Drag Performers Highlight Queer Artistry at Billboard/Hollywood Reporter Pride Summit: "Gay Music Is Just Great Music"

Asked what is giving her hope for the future of the music industry, Blair St. Clair said that there is hope within music itself: "The more we see queer artistry growing in media, [the more] it gives hope for people."

Celebrating the influence of LGBTQ+ representation in entertainment, the Billboard and Hollywood Reporter Pride Summit took place Thursday and featured an afternoon panel exploring the art of drag and the necessity of queer voices in music. 

Moderated by Billboard staff writer Stephen Daw, "Drags & Music: From Drag Race to the Top of the Charts" focused on the way in which drag artists can continue to make an impact — particularly in the music industry — amid an ever-changing cultural scene. Guests on the panel included entertainers Alaska Thunderfuck, Blair St. Clair, Manila Luzon, Peppermint, Trixie Mattel and Ryan Aceto from Producer Entertainment Group. 

"There has obviously been a lot more representation for drag in television and film," said Daw at the top of the panel. When he asked his guests why the music industry is lagging behind, reasons cited included "extreme misogyny" in the industry and a lot of people who are uncertain about what drag artists offer — "they don't get it." 

The element of risk was discussed, with the panelists highlighting that there is starting to be a shift in how drag artists are viewed by the general public. Those who are excited about a Madonna album may not be as excited about an album from a trans performer, though there is an awareness starting to take place, they explained.

"Music doesn't have a gender, a sexual orientation," said St. Clair. "Gay music is just great music," the artist continued. Aceto added, "the stuff [upcoming music] coming down the pipeline from all of them is good, real good."

Trixie threw in a joke, "You don't pick up gayness from music," referencing those who may feel hesitant about listening to music from a gay or sexually fluid artist.

Talking about her personal experience, Peppermint shared that she was initially unsure whether she should put out music because, as a black trans woman, she doesn't sound like what other women sound like. In the end, she decided to go for it. St. Clair compared music with therapy, suggesting the two can often be celebrated together. 

Speaking of the "drag race phenomenon," Daw asked how vital drag racing [on shows such as RuPaul's Drag Race] is to the success of a queen in her career. Answered Peppermint, "It's an entire economy that has blossomed out of that. I think it's awesome if you do get on Drag Race — [but] there are more and more opportunities now if it's not your thing." 

St. Clair mentioned that Drag Race has highlighted the humanity of drag artists — beyond the shiny wigs and costumes, the show offers a window into who they are and what they're passionate about. "That's why drag has become such a phenomenon, because people are realizing they can be that," St. Clair said. 

"Drag Race pulled back the curtain for a lot of people and showed [them] that they have more in common than not," said Peppermint. She elaborated that there is a call to action for the community to be accountable, suggesting that companies consider including drag artists in their campaigns at times other than Pride month. 

Asked what is giving her hope for the future of the music industry, St. Clair said that there is hope within music itself. "The more we see queer artistry growing in media, [the more] it gives more hope for people."

"It's OK to be gay, and it's OK to buy an album by gay musicians," said Luzon. "We need folks who are queer or trans, to have an opportunity to tell their story."

During the panel, a video presentation, titled "The Art of Finding Love," on artist Michael Kalish and his art installation, was featured. "I've been an artist and sculptor for 25 years, and I feel like I've waited a lifetime for this," Kalish said, referencing his sculpture, which is about the action of finding love. "We need to find love now," he emphasized to the audience. "Whatever that means to you, go find it now."

Additional panels at the summit included "Emerging Artists: We See You" and "Digital Media: Pride & Platforms." The headlining panel, set for Thursday evening, is "The Beings of Pose" with guests Steven Canals, Janet Mock, Indya Moore, MJ Rodriguez, Hailie Sahar and Dyllon Burnside.