O.T.R.

Boyfriend: ‘I Teach Adults Now’

Arts educator turned feminist provocateur, Boyfriend has not quit teaching so much as she’s switched mediums and shifted her target audience. After the artist's set at Outside Lands, GUM had the chance to talk music, eco-feminism, and what the artist is up to next.

Arts educator turned feminist provocateur, Boyfriend has not quit teaching so much as she’s switched mediums and shifted her target audience. The rapper, producer, and singer/songwriter is the pinnacle of theatrics and versatility, dancing across sexist stereotypes and double-standards as she does the stage — with wit, flamboyance, and an unapologetic irreverence. In her pairing together of two rather unlikely bedfellows, Boyfriend’s fusion of rap and cabaret, triumphs in its spectacular capacity to re-invent and revitalize the musical landscape of today.

I had the pleasure (and riot) of interviewing Boyfriend at this year’s Outside Lands Festival, just after seeing her Panhandle set. Thirteen costume changes later, the rapper was quite easy to identify in the festival’s media tent — what with her hair still up in curlers (a popular and stylistic signifier for the artist), now wearing a pink vintage nightgown, of which she jokingly referred to as her “casual look.” Once introduced, we found a place amidst the bustling chatter of other interviews and press releases, to sit and talk music, eco-feminism, and what the artist is up to next.

Photo: Brendan Chavez

 

This isn’t your first time performing at Outside Lands, what made you decide to come back?

My agent brought me back, I reckon. I love this festival. First of all, I love San Francisco, but I don’t know how to say this without accidentally giving shade to other festivals. I think what I like about this festival, is the food is food you actually want to eat. It’s not just like, “Oh I’m trapped and so I have to eat this!” and same with the drinks, I can get a drink that I would buy if I were out in the world.

Outside Lands is also trying to be environmentally conscious, was that part of the pull here as well?

Yeah, they have a program here — I think people can volunteer in exchange for passes to pick up trash, and sort it, and organize it, which is super cool. This is the first festival I’ve been to where I have not seen one plastic water bottle yet, so fuck yes — thank you San Francisco for being on that.  

You’re playing the festival today, and tomorrow at the Rickshaw Stop with Cherry Glazerr, and then heading back South to continue your New Orleans, Louisiana tour — what are you most looking forward to with your upcoming shows?

My favorite show that I do every year is the Halloween Show at Preservation Hall. It’s a three act musical, and that’s really what, in my heart of hearts, I’m interested in: Storytelling. I try to tell an abstract narrative in any given show. You’ll notice it starts with wedding dresses and aprons, and winds up in thongs and pasties. We kind of unpack the stereotypical roles of women, and then work our way into some lesbian content, and then, you know, we get back to the man shaming with “Like My Hand Did.” So, there’s a character arc there, if you will, that I try to push along with the use of props and costumes. But the show I do at Preservation Hall for Halloween is a true musical, where there is a program, there’s a cast, and you can follow the narrative — there are acts. My dream is to be on Broadway, not the Grammys. No shade Grammys, I’ll accept if you insist.

 

Last month, you released your single “Soulmate” — the queer feminist anthem we so need right now in America, what inspired that song?

The song explains why I picked my name. People are always asking that in interviews, and I was like, I’m just gonna write a fucking song that explains it: I am your Boyfriend. I will be your Boyfriend. Forget all this other shit, I’m here! I do not expect you to shave your legs!

It had also been a long time since I had written just a stream-of-conscience, letting a rhyme unfold that doesn’t necessarily work its way up to a chorus, that’s not super structured. I write songs for other people, so as a songwriter it can become very academic, and this was not that.

You’ve penned songs for some other really bold, unapologetic artists in the industry, not unlike yourself — Big Freedia, Charli XCX — what can you say to those collaborations, and do you have any others lined up?

Always something up my sleeve — although, you never know when something is actually going to be released or not. Until I actually hear it on Spotify, I don’t pop a bottle to celebrate. In fact, some of my songs were on hold for other artists, and then when they got dropped, I decided to release them. 

But I really love that process because, well like I said, it’s academic — in a way that’s also a good thing, because I’m a nerd at heart. I would go to school every day. I have dreams where they’re like, “Oh you didn’t finish this class!” and I have to go back to high school for three months. So it’s really fun to approach it sort of like a homework assignment, you know? It’s not, what do I, as a person, need to say — it’s, what does this artist need to say. So there’s researching. I look at their socials, I look at the songs they’ve already released, and I try to imagine what they want to say next, what their audience wants to hear next… and that’s just so much fun, its like getting to play a character.

 

You’ve coined the term “rap-cabaret,” which very much encapsulates your style and genre, how would you say that intersection, or execution, of language and performance, has served as a vehicle for your thoughts and beliefs around gender, sexuality, and feminism? 

You know, I think that for me, I put rap in there because I can rap, and I think of rapping as a verb — it’s an action, it’s something I can do. It’s a skill that you can hone versus an identity. I think in identity politics, and in questions of identity and the philosophy thereof, we have to remember the difference between action and being — you aren’t what you do, you do what you do. 

“Rapper,” is a very loaded word that we throw at people, “Oh that’s a rapper,” and then you have all these assumptions of what they are. Same with “accountant” or “gymnast,” you know what I mean? They all have that. So that was a way for me to take some of that back. The cabaret is meant to speak to the variety of it, because I don’t think that any of us are just one thing. People will say, “Oh My God! You’re a schoolteacher but you rap about sex!” It’s like, yeah? Literally every schoolteacher you’ve ever had, someone fucked to create! I mean, it’s just life. People get so uncomfortable about that — they keep pushing sex into this corner. 

I chafe against adjectives like “sex-positive” and all that, because it makes only the people that already agree with me show up. Like, “Oh I’m sex-positive! I’ll listen to that!” and it doesn’t give me the best opportunity to reach other people who might not know that term, or identify with [it]. If a man makes sexy music, it’s just a sexy song. If a woman makes a sexy song, its “sex-positive.” Don’t misunderstand me, I am sex-positive. I’m about the sex-positive movement, but the very adjectives we try to pick up and wave around are also very heavy for us as women, and keep us in the corner — just like “female MC” or “women artists,” it’s like, no—  artist.

But I get it, that’s what has to happen for a while, you know. We’ll see which outlives which: planet earth being hospitable to humans, or women being fucking oppressed — who knows.

Before diving into the music scene, you got a degree in creative writing from UCLA, worked a bit in television production, and then packed your bags and moved to Louisiana and began working as an arts educator. Now, you no longer teach kids— 

—I teach adults now.

Yes!! Your music career and presence has very much remained concentrated in New Orleans. What about that city? What’s kept you there?

It’s a global capital — it’s thriving, it’s vibrant, it’s beautiful, celebratory. There’s the music that is historic, the legacy stuff that will always be happening, and then there’s also artists like me, Sweet Crude, and Pell, and Big Freedia, and PJ Morton, The Revivalists— who are just making names for themselves, nationally and internationally, in their own genres, in their own lanes, in other lanes, that don’t have that New Orleans gumbo stamp on it — which is really important to show people. There are people coming up in the rock, and the rap, in the indie, and the pop space — all coming out of New Orleans. Just like Nashville, everything’s coming out of there.

You make music, but you also run your own online boutique, where you not only sell merch, but vintage clothing, and my personal favorite: Undies For a Cause. You’ve got the Period Panty, and most recently, you dropped the new Pube Panty — playful destigmitizing designs, and a percentage of the proceeds go to various non-profit organizations. In the past you’ve donated to Planned Parenthood, and with the new batch you’re donating to the Natural Resources Defense Counsel. So my question is, why underwear, and why the NRDC this time?

I wish it was a more poetic answer, but I like them to interact. I like the designs to interact with the cause. So with the period stain, Planned Parenthood made sense. I picked [the NRDC], that one was the Bush Panty, [because] I guess bush made me think of forests, which made me think of natural resources, which made me think, “Oh we gotta give them money!” That’s the train of thought.

Obviously the planet is the thing that gets me the most fired up. I’ll be in the car with my mom and she’ll see a little stray dog and she’s like, “Oh My God!” and I didn’t even notice ‘cause I’m too busy like, “Look at this person next to me? This asshole’s using a Styrofoam cup?!” We all see the things that we identify — the tragedies all over the place, so that’s the one for me.


 

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Folk and dream-pop enthusiast, Erin McQueen is a singer/songwriter and musician from the San Francisco Bay Area, professionally known under the pseudonym and musical-project 'Folly'. A recent UC Berkeley graduate, McQueen holds a B.A. in both Anthropology and Gender & Women's Studies, and is currently working on recording her debut EP.

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