Adore Delano has always had a rebellious streak.
Last year, after success on Billboard's dance and electronic charts with her first two albums, Til Death Do Us Party and After Party, the RuPaul's Drag Race alum ditched the tousled multicolored wigs for long, untamed pitch-black locks, smeared on dark lipstick, squeezed her thin frame into lace-up pants and boots, and released her third album, Whatever, a straight-up alternative-rock record that leans more toward Iggy Pop by way of Marilyn Manson than it does toward the disco dance pop of Mama Ru.
"You’re gonna lose some fans, girl," Delano says she told herself about the 180-degree shift from the surefire dance records that audiences have come to expect from her, a drag artist and musician whose singular catch phrase is “party.” But she’d been wanting to make this album for years, she explains. "After Party was going to be a rock record," she explains, but in the fog of post-Drag Race demand, she wound up recording her sophomore album while touring and chose to stick with the same production company that worked on her debut. Producer Entertainment Group has also produced recordings for fellow Drag Race star Alaska Thunderfuck.
Once Delano did get the chance to record her rock record, she spit it out in just a day and a half. "I work fast, girl!" she laughs over the phone in a sweet voice seemingly incongruent with the raw howls of the chorus in her song "27 Club," the second track on the album. "All of the legends/Die at twenty-seven.../And I've been lying and I've been crying/And that's how I know/That I don't wanna go," she sings, alluding to artists such as Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse, who died chasing the same temporary thrills Delano sang about on her dance songs. This time, though, she wanted to explore the darker side of the party.
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"I was going through a dark period at that time," she says. "I just wanted to get it all out." Delano made the record while going through what she calls the “three-year blues,” which she says some of her Drag Race sisters have also experienced. After a period of about three years, queens sometimes begin to feel as if they've ceded their own identity to their better-known alter egos. The phenomenon is exacerbated by being suddenly catapulted to the levels of fame that come with being part of the Drag Race universe — a standalone subculture that now includes its own Drag Cons and famously obsessive stans.
Was making Whatever an attempt to find Danny Noriega, the person the world knew her as before the Adore Delano persona emerged? "Not really, actually,” she says. “I feel like they’re both on the record." And for Delano, that is a key difference between her and other queens. For some, she says, their drag alter egos are a character they conjure at will and retire when the spotlights go down. For others, like her, the two personas are sometimes separate but often merge, as they do on this album.
Delano will get the opportunity to impart some of what she's learned to up-and-coming local queens when she performs at this month's Ultimate Miami Drag Queen Competition at Magic City Casino alongside fellow Drag Race alums Nina BoNina Brown and Cher doppelgänger Chad Michaels. As someone who's experienced the highs of fame that come with a spot on the TV show that broke drag into the mainstream and the disorienting lows of that very fame, she has plenty to share. “Watch the other girls. Take what you like and don’t do what you don’t like," she advises queens performing in local circuits. "And listen to the older queens, 'cause they know what the fuck they’re doing."
Adore Delano at Ultimate Miami Drag Queen Competition. 9 p.m. Saturday, June 2, at Magic City Casino, 450 NW 37th Ave., Miami; 305-649-3000; magiccitycasino.com. Tickets cost $25 via theultimatemiami.com.