with very few gay nightlife options once stuff reopens. We really need new venues soon.
What do you attribute that loss to? Is it just a coincidence that all these spots closed at once, or has the Boston queer population been receding from nightlife over the years?
Queer venues have been closing for a couple decades (at least) now. I think the primary issue is around really severe licensing restrictions that make it insanely difficult to open a new venue. It’s almost impossible to get a liquor license, and there’s even licensing around whether people are allowed to dance; I’ve been at bars in the past where they’ve actually asked people to stop bopping to the music because they didn’t have a license for it. It can feel like a combination of prohibition-era thinking and Footloose. My biggest hope is that there is a post-lockdown movement to relax licensing and invest in more venues. We have a queer population that wants to socialize, they just have nowhere to go.
Are you Massachusetts native?
I’m from Maine, just outside Portland, but I came to the Boston area for college and stayed here ever since.
What were your early interests as far as performance, fashion, etc. go?
Well, I grew up loving music; my faves were Madonna and Björk. I was always drawn to artists (typically women) who could find ways to take exciting, fresh, weird ideas and expose them to a wider audience. Also, movies like The Fifth Element really stuck with me — it felt like such an insane mix of styles with Gaultier’s fashion contrasted with an action movie star like Bruce Willis.
You actually have recorded some original music as Majenta, right?
Yes! My album Before Me is on all the big streaming services [linked to at the end of the article]. I started doing music long before drag, and this is basically a compilation of all my best songs.
And how did you get into drag, exactly?
In terms of drag, I was a fan of it for a long time before I started doing it as Majenta. I would wear Halloween costumes, but I didn’t try drag seriously until I was 36 and quit a high-stress corporate job, and finally had some time to be creative on my own. I decided to try it out and had so much fun that I just kept doing it. And even though I ended up getting another full time job soon after, I found something far less intense so that I would have more time / energy for drag.
Did you call yourself ‘Majenta with a J” to distinguish yourself from other drag Magentas (we have one here in NYC!), or just because it looks / sounds cool?
Ha! Well, the story behind that starts with Halloween 2016, where some friends and I went to P-town and dressed as different colors of the rainbow, with one friend as Rainbow Brite. We actually ran out of regular rainbow colors so I picked magenta. Later when I tried drag “for real,” I came back to that color as a cool name; it reminded me of “Alaska” being used as a name. My friend Erika said that I had to mix it up somehow, and suggested a different spelling. And then after I’d been doing drag a few months, Neon Calypso introduced me on stage as “Majenta with a J” and I thought it sounded so good, plus it’s already how I was introducing myself to people. I felt like it made it stand out even more.
Yazzz! What have been your favorite or signature gigs as a Boston queen?
Well, I really enjoyed “All Star Mondays” at Machine, but that club is now gone. Specific performances that stand out for me include one of my last numbers pre-lockdown, where I got to perform in front of a giant movie screen projection at the Coolidge Corner Theatre for a number inspired by The Cell. I had an outfit that unfurled into 40+ feet of purple fabric that spread to each end of the theater; it felt like a really special big moment.
And I’m also proud of the number I did to win the Boston Drag Gauntlet, where I dressed as one of the horsewomen of the apocalypse, Famine, and did a number that mixed Fergie and Florence Welch with biblical verses, rat skeletons, and a duck walk.
Probably my most “signature” number is my Krampus “All I Want For Christmas is Du Hast” Mariah Carey / Rammstein mashup, which I performed multiple times… and made into a digital number as well!
During lockdown, Boston queens like Violencia Exclamation Point, Neon, Coleslaw, Just JP and yourself really stepped up quickly and profoundly as digital content makers and producers. Did you all just kind of purposefully come together and pool resources to do this, or did it happen naturally?
Violencia really spearheaded [Twitch digital drag “channel”] the Serve Network. While I was a supporter, I wasn’t actually involved until recently when she and I started the “Now Serving” competition. She was already sort of the “leader” of a big chunk of Boston nightlife, and she really stepped up to make digital drag work for folks.
I started Full Spin on my own in May 2020 because I had a cool idea for an album-based show, and I’d been doing video work for awhile pre-Covid with my show “Face Down Queens,” with Georgia Flu and Missy Steak. So, for me it came from a bit of a different place than the rest of the folks in Boston. I’d never produced a show of any kind before, and just really enjoyed pursuing my own vision. After my third show, it became clear that Full Spin actually had real potential, and I kept growing it from there–eventually bringing on Just JP to help as well.
I wanted to set a really high bar for great digital productions, and also make sure I was paying everyone fairly too. I’m really proud of Full Spin: we’ve paid folks a minimum of $50 each time–sometimes over $100–and have raised a total of nearly $40k over two dozen shows, with a big portion going to social justice nonprofits as well.
Full Spin takes on a different full album each time, with unique casts of drag performers (from Boston and beyond) each session covering all the songs via videos. It must be a lot of work putting these shows together: besides all the editing and serving as emcee, you have to choose the album, recruit the casts and assign the songs.
It is a ton of work. And unlike most shows where if someone can’t deliver it’s no big deal, if someone drops out of a Full Spin I really have to scramble or else we won’t have a full album. So I’ve found ways to cast and set deadlines to avoid those issues, and we’ve really had a great streak in 2021 of having incredible casts that are great to work with.
I bet queens in the casts battle for the rights to do certain songs!
The biggest thing I learned early on is that I can’t just have it be a free-for-all of [casted queens] “calling” songs, so I do a mix of asking folks to pick several favorites and sometimes going to performers with a specific song request in mind. Basically I don’t promise anything until I’ve got at least 90%+ of the album figured out! I also love how people pitch album ideas constantly, but I think folks forget that there’s only so much time in a year… so I can only do a small handful of albums.
It’s an interesting show for you to produce, because conceptual albums aren’t as much of a thing as the used to be in this singles and streaming driven era of the music biz. There’s of course countless classic albums to explore, but younger viewers might not be interested in those.
I try to mix in more classic albums with newer ones. Like, we did Plastic Hearts right after it came out, but we also just did Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love from 1985 — which became our second most watched show ever! That was truly epic.
What other shows have you done that really stand out for you as favorites?
I think often of the Florence + the Machine show; we had several amazing numbers for that one. The Björk Post show was also one of my faves.
The next two Full Spins you have scheduled will definitely be crowd pleasers, as they are tributes to the discography of our Mother Monster, Lady Gaga! First up is Chromatica on May 25th, then ArtPop on June 8! Each show has its own incredible cast taking on all the songs. Of course, both albums have been in the public eye / ear this past year: Chromatica is basically everyone’s pop favorite release of 2020, and 2013’s ArtPop has been recently rediscovered and vindicated! What are your own thoughts on each album?
Chromatica really feels like the album that brought some rays of joy into a really bad year for everyone. I think it’s fantastic, and one of those rare albums that you really can listen to end to end without any skips. Also, I’m just really glad to see Gaga doing electronic pop again!
Artpop really has had quite the journey as an album; I think it was kind of unfairly criticized when it came out. It’s the kind of album that is unabashedly weird, and sometimes society takes a little while to appreciate that. In some ways, it’s the exact opposite of Chromatica. Chromatica is highly polished, tightly edited, and very cohesive. Artpop is all over the place and experimental. Both are great, though; I’d love the next Gaga album to feel like a synthesis of the two approaches.
I’m also positive Artpop will end up our biggest show ever. I had nearly 300 performers apply to be in the show–by far the most of any album–so I know it’s a favorite for so many!
Very exciting! Meanwhile over on the Serve Network, you’ve been co-hosting the digital drag competition “Now Serving” with Violencia every other Tuesday. Next round: May 18th!
It is really fun to be doing something live like that! The contestants are super talented, and it’s also been a thrill to work with so many amazing guest judges–and of course with Violencia! I’ve thought about hosting a competition for a long time, and it’s been a really interesting challenge to take on. I’m still learning a lot from it, and trying to make it something that feels supportive rather than cutthroat.
What else might be in store for you?
I am trying to figure out how to bring Full Spin to a live venue in the Fall, hopefully. I think this summer is going to be a really interesting time of transition. I am curious to see what the world of digital drag looks like as more venues reopen, so I am kinda trying not to plan too far in advance. I have other big ideas, but I’m not quite ready to dive into them just yet. This last year has been so much work; I’m looking forward to taking some time to relax a bit during the summer. I’d also love to record some music again. I’ve had ideas kicking around for years that I finally want to work on!
Any plans to come to New York–for a visit or otherwise–in the near future? There are a bunch of Boston queens that have recently relocated here like Neon, Yune Neptune, Robyn Edges and Poise’N Envy!
Oh, I would looooove to go to NY again soon! I’ve been holding off on any drag travel. But since we are doing so well with vaccinations and gradual easing of restrictions, I’d love to go to NYC again in the not-too-distant future. Hopefully this fall!
We’d love to have you! So, to close… are there any artists in music history that you know will never get the Full Spin treatment?
There are albums that I love, but when I’ve listed them as options or teased ideas with folks, it’s become clear they are just too niche for this particular audience. So, some of my personal faves that probably won’t become shows include Portishead, Garbage, PJ Harvey, Everything But the Girl, Massive Attack and Royksopp. I know a small handful of people might love those, but they just don’t have quite enough fans to justify a full show.
And I know people will message me saying they love some of those artists, but I wouldn’t feel confident I could get enough of a paying audience to meet the minimum pay guarantee for the performers.
What I would love–and I think this would be a genius idea if a record label jumped on it–was for a recording artist to connect with me and commission a Full Spin show as part of an album rollout. I think this would be such a good way for artists who support the queer community to show some love for us drag performers who don’t have a TV show under our belts!
That’s an incredible idea. And also you should totes come down to Brooklyn and do a live PJ Harvey Full Spin–it’ll slap! Thanks, Majenta!